Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lake Tahoe Marathon: The Brief Recap

I'm not sure when, or if, I'll have time for the full blown LTM race report, so in case I never get around to it, here's the short and sweet version.

Sean and me at the finish (photo by Steve Yingling/TDT)

First, here's a link to the Tahoe Daily Tribune article, which they managed to get posted about 3 hours after I crossed the finishline. (Impressive!) You can read the exact same article at the Sierra Sun, but they give me the headline instead of Sean. Funny!

I'll tell most of the story via highlights. Let's get the negative over with first.

The Lows:

  • Arriving at the start with a swollen and sore throat, still feeling sick (although slightly better) after several days of illness.
  • Hearing Peter's tale of Super-Triple race cancellation.
  • The last three miles where I really, really didn't feel like running anymore.

Okay, that's it, now on to the "Hi's"

  • Catching a ride to the event with Reno legend Lynyrd Skynrod. (I mean, how lucky can a girl get, right?)
  • Seeing numerous friends at both the start and finish, including Peter, Turi, Sean, and Bryon, plus all the new friends I made out on the course.
  • Getting my own "pace car" (read: guy on a bike) while in the lead for the second half of the race .
  • Running along the shores of Lake Tahoe.
  • Winning, and taking home $500 for the effort. (Plus, I totally cemented the truth of my theory on shirtless chicks, right?)
  • Slicing over a half hour off my best time for the course.
  • Cheering on, and getting cheered by, so many awesome runners and walkers.
  • Swimming in Lake Tahoe.
  • Chilling with friends on the beach after the race on probably the last "summer-like" day of the year.
  • Lynyrd suggesting that he, Sean and I all pool our winnings and put it on "black" at the roulette table. (I about died laughing!)
  • Just getting to run after taking the whole week off due to illness.
  • The unending flood of well wishes after the race from people I didn't even know.

If you think it sounds like another beautiful, amazing Tahoe day, you're right!

I keep thinking about all the myriad of things I could say about this race, and it's just overwhelming to think about. This was the first race I ran in the Tahoe area, back in 2001, after having lived in Truckee for just a year. I won the Triple back in 2003 as my second ultra, and afterward swore I'd never run another road race again. (78 miles of pavement is no bueno! It was also 3 years before I ran another ultra.) My time on day 3 of the Triple, 4:12 I think, was still my course PR until this past race, despite having run "just the marathon" (or the "J.V event" as Sean called it) on two other occasions. My only real motivation for running it this year was the realization that I am supposed to be training for a road 50M and I haven't set foot on pavement in 4 months of running.

Even though it wasn't my goal, and I recognize that it is rather slow for a winning time, (last year's winner ran 3:05) there's still a certain amount of symbolism in winning what is essentially my home town marathon. Pretty nice.

I fell down on my picture taking duties on this one, but I noticed Peter and his crew taking plenty, so keep an eye on RunLakeTahoe for his race report. Turi also has a nice report up already with pictures.

Thanks to Les for another great race, and the fleet of volunteers. I'd like to give a special shout out to the kids at the Hogwarts themed aid station at mile 23. I felt way too awful to show them the enthusiasm that I really wanted to, but they were definitely my favorites. I believe getting handed a cup of water from the chosen one himself was key to my victory. Thanks Harry!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Emerald Bay Trail Run

It's an exciting feeling, that first discovery of something amazing in your own backyard. You realize you've had something incredible at your disposal all along and never knew it--like heading out for the first ski day of the year and finding that twenty dollar bill that's been hiding in the pocket of your jacket all summer, only much, much better. I get so caught up in the beauty of the trails that are a mere 10-30 minute drive away, that it tends to limit my sphere of standard trail runs. It's easy to do, with trails like the PCT and the TRT responsible for most of my weekend mileage. So the fact that I had never set foot on the Rubicon Trail was my primary motivation for driving down the West Shore for the Emerald Bay Trail Run.

The course skirted the edge of Emerald Bay, following the shore of Lake Tahoe to finish at Lester Beach in D.L. Bliss State Park.

Bliss, indeed.

This is quite possibly my new favorite trail in Tahoe, (and that's saying something!)

I had run a hard twenty miler the day before, and was surprised to realize on Sunday morning that I was sore. I wasn't too concerned since the 7.5 miler was merely to be short, fun training. I planned to run the point-to-point course decently hard, then skip the shuttle ride and run the trail in reverse back to my car. It worked out to be a perfect plan and a beautiful day.

Jason Payette and Lara Pearson get ready to start.

I arrived at the start at Eagle Point Campground on Emerald Bay to be greeted by friends Paul, Betsy, Zach, Lara and Jason. With a 9:00 am start, it was a bit of a lazy morning, and I was grateful. We sipped coffee, pinned on bib numbers and lined up at the bottom of a paved hill.

After about a half mile of pavement, we hit the downhill and the singletrack. It was clear almost immediately that I should have run a little faster on the uphill, because I was ready to fly and was feeling a little frustrated that the runners ahead of me weren't moving faster. This is probably the first time this has ever happened to me on a downhill. I ran at what felt like top speed, dangerously tailgating the runner ahead, eyes keen for any opportunity to pass. Here and there the trail widened a bit, and I sprinted past the throngs whenever the moment allowed.

Soon I was in a comfortable place, running fast and breathing hard. The trail was unbelievably beautiful, but all of my focus was on my feet. The technical aspects were challenging at times, and I was loving every minute of it.

After passing a few more women, I knew I was running in second. Focusing on moving fast and staying upright, I cruised along and soon spotted the first place woman ahead. She was tall and thin with the stride of a gazelle, and I knew I would never catch her. But shortly, while I wasn't even thinking about it, she appeared right in front of me.

I much prefer the more relaxing position of running in second than first, but truthfully, to avoid passing her I would have had to slow down. I just didn't feel like slowing down.

As we finished rounding Emerald Bay, the broader lake views became more spectacular.

The trail reminded me quite a bit of the Flume Trail, but closer to the water and with a less-precipitous drop-off.

There were a number of fun, technical challenges. We had to squeeze our way between some large granite slabs...

...negotiate some steep, downhill steps...

...hug tightly to more granite to avoid the cliff edge...

...and duck. (It's hard to tell from the photo here, but the roof of this rock is, at best, 5 feet above ground.)

This was the sight welcoming runners as we crossed the finish line...

I crossed the line in 56:44, good enough for first woman and 9th overall out of 79. (Complete Results) I immediately pulled off my shoes and headed in to the lake for a soak. The water was just cool enough to allow me to call it an ice-down, but the warm air and sunny skies made it a truly blissful experience.

Betsy Nye is all smiles, still aglow just a week after another amazing win at Wasatch.

I sat on the beach for a while and cheered for my friends and fellow runners. When the beer came out, I knew it was time to get back on the trail. Nothing has the power to steal the second half of a training day like cold beer and good company on a sandy beach at Tahoe.

The run back was the yin to my race's yang. It was slow and peaceful, allowing for plenty of time to soak up the scenery and take pictures.

This little chipmunk was hoping I might feed him, but he was out of luck since I was experiencing a major sugar crash of my own with nothing to satiate myself.

I paused to play tourist briefly at Vikingsholm, which I'd never seen before.

Running along Emerald Bay I found this small, beautiful, secluded beach. I couldn't believe I had it all to myself. I wanted nothing more than to strip off all my clothes and swim through the crystal blue water, then lay around all afternoon soaking up the last rays of summer and pretend like it was the beginning rather than the end.

Is it any wonder that Trail runner Magazine just included Truckee in its list of top 7 towns for trail running?

"...there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."

-Lester Burnham, American Beauty

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lake of the Sky 36.4M

With the advent of school churning a bit of tumult in my life, my plans for this weekend oscillated between multiple ideas, including running the Lake of the Sky Trail Run in Tahoe City, heading to Yosemite for some trail running in combination with the Tioga Pass Run on Sunday, and a combination of the two. In the end, I opted to remain in Tahoe for the weekend and run LotS, followed by a heavenly eleven hours of sleep Saturday night, and I am so glad that I did!

Lake of the Sky follows the Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe City almost all the way to Brockway Summit. It used to be pretty close to 50K, but with the re-routing of the first three miles of the TRT from Tahoe City last year, the race is now officially 36.4 miles. Because of this, RD's Robert and Linda Matthis also offered several other distance options: a marathon and an 8 mile trail run.

I hadn't realized any of this until I finally took a good look at the race website on Friday night before the race. I was sleep deprived from all that back-to-school chaos, and feeling like I was on the verge of getting sick. I wasn't thrilled to learn about the extra mileage, and decided I would give myself the option of dropping down to the marathon if I felt crummy.

I arrived at the start and was greeted by several friendly and familiar faces, including Peter, Lainie, and Turi. I immediately felt like I had made the right choice by remaining in Tahoe for the weekend.

Turi had invited me to run on this day on a portion of the Lake Tahoe Marathon course, which we will both be running in two weeks. I, in turn, invited him to run LotS instead. I was glad to see him show up, but you know, now I'm worried maybe he will think I am a bad influence. I mean, a 26 mile trail run is great training for a road marathon that is two weeks away, right? Ahem.

Lainie and I get ready to start.

I lined up near the front since I knew we would jump onto the single track almost immediately, and I didn't want to get stuck behind the walkers. The first three miles or so comprises the portion of the trail that was re-routed last year, and I had yet to run it since its completion. I had actually worked on the trail crew that put this trail in, so I was pretty excited when I got to run through the part of the trail that I had done. I'll tell you, a day of hard labor with pick axes and rock bars makes running 100 miles sound easy. Okay, well, it makes running 50 miles sound easy.

The climb was much more gradual, and much less rocky. I felt it was a definite improvement! (Can you tell I'm taking a little pride in my small contribution here?)

Views on the initial climb.

Lainie and Peter lead me up the hill.

I followed Peter and Lainie up the hill, and enjoyed the running, views, and early morning light on the mountains. I realized I was focused a bit too much on keeping their pace, and when some perfect photo opportunities presented themselves, I paused to take advantage. With Peter and Lainie out of sight, my competitive instincts settled down a bit, and I was able to find a nice, sustainable pace.

Unfortunately, this also meant I found myself running alone very early in the race. Nonetheless, I was feeling much better than I had expected. When the marathon turn-around came at Watson Lake, I felt like I had barely started running. Even though I could have easily won the marathon division since all the women ahead of me were running the 36 miler, I didn't really consider turning around. I just felt too good.

Shortly out of the Watson Lake aid station at mile 13, another runner finally caught up to me. To my surprise, he greeted me by name. It turned out to be the wonderful John Trent.

John had been on the course at Tunnel Creek last year during my 100 miler at TRT, and had sent me some kind and helpful emails during my ensuing post-race funk. I was super excited to finally get to meet him in person! We spent the next few miles catching up and talking about running, writing and blogging--some of my favorite topics of conversation. No wonder those were the best miles of my day!

John let me go ahead shortly before the turn around at halfway. Lainie and another woman were heading towards me, in second and third places, and we all greeted each other enthusiastically. I was a little jealous that they had each other to run with and I was all alone. But somehow, the miles flew by anyway.

I ran solo on the entire return trip, although I kept looking back hoping to see John. There is a lot of down hill at the end, and my sore ankle was finally starting to realize it had run more than 30 miles today. I tried to back off the pace a little, but it was so much fun to go fast. The wind started to howl while the trees swayed in protest, and I looked up to see dark clouds churning magnificently though the sky. The air felt wicked, and soon stray raindrops were spurring me on. I leapt over rocks, flying down the final descent, stumbling here and there, but avoiding any real falls.

I crossed the line in 6:40 and was immediately greeted by Peter, who had won the marathon division. We stood around in the rain chatting and cheering on the rest of the finishers before I finally made my way inside to inhale some of Linda's delicious home made chili.

All in all, it was a beautiful day. I was pleased with how I felt, and once again reminded of how lucky I am to live in such an incredible place. Thanks so much to Robert, Linda, Norm, Helen, and all the friendly and dedicated volunteers!

Here's an interesting statistic, for those who look at the numbers. The last time I ran this race, 2007, I ran 7:42. The course was also 3.6 miles shorter that year. (Clearly I was not in the greatest shape.) I went on that year to run the Helen Klein 50M in 8:39, my current PR. So, if I can cut over an hour off my time on this course while adding over three miles of running, I'm thinking I can certainly cut 40 minutes off my time at Helen Klein. What do you think?

JoAnne and Andy, of Reno, finish the 36.4 miler as part of their training for Firetrails - their first 50 Miler!

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Vasque Aether Tech

I’ve been in search of the perfect trail shoe for a number of years now. During my first several years of trail running, I typically ran in road shoes. I simply couldn’t find anything I liked as well as my Asics. In the past two years, I’ve finally developed a respectable quiver of shoes: some for road, some for technical trail, some that can handle either one, and some for snow or wet weather. The trail shoes each have an area where they shine, but they also share a common feature: I haven’t been entirely happy with any of them. Enter the Vasque Aether Tech.

After some major customer service from the kind folks at Wilderness Running, I decided to check out the Vasque line with their award-winning Aether Tech, (winner of Outside's 2008 "Gear of the Year" and Runner’s World’s 2008 “Best Debut” shoe awards).

The AT falls under what Vasque calls its Performance Line: shoes “geared for shorter distances at an aggressive pace.” As an ultra runner, you’d think I would have tended more toward their Endurance Line: shoes “built to handle great distances with ease.” As it turned out, I found the AT’s to handle technical trails at an aggressive pace, as well as great distances with comfort.

As a side note, I also have an appreciation for those who take the time to choose unique and appropriate names for their products, so I wondered about the word “aether.” Not only is it a reference to the Greek god of upper air and light, but in physics it is “a theoretical, universal substance believed during the 19th century to act as the medium for transmission of electromagnetic waves. The aether was assumed to be weightless, transparent, frictionless, undetectable chemically or physically, and literally permeating all matter and space.” So...I’m thinking “light and fast,” right? Turns out to be a perfect description of the Aether Tech.

Vasque as a company places a lot of importance on the perfect fit. Although that’s certainly not unusual for a running shoe company, they did a great job of helping me understand how this works, and actually delivering that perfect fit. Here’s their entertaining, yet educational, video on the ultimate fit:

These are the important features of the Vasque Aether Tech:

The Arc Tempo Last

The AT is built on Vasque’s Arc Tempo last, boasting an athletic fit and promoting quickness and agility over technical ground. The asymmetrical curve is suited for those with high arches, and places the foot in a more powerful position during toe-off. It has a medium volume heel and a tapered toe box.

Here’s another of Vasque’s videos, this one outlining the differences between the Arc Tempo last and their Perpetuum last used in their endurance line:

Women’s Specific Fit

All of Vasque’s women’s shoes are formed on a last that is adjusted to fit women specifically. This means it has a narrower heel pocket, more support in the instep, an adjusted heel-to-ball ratio, and higher arches. (Thank you, Vasque!)

Boa Lacing

The unique lacing system is probably the first thing you’ll notice about the Aether Techs. I have to admit I was skeptical at first. I tend to shy away from things that seem gimmicky or fad-ish. (Remember the Reebok Pump? They too, thought it was the end of the shoelace era.) Everything I read about the Boa lacing system claimed that it delivered a “glove-like” fit. As much as I hate the cliche, it’s 100% accurate, and I love the fit.

When my husband first saw the shoes he declared, “Oh, they have snowboard laces!” I was immediately more confident about the technology. After all, snowboarders basically revolutionized the ski industry in the 90’s. Why shouldn’t they do the same for other sports?

Boa technology was invented in 1998 by snowboarder Gary Hammerslag, who was tired of yanking all morning on his laces to get his boots tight enough for a float through fresh pow. (If you’ve ever worn old-school snowboard boots, you know exactly the pain and frustration I am talking about.) By 2001, Boa laces hit the snowboarding market, and now they are in use world-wide by athletes in sports such as cycling, running and golf.

In the Aether Tech, I found the lacing system to be brilliant for dialing-in the fit of my shoes. It offers smooth, even tension throughout the foot, and it’s easy to use. With the shoes on, push the knob in, and twist until the shoes feel good. I found that I liked to jog a few yards to let the tension even out, then re-tighten. To loosen, simply pull the knob out and pull up on the tongue. Many folks I talked to seemed concerned that the laces might break, but they are made of aircraft-grade stainless steel and they seem pretty bomber to me. They are also guaranteed for the life of your shoes.

The Upper

The upper part of the shoe comes in ether a lightweight mesh, or soft shell. Since I live in a dry climate, I chose the mesh. The high-breathability factor helped to keep my feet cool and dry. For wetter climates, the soft shell upper works to keep out the rain, as well as excess debris.

Something else to be aware of: Vasques tend to be on the roomy side, so you may need to drop down a half size.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am in love with my Aether Techs. During the past month I wore them for speed work, hill repeats and tempo runs on technical trails. They performed so well, that I could tell my confidence on technical terrain improved. I ran fast. (I really like running fast!)

I also wore them for several 30 mile trail runs on technical terrain without experiencing tired feet. These shoes may be marketed for “short, technical and fast,” but I would wear them in a 50 mile trail race in a heartbeat.

Here’s another interesting thing I experienced with my shoes. Normally after a run of 20 miles or more, I get blisters on the outsides of the balls of my feet and sides of my big toes. This isn’t because the shoes rub there, because they never do. It’s because of the way my foot strikes the ground. The skin right there wrinkles just a bit with each footfall, and eventually the skin layers rubbing against themselves cause enough friction for a blister. They’re usually not painful, but they do cause a nasty buildup of calluses that I am constantly fighting with my pumice stone. But this month: no blisters at all.

I think I finally found shoes that fit my feet so well that they actually changed the way my feet strike the ground. I couldn’t say exactly how my foot strike changed, but I am certain that it’s for the better. No Blisters. No tired feet. Happy runner.

The Aether Tech typically retails for $115-$125, so they are on the high end of the price spectrum for trail shoes. However, I really think the right shoe is worth its weight in silver belt buckles. I did find them discounted to about $90 at several online retailers, though with very limited size selection. Currently, you can find them at Wilderness Running for $110, and at REI (Men's only) for $125.

So, are the Vasque Aether Tech’s for you? If you have medium to high volume feet, (or, like me, low volume feet and use custom insoles) and want a great-fitting, high-performance shoe for technical trails, then the answer is yes. Even if you’re a high-mileage runner, you’ll appreciate these shoes if you prefer a light shoe that offers technical performance and a good feel for the trail.

My only question now is, what do I do with all those other shoes?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Mid-Season Check-In

Good morning, everyone. Please take out your portfolios to review for a mid-term reflection and self-assessment.

To begin, I’ll revisit this past weekend. Then we’ll take a quick peek at past races this season, those yet to be run, and goals. (Raise your hand if you think this will be another ridiculously long post.)

Frog Creek 10 Mile Trail Run and The Epic Link-Up

Last weekend I ran in the first annual Frog Creek Trail Run here in Truckee. It took place on a beautiful and challenging course on Donner Summit. I had the pleasure of running most of the 10 miles with Turi, who came up from Reno for the race. You should definitely check out his race report, which includes some great pictures!

I was happy to see many familiar faces from my neighborhood--many folks who don’t typically log numerous miles running, but were there to support the cause. After the race, we all sat around in big adirondack chairs on the forested grounds of the lodge eating fresh grilled burgers, sipping local brews and listening to some live, acoustic music. Hey, I think I just described my perfect day!

View of Lake Angela on the Frog Creek course. Photo courtesy of Turi

Sunday I had a planned “the epic link-up” for my official last day of summer vacation. I would run out my front door, through the woods to the Tahoe Donner Trail system, follow the Donner Lake Rim Trail, connect to the PCT over Donner Summit, then turn off at Tinker’s Knob to run through Coldstream Canyon, and follow that home. I figured it would be about 30 miles. Phenomenal trail running, no driving required.

Anderson Ridge (on the PCT) viewed from Tahoe Donner

Rocky running on the Donner Lake Rim Trail

Unfortunately, Cap was having an off day. It was clear in the first 3 miles of the run that it wasn’t going to be a good day for him to go 30. I spent most of the run worried about him, and allowing my brain to spin over all the zillion things I had to do for school and should have been doing instead of running. I called Andrew to come rescue Cap when we reached Donner Summit. We had already run 18 miles, and I knew we had at least 15 to go, maybe more.

My spirits were low, and the prospect of a 33-35 mile day felt burdensome. That wasn’t how I wanted to feel about this run, which I’d been so excited about planning. When Andrew showed up, I joined Cap in the car and headed home. I felt disappointed, but I knew it would happen another day.

My Season so Far

My year started out with a beautiful race on the coast, the Surf City Marathon. I’d chosen to switch things up a bit this year by running a road race, and I think it was a good call. I needed to get a little speed back in my life. I am definitely a trail runner, but I had a blast at Surf City!

All of my spring races were training runs, and it was great to get in all that social running time without feeling too competitive. All the racing helped keep things fun and interesting. By summer, everything was geared toward TRT 50, and I felt stoked about my race there.

In stark contrast to how I felt after last year’s 100, I felt inspired after TRT this year. My training in August somehow fell into place without even having a training plan. Mileage was good, quality was excellent, and it seemed that every weekend I ran a new trail in another beautiful location.

Castle Peak, viewed from Andesite Peak during a run on the DLRT and Hole in the Ground Trail

On the numbers, I finished in the top 5 women in seven races. I feel pretty good about that, even though I am well aware that a number of those races were quite small.

Where I go From Here

My final race of the year, the Helen Klein 50 Mile, is my main focus. At the moment, I feel totally ready to tackle my goal of running sub-8 for the distance. Unfortunately, the race isn’t until October 31st. With school starting, and my schedule looking extremely tight, I’m primarily worried about losing fitness between now and then.

I’ve tried to plan some races in September with the hopes of using them to stay in shape. Plans are still a bit up in the air right now, however. I’d love to do the Lake of the Sky/Tioga Road double, but I just can’t imagine driving all the way to Lee Vining, running a road right up to the entrance of Yosemite, and not having time (or energy!) to go into the park and run trails. I’ve been considering skipping Lake of the Sky for some additional running on Tuolumne trails, but I’m also starting to question the wisdom of leaving town at all on the first weekend after the start of school. I’m torn.

I’m excited about running the Lake Tahoe Marathon for the first time in many years. I used to love this race, until I swore off road races. (These promises never last, do they?) I’ve never been in shape for this race, except when I ran it as part of the Tahoe Triple, and even though it will just be a training run, I’m hoping for a course PR. I think my best time is around 4:07, and that did come on day three of the Triple. It’s not a fast course, but I should definitely be able to break that time.

So, with that, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t go from feeling like a bad-ass to feeling like a lard-ass in the next two months before Helen Klein. Then it will be time for a nice long nap.

Thank you for indulging me in this all-things-Gretchen post! (It wasn’t too long, right?)