Thursday, July 26, 2007

The TRT 50 Mile Endurance Run

The first ultra I ever ran was the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K back in 2003. It was a difficult course, and since it shares 31 miles with the 50 mile course, I was very aware that this year’s 50 mile race would present a big challenge for me. When I decided not to run the AR50 back in April, I took a good look at my goals for this race. I decided 11 hours would be a good target; ambitious, maybe, but disappointment at missing my first planned 50 of the year had spurred my ambition.

The week before the race it was time to take another look at my goals. After spraining my ankle 5 weeks before the race, I knew there were some major holes in my training. I looked at some finish times from the previous years for runners I was familiar with, and closed in on a stark reality: 11 hours was out of the question. I simply had not done the training.

I knew I would like to run 11 hours on this course some day, so I kept it as a long term goal, and set my sights on 12 hours. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that sure I was ready for 12 hours, but I knew I would be disappointed with much less. I calculated splits for 12 hours and pasted them onto my water bottle alongside the splits for 11 hours which were already there. This was the first time I had figured out splits for an ultra and brought them with me, and it made me kind of nervous. I love the ultra attitude that says we are just there to have fun, but I have to admit that sometimes I am competitive and part of having fun is pushing myself.

The day before the race, Scott Dunlap had invited some folks over for some pre-race socializing. It was great because I finally got to meet Addy and Jessica. I always say “see you there” on people’s blogs, but honestly it’s hard to find people you’ve never actually met before at 6am on the starting line. It’s so much fun to talk with people who are doing the same thing, and don’t respond by telling you you’re crazy. So thanks Scott! Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet Christie and Sophie, but maybe next time.

Fellow running Bloggers Addy, Scott and Jessica

I arrived at the parking area at 5:00 am on race morning, and by the time I caught the shuttle to the start it was 5:15. It turned out to be the perfect amount of time to tape my feet, get my drop bags ready, slap on some sunscreen and get to the pre-race briefing at 5:50. I found Addy and Jessica at the start, and suddenly it was time to go! The crowd moved off, and when I checked to see if Addy was still with me, I saw her still standing at the start talking to her dad. Clearly she was not stressed about running her first ultra!

I spent most of the first 6 miles to the Hobart aid station wondering if I was starting too fast. There is a lot of gradual climbing, and I ran most of it. It was chilly and running kept me warm, plus that extreme taper had my legs desperate for some running! The sight of Marlette Lake with the sun coming up, surrounded by granite boulders and purple lupine was breathtaking. As we left the lake the climb became steep enough to hike.

I arrived at the Hobart aid station right on the mark for 12 hour pace. Completely crestfallen that they were serving Gatorade, I filled my bottle with half water and half Gatorade, despite a volunteer’s assurances that it was already mixed at half strength. My stomach just does not do Gatorade. Since the website showed the race was sponsored by Hammer, I just assumed they would have Heed to drink. I usually drink only an electrolyte drink, no water, in my bottle. GU2O is my standard, but I can do Cytomax or Heed as well. Gatorade was going to put a hitch in my race plan.

Scott Dunlap at Tunnel Creek aid station

Somewhere between Hobart and the next aid station at Tunnel Creek I fell in behind a woman and the guy who was in front of her. We got to chatting and soon discovered that she and I were both hoping to run 12 hours. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

At Tunnel Creek I picked up my second water bottle, dropped my long sleeved shirt, and discovered that I hadn’t put the bag with my GU and Clif Shot Blocks in my drop bag. It was simply destined to be a day where my stomach had to adjust to new race foods. I also grabbed a bag of Salt Stick electrolyte caps from my drop bag and shoved them into my pocket. I rarely take these, but figured they would help compensate for drinking only water instead of GU2O. Soon we were off to conquer the Red House Loop.

Marlette Lake and Tahoe viewed from Marlette Peak

Tate, my new 12 hour running partner, caught up to me shortly down the trail after I stopped to pee. We had a great time. People will tell you how awful this loop is, but honestly it’s not that bad. We cruised the down hill and were at the aid station in no time. I had to remove the last of the tape on my toes, as it seemed to be doing more harm than good. (Note to self: test out new taping methods on a run longer than 3 miles!) Tate stopped to wait for me, and at the time it made me feel a bit guilty. Eventually I realized we had actually become a team out there, and this turned out to be the biggest blessing of the day.

Back at the Tunnel Creek station I shoved down some food, and stuffed my pockets full of Hammer Gel. It was 9 miles to the Mt. Rose aid station where we would turn around and come 9 miles back. There was one aid station at 4.5 miles, but it was water only. This was the only section of trail I had never run on, and I was curious about how it would go. Tate and I kept up a steady stream of conversation, now and then joined by other runners. The views of Lake Tahoe were beautiful, and all I could think about was going for a swim. I learned that Tate is from Bend Oregon, and had traveled down to the race with a whole crew of folks running, including one of the top men in the 100 race Sean Meissner. She also works with Rod Bien who had finished 2nd in last years 100 race. She clearly has some great mentors and a supportive ultra community in Bend. I found myself quite envious!

Me, leaving Tunnel Creek (photo courtesy of Jessica)

Soon we saw the 100 mile leaders coming back from Mt. Rose. First was Jasper Halekas. To be honest, the only reason I even recognized him is because he was wearing the same thing he wore at Silver State. (So was I, so I’m not making fun of him!) He looked so relaxed, and he appeared to have a solid lead already. Eventually a few more men came through, including Sean. Not far behind that group Scott Dunlap came by looking speedy, and as usual having a great time. I gave a few words of encouragement, and Tate gave a jolt of recognition, shouting “Scott Dunlap! I love your blog!” at his retreating figure. I laughed. He’s like a running celebrity! Down the trail I also said hi to Jack Driver, a local runner from Donner Summit, and Chet Fairbanks from Reno, who I had run with a bit at Silver State. These races with turn around points are great for socializing! After the turn around we also saw Catra Corbett who promised me she was returning to the PCT on Monday. Go Catra!

Tate had a great system set up for taking food and electrolytes. (Maybe this was a tip from Rod?) The timer on her watch was set to go off every 30 minutes, at which point she ate a GU. Those 30 minute intervals kept coming around so quickly, it didn’t take me long to decide that I should eat when she eats, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be eating enough. With every other GU she took an electrolyte cap, and I quickly got on that plan as well. Having the timer set really helped us keep track, and it also convinced me to force down a gel even when I didn’t want it, which was a good thing. I will definitely be taking this tip to my next race!

Nearing the Mt. Rose aid station, Tate ran out of water. This surprised me, since I had plenty of water left. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough? I gladly gave her one of my bottles, still ¼ or so full. Upon reaching the aid station I slathered on a bit more sunscreen and grabbed a popsicle. Although truthfully, a smaller popsicle would have been welcome, I just can’t pass up these treats. It melted all over me as I ran with it, but fortunately there was a creek where I could rinse off. With Tate by my side, the miles continued to fly, and we were back at Tunnel Creek still feeling good. I couldn’t believe we only had 15 miles left! This time it was Tate’s turn to help me out with a donation of Clif Blocks since my stomach wasn’t really interested in much more.

Ever since the Red House Loop we had been coming into the aid stations right around 11 hour pace. Sometimes we were a few minutes ahead, sometimes a few minutes behind. I knew that the 8 miles from Tunnel Creek to the Snow Valley Peak aid station could be pretty slow, so I wasn’t counting on anything yet. Tate said she did not want to know our pace, so I had to keep my thoughts to myself on this one. I figured I would just wait and see where we were time-wise when we left the Snow Valley aid station, and decide on a goal at that point. We cruised through Hobart in good time just as Jasper came through in the opposite direction, still leading the 100 mile race.

The wind at the top of Snow Valley Peak was brutal. I had my visor cinched down tight, and tried to pick out some food that wasn’t completely coated in dirt. That was a losing battle, but really, what’s a little dirt? I thanked the volunteers here profusely because it did not look like fun to be sitting there getting dirt blown in to every crevice of your being by the howling wind. Tate was in full agreement that we get out of there as soon a possible, and we began the 7 mile descent to the finish.

We were about 15 minutes behind 11 hour pace at this point. I knew it might be possible to make up the time, but I also knew it would be close. Tate still didn’t want to know our pace, but I was definitely on a mission for sub-11 by now. We picked our way through some technical sections, still feeling good. I could definitely feel the downhill in my quads, but when it wasn’t too steep I tried to push the pace a little. We had snippets of conversation with every 100 mile runner that we passed, and we both had to profess our admiration for them. I was so glad I didn’t have another lap to do after this!

As my watch said 10:45 and the Spooner aid station was no where in sight, I started to realize I wasn’t going to make it. I had pulled a little ahead of Tate, and convinced myself if I passed the aid station, which was 1.5 miles from the finish, by 10:47 maybe I still had a shot. It turned out that there was a big clock at the Spooner aid station (brilliant idea!) and as I came by it read 10:49. Accepting my fate, I switched to a slightly more comfortable pace and vowed to enjoy my last mile and a half of the day.

I crossed the line in 11:05, with Tate just a minute behind. It had been a truly brilliant day. We kept a really consistent pace all day, and Tate’s presence made it feel easy. I couldn’t have been happier with my finishing time, and I was 8th woman. Tate had commented on the return from Mt. Rose that she considered herself a back-of-the-pack runner. I’d laughed and said, “Not today girl!” She finished 9th in her first 50 miler!

Tate and I celebrate our triumphant finish!

A big thanks go to the race directors and all the volunteers who put on a great event! Also, a big kudos to whoever came up with the finisher awards. As soon as I crossed the line I was handed a cold 20 oz. “Red House Red” beer specially labeled for the race, and a finisher’s medal that was also a bottle opener. Excellent!

Congratulations to all the runners, especially Addy, Scott, Jack, Chet, and of course Tate!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter vs. TRT

Last week I realized I have a major conflict with my upcoming Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler this Saturday. I mean seriously major. It’s not just that the final Harry Potter book will be sitting there waiting in my mailbox, unread, while I mindlessly find my way over 50 miles of trail at 8000 feet. It’s not just the fact that I will have to wait until at least Saturday night to begin discovering Harry’s fate: Will Voldemort kill him? Will Harry triumph? Will Dumbledore’s death be avenged? Will Dumbledore “pull a Galdalf” and manage to return to the plot? Will someone please (Hermione, a little help here!) kick Snape’s smug evil ass?? Will Draco turn to the good side? Will Harry and Ginny get back together? Will Hermione and Ron finally cut the act and smooch already? Oh God, I can’t stand it!!

The real problem is that I pre-ordered my book on Amazon. I paid extra for guaranteed Saturday delivery. (Tomorrow!) Living in a small town, I do not get mail delivered to my house. I think this is because the mail carrier does not want to drive down the crazy steep hill with the curve at the bottom in the icy winter conditions. Understandable, but doesn’t the postal system have some motto like “neither rain nor sleet nor snow shall keep us from delivering your mail?” Seriously, I need Harry! So the book will be put in my PO Box, except there isn’t enough room, so I will get a slip of paper that says I have a package and will have to go to the desk to get it, meaning the post office must be open. I will be running during the entire duration of Saturday’s postal hours. Ack! I cannot wait until Monday. What’s a girl to do?

My current plan entails sending Andrew to the post office instead of my race. Plan B is to stay up until midnight tonight and go to the book store downtown to buy another copy. Unfortunately that means I would stay up all night reading it and get no sleep the night before my race. I am having a serious dilemma here! Advice anyone? I know, next time just support the local bookstore and buy it there (duh).

I also went to see The Order of the Phoenix on Monday. Enjoyable, but the movies just can’t compare to the books. I will say that I loved the actress who played Luna Lovegood, she stole the show! I also think they picked a good Umbridge, talk about someone you love to hate! Incidentally, I just saw “The Freedom Writers” with Hillary Swank, and that same actress that played Umbridge played another bitchy teacher. She’s good at it.

So, don’t expect my TRT race report anytime soon, as I’ll be locked in my room reading…assuming I can get my hands on the book!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tapering at the Donner Lake Triathlon

Ahhh…extreme tapering, what a great life! After a few days in the 90’s in Seattle (who knew it got that hot up there??) taking some days off last week was not too hard. I spent 10 hours in the car on Saturday driving down from Portland in order to get to the race expo for the Donner Lake Triathlon. They charge an extra $20 or something to pick your packet up on race day, so I needed to get there by 6:00 in order to avoid that issue. I arrived at Donner Lake with my right leg suffering severe driving cramps despite my generous use of the cruise control. Not exactly a great pre-race plan to spend 10 hours driving, but oh well.

I got my stuff, and started feeling nervous noticing how ripped all these other people were who were checking in. Triathletes are fit! I was more than intimidated. I then proceeded to worsen the situation by going down to the beach to check out the swim course. Oh my God! The far buoy that we would swim around was so far out into the lake I could barely see it. I wanted to cry. What was I thinking signing up for this thing and putting in no training on the swim and only two days on the bike? (Does two days even count as training??)

At home that night I seriously considered whether I should be doing this with TRT less than a week away. I was torn be the two questions: “Am I stupid if I do this?” and “Am I a total wimp if I decide to bail out before the start?” I did not sleep well.

In the morning I arrived at the west end of Donner Lake to the usual pre-race excitement and was glad I was there. I knew the swim would just be survival, and the most important part was to stay relaxed. I found being at the start with my gear to get ready and things to do allowed me to relax and not worry so much. Triathlons are so gear intensive; pretty different from running. I got all of my stuff ready at the transition area, got a short warm-up and stretch in, and put on my wetsuit.

There were two triathlons going on: a sprint distance and the international distance. All the sprinters had started by the time I got to the starting area, and the announcer was busy sending the men off in age group waves five minutes apart. I did some last minute stretching while “Footloose” blasted the crowed in an attempt to generate energy. Why is it always “hits of the 80’s” that race directors choose for their pre-race music?

My wave (women 34 and under) started at 7:50 and there were two more waves after me. I started easy, as was the plan, but quickly felt my heart rate climb. The thing I hate about swimming is that you can’t just breathe whenever you want to. Soon enough I began to flail and switched to the backstroke. I love the backstroke! You can breathe as much as you want to! Well, except for the occasional wave washing over your face causing you to gasp and sputter.

As I approached the farthest buoy I was flailing a little more, and a safety kayaker offered to let me rest on his boat. (This is actually totally legal.) Did I really look that bad?? I declined, knowing that I just needed to keep making forward progress. The swim was sort of a square, so the first turn at the far buoy was still only about 1/3 of the way to the swim finish. I got caught and passed by people in both of the waves that started behind me, and after a lot more backstroke, finally found myself on the beach. Hallelujah! The relief was overwhelming!

My swim finish was about what I had expected. I was pretty much last in my wave, but I had expected to take 40-45 minutes and I finished in about 36 minutes. I was pretty happy with that, and extremely happy to be done! Getting on the bike was truly the best feeling in the world.

The bike course immediately starts climbing for 3 ½ miles up to Donner Summit. It’s a tough climb, but living here, I have done it enough times that it doesn’t intimidate me. I had my new road bike that Andrew got me for my birthday, and I have to say, it kicks ass! The only other triathlon I have done is the sprint version of this same race, and I have always been the goofball riding up the hill on a mountain bike. I love my new bike! I was also pleased to see that there were still a lot of athletes around me, so at least I wasn’t last in the whole race. I spent most of the hill powering past other cyclists.

I also found that my new bike turned me into a better downhill biker. I have always been a decent hill climber, but a total chicken on the downhills. This bike fits me so well and gives me so much confidence, that I did my best downhill riding ever. On the other side of Donner Summit I found myself in my very highest gear spinning like mad to get more speed on the downhill. Obviously it wasn’t a very steep downhill, but still, I was having a blast! I realized then that, being a runner, triathlons are great fun because each stage actually gets easier as you progress to disciplines for which you are more suited. I was later to revise this theory during the first mile of the run. Ugh!

The descent down old 40

The final descent down old hwy 40 to the transition area was probably my shining moment of the day. This is not only a steep downhill, but contains a series of hairpin turns that make it a tricky descent. I am notoriously slow on this hill and ride my brakes a lot. On race day however, the road was blocked to traffic so I didn’t have to worry about cars. This also allowed me to swing out and take the best line around the corners. I had a blast! I started down with one woman who I kept in my sights the whole way, and I actually passed someone. This is unheard of for me. Apparently Andrew was cheering somewhere near the bottom of the hill, but I didn’t see him because I was so focused on avoiding any bumps or potholes while the ground sped by me at the speed of light. Unfortunately, he didn’t see me either, so no pictures from this event! I told him he didn’t recognize me because I was going so fast, he was looking for someone much slower on the bike. I think this is actually the truth!

I stumbled through the transition area and set out on the long 10K (6.5 miles) around the lake. Contrary to my expectations, I did not feel great on the run. I managed to catch a few splits and think I was doing about nine minute pace on the flats. It felt pathetically slow, but somehow I was still passing people. Even though I was feeling like crap, I thought, “If I feel this good in the last 6 miles of TRT I will be stoked.” I clearly will feel much worse during the last 6 miles of TRT because I will have just run 44 miles, but it helped to put things into perspective.

As I finally approached the finish line I experienced a frightening sense of deja-vu when I heard the familiar sounds of “Footloose” pumping through the speakers. Apparently their selection of “get pumped up songs” wasn’t very long. This finish had probably the best feature of any finish I have ever seen: It was located about 10 feet from the edge of the lake. Within 30 seconds of finishing I was stripped down to my swimsuit and floating in the soothing coolness of Donner Lake. Blissfully enjoying the feeling of being done, I relaxed in the water for a few minutes and went to find Andrew.

Although I am definitely sore from the triathlon, I am glad I did it. It was a beautiful day and I had such a great time. It was one of those days where I really appreciated living up here in this beautiful mountain town. I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack overall, and more towards the top half for women. I feel pretty good about this. I think it shows my overall level of fitness to do that well even though my training wasn’t really geared for the event. The soreness is mostly just in my shoulders, so hopefully this didn’t take too much out of me for the upcoming 50 miler. It was definitely a good distraction, and maybe that was the whole point.

Final results:
46th out of about 130 women
106th in the swim
46th in the bike
30th in the run

Monday, July 09, 2007

An Urban Long Run

As with all of this summer, the last 2 weeks have been jam packed. The first thing I did after Yosemite was go for a run on one of my favorite sections of the Pacific Crest Trail and promptly sprained my ankle. Well, actually it wasn’t prompt. Unfortunately I didn’t do it until about 6 miles down the trail, which meant I had to “run” 6 miles back on a sprained ankle. Not so fun. This injury arrives uncomfortably close to an event that I have really been gearing for, the TRT 50M. The same thing happened last year about a month before AR50. Hmm…Stephanie’s doctor says it is no coincidence that injuries happen just before races because we have been training so hard or something like that. Some consolation. Although I can still run on it, I have had to cut back my mileage and I’m pretty disappointed about it. These were supposed to be my last two weeks of “big” training before tapering, and instead they were pretty mediocre. I also still have pain in my ankle and the bottom of my foot. I’m hoping that will disappear with the “extreme taper” I embarked upon starting yesterday. In case you don’t know, an extreme taper simply compacts the normal “step downs” of tapering into a shorter period of zero mileage. Okay, so I just made that up, but we’ll see how it goes. I will be doing mostly resting and yoga for the next 2 weeks. Aside from that triathlon next Sunday.

So, let’s talk about that triathlon. What was I thinking?? I haven’t done any swimming at all. Well, I did one 25 minute swim in Donner Lake last week, which was probably a bad idea because it put the fear of God into me. I think ignorance would have been bliss in this case, since I’m pretty sure 25 minutes of swimming did nothing to improve my chances of finishing well in the swim. As it is, I am hoping not to drown. The swim is 1.5K, which is .9 miles according to the website. There are two waves that start behind me, so if I’m lucky I won’t be dead last getting out of the water. The bike is 40K and the run a long 10K. Honestly, I’m not all that worried about either of those. I know I will at least survive them. But what made me think I could do a triathlon without training for the swim? Ultimately, I suppose it will be good for me. This event is going to require a change in my mindset. I need to decide what my real goal is, because finishing fast is not an option. Perhaps my goal is just getting out there and having fun? It will be my first international distance triathlon, so maybe my goal is just finishing. I guess, with TRT a week after, and a full race schedule planned after that, my biggest goal is to remain uninjured. Well, aside from the ankle thing.

The milkhouse, at "The Farm" where I am staying in Seattle

Currently I am in Seattle for two weeks (one week left) for a writing conference. The Puget Sound Writer’s Project is for teachers who want to work on both their own writing and how they teach writing. I have to say, it’s been incredible! I can’t remember the last time I was in an environment that fostered so much learning in me, and inspired me. I’m actually excited for school to start in the fall!

While in Seattle I have had some time to visit my friend Charlie. You may recall Charlie as my pacer last year at AR50. Charlie wasn’t available for any running or pacing duties this year, due to the birth of her baby girl Rian. However she and Rian did lend their experience to crew for Mike (Charlie’s husband) and me on an 18 mile run through the streets of Seattle on Saturday. It’s been a while since I had a partner for a long run, and it was wonderful. Although much of our route was on pavement, it was a beautiful tour through the city and various parks, and Mike’s company had our 9:00 minute pace feeling like a breeze. I also have to give my plug for Discovery Park in downtown Seattle. I have run in a few urban parks, like Golden Gate Park, Central Park, and even Hyde Park in London. Those are all great for running. They can’t hold a candle to Discovery though as far as placing a wilderness in the middle of an urban setting. When you’re in the canopy of those trees, running on soft beautiful trails, you have no idea that you’re not in the middle of some mountain wilderness. Then suddenly you pop out onto this beach on Puget Sound and you would swear you are closer to Alaska than Seattle. I loved it!

Charlie, Rian and me

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My Backyard Paradise: Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada

With school out for the summer and my final exams all graded, it was fitting that I spent many days in June down on the east side of the lake. Living in the mountains brings a few drawbacks (few cultural events, shoveling 30 feet of snow off my 23 front steps, etc.) but when I can get out to the trails and the lake I remember exactly why I live here.

One of those drawbacks developed into a stark and frightening reality for some Tahoe residents recently, when a fire started near South Lake Tahoe last month. As residents of the planet Earth, we all know what Mother Nature has the potential to dish out. In the mountains, the big risk is fire. We had an extremely dry winter, and I think it’s going to be a long fire season for everyone in California.

I have been impressed by the support of the community for the victims of this fire. In Truckee we had several collection sites where we donated clothing and supplies for those who lost their homes, and I know communities all over the Tahoe-Reno area were doing the same. I like being where I know my neighbors will help if they can.

As I said, I spent most of June playing in the mountains, from Tahoe’s east shore down to Yosemite. Here are some pictures from my adventures, and my tribute to life in the mountains.

Last day of school "teacher campout" on the east shore.

Sunset view from our campsite

Taking a break on the west shore of Marlette Lake, during a bike ride on the Flume Trail.

The Flume Trail. The best mountain biking in Tahoe!

My running partner, Cap, takes a break on the TRT. We finished 26 miles together that day. It was a great adventure, except for the part where we ran out of water.

View of Marlette Lake with Tahoe behind it, from the TRT.

Swimming in Tenaya Lake, Tioga Pass area.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite Valley.

Andrew and I stand at the top of Half Dome, Yosemite.

While in Yosemite, I completed my longest rock climb to date, 16 pitches! Here is our summit photo from the climb, Royal Arches.

Descending from our climb at Glacier Point apron.