Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Lake of the Sky 50K

It’s been two weeks since I ran the Lake of the Sky 50K in Tahoe City, and I finally have a minute to sit down and reflect on the day. Our wet fall weather took a break for the weekend, and the morning dawned cold amidst the clearing clouds. I walked up Fairway Drive towards the start and breathed in the sunrise before me. The early light reflected off a glassy Tahoe, while pink clouds still hugged the surrounding mountains.

I arrived with just enough time to check in and toss my extra clothing in to my car. I decided to start out in tights, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. I ran with my hydration pack, not so much for water capacity, but in order to have a place to stow my extra clothes that I would undoubtedly shed as the day progressed and warmed. I knew we would spend the early miles climbing, but I just didn’t feel like shivering through them. As it turned out, I kept the tights and long sleeves on for most of the day.

We gathered at the start and I noticed a few familiar faces, including Scott Dunlap sporting some brightly patterned sleeves (very stylish Scott!) and Bev Abbs. I made the rare choice to position myself near the front of the start, as I knew the course went immediately onto singletrack. Although I didn’t exactly plan to sprint up the hill, I still didn’t want to get caught in the inevitable bottleneck. I planned on running much of the initial grind, and knew that many folks would not. It worked out well, and as the true racers sprinted ahead I found myself with a line of runners who held a steady jog on all but the steepest and more technical stretches.

Familiarity with the first half of the course helped the miles fly by initially. In no time I was at the first aid station where Jack Driver and friends were keeping us well stocked with goodies.

The cold weather had brought a hard frost to the ground. I knew the rocky technical trail was a challenging one, but I had no idea how bad it could really be. Uneven rocks covered with an icy frost do not make for an enjoyable running surface. We were slipping and sliding all over the place! Walking turned out to be the safest choice for this stretch.

I soon found myself running alone, and plugged in my headphones to keep myself company. I rarely run with music, but I knew this was not going to be a fast day for me, and thought a little extra entertainment was in order. With that in mind, I had downloaded a podcast of my favorite NPR show, a hilarious news quiz called “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” to listen to on the run. The moment Peter Sagel’s voice welcomed me to the show, I knew it was a great idea. My only concern was the strange looks other runners were surely giving me as I shouted out the answers to the show’s questions, my responses ringing across the forest floor. Fortunately no one was around when, at several points, I found myself laughing so hard at the show I nearly had to stop running. For my next race I’m going to have to download 3 or 4 shows, because I was so bummed when that one was over. I had also downloaded a podcast of “This American Life,” but decided the chances of it making me cry were too great, so I didn’t listen to it. Crying and running do not go nearly as well together as laughing and running.

At the Watson Lake aid station there was quite a Thanksgiving feast available. I had no trouble putting away a slice of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream!) and it carried me easily to the last aid station before the turn around.

At this point I started to feel the miles, and I knew I would get slower throughout the rest of the day. The course climbed uphill as the halfway point approached, and I chose to walk most of it. I began to see the race leaders heading back the other direction and I was grateful for this indictor that the turnaround was not far.

I spent the remainder of the day simply enjoying the scenery and trying to forget about how slow I was going. To be honest, I don’t really like to go slow, so it was a good exercise in patience and letting go of any time goals. It seemed to take me about an hour between each aid station, regardless of how far apart they were. I snarfed another slice of pie at Watson Lake, and pulled out my camera to get some scenery photos now that the clouds had really cleared. Unfortunately my camera battery was dead, so that didn’t work out too well.

The technical downhill as I neared the finish line was as treacherous as I knew it would be. It would have been a joy to run down those last 4 miles if the trail had been soft dirt. Unfortunately my legs were weak and the rocks were vicious, so I picked my way slowly and carefully. At the finish, I noticed that all of the runners who had run fast times also sported bloody wounds on their knees and shins. Coincidence? I think not!

I crossed the line in 7:42, not quite my slowest 50K ever. As Peter Lubbers later pointed out though, it’s really a 33 mile course. Well, okay, I guess that makes it a little better. (Can you tell I didn’t do a good job of letting go of my concerns about time?)

After the race I indulged in an incredible buffet of home cooked food and met a few new folks, including Catherine and Peter. So great to meet you guys! I’ll be looking for you all, and more familiar faces, at Helen Klein next weekend.

A few days after the race, I went down to Orange County to visit family and was able to hook up with Jessica and the OCTR crew. We went for a great 6 miler in Peter’s Canyon. I felt great, and I definitely noticed the advantages of training at altitude, as those uphills at sea level felt almost easy. Thanks so much for putting the run together Jessica!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fall Comes to the Mountains

Although the miles have been few, they have certainly been sweet here on the trails of Tahoe. The change in seasons always leaves me with a sense of nostalgia, especially in fall. Perhaps it's because summer is my favorite season in the mountains and I'm sad to see it go. But it seems to be the combination of that sadness, coupled with the excitement of the coming snow and all the joys of the ski season, that leave me with the odd feelings that I identify with fall. When I lived in southern California, it was the way the Santa Ana winds blew the smog away, leaving a crystal clear view of the distant mountains that gave me this feeling. The difference is that down south, the onset of winter means that the best season for running is just beginning, whereas here I am doing my best to appreciate every last day of clear mountain trails.

Friday's run on my backyard trail

Saturday's run on the TRT

The aspens have begun to turn, and I have spent several days already running through snow dusted trails. It makes for heartbreakingly beautiful running. The crisp air also means I don't carry much water, even on a 20 mile run. Summer may be my favorite season, but I think fall provides the best running conditions.

Paige Meadows on the TRT

The TRT heading west from Tahoe City

The Truckee River

Last weekend I payed a visit to my old stomping grounds, the beautiful trails of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. This is where I ran my first marathon to qualify for Boston, and where I trained for Grandma's marathon, which still stands as my PR for the distance nearly a decade later. Needless to say I have a fondness for running in this town. Unfortunately I missed the peak of the fall colors, as the leaves were really just beginning to turn. If you ever have the opportunity to run the Twin Cities Marathon, I highly recommend it. It is flat, fast beautiful, and filled with cheering spectators for the entire distance. When I lived in both St. Paul, and south Minneapolis I trained on portions of the course which follow bike paths along the many rivers, creeks and lakes of the Cities. Last week I ran what felt like a blazing fast 7 miles along Minnehaha Creek, and recalled the joys of sharing urban running trails with all the other runners out there. It's a contrast to the solitude of running on mountain trails, and perhaps that's what gives me such an appreciation for it. I feel like I suddenly have a hundred running partners, even though I likely won't say more than "Hi" to any of them. That always contributes to the feeling of speed, oh, and the fact that I live at 6000 feet and ran on a flat paved trail at sea level!

The Mississippi River viewed fromthe Science Museum in St. Paul MN

While Andrew and I were in Minneapolis, the bears here in Truckee were up to some unusual antics. It's been a tough year for the bears up here, with more than 30 killed by cars in the Tahoe area this season. It's no wonder then that this bear decided it would be preferable to jump off a bridge than tangle with an oncoming vehicle.

The scared bear clings to the side of Rainbow Bridge on old highway 40 (photos courtesy of Tahoe Tribune)

You can read the entire story here, but the short version is that the Bear League set up a safety net, tranquilized the bear, and pushed it off the side into the net. The bear was fine.

This is the excitement of life in a small town. In truth though, the issue of how to leave peacefully in the natural envorinment is a serious one. Although this is a sensational story, it is only one of many cases where the bears (and other wildlife) are adversely affected by the presence of humans. I'm glad, this time, that the bear got out alive.

This week is the Lake of the Sky trail run in Tahoe City. My training has been sorely inadequate, but I'm trying to think of it as a training week for the upcoming Helen Klein 50 Miler. Thus no tapering for me, although frankly I don't see how I could run any lower mileage than I already am. The weather looks questionable for the race at this point, so I am getting mentally prepared for a cold wet day.

For those of you with big races coming up, good luck! Addy is running her first 50 miler at Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 on the 13th, and Russ his first 100 miler at San Diego 100 on the 20th. I'll be sending good vibes your way!