Tuesday, November 11, 2008
In the meantime, there is something much more pressing on my mind: Speed work! I just finished my first track workout in...I-don't-know-how-long. Years.
Oh. My. God. You know how I feel right now? Awesome!!!!
Here's how my morning began: I got up at 7:00, even though it's a holiday and I didn't have to work. (Yay!) I walked the dogs, ate breakfast, and drank an entire pot of coffee. It was cold and rainy out, and I thought, gosh, what a great day to take Cap (my dog) out for a run on the JP trail.
Since I hadn't met my mileage quota last week, largely due to the fact that I forgot to look at my schedule and just ran, I thought I should check to see what I was supposed to be running today. Here's what my workout said:
8 miles, speed work: 2X(12,8,6,4)
Fuck!! Who put that on the freaking schedule?? (Oh yeah, me.) And why on earth would I need to run a workout that included 400's when I was training for a marathon?? Then again, the workout could have read: 2X(4X12) which would have been infinitely worse. I refuse to run mile repeats on the track, relegating them to the road only, but 1200's on the track is painfully close to to mile repeats on the track.
Anyway, with a huge, pitying, self-absorbed sigh, I got dressed and headed down to the track. Getting in the 8 miles turned out to be no problem, since I had 1.5 miles each way to the track, plus I planned a 200 meter jog between reps, and a 400 meter jog between sets.
I'll spare you the blow-by-blow account, but for a few details. First, I was slow. Slow as molasses. Slow as Sarah Palin searching for an intelligent answer to a question from Katie Couric. Slow as a decathelete in a 1500. This is what my wach told me, anyway. I wasn't too discouraged because it was to be expected, even though I was definitely pushing myself for these slow times.
Second, I didn't slow down much in my second set of reps. Okay, the 1200 was way off, but overall my times were basically the same. So I'm slow, but at least I still know how to pace myself somewhat. I was certainly laying it all out there by the last two reps, so I know I wasn't just slacking.
My slow jog home felt brilliant. I was exhausted. Maybe I was slow, but running on the track felt incredible. It still felt like home. And I felt so powerful that I am pretty sure my next order of business after this blog post is to go out and save the world.
A workout that had me trembling with fearful anticipation this morning, went beautifully. Somewhere, way down in the dark, scary places of my soul, that runner that loves to go fast just got a swift kick to jolt her from her long slumber. She's still held back by the allure of hibernation, but I have no doubt that in a few weeks time, she'll be out on the track in all her glory.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Earlier this month I realized that long term running goals were dancing around inside my head. Instead of trying to motivate myself to get back into things right then, I kept thinking about next year. Apparently my transformation into an ultrarunner is complete; I am only able to think long-term.
So I clicked around on some of my favorite running sites and blogs, as I was apt to do back when I was actually running and stuff. I wanted to peruse the latest news on the Western States site, and I ran across the Two Time Loser list.
Now I have to admit, it’s pretty exciting to see your name listed on the Western States site, for whatever reason. Sure, it wasn’t nearly like being listed as a winner in the lottery, but seeing my name on the screen definitely got my brain firing and my latent running muscles twitching.
Suddenly, I was writing training plans in my head, scanning the list for familiar names and wondering how the winter weather would treat my long runs. Apparently a goal race that is 9 months away, and requires as much time spent training, is exactly what I need for motivation.
To be sure, I knew my chances of getting into Western States in 2009 were pretty close to zero. On the other hand, there were essentially two lists of people who could be on the line next June: The 2008 start list, and the TTL list. For almost anyone else, your chances really were zero. That did make me feel kind of special.
If you’re scratching your head right now and asking, what the heck is a TTL, and why would anyone want to be one? don’t worry too much about it. TTL’s are a dying breed. In the past, if a runner qualified for Western States and failed to get selected in the lottery for two years in a row (making you a Two Time Loser) then you were granted automatic entry into the following year’s race. However, the race committee announced last year that they were abandoning the rule because, well, there were just too many of us. In fact, the TTL list right now is 252 names long. After the 2008 runners notified the RD of their intention to run, (or not to run) there were only 54 spots left for TTL’s for 2009.
I'm a TTL! Are you a TTL too?
The current rules state that I am guaranteed an entry into the race in either 2010 or 2011. I will just have to continue to extend that ultra mindset of thinking long term.
In the meantime, I’m looking at some shorter term goals, including pondering my race schedule for next season. I’m definitely interested in the 100K distance, and I’m pretty sure I am not going to run a 100 mile race this year. I’m thinking about a few shorter races (like marathons) and maybe a couple triathlons. The only thing I’ve committed to so far is the Surf City Marathon in February.
Several years ago I swore off road marathons (with the exception of Tahoe) so it is a wonder to me why this race interests me. Maybe I just needed a change of pace—literally. This course is flat and at sea level, so it stands to reason that I should run a decent time. I’m not yet sure exactly what that time should be; I want to see how my training goes. I do, however, plan to push the speed work in my training. I hope to have an established time goal by Christmas.
The “enter a race” method of motivating myself seems to have done the trick anyway. I somehow managed to run 6 days this week! I’m also taking the wise approach and incorporating strength training, which I have been too lazy to do in the last several years. It feels good to be sore though!
As far as other races, I’m considering many of the standard NorCal ultras for the spring and summer. If you have any race suggestions, please post them! Also, if you have links to your race reports for those races, post those too!
I’m enjoying this time filled with possibility: Letting my brain explore all the potential races and allowing all these thoughts to fill me with excitement about running. After an extended break, I'm finally sick of being lazy.
Happy Fall, and here’s wishing everyone the best of race dreams for 2009.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
And then there’s Lynyrd Skynrod.
Proudly hailing from Reno, NV, Skynrod burst on to the local racing scene in 2007 with impressive finishes at the Squaw Mtn. Run and Reno Journal Jog as well as a win at the Tahoe Triple. Sporting slicked black hair, a handlebar moustache and a Marlboro dangling from his lip, Skynrod is anything but your typical runner. Although he’d look more at home among a pack of Hell’s Angles or NASCAR fans than on a marathon starting line, looks can be deceiving.
Lynyrd Skynrod on his home turf (photo courtesy of coach Jackson Fairbanks)
Skynrod can claim bragging rights to a marathon PR of 2:39, although he claims that will drop following this Sunday’s Tahoe Marathon. His best posting in the half-marathon distance came last spring when he won the Rockin’ River Half Marathon in Reno with a time of 1:12:52. Last fall, he also claimed victory in the Tahoe Triple, with a cumulative time of 8:33 for the three marathons.
Clearly Skynrod is more than just a one-hit-wonder on the racing scene, but what can we learn from this elusive character? I tracked him down at the Gold Dust West casino after last Saturday’s Reno Journal Jog to find out.
I have to admit, I was initially intimidated about approaching Lynyrd Skynrod. A friend of mine, who is a speedy local runner himself, recently confided to me, “That Skynrod guy is a total ass!” Nonetheless, I was intrigued by this aberration among runners. I knew enough to ply him generously with Jim Bean, and after enough shots and a few beers, the words were flowing like the sewers through Reno after a summer storm.
When did you start running? Have you always been athletic?
Course I’ve always been athletic. I been racin’ since I was 11, dirt bikes that is. I kicked ass ’til that one time I endo’ed onto some razor wire fencing and ripped open the tendons in my left wrist. Didn’t heal right. Never used them breaks much for dirt bikin’ anyway but once the circuit hears you don’t got no stoppin’ power, you end up blacklisted from all their events for liability reasons. I heard you also get blacklisted if you’re suspected of substance abuse.
Do you prefer roads or trails?
The hippies can have their trails. Motorcycles, cars, and people all go faster on fresh, clean, asphalt. I’m a big fan of all things fast and a marathon on the dirt is just never gonna be as fast as a marathon on pavement. Maybe I’ll change my mind if they ever move NASCAR onto a dirt track. That’s not a bad idea, but as it is there ain’t a monster truck driver who stands a chance against Dale Jr. and I’m pretty sure that’s cause it’s a dirt sport.
What do you do with your time besides training and racing?
Yer lookin’ at it. I prefer a cold one and a smoke to any kind of work or hobby. Of course I’ve got a few business ventures on the side to supplement the race winnin's but my associates don’t appreciate me talkin' about ‘em in public. Don’t need to bring the dang Feds sniffin’ around again.
How do your friends and family feel about your running? Are they supportive and do they come to races?
I'm gonna be honest with you. I don’t like reporters and questions and such and you ain’t a reporter I guess so you got that goin’ for you, but why does everybody gotta ask me about my family? Do I look like a family man to you? I gave some square fella that story once and I don’t feel like repeatin’ it, but I will tell you this: you won’t see any blood relative of mine at any races. Friends? I haven’t been able to lure any of them out to any races yet and I can tell you exactly why. No incentives. Not one of these races have a damn beer garden at the finish. The entry fees are so high at some of these things that you could buy a keg with the money collected from one runner, but instead the organizers are blowin’ it on charities and pocketin’ the rest from what I can tell.
What’s so great about living and running in Reno?
What’s so great? Best damned city in America’s all. I like to think of it as one of the last great waterin' holes in all the US of A, where the danged government and stupid liberals haven’t yet taken away all our freedoms. Yep, an oasis of freedoms is what it is. Course they did come over and started taken away smokin' indoors couple years ago, and technically prostitution isn’t legal in this county either, but you can see what I’m gettin' at.
Um, okay, and the running?
Nope, they haven’t taken that away yet.
What are some of your favorite races and places to run?
Shoot, in Reno? I can’t think of anywhere that’s not good for runnin'. You got Virginia St, McCarran Blvd, 4th street, and there’s probably 15 miles of paved river trail, which is not only good for runnin' but there’s sections that are ideal for squattin’ if you’re down on your luck. You also got easy access to Glendale Blvd and that spot where contractors’ll pick you up and pay you cash for carrying their heavy crap. You hear what I’m sayin’? Cash, and then Uncle Sam can’t get his dirty mitts on it. That’s right.
What is your preferred distance?
That’d be the one with the cash prize. 'Round here I suppose that'd be the marathon and the half marathon. Jackson says “I cater your training to the marathon” so I s’pose that’s what I prefer. Mostly I just prefer to earn some extra money to keep me livin’ the good life.
What is atypical training week like? Do you cross train, or just run?
Yeah, Jackson’s got me on a runnin' schedule and I stick to it when he’s around. Usually there’s a few days of speed work, where he chases me around on a damn bike with a taser for when I fall off pace. Then we do pain threshold drills on those days too. There’s board drills, bamboo drills, badger snare drills, and some others. I’m pretty sure he got the idea for those while he was a P.O.W. Do drills count as cross training? Then I get to recover the rest of the week and do what Jackson calls the “unnecessary and overly common long run on pavement” on Sunday.
Tell us about your diet. What are your favorite foods for training and racing?
I think Dog n' a Draft is the official meal of Reno these days, and the price is right. You know what’s hot now, though? Energy bars. I could go a whole day on just one of them things. These damn scientists are gonna have us eatin' outta tubes next thing you know. That’s what I’d invest in, if I were you. Tubes.
You had an impressive performance at the Tahoe Triple in 2007. What type of training did you do for the race and how did this differ from what you have done for marathon training in the past?
That season Jackson told me “We’re doin’ less speed and more endurance and pain threshold drills.” Oh man. I remember runnin' further and on pavement more often and somehow that bastard Fairbanks got a hold of one of them electric cattle prods. He called it the “whiphammer” and that damned thing would knock me flat on my back. Training like that’ll make a man grateful to only have to do three marathons in a row.
I noticed there are photos on the Tahoe Triple website of most of the champions from the past three years except you. Why do you think that is?
That’s probably cause I like to keep a low profile. Hell just the other day some bald guy comes up to me and says "You Lynyrd Skynrod? You’re like the Kaiser Soze of runnin’. I got the RGJ callin’ me trying to get a hold of you." Now, I didn't know who that bald man was and I’m not positive about who this Kaiser Soze fella was, but I’m pretty sure he led the German army in WWI. And that’s exactly what I’m sayin’ to you. I’m in your face like a blitzkrieg.
In an article last spring in the Sierra Sun, Emma Garrard suggested you could be the alter ego of a local runner from Truckee. How do you respond to such allegations?
I get that kinda crap all the time, and now they’re callin’ me a Californian. When you’re in the spotlight you gotta be ready to get slammed with the lowest of insults. Like Jackson says, “Lynyrd, you gotta rise above,” and that’s what I plan to do.
So, d’ya know where she lives?
What goals do you have for the Tahoe Marathon this weekend?
Let’s see, I got’em on a piece of paper here somewhere. Okay, 5:55 per mile for the first 5 miles and then pick it up from there. Jackson says that pace should win it and if I’m feelin’ spry, I could go for the course record. Course record’s 2:28 I believe.
What’s next for you? What races are on your list and what are your goals?
I know Jackson has plans for me. He talks about havin' me set that world record in the Triple Marathon and havin' me qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. This year isn’t the year for either of those things though. Right now just this Tahoe marathon and then maybe a few more half marathons in the spring. I figure marathoning’ll be our focus for the next few years. Fairbanks knows I’m not fond of leaving this state so I don’t know why he thinks I’m willin’ to go to any of those other marathons. Lake Tahoe is plenty far into California and hell will freeze over before I cross those damn mountains to the west. He keeps sayin’ “what about the Vegas marathon?” and I keep tellin’ him everybody knows Vegas is really just Los Angeles sprawl. Then he says “What about St. George? That one’s fast and it's only about as far out of Nevada as Tahoe,” and I keep tellin’ ‘im any state tha’s known for religion makes me nervous and that town's even named for a saint.
Well, that’s all Lynyrd would give me before he became more interested in smacking the cocktail waitress on the ass, but I was pretty pleased with our interview overall. (Especially considering Lynyrd rarely speaks to the press.)
I will always prefer the elite runner who wants to stick around the race and cheer for others over guys like Lynyrd, but I can appreciate that he is shaking up the scene a bit. It goes against the mindset of most ultra-runners, but in Lynyrd’s world, nice guys really do finish last, and there’s no prize money for second place. (Most of the time there's none for first either, but I didn't want to point that out to Lynryd.)
One other thing I learned: watch out if you’re going to spend an afternoon in a casino with Lynyrd Skynrod. To my chagrin, I was incapable of driving myself home after the interview and I had gambled away all of my cash for cab fare. Andrew was not pleased when he had to drive to Reno to pick me up, and it didn’t go a long way toward convincing him that running is not a crazy stupid sport.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I certainly had no shortage of sources for inspiration. Donald ran his first 100 miler. Claire did her first Ironman. Peter Lubbers ran the entire 168 mile Tahoe rim Trail. I even got to pace Peter for 20 miles, which is still the only long run I’ve done since the 100. I think having first hand knowledge of what running 100 miles was like, made Peter’s run that much more impressive to me. When I joined him at 7 am on Sunday morning, he had already spent his second night without sleep, and was moving along well at mile 110. I was more than inspired; I was in awe. (Especially when, after topping out on Relay Peak at mile 126, Peter took the downhill at a pace I had to push myself to match!)
Rory, Peter and me
Peter moves at a steady pace through the Mt. Rose Wilderness
Further inspiration could be found with the events of the Beijing Olympics, but with no TV, I witnessed exactly zero track and field events. More recently, Truckee local Betsy Nye won the Wasatch Front 100.
Clearly it’s not inspiration I am lacking. Just motivation.
On the other hand, I have had more time for other things in my life. I visited family in southern California, where I withered in the warm coastal humidity, went to a baseball game (Go Angles!) and enjoyed some play time with my nephews. Andrew and I spent a weekend in Pt. Reyes surfing, kayaking, playing with the dogs on the beach, and stuffing ourselves with oysters. I even found time for a little climbing on Donner Summit, which was one of the reasons we moved to Truckee in the first place.
Swimming at the Yuba River
Dorky baseball fans
Andrew sucks down oysters from Tomales Bay
Heidi's oyster bar at The Marshall Store
I downgraded my racing schedule from the Lake Tahoe Marathon and the HK50, to the Kokanee Half Marathon and the Fall Colors Trail Half Marathon. I figured these would be some fun, but not-too-hard fall events, and they would also complete the Trail Half-Marathon Series, that I had begun in the spring. When I realized that I would be in San Francisco for a music festival on the same weekend as the Kokanee race, I again lost motivation.
In the end, it seems it actually is the change in the weather that has me itching to hit the trails again. Of course, I haven’t actually done it yet. Perhaps, like that first cold of the season, the urge will just be a lingering annoyance before it eventually passes.
Last night however, I did run into a colorful local runner at a bar on Donner Summit. Stay tuned next week for my exclusive interview with Reno renegade Lynyrd Skynrod. (It may not be motivational, but it will certainly inspire something!)
Monday, July 28, 2008
That being said, I understand that many of you are not interested in every detail about my every footfall on this hundred mile journey. Thus, I offer you several other options. For the moderate, yet fairly full-fledged version, I suggest reading only the following subtitled sections: Prelude, Miles 50-61, Mile 76, Miles 76-100, Mile 100. For the truly time-constrained, just scroll through the pictures and read mile 76-100.
For those less faint-of-heart, read on for the extended length director’s cut.
Prelude: A Lengthy Discussion on Goals
Goals are a big part of running for me. I love to run, but having a goal is my motivation.
When running your first race at any given distance, everyone always says your main goal should be to just finish. This makes perfect sense. After all, if you have never run that far before, you really don’t know what you are in for, so how many other goals can you set?
When running my first marathon, everyone said “run to finish.” Okay, that was certainly a goal. But what I really wanted was to qualify for Boston. At the time I had a great training partner, and we executed both our training and race plan perfectly to qualify for Boston. This was my first time responding to the advice, “Just finish.” You can see where this is going in regards to ultras, yes?
I didn’t have quite such ambitious goals with my first 50K or 50 miler, but still, I reached the starting lines fairly confident in my ability to finish. I needed a “reach goal.” What could I do if I had the best day possible?
For my first 100 miler I had enough respect for the unknown to realize that “just” finishing would be a good day. I fully understand the logic in having this as your one and only goal: reachy goals can make the inexperienced runner do stupid things like start too fast, thus jeopardizing the chances of finishing at all. It’s common sense. But logic and common sense can do little to dissuade the desires of the human heart.
My hopes for a top 3 finish among women were finished when a handful of elite women came over from the non-Western States race. Nonetheless, it was exciting to share the race with them, even though I knew they would all be hours ahead of me.
My reach goal would have to be focused on time, and I had been contemplating the possibility of a 26 hour finish. I knew this was a total shot in the dark. With nothing for comparison, I had no idea what I could run. Still, I figured if 26 hours were even possible, I would need to run the first half in 12 hours, leaving 14 for the second half.
So my 3 main goals, from easiest to hardest were:
3. 26 hours
As race day drew near and I got nervous and stressed, I also added the following, very important goal: Have fun!
The drop bag check list
Pre-race check-in at Carson City was quick and easy. I weighed in, registering 136 on their scales. I thought that was light, (I’d been more like 139 all week) but race officials told me that everyone else said they weighed heavy. They wrote my weight on my wristband, along with warning weights both high and low. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what all those numbers meant, but I didn’t need a wristband to tell me that if I dropped below 130 it would be bad.
I saw Sean, and then Jessica. I took a few minutes to socialize before dropping off my drop bags at the appropriate stations and settling in for the pre-race briefing. After that, I went home to cook dinner for Andrew and Sarah, and give them whatever last minute information I could so they would be ready to support (Andrew) and pace (Sarah) the next day.
I had been on a coffee diet all summer so I wouldn’t be such a caffeine addict, and it had been tough. When my alarm went off at 2:30 am, I sprang out of bed in sheer joy at the thought of a cup of coffee. I put the water on, and went through my pre-race checklist. Dressed? Check! Sunscreen? Check! Pre-tape feet? Check! Breakfast? Check! Start/finish drop bag? Check! Coffee? HELL YEAH!
I spent the 40 minute drive to the starting line sucking java from a travel mug, blaring the music and singing along with Michael Franti, bursting with excitement. Nothing like combining pre-race nerves with a caffeine high!
Everything went smooth as butter as I shuttled to the start, hit the port-a-pottie 2 or 3 times just to be safe, and stood around with other runners making false pretenses at stretching. I met Rick for the first time, and saw Harry who had finished a few minutes behind me in the 50 mile race last year.
Runners gather for the 5:00 am start
[Miles 0-11] The Early Miles: Exuberance and Joy!
Soon we were off in the pre-dawn darkness. Several runners were without lights at this point, and I was glad I was not one of them. They were dependent on the rest of us for light, and when we hit the single track in less than a mile it must have been tough.
I tried not to worry too much about pace. I know excitement was causing me to run faster than necessary, but I felt relaxed and just wanted to enjoy the moment. Coming down the single track to Marlette Lake, the sun was rising and the view was stunning. The trail paralleled the inlet creek, and the resulting lushness caused wildflowers to abound. Unfortunately the light was still too low for great pictures.
Approaching Marlette Lake on the single track
Miraculously, the outhouse at Marlette Lake was empty, and I made quick use of it. Soon I was heading up the road towards Hobart, and found myself among a pack of fit looking men, including Harry. Since he and I had similar finishing times in the 50 last year, I thought maybe this would be my pace group. Alas, a few miles past Hobart, Harry would move ahead not to be seen again except miles ahead of me on my way into Mt. Rose. I figured he was having a great race, but a recent look at the results found his name absent. I was disappointed for him to say the least.
Looking back at Marlette Lake from Hobart Rd.
The trail up to Marlette
Between Hobart and Tunnel Creek, we climbed Marlette peak for some of the best views on the course. So far the course had been mostly uphill, and I was still right on pace to finish my first lap in 12 hours. I was still with Harry and the fast guys approaching the summit, but they easily gapped me on the downhill. Although I had been practicing my descending all year for this race, I also wanted to stay relaxed and avoid any falls or twisted ankles, so I just tried to keep it smooth and let gravity take me down.
Marlette Lake with a smokey Tahoe in the background.
Harry and the fast guys lead the way up Marlette Peak
[Mile 11] Tunnel Creek: The Aid Station from Heaven
Coming into Tunnel Creek aid station at mile 11, I was immediately blown away by how amazing the people at this aid station were. This would prove to be a theme for the aid stations at this race. I remember them being great when I ran both the 50 mile and 50K races here previously, but this year things were at an entirely new level. I wondered if they just get better every year, or if 100 mile runners get special treatment. I think it’s probably a bit of both. Late in the race I would come into an aid station, plop myself into a chair by a heater, and just let all the volunteers fill my water and bring me food. (I never would have thought I would do that kind of thing, but I had no idea what happens late in these races. Thank God for tireless volunteers!)
A runner indulges in the buffet at Tunnel Creek
From my first visit, Tunnel Creek became my favorite aid station. This was convenient since we would visit this station 6 times throughout the race. Stan Ostrom met me as I approached and grabbed my bottles to fill them with water. I don’t really know Stan, but I have seen him as the RD of the Silver State 50/50 races which I have run the last 2 years. He always has the sweetest smile! Before I could even get to the drop bags, a volunteer had looked at my number and brought me my bag. Amazing! I pulled my drink mix out, and Stan held my bottles while I poured a baggie in each, then he ran off to top them with water for me. Meanwhile, I gorged on the plentiful buffet, and refilled my pockets with GU.
The theme of this station was Hawaiian, and even Stan had on a grass skirt. Dave Matthews blared through the speakers, and I sang along as I re-packed my drop bag and made ready to go. Everyone was all help and smiles, sending me on my way with a burst of energy. “Se you and me, have a better time than most can dream of, better than the best, so can pull on through…” Bye Tunnel Creek, I’ll be back in a quick 6 miles! And I was off to the infamous Red House Loop.
[Miles 11-17] The Red House Loop: “Why is this so infamous?”
The 6 mile Red House Loop is considered by most to be the “Taste of Hell” portion in the “Glimpse of Heaven, Taste of Hell” race motto. The first section of downhill is steep, and in my opinion the crummiest part of the loop. Overall however, courses like Diablo or Silver State with its 6 mile climb up Peavine, are MUCH tougher than the Red House Loop.
I paused at the aid station right at the Red House itself, about halfway through the loop. Peter Fain came flying through on his way to a win in the 50K. That pretty much sums up all of my standard encounters with Peter.
Approaching the Red House
I was running along a flat section behind a runner I had dubbed “the coughing backpack guy,” because he was running with a huge backpack and had a hacking cough. I tried to imagine what he could possibly be carrying in that pack. Perhaps an extra pair of legs for the second lap? If he had an extra pair of lungs, it was certainly time to pull them out.
“That cough doesn’t sound too good,” I remarked as I came up behind him.
“Oh, this is just normal. It’ll go away in a few more miles,” he explained. Yikes.
“Ooh, bummer.” We were already at mile 15 or so.
“So why is this loop so infamous?” he asked. He’d already seen the downhill, so I figured he was of the same mind as me: It just wasn’t that bad.
“Well, we have to run back up part of that same hill we came down,” I offered, “but I really don’t think it’s that bad.”
“Yeah!” he agreed. I thought going down it was certainly worse than going up.
“I suppose we’ll find out the truth of the matter when we run it at mile 60,” I surmised.
“I guess.” He still sounded skeptical.
If you’re not familiar with the course for TRT, it basically follows a “lollipop” with an additional 6 mile loop at Red House. The Tunnel Creek aid station sits right at the juncture of the “stick,” and the Red House loop. Thus the 50 mile runners visit that aid station 3 times. 100 mile runners do the 50 mile course twice, and visit Tunnel Creek 6 times. I was well aware that running the Red House loop the second time could bring home the infamous aspects of the loop.
As I ascended the last hill of the loop with a steady hike, Thomas Reiss came by me on his way to breaking his own record in the 50 M race. I was in awe that he was actually running this hill, but he soon switched to a steady hike just a bit faster than my own. I kept him in sight until the ground leveled out and he blew through the Tunnel Creek aid station before I even got there.
Tunnel Creek was much busier now with runners of all distances present. (The 50 milers and 50K runners started an hour later than us.) Still, Stan greeted me with his smile, calling me “the bouncy runner” and promptly took my bottles to be filled. I hopped on the scales for the first time that day, checking out at 138. This seemed closer to my normal weight than 136, so I felt pretty good about it. With their incredible attentiveness, the volunteers had me out of there in a flash, and I was off toward Mt. Rose.
[Miles 17-35] The Mt. Rose Out ‘n Back: “Good job! Good job!”
Miles 17-35 are made up of a nine mile out and back to the Mt. Rose aid station. This comprises most of the “stick” portion of the lollipop course. I once heard this section described as monotonous. Whoever said that must have been one of those runners incapable of running without headphones. This section is awesome!
It’s mostly rolling, with no major hill climbs or descents, so you can run most of it. There are also breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe, and on the other side of the ridge, occasional views of Washoe Lake and the Carson Valley. My favorite part about this section of the course though, is that you get to see many of the other runners in the race regardless of pace. As I was approaching Mt. Rose, I saw the fast folks on their way back. As I was leaving Mt. Rose, I saw the people behind me still heading out, as well as most of the 50 mile runners.
Exactly what order I saw all these people in, I don’t recall. I do remember seeing the lead group of men. One runner was in front, who I believe was Jon Olsen, then about 10 seconds back was Erik Skaden with another guy I didn’t recognize. He turned out to be Mike Wolfe, and shared the championship title with Erik.
I saw Nikki Kimball and Bev Anderson-Abbs pacing each other through a strong run and cheered them on enthusiastically. I saw Sean Meissner looking strong. I saw Jenny Capel. I love seeing all the fast folks kicking butt!
At some point it finally dawned on me that there was no aid station at Diamond Peak. This was about halfway to Mt. Rose, and there was supposed to be a water only aid station. I was already nearing Mt. Rose, and running close to empty on my bottles. It was still cool out though, so it wasn’t a huge deal. On my way in to the aid station I saw Rick Gaston, who kindly stopped to check if I had survived the missing aid station. By the time I returned, they had water at Diamond Peak, and this time it was a good thing, since it was so much warmer out!
I had told Andrew I might be at Mt. Rose as early as 11:00 am, and he should be there by 10:30. It was 10:45 when I rolled in, and I wasn’t totally shocked when he was nowhere to be seen. My only concern was that he would show up unaware that I had already been through, and wait for hours steeped in worry. On my way out of the station, I saw him approaching with two friends and I screamed and cheered. They cheered in response, and then I was gone.
The return trip to Tunnel Creek abounded with “hellos” and “good jobs” with many 50 mile runners. I saw Mark Tanaka, and wasn’t even gracious enough to stop while he got his camera out. I’m not sure what my big hurry was, but I guess I was just in running mode. Sorry Mark! Anyway, I figured he would come up behind me at some point later in the run and we could say more than just hello, but I never saw him again. I also got to say hi to Peter Lubbers, Jeff Barbier, and Jessica Deline. I was loving the social aspects of this course!
Jeff Barbier is all smiles in the 50 Mile race.
[Miles 35-50] Tunnel Creek to the Start/Finish
I got weighed again at Tunnel Creek by Micheline, who told me “When I grow up, I want to run like you!.” I laughed and thanked her.
“Just see if you still feel that way when you see me at mile eighty-whatever!” I warned.
I followed my standard aid station routine: Empty trash from pockets, stuff pockets with GU, fill bottles with GU2O and water, eat! I also soaked my bandana and added some ice, since the day was warming up and we were in full sun. It didn’t feel too hot with the breeze, but the ice was a welcome addition.
I bid Tunnel Creek a fond farewell for the next 25 miles, and headed back toward Hobart.
The theme at the Hobart aid station was “Haunted Hobart.” They had ghouls and goblins, and funny signs as you approached and left. They were even adding new decorations in preparation for the coming darkness.
“I’m a little nervous about coming back to this aid station in the dark!” I told one volunteer. Little did I know, I would never visit Haunted Hobart in the dark. Maybe that was a good thing.
Creepy decor at Haunted Hobart
Here I indulged in the now world famous “Hobart Ensure Smoothie.” Last year these things really hit the spot, and this year they tasted even better. I asked the little girl pouring the smoothies what the secret ingredient was. Her answer? “Love.” No wonder they were so awesome!
Smoothie Makers at Hobart
From there it was 3 miles to the Snow Valley Peak aid station. I thoroughly enjoyed it since it was largely uphill, and I felt no need to try to run it. This aid station was run by a Boy Scout troop from Nevada, and some of the boys sitting at the entrance had the list of numbers and names. Thus, an enthusiastic group of teenage boys greeted me with a chorus of “Go Gretchen! Yay Gretchen Yeah!” and I felt like a rock star. The personal touches at these aid stations continued to amaze me!
I took it easy on the approximately 6 mile descent down to Spooner Lake. I wanted to keep a decent pace while avoiding pounding my quads to death. Everything still felt smooth when I rolled into the start/finish area at mile 50.
[Miles 50-61] Start/Finish to Tunnel Creek: Feelin’ Groovey!
I came in at about 11 ½ hours: a little faster than my planned 12 hour first lap. Andrew was there, and he did his best to make me eat more than I wanted. My weight was around 137. This was okay, but I would be happier with it at 138 or so. Next, I was off on lap #2!
With no 50K or 50 Mile runners, the trail suddenly felt vast and empty. There were a few stray hikers heading home for the day, but otherwise I was alone. It was just after 5:00, not too late in the day yet, but the lower angle of the sun lent itself to cooler temperatures, and a calm, peaceful feeling.
This turned out to be my favorite part of the whole race.
I was chugging along the single track of the Marlette Lake trail, doing some running and some walking. It was my second time on this section of trail today, and this time felt vastly different than the first. With 50 miles on my legs, and feeling great, my psyche suddenly got a huge burst. “Wow, I’m doing it!” I thought. “This is longer than I’ve ever run before, and I feel great!” Every step now was a distance PR! I reveled in the sheer joy of being out on the trail and feeling powerful. Once again the lushness, the wildflowers, and the beauty of Marlette Lake overwhelmed me. (I wish I hadn’t handed my camera off to Andrew at the last aid station!) I let myself dwell on the fact that I was running 100 miles, and started to get emotional. I immediately stopped dwelling. I knew I had too far to go to get teary eyed already!
I felt so good in fact, that I began to wonder when things would get hard. Maybe this whole ultra thing was easier than people made it out to be. Maybe I was just a rock star!
Several words come to mind here: arrogant, naive and stupid are just three of them. Later on, around mile 80, I told my pacer Sarah about these thoughts. We both had a really good laugh over it. Hey, at least we were still capable of laughter!
I passed through Haunted Hobart (still in daylight!) and made my way toward Tunnel Creek. Somewhere in here I saw Jessica again, heading the other direction. I was super excited to see her, until she told me she didn’t think she was going to make the cut off at the next aid station. Then I was bummed for her. She looked great, but had turned her ankle during the race, and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better. Huge bummer!
At Tunnel Creek I was greeted by a crew of volunteers that was beginning to feel like family, all crying in excitement, “It’s Gretchen! It’s Gretchen! Hooray!” How awesome is that! They weren’t looking my number up to find out who I was either. I had to respond with some enthusiastic cheering of my own.
The music was off, and the place had a decidedly more mellow feel to it. Still, the people were just as friendly and helpful as ever. Someone held my bag open for me as I searched through it for what I needed. I donned my headlamp and stuffed my sunglasses and visor in the bag. I headed off into the setting sun, bound for the Red House Loop.
[Miles 61-67] Red House Loop #2: Spilling the Wind from my Sails.
There are only a few things worth mentioning about the loop this time.
First, the sunset was unbelievable! As I approached the Red House, I looked back to the east to see the clouds lit up in a brilliant orange-pink. We don’t usually have many clouds in the summer, and they make for better sunsets, so this was a rarity. I again wished for my camera.
Second, although I would not say this loop was awful, it definitely caused me to turn the corner from feeling “great!” to feeling “not so great.” It just took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t actually lose any time here either. I still had a one hour cushion on a 26 hour finish. It just caused me to feel a little depressed.
When I arrived back at Tunnel Creek, I was all set to complain about it.
“Ugh!” I began.
Micheline’s voice came floating out from the aid station tent, “Now Gretchen,” she admonished” if you have a bad attitude I’m going to send you back out on that Red House Loop.” I immediately got over it.
“Okay, well, I’m done complaining now!” I announced to the crowd at large. We all laughed, and I actually did feel better.
I put on a long sleeved shirt and switched from 2 handheld bottles to my hydration pack. I also had additional warm clothing in the pack. Although it was dark already, it still wasn’t very cold out, and I wanted to have clothes with me when the temperature dropped. The entire time I worked on all this packing business there were two volunteers holding flashlights so I could see what the heck I was doing. Thanks guys!
[Miles 67-76] To Mt. Rose: The Beginning of the End
In darkness, this 9 mile stretch to Mt. Rose was much more difficult. The rolling terrain all looked the same. The only thing telling me I’d made any distance at all was when I hit the table with water at the Diamond Peak self-serve aid station at about halfway. This time I was doing much more walking on this very runnable section of trail.
I was slowly but surely feeling more and more like crap. When I started feeling raindrops coming down I was thoroughly annoyed. It never rains in Tahoe! What the hell was going on? It was windy and I didn’t want to get soaked, so I stopped to put on my windbreaker.
I passed the time by keeping my eyes on the bright lights of the mountain bike Safety Patrol, who were riding their bikes up and down this lonely 9 miles of trail. I cheered for the occasional runner going the other way, and occasionally someone cheered for me by name. I couldn’t tell who anyone was in the dark, so finally when someone said “Good job Gretchen!” I stopped, shined my light in his face, and said “Who’s that?” It turned out to be Rick, and it was great to see a friendly face out there.
It seemed like forever before I made it to Mt. Rose. I knew I wasn’t eating or drinking enough, and I have no idea why. It’s one thing to know that you have to keep eating and drinking, but it’s another thing to really know it. You know? One thing’s for sure: I know it now!
Andrew and Sarah wait patiently at Mt. Rose
[Mile 76] Mt. Rose: A Definition of Fainting
Andrew and Sarah were sitting in chairs with their sleeping bags over them like blankets when I arrived just after midnight. I knew I wasn’t feeling so hot, but I gave no consideration to the idea of stopping. I figured feeling like crap was probably par for the course, and I still had a 30 minute cushion on 26 hour pace. With 24 miles to go, I was already aware that this would not be enough, but afterall 26 hours had been my “reach” goal. Coming close to it would still be good.
I was afraid to take the offered chair by the space heater, for fear I would not get up again. My weight was down to 137, the lowest it had been all day, and the volunteer scolded me when he saw that my hydration bladder was still ¾ full. I knew I had been stupid not to drink. I just hadn’t really been thinking about it.
I grasped tightly to a post that was doing double duty holding up both the aid station tent and myself. I ate a few things off the table while I told Sarah and Andrew how my day was going. I tried hard to sound upbeat, but I knew I looked far different from when Andrew had last seen me at mile 50.
Now let’s address the title of this section: A definition of fainting. I personally think of fainting as something done by Victorian women in long hot dresses and tight corsets, preferably onto one of those little velvet couches missing an arm and part of the back. Right? I can safely assure you that nothing of this sort happened at the Mt. Rose aid station. Here is what did happen:
After shoving some unwanted food in my stomach, I suddenly felt nauseous. I was a little concerned about the possibility of puking all over the aid station, and began to step away from the tent. Then I thought better of it. It was dark out there, and there was no post to hold on to. I stepped back toward Andrew.
“I feel weird,” I said, genuinely puzzled. I slowly held my hands up for inspection. “My hands are tingling.”
I was staring at them in wonderment, when Sarah promptly said, “I think you better sit.” She took my arm to lead me towards the chair.
“Yeah,” I agreed. But I just couldn’t quite make it that far. Unseen hands reached out and steered my but toward the chair, while I had an odd, out-of-body experience. A second after I was seated I was back in my body and seriously weirded out. It slowly dawned on me that I was at mile 76 of a 100 mile race. After another moment of reinserting myself into reality, I realized I had just passed out and this was bad.
This was the first time it occurred to me that there was a possibility I might not finish. I didn’t want to stop, but it was clear that my body might have other things to say about it. I tried not to dwell too much on this thought, and instead focused on taking in the various forms of liquid offered me by my crew and the aid station volunteers.
This is where I started to learn something about what makes a good pacer. When selecting a pacer for your next race, I highly recommend choosing someone in the nursing or emergency medical profession. Sarah is in nursing school. Instead of getting all worried about me, she went straight into “nurse mode.” She was calm, confident and reassuring; never expressing for a moment any doubt that I could (and would) continue. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to continue on without her company.
The very clear thought running through my head at that moment as I sat there eating, was that I could not stop now because now I knew exactly how hard this hundred mile thing was, and I wasn’t sure I would ever have the guts to try it again.
Andrew is also an EMT, and between the two of them they kept taking my pulse, discussing my low blood pressure….blah blah blah…low blood volume…blah blah…nervous system something something. Diagnosis? Eat and drink more…duh! Nonetheless, I needed someone there with a brain to tell me and make me do it.
I swear it was the 3 cups of chicken broth that brought me back from the dead, but I also consumed 4 or 5 cups of water, a can of sprite, and a salt stick cap. Sitting by the heater with a number of other runners who had dropped was a dangerous atmosphere. They all looked so happy to be done running! I had recovered considerably, and made ready to go.
Sitting still had made me cold, and Andrew and Sarah layered me up with some warm clothes from my bag in preparation for the 9 mile journey to Tunnel Creek. (That’s all I was allowed to think about now: not 24 miles, just 9.) I’d stayed at Mt. Rose for 30-40 minutes I think, and I told myself I had to forget completely about my finishing time now. I just needed to focus on one thing: getting to that finish line!
I apologized to Andrew for making him worry. I really didn’t want him to see me like this because I wanted him to think ultra running was a normal, non-risky thing. So much for that one! I shuffled off into the darkness with Sarah, shivering desperately under my layers. Fortunately it was a warm night out, and after a slow half mile, I was warm again.
[Mile 76-100] Mt. Rose to the Finish Line: The Long, LONG Road Home
The rest of the race could be summed up in various ways: slow, painful, depressing. Also, enlightening and humbling. The distance between each aid station took absolutely forever. I can only imagine how slow it felt to Sarah.
And yet, here I was. This was what I had been looking for, wasn’t it? Allow me to quote myself from a blog post back in March when I concluded that I wanted to run 100 miles because “…pushing my own physical limits as far as I can makes me feel alive like nothing else.” Or, as I said in a line in one of the poems I wrote with my English students last year, “I want to push myself as far as I can, just to find out how far that is.” And here I was.
Who can say if that was really my physical limit, but I definitely felt near the brink. And I have to admit, it was potent, vivid. It totally sucked, true, but something about that self-induced pain brings every moment into sharp clarity. When all you want is to be somewhere else (the finishline!) it’s amazing how much you can actually be in the moment.
Some aid station volunteer at Snow Valley had this exact thought in mind. He greeted us on our way into the aid station loudly and boldly declaring, “I would like to welcome you to this exact moment! Right now!” And he stood before a large sign proclaiming the same thing. I was stunned at how appropriate this was, and let me tell you, he burned that moment--my sluggish trot, the morning sun, bright at the top of the highest point on the course—into my brain forever.
I could go on about the exact details of the rest of the run, but this seems a more appropriate place to end it. I found my suffering, and I gained a whole new respect for it. The competitor in me, who had proudly driven me through every other race this season, gave up and crawled into a sleeping bag at the side of the trail somewhere around mile 70. I had to rely on the stubborn bitch in me to get through that last 30 miles. She didn’t care about running 26 hours. She didn’t bat an eye when a woman passed her with 10 miles to go, then another with 6 to go. She didn’t have time for those trivialities. She was busy with this exact moment, right now!
[Mile 100] The Finish Line and Beyond
Andrew was there to hug me as I crossed the line, which was all I had been visualizing for the past 4 hours. Relief was more powerful than joy at this point.
It’s taken me a while to process this experience, and I’m sure that will be ongoing. Honestly, I was disappointed at first with my finish, even though I was well aware that I shouldn’t be. With 111 starters and only 64 finishers, the race only had a 58% finish rate. I’m not sure if that’s typical for this race, but it seems low to me, and anyone who finished should be proud.
Somehow I skipped right over all that post-race euphoria you’re supposed to have, and just felt depressed. In retrospect, I think my electrolytes, hormones, endochrine system, and all that jazz were still out of wack. In my world, that tends to equal depression
In re-visiting my goals, I actually accomplished almost everything: I finished, I ran sub-30, and most importantly, I had fun. It certainly wasn’t all fun, but there was fun to be had in most of it. I was reminded of this goal when one of the aid station volunteers from Tunnel Creek sent me an incredibly kind email telling me, among other things, that I had received the unofficial Tunnel Creek’s Nicest Runner Award. No joke. If those guys hadn’t already won my heart, that certainly sealed the deal. And that was enough to kick my butt out of depression into recognizing that I had just done something pretty amazing.
Getting that 100 mile buckle is a pretty cool thing, but I guess another thing I gained from this race, in addition to a lot of humility and some fat blisters, is the knowledge that you don’t have to run 100 miles to be a part of this very cool community. People like Andrew, Sarah, Micheline, John, the guy who helped catch me at Mt. Rose, the guy welcoming us at Snow Valley, the cheering boy scouts, the smoothie-makers, the dropped runners who became volunteers themselves—all these people deserve part of my buckle. Corny, sure, but true. Running isn’t such an individual sport like everyone thinks. It takes more than just the will of one runner to get us to that finish line. With each day that passes I have a better understanding of everything that went into it, and I feel more and more proud of being a part of that team and reaching that finish line.
I don’t know if there is another 100 miler in my future, although everyone else seems to think it’s a given. I know this sounds completely stupid, but running 100 miles was actually harder than I thought it would be. I guess if I ever get into Western States I’ll have to give it a shot, but for the moment I feel slightly relieved that next year’s race will be filled with 2008 runners. :)
Sad feet. Sad, but so tough!
A quick summary by the numbers (and other things)
Place among Women: 6
Overall Place: 31
Sunrises seen: 2
Runners on trail I knew by name: 16
Volunteers whose names I learned: 3
Buckle color: silver (for sub-30)
Best aid station treat: tie between Ensure/strawberry smoothies at mile 40 and raspberry sorbet at mile 93. Honorable mention: Stan Ostram’s smile
Best race schwag: The buckle (duh!) Runner up: TRT pint glass
Number of times I peed between miles 76 and 85: 5
Number of times Sarah told me to drink between Miles 76 and 85: About a billion
Goal for next year: 10:30 in the 50 Mile race or Tunnel Creek AS Volunteer
I couldn't get the picture to rotate correctly for some stupid reason, but here's the up close version of the buckle. So shiny you can see my camera reflected in it!
Monday, July 21, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
View of Donner Lake from the dog walk. This was taken last summer.
Same view. This one was taken a few weeks ago, right around when Western States should have been.
This one I took yesterday. It's really hard to tell that the air quality is really a lot better. I think the late day sun created a lot of glare on this one. Unfortunately I don't have a picture from today, which had very little smoke, but I'll try to post more in the upcoming days.
View from Columbia Rock
Sunrise from Columbia Rock
Upper Yosemite Falls
This trail is even scarier than it looks. I held on to the handrail with two hands!
View of the high country from Clouds Rest. The lake is Tenaya Lake, my destination.