Saturday, April 25, 2009

To an Athlete Dying Young

"Every man dies. But not every man truly lives."
-William Wallace in "Braveheart"

I’ve had the topic for this post swimming around in my head for about a month now—ever since the death of pro skier and Tahoe local Shane McConkey, who died in a skiing accident on March 26 in the Dolomites of Italy. I guess I’m not sure what the topic actually is, or what I truly think about it, which is why this post has remained unwritten until now. I’ve learned, however, that sometimes it is the act of writing itself that helps us figure out just what it is that we are thinking. So…here goes.

In my own writing, I frequently return to the question “why do I run?” It’s not so much that I don’t know the answer (although I’m not always sure that I do) but that I want to make sure I don’t forget it. I’ve been at this running thing a long time, and one of the bonuses that come with age is a little thing called perspective.

In case you’re not familiar with A.E. Houseman’s poem, To an Athlete Dying Young, I’ll post it below. As a teenager, this was one of my favorite poems. Yes, I was a runner even then, and I had an affinity for the author’s cynical sentiment that glory is fleeting. It did, in fact, seem better to “slip betimes away, from fields where glory does not stay,” rather than to become a runner “whom renown outran, and the name died before the man.” I don’t mean to say that I ever had a death wish. It’s just that, when you’re young, the idea of growing old (and slow) seems…sad. Twenty years later, and the idea of growing old, (and slow) still with the opportunity to run, seems beautiful.

This brings me back to Shane McConkey. Shane was a Truckee local who skied at Squaw Valley. He had been an extreme skier for his entire life, and was respected as one of the vanguards of the sport. He was also loved and admired as a member of the community, a husband and a father. I didn’t know him personally, but I had occasions to see him at events around town, and it was obvious to me that he was a passionate man who was living the live he loved.

I’ve made comparisons before between ultra-running and extreme skiing. I guess that’s what happens when you are surrounded by skiers, many of them pros. I see plenty of similarities between the two, along with sports like climbing and mountaineering. The biggest thing I think these sports have in common is the reaction of the rest of the world. When people hear of our exploits, we are most often met with the response, “you’re crazy!” And while most people mean this in a positive and often even respectful manner, it still tends to make one feel somewhat misunderstood. We are all pursuing a passion that is a bit outside the definition of what most consider normal. Interestingly, this also has the effect of causing me to adore the ultra community itself because I feel so much like I belong. These people share my passion, understand what it’s about, and never call me crazy. For skiers like Shane, living in a ski town has much the same effect, and allows one to thrive in the community.

Accidental death seems to strike a special note of tragedy, and often leaves us wondering if the victim could have, or should have, done something to change his circumstances, perhaps avoiding his fate. Earlier this winter, Squaw Valley suffered another hardship when professional ski patroller Andrew Entin died on the job during avalanche control. Caught in an avalanche that he and his partner intentionally set off, he died of trauma. He was working a route he had covered for nine years, in the safety zone, doing everything right. Sometimes accidents just happen. As the wife of a professional ski patroller, this kind of death hits pretty hard, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know Andrew or his wife personally. And when my husband worries, and tries to tell me that running 100 miles isn’t good for me or isn’t safe, my response is generally, “You hold lit explosives in your hand and throw them to set off avalanches while you’re standing on the slope!”

I don’t just say this to shut him up, (although it does typically turn out to be an effective argument). I say it to point out an important truth: I am doing what I love, just as he is doing what he loves, and I could never ask him to give that up. We worry, sure, because we care about each other. We also know that we can’t expect the other one to change who they are, just because we worry. Running is who I am, just as my husband is a skier and patroller. To ask us to live differently, would be asking us to give up who we are.

I don't run for the glory. (In case you haven't figured it out yet, there is zero glory in running.) I run because I love it and I couldn't live any way other than to pursue what I love. Even in more glamorous sports like skiing, athletes like Shane aren't doing it for the glory. Perhaps as a teenager that was part of it, but if you're still doing it when you're 39, it's because you couldn't live any other way. You have gained perspective--you already know that glory does not stay, and that it doesn't matter.

photo courtesy of

When Shane McConkey died, this community had nothing but praise and admiration for him. People came out in droves to write letters and articles and commentary about Shane’s pioneering skiing, his positive outlook on life, and the great example he set as a father, coach and general role model for young skiers. Still, I know there are those outside the ski community, and even some quietly within, who say that fathers and husbands, mothers and wives, should not take the kinds of risks he took, that they have bigger obligations. I don’t know Sherry McConkey, but I am certain that even when their daughter was born, she did not expect Shane to give up doing what he loved. That would have been asking him to become someone other than the man she married. His obligations to his family were to love them, support them, and help them all live their lives well. I don’t think he could have accomplished that in any better way than he did.

To say that those who take these risks must wish to die young is to miss the essence of what they are doing. People who live with passion don’t want an early exit from this world; they want the most out of it. They don’t want to be left with nothing to live for. In Shane’s 39 years, he lived well, and left us all "townsmen of a stiller town."

If you haven't seen Shane's ski base jumping and wing-suit base jumping exploits from the movie "Seven Sunny Days," you should check it out here and here. It's mind blowing! The clip below however, from the movie "Push" does a better job of capturing Shane.

To an Athlete Dying Young

-A.E. Houseman

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields were glory does not stay

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl's.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Return to Diablo

Week number three in my “race every weekend in April” extravaganza brought me back to that hot, hellish, yet beautiful mountain known as Diablo. In thinking about why this race has gotten so popular, (both the marathon and 50 miler sold out this year) I concluded that it must be the challenging course, beautiful scenery and strong sense of camaraderie present at this race. Whatever the reason, it seems to draw a good percentage of the ultra-runners in Northern California (and beyond!) When I scanned the list of entrants a week before the race, I was excited to see many familiar names. I think it was the pleasure of these friendships, and new ones made on the trail, that made this year at Diablo special.

The weekend began when Prudence and I piled in my trus
ty Forester and headed down the hill from Tahoe on Saturday morning. Even in Truckee it was hot, and I had to change into shorts to be comfortable for the drive. This did not bode well for the next day’s temperatures at Diablo! We planned to stay at a hostel in Marin—still a bit of a drive from the starting line, but beautiful, affordable, and with an abundance of trails on which to spend Saturday afternoon.

On the drive down we planned the future of trail running in Tahoe. (Ask Prudence about her future RD duties!) We got pretty excited about ideas for some upcoming adventures, and soon enough we were in Marin, where it was about 20 degrees cooler.

As planned, our late afternoon run on the Coastal Trail through the Marin Headlands was a perfect answer to the stiffness of the long drive. I made the mistake of letting Prudence take the lead, and was reminded of one of the things that makes her such a wicked fast runner: she’s a killer on the downhills! Even though she was taking it easy, I still couldn’t keep up with her down those hills. Fortunately for me the terrain was rolling, and I enjoyed a fun game of pushing the uphills to close the gap that would inevitably re-open on the next downhill. We spent the rest of the afternoon stretching out, and cooking dinner in the vast kitchen of the hostel.

The first challenge of the weekend came at 5:00 am Sunday morning when we discovered that someone had parked their car and blocked us into the parking lot. We freaked, naturally. We had no way to get back into the hostel, nor any knowledge of whose car it was even if we could. Desperate, I finally set off a car alarm. That awoke a rather grumpy hosteller, who grudgingly stumbled out into the dark to move his car. We had no sympathy for him, but we were relieved nonetheless. We were running late, but we knew we would make it. Disaster averted!

We eventually parked the car at the Mitchell Canyon trailhead at 6:40. We had both been hoping to arrive by 6:15, not only to keep things feeling relaxed, but also to socialize with friends we might not get to see once the race started. Instead, we found ourselves rushing to check-in and get to the start on time.

As the crowed of runners headed toward the start, I heard someone call my name. I was excited to see Leslie, and to finally meet Keith.

“Your race report from Diablo last year is what convinced me to come this year!” Keith declared.

“Oh God!” I was slightly mortified. “You actually read that comedy of errors?” We laughed and enjoyed a shared enthusiasm for the potential of the day ahead.

Leslie and Keith

The race began, and we set off up the hill into the light of the rising sun. The trail turned to single track and the colorful ribbon of runners wrapped smoothly up and around the lush hillside. The air was still comfortable, but a warm breeze whispered of the torrid day to come.

Early miles of uphill single-track (photo courtesy of Sean Stephenson)

We had to limit ourselves to the pace of the runners ahead, and I was content with this. We ran some of the hill, but walked much of the steeper sections. I felt like I was moving at the right pace, and enjoyed the company of other runners. As I pulled out my camera for a photo, I noticed not only the runner in front of me doing the same, but several runners ahead Rick Gaston was also going for the photo-op. I couldn’t resist the urge to heckle such a display of paparazzi! (I hope you know it was just me teasing, Rick!)

During the week preceding this race, I had been learning to play “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” on the guitar. I’m here to tell you that nothing gets a so
ng stuck in your head like learning to play it on the guitar. Even with an easy song such as this, by the time I have it dialed, I’ve played it so many times that I don’t ever want to hear it again. Even worse—with this particular song I don’t know the words all that well, thus I found myself plodding up the slopes singing in my head, “I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes, but it’s only me and I walk alone.” Then all I can recall after that is the part that goes, “I walk alone I walk alone, I walk alone I walk alone.” Sort of an inauspicious refrain to loop through one’s brain on a long, hot trail run. Fortunately, it did not turn out to be an omen of any sort.

We moved off the single track and on to the dirt roa
d, and this allowed a pleasant amount of socializing as runners variously passed one another and grouped up. I ran a bit with Scott from Sacramento, who was running his first trail marathon, and exchanged speculations with others about whether today would be as hot as last year’s race.

I heard my name posed as a question, as a tall runner came up beside me. It was a familiar face, but one that I had yet to meet in person.

“Donald!” I declared in delight, as he smiled his affirmation. I have been an admirer of Donald’s blog for some time now, and it was one of the bigger disappointments of my rushed morning that I had been forced to cross “find Donald and say hi” off my pre-race checklist. This serendipitous trail meeting however, more than made up for it. I resisted the urge to greet him with a hug on the run, visualizing the trip-and-crash into the dirt that it would inevitably cause. (I thought that might leave a bad first impression.) We shared a few minutes running together, exchanging training and racing tales, before his faster pace moved him ahead up the hill.

Donald and Rick--still fresh and full of smiles! (photo courtesy of Sean Stephenson)

About this time I met a couple from Calgary, running the 50 mile event.

“So,” I hesitated, “This is going to sound kind of dumb. I mean, I don’t really think that everyone in Canada knows each other or anything, but do you guys know Leslie?”

“Oh yeah! She only lives about 45 minutes away.” came the response. (Whew, they didn’t think I was stupid for asking!) “Anyway,” the woman went on, “I think wherever Leslie goes, she immediately gets to know everyone within a 5 mile radius.” And we all proceeded to espouse the various brilliant aspects of Leslie—her friendliness, adventurous spirit, awesome blog, etc. Yeah, we think she’s pretty darn cool.

By this time, people had sorted themselves into their various positions and paces on the trail, and I found that I was still running with the guy who had been in front of me the entire way up the initial single-track. This guy turned out to be Sean Stephenson, and we would share our entire day at Diablo together. I walked plenty, yes, but I did not walk alone.

The buffet at Juniper (photo courtesy of Sean Stepehnson)

After the first aid station at Juniper Campground, I found a faucet under which to soak my head. It was heaven! I made use of this technique numerous times throughout the day to keep cool.

Donald makes his way down from the summit as I head up.

I hit the summit feeling good, and on the way back down all the nearby runners were full of enthusiasm.

Trip #1 to the top!

“Wow, everyone’s mood just skyrocketed!” one runner observed.

Kiera, from Laguna Nigel, was running the 50, and I think she alone contributed about 80 percent of the surrounding energy. She was so positive and friendly! That kind of thing is just contagious, and we all enjoyed picking our way down the trail together.

After the 50 milers made their turn off, it was just Sean and me again. We took a lot of time for pictures and exchanging tidbits of our lives. This was Sean’s second trail marathon (his first was this same race last year) and he was considering making the foray into the world of ultras. I assured him that this race was probably harder than most 50K’s out there.

Views, flowers and endless down hills.

Sean had spent time as a teacher in the Ukraine, and we exchanged philosophies on education until a missing trail marker forced us to focus on more immediate issues. Several other folks were running in circles at this junction, unsure of where to go, when finally someone who knew the course well arrived and led us forward with a very confident, “It’s this way!” We obediently chased after him, a pack of lemmings down the precipice.

"Ooh, ooh! It went this way! Follow me!"

Somewhere on the approach to Rock City the pack of three lead men came by in the opposite direction. Shortly thereafter, Prudence came bouncing up the trail looking strong. We cheered her briefly, then made bets about whether she’d take the overall win. I certainly didn’t bet against her!

We blew through the Rock City aid station without stopping since we knew we’d be back there in a mile and a half. We made the turn around for the marathon runners, and refueled back at the aid station. I was still feeling good, which was fortunate since we were about to start the long climb to the summit for the second time that day. By this time Sean and I had reached an unspoken agreement to run together, and this fact dawned on me when I automatically checked for his presence before departing the aid station. Water? Check! GU? Check! Sean? Check! And we were off!

Last year I finished the marathon in about 6:30 and Sean had finished in about 6:20. We were both hoping for about a 6 hour finish this year, and I began to check my watch to see if we would be close. I told him I thought we would need a minimum of 90 minutes for that last 8 miles from the summit to the finish line. As soon as I said it, I realized that I was almost certainly underestimating the time it would take. (I was.)

The day sizzled on, and we kept a steady hike up the sun-drenched slopes. The intermittent shade provided little respite, as it was packed with swarms of gnats that were only too happy to fly into any bodily orifice available. Yuck! Still, it was great to have someone with whom to share a laugh over the irony.

Upon reaching the summit for the second time, my spirit soared, but my stomach wasn’t quite as happy. The idea of forcing down any more GU’s was
just unpleasant, but I persisted in sucking them down in spite of the fact that the only flavor available was chocolate. Ugh! I purposefully slammed a quantity of water and coke at the aid station, knowing that 8 miles in this heat was a long way to go with only two small water bottles. Almost as an afterthought, I popped two salt caps, and I’m quite certain that was the key to improving the state of my stomach. Twenty minutes later it felt 100% better.

Trip # 2 to the top

I recalled this last stretch of the race as being by far the worst. I guess that’s true with any marathon, but Diablo reserves a special hell for those who hit the wall. It’s 8 miles of technical downhill, with just a bit of uphill thrown in for fun. After a day full of pounding the quads, we had to negotiate some downhill switchbacks so steep and loose that we were forced into a treacherous and careful walk. I had checked my watch at the summit and saw that we had only 85 minutes left if we wanted to finish in 6 hours. I knew it was a lost cause, and I happily forgot about looking at my watch from that point on. We would run what we would run.

At some point it became clear that Sean was falling behind, and I kept pausing to make sure I could hear his footsteps in the distance. I forced some clif blox on him, and inquired about his water supply. He said he still had a little, but I didn't totally believe him. His footsteps became more and more distant, and eventually I couldn’t hear him at all. Suddenly, in this barren heat, I felt quite alone. “I walk alone, I walk alone…(Ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ahaa…)” I contemplated my choices. I knew Sean wouldn’t begrudge me the need to finish at whatever pace was comfortable for me. However, I’d already had a brilliant workout, and a beautiful, fun day, and much of that was due to the shared experience of having a running partner. It just didn’t seem worth giving that up in order to finish 10-20 minutes faster. When I reached the creek at the bottom, I decided to take my time soaking my head in the icy water and make my way to the finish with Sean.

It's worth noting that this kind of thing generally goes against my nature. I love running with others, but when it comes to racing, I'm a competitor. I can't help it. I like setting goals and pushing myself to achieve them. I suppose since I already felt at peace with the fact that I certainly wasn't going to run 6 hours that day, it was easier that I would have thought to let go of the competitive mindset.

We meandered down the trail, which had now become smoother and less technical, and I have to admit, it was somewhat refreshing not to be in a hurry. We startled a small flock of wild turkeys, (which was very startling to me!) and tried to catch a snapshot of a coyote as it loped across the grass. I wondered if this was the same coyote that I had spotted at this point in the trail last year. I felt like he had come out just to say hello.

A loquacious turky bolts into the bushes.

Somewhere close behind, Sean called out, “You are really wonderful!” I smiled, and knew I had made the right call in not blazing down to the finishline solo. I challenge you to find anyone who doesn’t absolutely light up when told, quite sincerely—especially at the end of a long, difficult trail run—that she is wonderful.

We were all smiles as we crossed the finish line, and per usual, I immediately donned my flip flops and headed to the food table. I got the recap from Prudence on her race: She finished fifth overall and first female, in spite of some frustrations with getting lost numerous times. The three of us sat with our feet soaking in the creek and happily sucked down pizza and coke, as runners continued to finish.

Although this was only my second Diablo, I think this race has earned a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s a bit of one of those twisted, love-hate relationships—the kind where you keep returning to the boyfriend who has treated you badly at times, but you can’t help it because there are also so many wonderful things about him, and you've shared so many poignant experiences. Last year’s race was an epic adventure for me. This year was equally tough and even more rewarding, but in a much different way. I accomplished a few big things, namely finishing a tough course. I also managed not to get lost (unlike last year) and had a more social day on the trails than I can recall in recent years. I happily left my ipod in my pocket all day.

Prudence and I prepare to head home after a long day.

Thanks to everyone out there who made this day so awesome: the volunteers, Sarah and Wendell, and most especially to all the awesome runners sharing the trail with their upbeat attitudes!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Billy Dutton Uphill

Last Sunday, I finally took part in a local event I've always wanted to do: The Billy Dutton Uphill. The race celebrates the life of Billy Dutton, who used to hike to the top of the mountain every day before work during his days at the Squaw Valley Resort. Athletes are invited to ski, run, snowshoe, or, as the event declares, just "run what 'ya brung!" in your attempt to climb 2000' to High Camp.

Runners Gather at the Start

Squaw Patrollers run in memory of fellow patroller Andrew Entin

Ascending the initial slope

I had a blast doing this race, and I have to admit, the 3.2 miles were harder than I'd expected. I opted for running shoes with YakTrax on. These "chains for shoes" mak
e running over ice and hard-packed snow a breeze. Conditions were firm, and snow shoes were definitely not necessary.

The runners and skiers seemed fairly evenly divided, and I wondered which would prove the quickest up the hill. The director signaled the start, and we
headed up the Mountain Run (the easiest way down from the top). My heart rate soared, and I was immediately reduced to a walk. When the incline relaxed a bit, I was able to run again, and thus began my slow slog to the summit: run-walk-run-walk.

Runner Peter Fain leads the skiers up the hill

The day was gorgeous, and I was appreciating this unconventional time on the slopes before the hordes of downhill skiers would invade. Conditions were perfect for running! A mere 51 minutes later, I was at the top.

It turned out that the first two finishers were skiers, with Peter right behind them. The last stretch is downhill, so a runner would have to have a good lead to avoid being caught by a pursuing skier at the finish. Full results can be found here.

My friend Ben and his band provided live music on the deck, while people sipped beer, relaxed in the sun and gazed out at the stunning view. Just another day in Paradise.

Skiers gain the advantage on the slight downhill into the finish

The view from the top--well worth the climb!

The tram ride back to the bottom

Check back tomorrow for my report on a much different race: this weekend's adventure at Diablo!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

Before embarking upon my race report for the wonderful American River 50, I must apologize for my lack of a report on Rucky Chucky. I can see that if my blogging is going to keep pace with my race schedule, I will have to reform my slacker ways. I don’t hold out much hope, but I’ll do my best.

So a brief recap of Rucky Chucky: I went into the day with very little running in the previous 6 weeks. I knew if I had any hope of finishing AR50, I would need to get through this race without much trouble. Fortunately, that’s exactly the way it went! I shared a cool, and slightly rainy, day with some familiar faces and new friends, including Peter, Catherine and Dave. I took it fairly easy, enjoying the scenery and the dirt trail, and finished in 6:25: 2nd woman. I was a “go” for AR50!

By now, my husband is fairly used to my running antics, but even he balked at the fact that I wanted to set the alarm for 2:15 am for this race.

“That’s not early, that’s just later tonight!” He declared, with one of those “I don’t understand you at all!” looks on his face. I just shrugged my agreement.

I was in the car by 2:50, coffee in hand, for the drive to Auburn. After getting slightly stressed out by the freeway closure and subsequent detour, I arrived in Auburn on time for the 4:15 bus to the starting line.

I had the fortune to nab a seat between the familiar faces of Scott Dunlap and Catherine Sullivan, and we spent the early morning hour catching up. It made the normally anxious waiting go by quickly.

Unfortunately the bus left quite late, and we arrived at the start at about 5:40 for the 6:00 race. I still had to check in, and the line at the outhouse was predictably long. I had to forgo pre-taping my feet, and rushed through my pre-race duties just a bit frantically. Finally, I tossed my finish line bag into the appropriate trailer and dashed toward the start. I was still a few hundred yards away when I heard the race start, but no matter, it would be a long day.

I moved my way steadily through the crowd in the dark. With 650 runners, it made for a tight start on the bike path—unusual for an ultra! I saw the leaders headed back, and soon I was at the 1 mile turn-around and heading towards Auburn.

The sun came up, and suddenly Scott appeared from behind. I thought I had seen him going the wrong way at the start! Apparently he decided last-minute that gloves would be an appropriate asset for the morning. I couldn’t disagree, since I was a bit chilled in my tank top and shorts, but being from Truckee, I was more concerned about the heat later in the day. Anyway, I think the gloves were just an excuse for Scott. Coming from the back, he had a chance to chat with everyone in the race. What a nice guy! He jogged along with me for a few minutes before moving on to socialize with faster runners.

Me--pigging out at the aid station! (photo courtesy of Catherine)

Eventually I caught up to Catherine, and we ran together for a little bit. Our walking breaks weren’t matching up though (nor were our bathroom breaks!) and it seemed like most of the time I could see her 50 yards ahead, but we weren’t really running together. I considered skipping a walking break to catch her, but I knew I would pay for it later. I was just about to catch her again when I saw her veer off toward an outhouse. Nooooo! Oh well. I wouldn’t see her again until the finish line.

The day was looking beautiful, and these early miles were easy. My watch said I was probably running a bit faster than I should be, close to 9 hour pace, but I knew the trail section of the course would be slower. I stuck to the dirt shoulder of the bike path as much as possible, and the miles flew by.

The view from Beal's Point

Soon we were at Beal’s Point, and switching to mostly trail. I kept company with my ipod for a little while and soaked in the scenery. I just don’t understand people who don’t like this race. There is a lot of trail, though most of it is non-technical and not too hilly, and the setting can’t be beat. Even in 2006 when it was rainy and muddy, I had a blast! This year, the flowers were beautiful, and the green hillsides a nice change from the dirty, melting snow in Truckee.

In ’06 I struggled between Granite Bay and Rattlesnake Bar (~miles 31-40). This year I felt strong through this section, and this was where I began passing people. I was loving the trail and the weather, and could tell that I wasn’t going to blow up. I chatted with a few folks as I moved through, and I am disappointed that I can’t remember anyone’s name. I can’t figure out how bloggers like Scott can remember so many people’s names, hometowns, times, etc.!

By the time I reached Buzzard’s Cove, the day was warming up. Although the aid station was advertised as water-only, the first thing they offered me upon entering was an ice cream cone. I questioned the wisdom of that much dairy at mile 35.

“Twietmeyer took one!” came the testimonial from the ice cream man.

“Okay, you sold me,” I reached out to grab the proffered cone, and the ice cream man laughed. I laughed myself, when around the next bend I found myself posing mid-lick for the official race photographer.

After passing through Rattlesnake Bar, I knew that I only had ten miles to go. This section of trail was mostly gentle, and quite scenic. I stayed with my comfortable pace, thinking I might be able to finish in 9:30—about the same as in ’06! I could tell that I was pushing things a bit, but that I would finish feeling fine. I was more concerned about how this race was going to affect the Diablo Marathon in 2 weeks. Wait! Don’t start worrying about the next race before this one is even done!

Approaching Last Gasp, I found myself walking the steep stretch of dirt hill. After the aid station, the trail gives way to pavement and the slope relaxes quite a bit. I was able to run most of this section. After a few minutes, a woman whom I had passed just before the aid station, came up behind me. She had a pacer, and was moving well. Since I was running, not walking, I didn’t feel too bad about being passed, especially since I had just passed her a few minutes before. Still, I thought she looked familiar. Could this be the same woman who had passed me in the last 10 miles of TRT last year? Well, I had certainly been delirious at mile 90, so who knew what that woman really looked like, but I recalled her age, and this woman didn’t look old enough. I convinced myself it wasn’t her.

Once the hill was over, I knew I was basically ‘there’ and ran in to the finish line. I had to flash the announcer a big smile as he declared my pigtails ‘beautiful!” Braids are the best way to keep my hair from becoming a snarled mess during a long run, but if someone wants to think they’re beautiful, hey, that’s cool by me!

Crossing the line, I was gifted my beautiful finisher’s jacket. I finally requested the right size this year, and I LOVE this jacket. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve taken it off since Saturday.

I scrubbed poison oak from my legs, and stretched out in the sun with a cheeseburger, coke and ice cream. Yum! I caught up with a few other runners, including Jeff Barbier, Jenny Capel and Catherine, and scanned through the results while I waited for my massage.

And then I saw her name. It WAS her! Yes, the same woman who had passed me near the end of TRT had just finished right in front of me. Dang! Well, it was a good thing I didn’t know, since I wasn’t supposed to be getting competitive today!

I finished with a course PR of 9:22, which made me satisfied. I don’t know my place among women, but I was 11th in my age group. Not bad really, for such a competitive race.

Catherine and I sport our awesome finisher's jackets!

All in all, it was an excellent kick-off to my spring break! Thanks to Julie and everyone who helped to pull off this wonderful event!

I think my “race-your-way-into-shape” training plan is going fine. I was extremely sore after both Rucky Chucky and AR50, but I am feeling good today.

See you all at Diablo?