The SS50 was a "serious" race for me in that I had some time goals I wanted to hit. I was targeting under 9 hours while still feeling comfortable at the end. This would require pushing waaaay harder than I have on any 50-miler to date, yet still having some juice at the finish line. Why the big goal? Well, lately I've been stressing out over the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (my first 100-miler) in a big way. Both the TRT 50k and TRT 50m have brought me to me knees in the past (much in thanks to big climbs and altitude) and I wasn't feeling much comfort seeing the TRT 100 approaching on my race schedule. If I'm going to tackle the TRT 100 with confidence, it would be good to have a boost like doing well at SS50 (or in not doing well, learning where to focus). My legs were still a bit tired from Quicksilver last week, but I thought that would help even more to mimic the 100-mile madness. This is it, Scotty boy, time to step up and see if you got the chops.
I was coming off a busy week at home/work, so I packed my bags meticulously the day before, right down to every tablet, sunscreen sampler, and worst-case scenario. After hustling out of the house on Friday night to get to
At the pre-race meeting, Race Director Stan Ostrom walked us through the course and let us know of the many course changes from the previous year. I had a chance to catch up with many runners, and meet some of my favorite runner/bloggers in person! Olga and Gretchen are as charming in person as they are in text, and Tom is always a pleasure to see. All of them were using this race as a checkpoint for future goals (such as Tom going for the Kettle Moraine 100 in a few weeks), as were many runners targeting the 2007 Western States such as Marty Hoffman, Robert Johnson, Carson Teasley, Troy Limb, Kathy D'Onforio, Betsy Nye, Dawn Infurna-Bean, and others.
There were some speed-demons here too, especially in the Men's division. Hal Koerner was here fresh off his win at the ZOld Pueblo 50, as well as TRT100 course record holder Jasper Helekas, ultra legend Paul Sweeney, Montrail racer (and fellow Injinji teammate) Scott Eppelman, and Mike Cook who has clocked a number of top finishes this year already. All were signed up for the 50-mile and ready to rumble!
At 6am Saturday morning, we gathered in a shopping mall on the edge of town, gazing up the first big hill. Rob Evans was my hero, and let me access his trunk of ultra goodies to stock up on S! Caps. As we counted down to the start, I realized I was head to toe in new gear and supplements that I hadn't tested in training, and wondered if it would be wise to revise my goals and go a bit more conservative. Then again, blowing up on the course is probably perfect training for a 100! Best to just go hard and see what happens.
The first mile cut through the last cul de sac of the local neighborhood, and soon enough we were on a fire road heading straight up the first mountain. This was a tough way to start - from 5,000 ft to 8,000 ft in the first 5 miles - and quickly sorted out the field. Hal, Jasper, and Mike Cook joined a few of the 50k front-runners at the lead, running the whole way. I paced along with Rob Evans, Kathy D'Onforio, Scott Eppleman, and Jenny Capel, and we alternated running and fast-walking. During the walks, I was able to chat a bit with Scott Eppelman, who had flown up from Texas to race here as part of a training schedule for the Hardrock 100. His 17-month-old twins were definitely the bulk of his training these days!
We hit the aid station at the top of the hill (mile 6), and Scott took off after Paul Sweeney while I ran a bit with Jenny Capel. The temperature was in the low 60's, but the aid station volunteers said to be ready for 80's. Jenny let me know it was her father who started this race 21 years ago, so she certainly knew the course! This was the last big race of her season as she was going to cover at home while her husband trained for Ironman
It's a good thing I did - if Jenny hadn't pointed out the 50-mile turnoff for Rob and me just after the next aid station (mile 11.5), we would have missed it for sure. I remembered that there would be a turn about this point (it was one of the course changes from last year), but the chalk markings had arrows in all directions and there wasn't any volunteers to clarify which was for whom. Rob and I said thanks to the group of 50k ladies, and headed up the 12-mile "lollipop loop" just for the 50-milers.
The loop went right into a gradual 500 ft climb that gave us a view of the course a mile or so ahead. There wasn't a soul in sight! I was moving at a pretty good clip while Rob's lingering chest cold did battle with the altitude. He decided to take it easy on the uphills, and I continued on solo. I saw four sets of footprints in the silt-like sand, so I figured I was somewhere around 5th place. As I reached the next aid station (mile 15.5), they informed me I was 7th. So much for my tracking skills!
As I loaded up on water, I realized I was drinking A LOT. Part of my plan was to really "push" the liquids this time, taking in about 35-40 ounces per hour (with one S! Cap). This felt like a lot, but 2 and 1/2 hours into the race, I hadn't felt the urge to pee and was still chugging. I noticed is was easier to keep track of hydration without my iPod, and I was attentive to sounds and sights I wouldn't normally catch. At mile 17, I ran through a troop of Boy Scouts out camping, and they cheered me on Tour de France style, hovering just one step away from me in a deafening roar. Ten seconds later, back to absolute silence in the expansive high desert. Truly a race of extremes!
The family at the the Dog Valley aid station (mile 23.5) had me in and out in 10 seconds and let me know some steep climbs were ahead. How can this course be uphill both ways? (ha, ha) They said that I was in 5th place, which was a bit confusing since I hadn't passed anyone. Not that it mattered - I wasn't even half way yet! I did my best to fast-walk the climbs and run anything runnable, all while pushing fluids.
Before too long, I was exiting the loop and saw my first runner in hours. Jason had been running with the front pack before having some back issues and slowing to a walk until the ibuprofen kicked in. He solved the mystery for me on my race place with a tough tale of wrong turns. Hal Koerner had missed the loop cutoff and was presumably doing the 50k now. Paul Sweeney and Scott Eppelman had followed the old course route (which Paul had followed instinctually from his previous races here), and had improvised some backtracking to make up the skipped mileage (and then some, most likely). So I was either in 3rd place behind Jasper and Mike Cook, or in 5th place depending on if Paul and Scott would be DQ'd. For a fleeting moment I felt like a SUPER ELITE being mentioned in the same sentence with those guys! But honestly, they were probably a good 40 minutes ahead already, and my race was against the clock. I wished Jason well, and took a right down the valley to Boomtown (mile 29.3).
The single track to Boomtown was great fun, as it weaved back and forth in a steep downhill grade. My mile pace was around 6:50/mile on these downhills and I felt like I was making good time. The only struggle was the increasing heat (now at 70 degrees) and the water bottles that I drank empty. The Truckee River tempted me for a swim at the bottom of the valley, but I kept pushing the pace to the Boomtown aid station and loaded up on Coke, water, PB&J, and m&m's. Sarah asked how it was going and I had to answer honestly - so far, I was having the race of my life! She said good...take a look at that hill.
Oh yes, THAT hill. 4,800 vertical feet straight up over 7 miles, peaking out at 9,800 feet. This was the big test. I gave the mountain a moment of silence out of respect and crossed the I-80 highway to begin the climb. I started with a wrong turn - damn! - but got back on course after a few minutes. A couple of miles later I realized I had also missed the first "short cut" and had inadvertently added a 1/2 mile to the run. Shoot! This is not the way to get under 9 hours! Alas, what can you do. I put my frustrations aside, knowing I would make it to the top one way or another.
About half way up the climb I began to run into some of the 50k runners/hikers. A few of them gave great advice, letting me know how to read the mile markers to gauge my distance from the top (mile marker 20.7), and where to expect the short cuts. When I finally hit a short cut, I wasn't so sure if it was making the race any shorter. It went straight up! My hamstrings groaned with each step, but I was thankful the whole mountain wasn't covered in snow like last year.
The gang at the the Fuller Flat aid station (mile 33.5) had the tunes cranked and gave me the blow-by-blow of previous runners as they filled my water bottles. Hal Koerner had just caught the 50k leader and was flying up the hill, leaving everyone else to fight for second. Jasper was leading the 50-mile with Mike Cook on his tail, and Paul Sweeney in third but pacing faster than the leaders. A guy named Drake was in fourth a few minutes ahead of Scott Eppelman, leaving me in 6th. I thanked them for the info, and went heads down to get up this darn hill.
Coming out of the last "short cut", I caught up to Scott Eppelman, who had gone the long way on this one (he thought I was going to the bathroom). When I told him, he just shook his head and let me know of his make-up miles that easily added more than his share. Scott was still looking strong, and I found pacing behind him to be very educational - he has a gift for picking a fast line with minimal body motion, especially on the loose rocks. We hit the top of the mountain together, refueled at the aid station (mile 36.8), and meandered through about two miles of trails before heading downhill. We took a wrong turn at one point, but caught ourselves before heading too far - talk about off-track conversation!
The downhill was a welcome blessing, although the temperature had climbed into the 80's. The loose gravel was perfect for the motorcycles and jeeps we were passing, but tough footing for us runners. Scott led the way, crossing Hunter Lake and taking us into the aid station (mile 43). I downed a ton of Coke and picked up the pace on the last section of downhill. My watch read 8:35, but I wasn't sure what was ahead. I was surprised to find out how much energy I had, so I kept going as hard as I could.
Turns out, the loose footing made it difficult to pick up the pace too much. My quads were burning, and I was slipping all over. I could see Scott and a couple other runners not too far behind, so there wasn't much room for error. I heard the voice of Norm Klein calling out finishers, so it had to be close! My legs were shaky, and when I caught a toe on a large rock, I wasn't able to catch myself and went down in the dirt. My head bounced off the ground, and I could taste the pain (which I'm convinced tastes like a warm milkshake made with bloody mary mix and tin foil). It took me a few seconds to gather my senses.
Scott E. was a total gentleman, and stopped to make sure I was okay even while competitors were coming down the hill. If it was hydration issues he would walk with me, but I said I was okay so he took off. As I gathered my senses, Karalee Morris went flying by, stopping for no one on her way to winning the Women's division. I paced safely behind them both to the finish in 7th place in 9:05:31.
Despite loosing a few places in the last half mile and just missing a sub-9 hour finish, I was extremely pleased with my performance. It was like that line out of The Producers - where did I go right?!? Jasper Helekas (who won in 7:49:07) knew it when I crossed the line, offering congrats, and immediately wondering how I would have done if I hadn't taken so many damn pictures. The real catch was this though - I felt strong, and could have easily gone another 20 miles at this pace.
Jasper played back his race, which was largely him running as fast as possible waiting for super-Hal to overtake him. When Hal never showed, Jasper locked in like a missle and finished 40 minutes ahead of Paul Sweeney (8:32:18, Master's winner), Michael Cook (8:34:49), and Oregon's Drake Tollenaar (9:03:35). Karalee Morris did win the Women's division (9:05:18), with Tina Ure (9:17:54, Master's winner) and Kathy D'Onforio (9:40:30) rounding out the top 3. Hal Koerner turned his misfortune into a solid 50k win (4:53:11), with Nick Bingham (5:16:26) and Peter Fain (5:38:11) filling out the podium. 22-year-old Rory Bosio (5:41:36) beat out Jenny Capel (5:42:38) and Julie Young (5:49:06, Master's winner) for a close race among the Women.
We ate picnic goodies and got massages, cheering on fellow runners as they crossed the finish line and laid out in the park. The hills had certainly demanded everyone's best, and the smiles at the end showed that everyone delivered.
My thanks to the Silver Striders for putting on a great race. I hope the new course for next year can still hit all the glorious spots that made this so memorable. I certainly learned a lot here - if you run from your heart and have some faith in your training, your gear doesn't matter so much. I'm still a bit timid out about TRT 100, but now feel like it is a challenge that can be conquered rather than a mysterious abyss.