Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Loving the Lake of The Sky 33m

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 60 trail runners for the 4th annual Lake of The Sky 33-Miler in Tahoe City, CA (LOTS). This challenging and scenic out-and-back is one of only two trail races on the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) each year, providing one last opportunity to enjoy the TRT before it is buried in snow for the next five months. Cool weather and hearty volunteers combined for a perfect day, and at least one course record would fall before we enjoyed the feast at the finish.

Race Directors Extraordinaire Robert and Linda Mathis had warm coffee ready to go as we all gathered inside to wait for the sun to warm up the 35-40 degree pre-race temperature. The volunteers were all smiles, and unless you asked, you wouldn’t know that they braved all kinds of rain and wind in the last 24 hours to get everything ready. The forecast today was for sunny skies by noon, which should lift the temperature to the mid-50’s.

(RDE Robert Mathis at the trailhead)

I packed far too much clothes, prompting Beverly Anderson Abbs (2-time winner and Women’s course record holder for LOTS) to nominate me as a finalist for the “too much gear” award. Joking aside, she was probably right. I had a Sugoi t-shirt, sleeves, vest, hat, gloves, and shorts, as well as a Nathan lightweight shoulder pack stuffed with Clif Bloks and Jelly Bellies, and twin big gun water bottles (26 oz each). Compared to her and Alan (t-shirt, tunes, water bottle and that’s it), I looked like I was going on a camping trip! Plus with my silver gaiters and shoes, I was becoming Eric Clifton-esque in my color selection. Alas. I guess I was still a bit nervous that I might be reduced to walking at some point and wanted to be safe (and seen?).

(Racers get a fast brief in the cool morning air)

As we made our way to the 7am start, I caught up with some familiar faces. Peter Lubbers was fresh off winning the Tahoe Super Triple (two marathons, one 72-mile loop around Tahoe) for a second time, and I had no idea how he could even stay upright, let alone run. Gretchen Brugman was ready to roll, and probably longing for her canine companion who has joined her many times on this trail. Rory Borio, who won the Silver State 50k earlier this year, was ready to give Bev Abbs some competition, as was Julie Young and Claire Gilles. Jack Driver was resting this year, but would be running the first aid station. Tony Overbay and Bruce Eisner were going for their first ultra, getting many pats on the back for fully embracing the ultra-insanity with a 7,000’ vertical run on their first try. As 7am arrived and the sun peeked over the mountains, Robert sent us off!

(Chris Grauth makes his way through the pack on the steep single track)

The first four miles are up, up, up, quickly sorting out the “acclimated” from the rest of us. Bev Abbs and Rory Bosio set the pace right out of the gate, and were joined a mile later by Chris Grauth, a marathoner and Leadville 100 veteran from Boulder, CO. All were stepping cautiously since this was the most technical section of trail, enhanced by the frost that had built a slippery layer on most of the rocks. As we hit the first aid station (mile 2.5), Bev, Rory, and Chris (already bleeding apparently) shifted into a higher gear and disappeared into the distance. A chase pack of myself, Alan Abbs, Jason Horne, Julie Young, Tom Wion, Ken Reid, and a triathlete went after them two by two.

(The sunrise peeks over the clouds)

As we broke through the cloud layer, the sun melted the frost and lit the trail in fresh sparkling dew. The mountains and clouds on both sides engulfed us in a dramatic naturescape (yes, I’m inventing words, but it was that awesome!). It was still brisk (high 30’s) but that prompted us to keep the pace up. We all got off balance at some point, whether trying to sneak a peak at the view on a highly technical trail, hitting a snow patch, or just the usual trail trolls grabbing a shoelace here and there. As we descended down to the second aid station (mile 7.5), the trail was more frozen dirt than rocks and easier to navigate. Norm Klein was happy to hand out soup, and probably needing a bunch himself to stay warm. I filled the water bottles and went chasing after the five in front of me.

(Our visiting triathlete steps gingerly on the frosty rocks)

The frozen ground made for a fast surface, but a bit harder on the heels. I was trying out the new Inov-8 320’s on this race, which have more heel support than their 315 brethren, and was happy to have some extra cushion. I ran along with Tom and Ken, who were setting a fast pace in the descent. Tom knew the trail well, and was happy to dish out tips and let us know what was coming.

(Julie Young leads a pack over a peak)

The Greg Kihn Band (“I love you jeopardy, baby”) summoned us into the Watson Lake aid station (mile 12) where Dave Cotter and Kevin Bigley had a turkey feast waiting, complete with sweet potato pie. I wasn’t hungry for solids yet, but promised I would take a sample on the way back. I recharged the water bottles (intake was 36 oz/hour) and hit the trail with Tom. We quickly found we were a good match, since he was much faster on the downhills and I wanted to run the flats and smaller uphills (the steepest climbs had us both walking). In fact, the steeper the downhill got, the faster Tom would go! He said it was because the training ground near the Fleet Feet Sports he managed in Carson City was super-technical and steep. I dubbed him “the mountain goat”, and tried my best to keep him in sight.

(Tom and Ken set a fast pace through the morning fog)

After two miles of fast running, we tackled the last climb the turnaround. Chris Grauch went by so fast I couldn’t get my camera out. Bev Abbs followed about four minutes back, then Rory Bosio, Alan Abbs, and Jason Horne all within 10 minutes. That put Tom and me in 6th and 7th, and we were quite pleased to hit the turnaround in 2 hours 45 minutes. I grabbed a PB&J square, refilled the bottles, and let Tom lead the way back down. In less than three minutes, I lost the mountain goat completely. ;-)

(Tom disappears into the snow-dusted trees)

One great thing about an out-and-back is you are rarely alone. There were lots of smiling faces on the trail, and everyone said they were feeling good. Ray Sanchez, Rebecca Duffy, George Ruiz, Tony Overbay, Paul Charteris - all were smiling away and moving fast. About a dozen high fives later, I caught up to Tom and we entered the Watson Lake aid station (mile 21) again where I gorged on sweet potato pie and Coke. Sooooo good!

(Kevin Bigley and Dave Cotter present their feast at Watson Lake)

(All smiles on the trail today!)

Jason Horne was also at the aid station, taking his time and suffering a bit from the altitude. I had a few altitude moments in the last couple of miles as well, prompting me to institute the “tunnel vision equals walking” rule on the uphills. I took off ahead of Tom and Jason, but they hollered me back after missing a turn. Whew! Thanks, guys!

(Working the downhill)

Although the course was supposedly less vertical on the way back, it sure felt like a lot more uphill. I had always wondered what my Dad meant when he said “when I was your age, we walked to school every day, uphill both ways, in the snow!”, and apparently there are trails like that. ;-) With all the uphill, I put some distance between me and Tom, but knew it would only take a few sections of downhill for him to catch up.

(One of the many distracting views on the trail, this one looking over Truckee)

At mile 22, the runners high kicked in big time. Oh, how I long for this moment in every race! My heart rate slowed, the rhythm took over, and my strides felt long and natural. The trail became an extension of my body, and with every step, every breath, I was connected to the earth. I was in awe of my surroundings, this tapestry of million-year-old stone, hundred-year-old trees, and this-years-plants curling up for the winter, and the glorious insignificance of one runner making his way through. It made me wonder – Could anything ever feel this good forever? Would anything ever feel this good again? All I ask of you, Mother Nature, is to promise not to stop if I say “when”.

Wait a minute – that’s a Foo Fighters song! Usually if the insight rhymes, it’s a sure sign it’s stolen. ;-)

(See?!? This trail is gorgeous!!!)

The smiling face of Norm Klein at the next aid station (mile 25) pulled me from my daze, and he helped fill my water bottles one last time. Norm was a great sport for being out here in the cold all day, and was happy to pour soup for some local hikers as well. He mentioned I was in 4th – hmmm. That means someone could be off course.

The last hill was a grind, but I gave it my all hoping I could build a big enough gap for the inevitable Tom the Mountain Goat. The runners high kept me company, as did the Foo Fighters song now running through my head. When I hit the last four miles of technical trail, my legs had enough to blast through it, but my technique wasn’t up to snuff. A mile into it, I heard “THERE HE IS! I’M COMING FOR YOU!” as Tom chuckled and went by me in a flash. It was helpful to follow him for a while and watch his technique – he picks a line like a downhill mountain bike with 7” of travel and throws his weight forward with ease. As he shared with me, he has solid leg strength so he can “have faith” in charging down. Although I couldn’t keep his pace, I did notice I was running the technical downhill faster than usual after running with him, simply by being more aware of my center of gravity. I crossed the finish line a few minutes behind him in 5:51:49, good enough for 5th place.

(The mandatory self-portrait)

Chris Grauth had won the race in 5:16:12, despite taking a fall early in the race. Bev Abbs took 18 minutes (!) off her course record to place second in 5:21:22, while Rory Bosio battled stomach issues in the second half but still finished strong for third overall (5:45:22). Alan Abbs had been the one to take the wrong turn (the same spot I did), and came in about 6:15 while being a great sport about the wrong turn. One thing I noticed about Alan and most finishers – there was plenty of blood and dirt showing! That technical section claimed shins on both the way out and back. I think Julie Young should get the award for best battle scar.

(Winner Chris Grauth lets his wounds heal in the sun at the finish)

We feasted on homemade vegetarian chili, pork roast, scalloped potatoes, and pie, and shared stories of a great day on the trails. Everyone commented that this race has a wonderful layout for a 50k-ish distance, with a few easy stretches, a few really difficult sections, and a finish challenging enough to be proud of. I was so impressed with the course markings and aid stations too – really a top effort by all. My thanks to the RDE’s and volunteers for braving the cold and putting on a fantastic race! I will certainly be back.


  1. Great pics, Scott! Good to see you out there. Bruce

  2. Great recap! It was fun to read, especially about the rhyming thoughts - my mind does that often as well.

    All that talk about your gear and no photos of your get-up? :)

  3. Nice work, Scott! I enjoyed your description of the runners high; all us trail/ultra crazies can definately relate to that, but you translated it from trail to paper quite well.

    See you at HK! Speaking of which, the amazing Helen Klein nearly completed the DC Firetrails 50 Mile last Saturday (missed cutoff). How many 84-year-old great-grandmothers do you see at the starting lines of ultras? Maybe you should do an interview with her!

  4. So the trail was uphill both ways! I knew it!

    hey, great job out there, Scott. So did those Inov-8s do the trick in the end in terms of cushioning?

    See you at HK50 -- the grand finale.

  5. Scott, it was great seeing you again at LOTS even tho "kid-duty" kept me from running. Looks like I missed a great race. If you get the chance, my new blog shows the race from the spectator's perspective. http://sierratrailrunner.blogspot.com Between reading yours and Gretchen's blogs, it inspired me to try my own. See you at HK. Looking forward to watching you and Peter duke it out.

  6. PS. I see you found it. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Andrew - Catherine has a good pic of my get up on her blog. I'll have to be sure to get a self-portrait next time!

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Thanks for sharing the news about Helen Klein, Michael (and Peter on his blog). She is amazing!


  8. Scott, glad you're healthy and feeling good. However, as an '80s music fanatic, I must point out that the Greg Kihn Band song goes, "Our love's in jeopardy, baby." (For bonus points, who can sing the Weird Al Yankovic version?)

  9. Nice write-up, as always. Good to see you back in action after your issues. I am still battling something.. maybe some kind of meniscus thing, the docs haven't been that helpful, but am easing back into things. Keep on!

  10. Great recap, Scott.

    The Lake Tahoe CVB (or similar organization) should pay you money for promoting that beautiful place so well on your blog. I'm going to try to come out there next year either for this race or for TRT. I'd like see the Lake Tahoe area with my own eyes.

    Ok, I'm off to read Peter Lubbers' blog...

  11. "I lost on Jeopardy, baby"

    What do I win, Greg?

    Congrats, Scott. Sounds like a blast. Hope I can get back to running strong as quickly as you did.

  12. My love's in jeopardy - that makes a lot more sense. All these years I was trying to figure out what "I love you jeopardy" meant!

    I lost on Jeopardy - that I remember. ;-)


  13. Nice Summary, Scott. Robert and Linda put on top notch races and I'm glad to be able to run as many of them as I can! Conditions this year were perfect for the race. I'm looking forward to Rucky Chucky being back next spring.
    Bev A

  14. Thanks for the mention, Scott, and the great write up! What a wonderful start to ultras! I'm hooked! While not nearly as eloquent, I just posted my own race report on my blog at www.tonyoverbay.com. Looks like I'll be seeing you all at HK! Hope to start learning some names. Good luck everybody!


  15. Good to see you again Scott, sorry there was no chance to say hello...you're too fast for me. ;-) Next time I'll get to the start earlier so I can chat with all the fast folks! Great job on navigating a technical course with such speed. I love your pictures of all the people, that takes some effort to snap pictures and negotiate that terrain without falling. I only got scenery pics myself, but I'm making it a goal to get more people pics at HK. (but then, the scenery was pretty mezmerizing!)I'll have my words and photos up this weekend.
    See you at Helen Klein!

  16. Gidday Scott
    That trail was harder than I had expected. The hard race lesson learned: don’t eat two Egg and Sausage McMuffins immediately before the start of a run. This resulted in me feeling sluggish most of the day until the last ten miles of the race. I was among the many who took a decent tumble on the trail when a branch hooked my right foot and foot and sent me flying downhill. I had some great wounds with lots of blood and dirt to show-off to other pumpkin pie connissuers at the finish line.
    Cheers, Paul

  17. Great run and photos--It's down to the wire with you and Peter Lubbers, man! I anticipate a PR coming maybe by necessity. Good luck!

  18. By my calculations, that would have to be a helluva PR at HK50 to beat Peter. Either that or you, Chikara, and Buchanan are gonna have to clock some all-time slow times so I can keep up. ;-)



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