Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hot and Heavy at the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon

Last Saturday, I had the good fortune of joining 190 runners for the newly re-launched Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Double Marathon in Granite Bay, CA. There was heat, dirt, and plenty of challenging terrain, and thanks to the fabulous work of Race Director Julie Fingar and her volunteers we all had a great time. I proved to myself I was ready for my target race in November by DNF’ing (more on that later) and enjoyed watching our fellow ultrarunners brave 100+ degree heat to spectacular performances.

The day started early as Jean Pommier and I carpooled together at 3am, soon finding out that we had subconsciously calculated the travel time to Cool, CA, not Granite Bay, CA, and arrived 90 minutes early. Thank God for Mel’s 24-hour Diner, who was happy to serve up some breakfast for us. Jean ate his toast and marveled at the social and economic absurdity of the American 24-hour diner, which much to his credit, was practically empty and necessitated the question of economic viability. I revealed far too much about my teenage tribulations by telling him we were in between the two 24-hour diner rush crowds – the 2am closing of the bars, and the 6am beginning of the hard labor workday. Ahem!

(Breakfast at Mel's, photo courtesy of Jean)

Volunteer Stan Jansen (Godfather of ultra Web sites) got us situated, and we were soon toeing the line at 6:30am on a perfectly clear morning. Last year’s winner Mark Lantz was here, as was speed demon Chikara Omine, Jean Pommier, Joe Palubeski (tackling the newly established 100k), Juliet Morgan (100k), Carson Teasley (tackling the new marathon distance), Karalee Morris (marathon), the ever-present Barbara Elia (52 miles), and a dozen others taking on their first marathon or ultra. The sun cracked over the horizon, and Julie sent us off to chase it.

(Gathering in the dark at the start)

Lantz, Chikara, and Pommier set a fast pace from the beginning, disappearing along the single track. I ran with Joe Palubeski, Pierre-Yves Couteau, and Sean Lang who were all making the best of the cool morning to keep a fast pace. The weather was supposed to hit 100 degrees by noon, so enjoy it while you can! My goal today was to just clock some miles and try to pick up the pace along the flat sections. As a side bet, I had hoped to beat Jason Reed who was close to me in the PA/USATF point series, although we were both battling it out for 2nd-4th much in thanks to the stellar seasons of Victor Ballesteros, Erik Skaden, and Grant Carboni.

(Pierre and Joe lead me along the river trail)

The American River is beautiful this time of the day, as dark oak tree branches shade the golden grass and lush forest floor, and the warming sun battles with the cool river breeze. Pelicans and hawks stretched for their morning hunt, and jumping fish dimpled the calm, reflective river. There was so much nature going on, we frequently stopped conversations and just pointed, soon forgetting what we were just talking about. It’s a truly magical place and it was a privilege to share the morning together.

(A slice of heaven along the AR)

The aid stations at Twin Rocks (3.7 miles), Horseshoe (9.5), and Rattlesnake Bar (11.4) took us by surprise, and their eager volunteers had us through in no time. I picked up the pace a bit after Rattlesnake, hoping to catch up to Joe before we got to the big climb. My eagerness got the best of me, and I soon caught a toe and bounced down through a rocky technical section. Drat! As I gathered my senses I realized it was less than a quarter mile from the spot I face-planted at AR50 this year! The local trail troll is out to get me for sure.

(Fall is falling in Auburn)

I was bleeding and dirty, but nothing too bad. The hot sun felt like it burned right into my raw skin, so I spread some sunscreen into the wounds on my elbow, shoulder, legs, and hip (next invention – Neosporin with SPF45!). The adrenalin was like a double-espresso to my system, and I quickly caught up and passed two more runners. Sometimes I wonder if I crash on purpose just to get that surge of energy!

I reached the bottom of Cardiac Hill, but didn’t see a course marking that made sense. Up the road to the right was the AR50 route, and I seem to remember from the 2007 SNER that it didn’t go that way. But up to the left was steep and I didn’t see any course markings at the first fork in the trail. I decided to hang back and see what the other runners said. One, two, three of us grouped up before one of the marathoner Mats Jansson said “screw it, I’m going this way”. Turns out he was right, as evidenced by Bob the volunteer coming down the trail and saying that course markings had been vandalized. Bob was kind enough to lead the way up so we didn’t get lost.

As we climbed, I noticed my left foot was swelling so I did my best to keep off it. Pierre-Yves Couteau caught up to me and we passed the time chatting about the similar up’s and down’s of trail ultras and careers in the mobile phone industry. Like so many people I meet at ultras, he spoke of both with a contagious sense of adventure and optimism. I wonder, is it ultras that attract these eternal optimists, or do people become optimistic from running ultras? Not that it matters. It’s just fun to have a new best friend at every mile marker, and excuse to share some conversation to pass the miles.

(Chikara backtracks and catches up)

Mark Lantz had dropped at the Dam Overlook, and let me know that Chikara had accidentally gone up the AR50 route (he did get 3rd place this year, so perhaps it was instinct) and lost 10 minutes to turn around and go back. Jean Pommier was leading the race at this point, but Chikara was in hot pursuit. I cleaned up my wounds at the aid station, and Mark encouraged me to keep running and push as many fluids as possible.

I understood Mark’s advice as the heat finally hit us on the four mile descent to No Hands Bridge (mile 26.2). Despite having two full water bottles, I felt the need to nurse every drop. The sun left no shadows, only scars in the trail from its relentless heat. On a steep climb, I did inventory – legs good, stomach good, electrolytes good, but I was favoring my left foot more than I would have liked. I stopped and loosened my shoe up, and the swelling filled up as much shoe as it could muster. There was no pain, however, so I wasn’t sure if the swelling was due to injury or heat. I ran cautiously.

As I jogged down to the bridge, I surprised myself by contemplating whether to drop at No Hands. I had only dropped from a race once before (Quicksilver in 2008, which was an obvious decision), and I’m usually the type to just grin and bear it and see what kind of adventure lies ahead. I mean, it’s an ultra so it’s always going to be painful, right? And I certainly wasn’t in that much pain. But November 7th was a “goal race” marathon, and I winced at the possibility of losing the last precious month of training to a sprained ankle that I ran on 30 miles more than necessary. Is my 40-year-old body now erring on the conservative side? Or am I displaying maturity by staying focused on the goal race? Perhaps I’m finally mature enough to avoid another seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time story? Or do I have a severe case of wimpatitus? I closed my eyes and ran, looking inward for inspiration. At the turnaround, I thanked the volunteers and let Tim Twietmeyer know I was done for the day.

(Jason Reed makes the turnaround, on his way to an 8th place finish)

It’s so bizarre to drop from a race when you still feel good. Heck, it was only 10:30am! I cheered in the finishing marathoners, had some ice cream, and gave Jason Reed the thumbs up as he turned around and braved the ever-rising heat. By noon I was showered and resting at the finish line, feeling fresh from a Monsters of Massage rub down, and letting the volunteer crew spray “Nu Skin” over any spot of red they could find.

(Steve Itano and Kirk Lindesmith enjoy Popsicles at the marathon finish)

By the time Chikara Omine staggered in for the win (8:15:50), it was easily over 100 degrees. He quickly made his way into the air conditioned gymnasium, soon followed by Jean Pommier (8:17:40), and first woman Lia Farley (8:21:30). It took a good 30 minutes for each of them to get their core temperature back to normal, similar to the remaining finishers. Joe Palubeski (10:28:03) and Juliet Morgan (13:02:38, 4th overall) won the 100k, and Gerell Elliott (3:44:01) and Karalee Morris (3:55:20, 5th overall) cleaned up in the marathon. All of them were super-tough on a hot day! [results]

(Jean cruises in the final stretch for a 2nd place finish)

(Lia Foley wins the Women's division, third overall, with an impressive consistent run)

(Chikara recovers after his winning performance)

(Sean Lang rests after his 4th place finish, while I sport the cool new SNER t-shirt)

(The helpful volunteers patch me up)

(Jean definitely got his salt for the day)

(Brian Miller finishes in 6th overall)

Although I was proud of myself for making the wise choice to save for the big race, it never quite resolved in my head. That voice that tells me to quit mile after mile wasn’t quite sure what to do now that it finally got its wish! Still, it was a great day out on the trails mixing with Mother Nature, catching up with friends, and watching some amazing athletic performances. I will be back again for sure.

- SD

Killian Journet Crushes Record at Tahoe Rim Trail

21-year-old Killian Jornet set a new record for circumventing the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail this weekend, finishing in 38 hours and 32 minutes. This bested Tim Twietmeyer's 2005 record by over 7 hours. Press release below...

Kilian Jornet Shatters Tahoe Rim Trail Record

Tahoe City, California, September 29, 2009 – Just after dusk tonight, heralded by a squadron of pacers and mountain bikers, trail running sensation Kilian Jornet ran into Tahoe City, completing a stunning circumnavigation of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in 38 hours, 32 minutes.

Jornet, the two-time defending champion of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, had come to North America for the first time to challenge Tim Twietmeyer’s estimable 1995 record of 45 hours, 58 minutes.

Making the record all the more noteworthy is Kilian’s youth: he is just 21 years old, and immediately after the run, he said, “I feel great, but I feel better now that I can stop running.”

The journey wasn’t without difficulty; he took a nearly two-hour nap Monday night, and he and pacer Sean Meissner got lost at 2:30 in the morning. “We went a good two and half miles off track, and I was absolutely horrified,” said Meissner, who won the Tahoe Marathon just two days before beginning his pacing duties. “But he didn’t even blink. He just grabbed me by the shoulders, laughed and said, ‘More kilometers, more fun, Sean!’”

According to Kilian, the most difficult part of the endeavor was near the end: the last six kilometers from Echo Lake to Barker Pass, “The trail was just more difficult than I had imagined,” he noted.

Mark Kimbrough, the executive director of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA), not only presented Kilian with a framed special edition of the Association’s TRT completion certificate, but also mustered the sort of quiet, unheralded support that made the journey a special one. TRTA members, in small groups or often alone, provided extraordinary and vocal support at some of the loneliest spots on the course.

The Tahoe Rim Trail run is part of Kilian’s Quest, a globe-spanning journey of personal trail running expression supported by Salomon. His earlier Quest attempt, on the notoriously difficult GR20 trail traverse of Corsica, resulted in similar results: he pulverized the record for the 120-mile trail with a time of 32 hours, 52 minutes.

Kilian’s journey along the Tahoe Rim Trail took him through a 165-mile (266km) loop wrapped around the largest alpine lake in North America. The trail is comprised mostly of multiuse single-track, connecting the peaks along the ridge tops of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Passing through California and Nevada, the trail ranges in elevation from 6,240 feet to 10,338, with a total elevation gain of over 21,000 feet.

Jean-Yves Couput, Director of Marketing for Salomon USA, said “Kilian’s goal is to inspire people to experience the joy of the trails and the great outdoors -- and in the process he is reinventing the sport of trail running.”

Readers and bloggers can follow Kilian’s Quest through his Face book page, (, via Twitter ( or on his blog (

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ultrabloggers Rule The Lake Tahoe Marathon

Congrats to fellow bloggers Sean Meissner (2:58) and Gretchen Brugman (3:34) for winning the super-hot Lake Tahoe Marathon yesterday! Woo-hoo!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

AJW's Record Triple Crown, Missing Ultrarunners Found

Here's an article about Andy Jones-Wilkins "unassailable" record of three top 10 finishes at Leadville, Western States, and Hardrock. The "triple crown"! Is this true that nobody has completed three top 10 finishes in these races in one year? Amazing performances by AJW this year, nonetheless.

Also note that Fidel Diaz and Maria Natera-Armenta, the two missing ultra runners in SoCal, have been found after going without water or food for three days. [Note - the article talks about the first runner found, and the second one was found by helicopter a few hours later] Don't forget to carry a map, people!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Naked Running (Video)

Have you ever met someone and had that strange feeling that you had seen them naked at some point in the past? I'm just now connecting why I felt that when meeting 5k World Champion Lauren Fleshman at the XTerra National Championships last weekend. She was in the Nike Naked Running Camp video!

These runners are certainly are more toned than the Bare to Breakers runners. But aren't all naked runners beautiful in their own way?

Need a bit more naked in your day? Be sure to check out this world record attempt for "most naked people on a theme park ride". It really makes you wanna wipe your seat down the next time you get on a roller coaster.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Going Fast at the XTerra Trail Running National Championships

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 200+ trail runners for a weekend of fun at the XTerra Trail Running National Championships in Bend, OR. This 21k river run promised to be a fast introduction to the trails (and runners!) voted “America’s Best Trail Running Town” by Outside Magazine. Trail runners from 25 states were coming into town for the party, and dogs and kids were invited! It was a great excuse for Sophie and I to make some new friends, both two- and four-legged, and have some fun outside.

(XTerra takes over the Old Mill District of Bend, OR)

We had our share of adventure for sure, and for four hours, I had a national age group championship medal from the great folks at XTerra. Only four hours, you say? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it involves my 3-year-old whispering to me on the return flight, “Daddy, I think I left your medal at the grocery store”. Just as suddenly and unexpectedly as I had received it, it disappeared. We laughed so hard the airline attendant had to have words with us, AGAIN. The weekend adventure was epic, and it just kept getting better.

On the way there, my legs twitched eagerly to test out my latest speedwork, so I was pleased to have a perfect checkpoint on my training. Judging by the top finishing times of Max King and Ben Bruce (1:07, 1:08 respectively), this race would certainly be setting a serious pace. Five minute miles on trails? I didn’t even know that was possible. Plus this is Bend, OR, where Susannah Beck has already proven her speed, the likes of Kami Semick train regularly, and the Oregon Track Club Elite Team is known to drop in. Throw in 30 regional XTerra champions from over 50 races across the nation, and this was going to be WICKED sprint. It was good to show up a few days early to relax.

Our Pre-Race Adventures

Sophie and I flew to Eugene, OR, to join forces with “Gramma D” (aka, my Mom) and Tiki (her 18-month old Carolina) for a road trip. We inadvertently arrived a day early, but Bend had plenty of options for us, including a dog show, beer festivals, pre-race festivities, beautiful parks, walks along the river, great food, Saturday Market, and more. The weather was amazing, and it was instantly clear why everyone we saw was fit, tan, and wearing mud and dirt like fashion accessories. How could you NOT go outside with all this going on? The vibe was addictive.

(Defending champion Max King offers some course tips)

Sophie and Tiki voted for the Dog Show (natch), so we picked up coffees on the way to Drake Park to see the parade of local dogs at the Best In Show fundraiser. Sophie promptly applied all the XTerra stickers from my race packet to her arms, and was more than happy to show them to every dog at the show. She even got her picture with the winner! This town seriously loves their mutts.

(Sophie shows her XTerra stickers to Nico, the Best in Show dog)

(Lots of happy dogs in Bend)

(Helping out the local economy)

(Gramma D and Tiki take in the sites)

We relaxed through the hot afternoon, letting the day choose our path, and the conversations go as deep as they desire. Aaahhh, an afternoon with no agenda but to relax! The day of calm before the event may be the most precious gift of racing. I enjoyed catching up with my Mom, and felt lucky to have a relationship where we can converse and share on so many levels. Topic de jour was “how to handle a precocious 3-year old”. As I suspected, she had PLENTY of advice. ;-)

(Sophie and Tiki check out the ducks)

The Race

A warm and sunny morning greeted 200+ trail runners for the 8am start in the Old Mill District, and the 21k “XDuro” runners lined up first (a 10k and 5k were also being run). There were plenty of familiar faces, and the XTerra announcer led everyone in rounds of applause for Max King (defending XTerra National and World champion, winner of the 2009 American River 50-miler, and former NCAA All-American Steeplechase runner from Cornell), Ben Bruce (NCAA All-American, 5k champion, and 2nd place to Max at both XTerra championship races), Susannah Beck (defending XTerra national champion, USATF Ultrarunner of the Year, winner of countless ultras), and Kami Semick (the current reigning 100k world champion...that’s right, WORLD champion!). Not to mention 85-year-old local rock star Charles Hoover toeing the line. Just another local run in Bend!

(Susannah Beck gets a round of applause)

(Max King at the start)

(Ben Bruce is ready to roll)

(World champion Kami Semick gets a round of applause)

The runners exploded onto the course as the whistle sounded, starting with a mile of bike path and brick to sort out the speedsters. I hit the first mile in 5:44, and was already a minute behind the lead pack. Holy speedskates, Batman.

(Susannah Beck takes charge, with Lauren Fleshman on her tail)

I eased up a bit as we set our sights on the upcoming single track. Susannah Beck and Lauren Fleshman (5-time NCAA champion and Stanford athlete now running for the Oregon Track Club Elite Team) both surged to get ahead of me and a pack of others, and kicked it into a power gear. Kami Semick passed me about a half mile later, and was gaining. My Inov-8 X-Talons were loving the dry, sandy dirt, especially as we turned onto a long flat dirt road and got our speed on. I scanned down the trail, and could see that Max and Bruce were well ahead, with roughly two packs of runners spread a few minutes apart behind them. It looked like I was about 15th, just off the lead women leaping in step like a pack of gazelles. I leaned forward and let ‘er rip.

(Kami Semick charges the single track)

(The fast stretch on Haul Road)

At mile 4, we switched onto single track trails that led us up and over a hill of black lava. It wasn’t too hot yet, but the stone was warming fast enough to simmer us on the way back (mile 8). Such fun to have a course that can change climate as quickly as the terrain! The volunteers were fantastic, helping refresh every couple of miles. I got two pictures of Rod Bien (ultrarunner elite and owner of Fleet Fleet), and both of them were of him taking pictures of me. Battle of the bloggers!

(Sprinting the desert trails)

Course markings were impeccable, which came in handy at mile 5 when the sandy dirt road became a little less “defined” and it felt like a cross country race through the trees. I joked with Jeffrey Goetz about following the dust clouds across the grass, and he led us through a good path that kept us out of the deep silt. I surged to pass him, but in saying thanks accidentally inhaled a marble-sized bug and had to excuse myself to ease back and regain my composure. Nice move, stud. Very nice.

(Running along the river)

We circled back to the lava field to climb again, and I saw the pack of lead women ahead of me. It looked like Lauren was leading, showing her NCAA All-American 5k training with long, powerful strides. Within 30 seconds were Susannah and Kami, chasing with their ultra-inspired fast turnover technique. We zigged down through a few switchbacks and quickly found ourselves on Haul Road, the fast straight away, and it was clear the women were about 90 seconds ahead and gaining.

(Jeffrey Goertz from Nampa, ID, takes on the single track)

(Stone cliffs shadow the trail)

(Max King leads the way down the river, photo courtesy of Nils Nilsen)

I passed Jeffrey as we entered the single track along the river, and the cool breeze from the Deschutes refreshed my dry lungs and gave me a second wind. My hamstrings were cursing like sailors as I tried to open it up one more time on the final two miles and catch this guy a minute ahead of me. There’s nothing quite like the motivation of chasing the only guy in front of you who looks like he could be a 40+ year old! I got within 10 seconds of him, but the finish came quickly and Derek Shultz was definitely in control of his race, so I settled in behind him for 12th overall in 1:23:11.

(Heading down the finishing chute)

The Oregon and XTerra champs did well, using the perfect weather to set new course records. Max King had won, besting his course record by 45 seconds in 1:06:48 (next target race for Max is the New York Marathon in Nov), while Ben Bruce (1:12:58) and former Bend local turned triathlete Jesse Thomas (1:14) followed to fill out the podium. Bruce had set the pace early, with Max passing a few miles in and building a lead to the finish.

(Lauren Fleshman sets a new course record, photo courtesy of Nils Nilsen)

Lauren Fleshman won the Women’s division with a course record 1:19:10, with Susannah Beck (1:21:37) and Kami Semick (1:22:07) filling out the top 3. Both commented on the finishing speed of Lauren, estimating she had taken as much as 90 seconds out of them in the final 1.5 miles. We all refueled and refreshed, commenting on how amazing the day was and making new friends. I went to shake Max's hand, but he was already jogging back home to check in on his wife and 5-week old baby.

(Women's winner Lauren Fleshman and husband and third place finisher, Jesse Thomas)

(Susannah and Kami congratulate each other on a great finish and strong season)

Sophie and Gramma D found me at the finish, eager to show me Sophie’s race number and how she can “run the course” through the XTerra Kid Zone. I walked across the bridge and saw dozens of kids and dogs enjoying the XTerra terrain parks. Standing for a moment at the center of the bridge, I could hear the cheering of the crowds on one shore and the laughter and barking of pure joy on the other. You have respect the genius of XTerra’s version of trail running heaven. Good people, good trails, good food, and you can bring your dog! They even have an after-party at the Deschutes Brewery.

(Sophie sprints through the Kid Zone in her Oregon cheerleading outfit)


(Climbing the cargo net)

Unfortunately, we had to make a quick exit and would have to skip the afternoon fun. I was hoping to bring some of this energy to my ailing grandmother in Eugene, OR, before catching our flight back. I said my farewells and thanks to Emily McIlvaine and Trey Garman, two of the many XTerra family that make these events so fun. Emily told me I had won my age group, being the first masters male to cross the finish by a few minutes. Sophie quickly donned the medal, running around the Kid Zone course a few more times for good measure. My Mom smiled with that special twinkle of the eye shared by parents who has seen this pattern before. Just you wait, son. You might be coming to races 40 years from now! Let’s just hope I have the staying power of 85-year-old Charles Hoover of Bend, OR (3:57:04, age group national champion) and 66-year old Amy Galbraith of Venice, CA (2:44:01, age group national champion) to be by her side at the starting line.

(Regional XTerra champions Richard Burgunder and Carl Epley celebrate at the finish)

We packed up the gear and headed off, sorry to miss the K9 Challenge, after party, and the welcoming communities of Bend and XTerra that would have certainly filled another day with smiles and laughs. I was able to visit my grandmother, who was pleased as punch to hear Sophie recount her weekend of dogs and running. In the end, it’s these shared adventures we cherish the most, both in memory and stories retold.

As Sophie slept in my arms on the flight home, I made a note to thank the XTerra family for having us up for the special weekend they put on, and ordered an on-flight beer to toast my fellow trail warriors. We played hard, now we celebrate. A santé, mes amis!

Sophie perked up and smiled at me as we prepared to land. “I had fun, Daddy,” she whispered, “And so did Tiki. And so did Gramma D. And I left your medal at the grocery store. Nighty-night.”. Wha? My jaw hit the ground, but all I could do was laugh. The more I giggled, the more Sophie starting laughing, until our eruption of joy petered out to tired, sleepy smiles.

I already know we will never lose this moment.

- SD

[Thanks again to the folks at XTerra and their sponsors, the good people of Bend, and the very kind Store Manager at Ray’s Food Place in La Pine, OR, who located my medal in the fruit section and was nice enough to send it on. Also special thanks to my sponsors Inov-8 (the 212's are the bomb!), Injinji (another blister free race), 2XU (flawless clothes), Julbo (sunglasses that love shadows), First Endurance (for feeling good), Vespa (the miracle juice), and Nuun (yummy drinks).]

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dirty Fun at the XTerra Lake Tahoe Triathlon

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 350 multisport athletes for the XTerra Lake Tahoe off-road triathlon in Incline Village, NV. This sprint/Olympic distance triathlon offers a delicious sample of the many things that make Tahoe special, from swimming in the crystal clear Lake, to mountain biking down the epic Flume Trail, to finishing a trail run in a dog park full of four- and two-legged spectators. I had never done an off-road triathlon, so thought it would be fun to be the “newbie” and see if this XTerra community loves trails as much as ultrarunners do. If love of a trail is measured by the volume of dirt in your teeth from smiling through a whole race, then in retrospect, I’d say it’ s pretty damn close.

(Does it get any better than this? Photo courtesy of Travel Nevada)

An off-road tri wasn’t on my marathon/ultra training agenda, but when I saw that this event landed perfectly on the morning of a nearby wedding we would be attending, I figured it was fate calling my name. Let’s call it “cross-training”, shall we? Thirty seconds later I was registered for the sprint distance, and instantly freaked out at how unprepared I was. Damn you, Damn you to hell. (Damn you too,, even though this one wasn’t your fault)

I haven’t been swimming regularly for almost two years. And my mountain bike has gathered more dust than the Arc of the Covenant (cue the Indiana Jones music). But this is what the sprint distance is for – long enough for a workout, but not so much that newbies like me will get into too much trouble. One lap of 750 meters in the water, 22 miles on the mountain bike, and a 3.1 mile run. Just find a rhythm, go fast when you can, and have as much fun as possible.

I chatted with the other athletes as I set up my gear in the transition area, laughing about the few plots remaining from the beach towel land grab that eager, early-rising athletes had claimstaked. C’mon guys, I’ve had studio apartments with less square footage! We all cracked jokes and shared our personal histories of past rookie moves, and there seemed to be an endless supply of both. The ample laughter eased away any tension, and I sensed that XTerra athletes and ultrarunners are cut from the same cloth. We share a common bond for laughing and sweating in the dirt, perhaps more so than our distance-loving cousins, the Cult of Ironman. Then again, I don’t think any of us would pass up an opportunity to spend a cloudless day outside bonding with nature. Perhaps that cloth is big enough for three cults. ;-)

(Check out the polka dot bag two bedroom transition area)

I made my way down the swim start with Laura Ward from Tahoe City and Piers Stockwell, whom I had met last year at the XTerra 10k. Both are fabulously fit, and like me were using the sprint distance for some cross training. They eyed my Vibram Five Fingers shoes, which I was planning to wear in the water to make the 600m transition from the swim to the bike a bit easier. Is there anything these shoes can’t do?

(Olympic distance athletes do two laps, photo courtesy of Ryan Jers)

We took off at 8:10am, a few minutes behind the Olympic distance racers (they would be doing two laps). The water was perfectly calm as we swam around the Hyatt pier, past the boats, and made our way towards the beach. My swim stroke was definitely lacking, and I set into a manatee-like pace near the back. One poor guy had a panic attack, latching onto an unsuspecting boat to tear off his claustrophobia-inducing cap and wetsuit. Another hyperventilated in the mountain air and was floating on his back. Such drama with the manatees! The Olympic distance swimmers caught us on the last corner, throwing elbows and cutting through our pack like the Waterworld version of Hells Angels. With that, the last of us ran up the beach and down the street, frantically pulling off our wet suits to reveal our age-inscribed calves and size each other up.

I was sooo stoked to jump on the bike I could hardly contain myself. Oh Santa Cruz Blur, I have missed you so! This loop out the Flume Trail and back through Marlett Peak is one of the best around, and I had run these trails dozens of times. My hope was that my BMX background (15 yr old State champ, baby!) would combine with my trail knowledge to overcome the fact that this is the first day I’ve touched this bike since Sophie was born three years ago. Preparation, shmeparation!

After a short sprint down the road, we began the first of two hellacious climbs. The 3-mile Tunnel Creek trail had me openly thanking the Gods of triple chain rings, as my thumb subconsciously molested the shifter looking for even smaller gears. Most of the pack stayed to one side, panting and heaving in unison, and walking when it got too steep or sandy. An “unauthorized aid station” with a man in a tutu was handing out bacon strips telling people to get their protein early in the race…had I realized this was the only food on the course I might have taken him up on it! It did seem a bit odd that there were no food or gels on a 3+ hour course, but I guess this is the XTerra way.

(Nathan Bartels and Troy Wendt tackle the lung-busting Tunnel Creek climb)

I had to pull over to realign my front wheel a few times and stop the Halloween-esque squeaking of my disc brake (spooky rider on your left!). It felt so odd to have mechanical issues during a race! I also got a pic, one of just a few I was able to take. Taking pictures during an XTerra race risks life and limb, either from a high speed fall or from stopping the momentum of another rider who would quickly, and justifiably, pummel you for your indiscretions. I only had to try and start pedaling again on this steep climb to understand that.

(Climb, climb, climb!)

At the peak of Tunnel Creek, we were rewarded with the gorgeous Flume Trail. This trail isn’t much more than a single track notch in a cliff, but you can haul ass on its long straightaways. I stacked up behind some slower riders, but it gave me a chance to suck in the deep blue of Lake Tahoe and enjoy the scenery. I started chatting with the guy behind me, and it turned out to be the panic attack guy! He said it was the first time it ever happened, but he was able to calm down after a brief rest.

(Rounding Marlett, and heading up to the peak)

We circled Marlett Lake, and I used the fire roads to pass a bunch of people succumbing to the rising heat and altitude. The next climb started suddenly, and a lot of folks got off their bikes to walk in the rising heat. I was thankful to have the TRT100 knowledge to gauge my pace, which quickly paid off by passing another 30 riders on the climb to Marlett Peak. Many of those riders caught me again as I white-knuckled the large boulders in the descent. Good lungs can only do so much to overcome lack of comfort on the bike.

(It just....keeps.....going!)

My Julbo Race glasses were doing wonders with the shadows (I’ve recently become a convert of their Zebra lenses, which can change shades instantly), allowing me to keep up with stronger riders on the single track. We all plunged down Tunnel Creek at full speed, narrowly missing a group of crashed riders untangling their bikes. I entered the pavement section a bit too fast, taking out a pylon and getting hoots and hollars from the police directing traffic. All in good fun!

(Finishing at the dog park)

My transition was fast to the run, as I slipped on my Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s and began sprinting through the course. There were so many zigs and zags, it was hard to run below a 6 minute pace. My lungs were bursting, but I kept at it, knowing it would all be over with soon. I crossed the finish line in 3:21, good enough for 18th place. My splits were epitomal of a runner crashing the XTerra party – 25 manatee minutes in the swim, 2:20 wimp rider minutes on the bike, and a blazing 20:43 fastest-run-split of the day (thank you, X-Talons!). After comparing notes with the others, it appears it was all about the bike today. Pierce had similar splits to me for the swim and run, but his 20 minute speedier time on the bike was good enough for 3rd overall. At the finish BBQ, few spoke of finish times but instead shared their favorite parts of the course and licked the dirt from their smiling teeth. We definitely made the most of this gorgeous morning.

I got a post-race massage from the Monsters of Massage, grabbed a burger, and cheered on the remaining athletes in the warm sun. Tom Faukner (2:34:31) and Nancy Harrison (3:07:34) won the Sprint distance, while pros Nicolas LeBrun (2:47:56) and Genevieve Evans (3:25:28) won the Olympic distance. When you think about the fact those pros had two swim and run laps, those results are truly world class. XTerra athletes are the real deal!

As I returned home to change for the wedding, I relaxed with that glow you get from trying a new adventure, and seeing your favorite trails in a whole new light. There’s nothing quite like being a “newbie” again, no matter what the distance. Perhaps I won’t put that wetsuit and mountain bike right back in the attic just yet.

Hope you are all having a great weekend!

- SD

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