Saturday, July 24, 2010
Mountain Bliss at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k
There's something very special about the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k/50m/100m near Spooner Lake, NV, that is hard to put into words. I don't just want to race it...I long for it. Perhaps it's the incredible trails and endless scenery, or maybe it's knowing I will find the usual great group of new and veteran ultrarunners toeing the line. It could be because RD's David Cotter and George Ruiz and their team of volunteers have perfected this race to the point of sheer delight. No sense in trying to define it; best to just grab your trail running shoes, show up, and pick a distance.
(Peter Fain kicks up to the 50-miler this year)
(Charles Blakeney, Bree Lambert, and Jean Suyenaga at the start)
I opted for the 50k this year, despite the fact that it doesn't really fit into my training schedule. I figured I would just do a solid aerobic effort and call it a "long tempo run". ;-) I came early to wish the 100-milers well, and was pleased to see a ton of familiar faces stepping up for the full distance or pacing their friends. This course has well over 14,000 feet of climbing thanks to the new out-and-back to Diamond Peak Lodge, and the temperature was going to hit the high 80's for sure. David Cotter warned us about the two bears that are roaming around (yikes!) and begged everyone to remember not to do the Red House Loop twice (it happens every year). It was going to be an adventure for all!
The 100-milers headed into the dark at 5am, giving me a chance to catch up with some of the 50m/50k runners before our 6am start. Peter Fain, the 3-time 50k champion and course record holder, had decided to kick up to the 50-miler, which would certainly give 50-mile pro Ron Gutierrez some competition while leaving some 50k runners a chance at the RRCA Nevada State 50k title. Defending 50k Womens champion Julie Young was back and as fit as ever, and there were lots of new faces too. It was anyones race. Only one way to find out who's the most ready - at the sound of the whistle, we headed off!
Peter Fain took it out fast, per usual, leaving about eight of us to cruise along and enjoy the sounds of the waking mountain valley. Ron Gutierrez led us up the first section of single track, and I ran with Ben Kadlec and Nick Sterling who had both come out from Colorado to tackle the 50k. Everyone (except Peter) was going at a fast but casual pace, but running everything. The trail alternated through thick pines and lush meadows full of butterflies.
(Tackling the single track as the valley wakes up)
(Ron Gutierrez and Ben Kadlec leading the pack)
As we rounded Marlette Lake and hit the first steep climb, I laughed to myself thinking how many times I have cursed this hill. The TRT 50k was one of my first 50k's, and I followed up with the 50-miler and later the 100-miler (2x up this mother-scratcher), and had even tackled this section on a mountain bike for the XTerra triathlon. It's just steep enough (about 10%) that it breaks your stride and strongly suggests you walk. We all fought the instinct as long as we could but soon were cursing under our breath. I paced behind former Olympic biathlete Glenn Jobes, who was kicking down a phenomenal pace for the Masters. About two thirds the way up, I had to let him go and took some long walking strides.
(Oh, cr%p...it's getting steep)
(A skirt ain't a half bad idea for this hot day)
The first aid station (mile 6) was quick, and I tagged along with Ron to continue the climb up Marlette Peak. Our friends from Colorado were having no trouble with the 8,400 ft elevation and began building a gap between us and Peter Fain, still somewhere up there in the distance. The views were OUTSTANDING, with Tahoe Blue reaching into the horizon. I have missed you so!
(Ron rounds the corner on Marlette Peak)
(Beautiful lakes at every turn!)
As we began the descent towards Tunnel Creek (mile 13), I commented to Ron that his stride was absurdly fluid and I could barely hear him running. He said thanks, and mentioned that he had worked quite a bit on transitioning to a mid-foot strike stride after his joints began giving him hell. Whatever he was doing, it was working! He flowed through the tricky descent with ease.
(Joy Schneiter and Ted Nunes are having waaaay too much fun)
Tunnel Creek was a party in progress, and they got us refilled and headed down the Red House loop in no time. Once we got down the sand ladder, we began to see the front-runners in the 100-miler. A cheery Jon Olsen was running with Oregon's Thomas Crawford, just a few step behind previous top finisher Brett Rivers and Mark Tanaka. Bob Shebest and Roxanne Woodhouse were also within sight before I forked down the trail. Everyone I met was in great spirits, enjoying the "feel good" early stages of their epic adventure.
(Chihping Fu runs backwards so we can camera duel at high noon)
On the return climb, I recognized the back of the head of Vance Roget (clearly I've paced behind him too many times) who paced us up the steep stuff, and then caught up to Olga Varlamova who blew me a kiss as we danced across the creeks near Red House. Everyone was doing great!
(Vance Roget leads the climb)
(Kisses from Olga!)
I hit the return on the sand ladder and saw Julie Young up ahead of me. Somehow she had slipped right by, that minx! That's okay. I knew she is capable of 5:15-5:20, which would be a solid 45 minutes faster than I've ever done this course. It's an honor to get chicked by the likes of Julie.
Tunnel Creek (mile 18) was a zoo at this point, but they still managed to get me full of ice water and off and running quickly. I wished all the best to the 50-milers who were forking north to Diamond Peak while us 50k'ers head back up towards Marlette. I opted for some preventative ice-in-the-bandana air conditioning for the climb back and reapplied sunscreen to by sea-level pale skin. I've baked myself one too many times on this hill not to learn! As we zig-zagged up the steeper sections, I reeled in Glenn Jobe who was bleeding from both knees but still truckin'. Before I could ask him what happened, he went down again, victim of those little trail troll rocks that stick up just enough to grab toes, but not enough to cast a shadow. He assured me he was okay, and was moving quickly again in no time. That guy is a trooper!
(Getting hot on Marlette)
I ran solo all the way through Marlette aid station (mile 22), and couldn't make out anyone in front of me up the climb to Snow Peak. I guess Julie and the Colorado kids were making good time! I had some good tunes rolling through my head, thanks to seeing American Idiot on broadway (where Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong just went from great musician to frickin' genius in my book), and kept a good pace. As Snow Peak came into site, so did the familiar profile of Tim Twietmeyer reeling me in from behind. I made a quick stop at Snow Peak (mile 27), but Tim soon caught me on the descent and exchanged a few pleasantries before bombing the 3 miles of steep downhills.
It was really cool to follow Tim and watch his effortless style plunging the descents. He just takes these long, powerful strides and lets gravity do the work. I could swear he's not even looking at his foot placement, but just sensing it in a Zen-like way that only a 25-time finisher of Western States (all under 24 hours) could do. I would gain on him with each flat or uphill section, but the topology favored Tim. By the time I reached the last aid station (mile 30), he had gapped me by four minutes. I reminded myself this was a training run, but the ego still felt sucker-punched watching a guy 10 years my senior roast me like that. I guess I'll never get used to that. ;-)
As I rounded Spooner Lake, I looked at my watch for the first time and realized I was going WAY faster than I had in previous years. It didn't feel hard, but when I crossed the finish line in 5:34 for 5th Overall, it was easily 30 minutes faster than the years I had nearly killed myself to get under six hours. I guess my base conditioning is going well!
(Bringing it home!)
They were serving beer in the finisher chute, and I helped myself to a mega-cup of it to the chagrin of a rehydrating Tim. Ben Kadlec had won in 5:13, with his friend Nick Sterling just a few minutes behind. Julie Young was third (5:26), and Tim was fourth (5:30). About 10 minutes after me, a battered Glenn Jobe came in to claim the Grandmasters title, and was happy to toast with a beer. Tim let me know that he would be at Ironman Hawaii this year (after busting out a 10:30 at Ironman Wisconsin), as would Graham Cooper (10:42 at St. George), so the ultraclan would be well represented. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside! Maybe I can catch Tim in Hawaii...there aren't too many downhills.
Before too long, we were swept up in helping other 50k finishers cool down, and getting the 100-milers through their halfway point. It really got hot over the next few hours, and those of us under six hours were glad to have missed it. Peter Fain won the 50-miler in an amazing 8:30:47, then weighed in nearly 12 lbs light from dehydration. He said all was great until the climb out of Diamond Peak, which became a familiar story as Ron Gutierrez (2nd, 8:51), Nicholas Triolo (3rd, 9:22), and Carole Barichievich (9:54, 8th OA, 1st Woman) shared similar woes. That exposed new climb is a brute! Thomas Crawford, Bob Shebest, Jon Olsen, and Brett Rivers came through on the first half of the 100-miler in fast enough times to place in the 50-miler, somehow finding the energy to keep going in the heat.
(Brett Rivers looks great at the halfway point)
(Bob Shebest is thumbs up for lap two)
I squeezed in a shower and massage before heading out to watch the sunset, thrilled to have another TRT under my belt. The folks at RRCA had a nice medallion made for my age group win, which Sophie was certain to love. I had a good long sleep and woke up to sit on the deck, toggling between the Tour de France and the live TRT100 feed the next morning. Remember the days when there weren't live feeds to the 100-milers? Sure is great to have them. Thomas Crawford (17:47, CR) won the 100 in record time, with Brett Rivers (18:53) and Bob Shebest (19:57) filling the podium, while Roxanne Woodhouse (22:47), Lisa Nichols (28:09), and Gretchen Brugman (28:19) won the Womens division. I couldn't help but think those Tour de France racers were happy to be done in just six hours! You TRT warriors are amazing.
My thanks to the RD's and volunteers for a great race! It was an honor to share the day with you. I appreciate you giving us the opportunity to so easily add some adventure to our lives.
Gear checklist - Inov-8 Roclite 295's, Injinji socks, 2XU compression calf guards and shirt, Julbo Race sunglasses, Panasonic FX-48 camera, gels by Hammer and Powergel, S!Caps, Nuun Cola flavor, Aleve, and Shiner Bock. Post-race shoes are Inov-8 Recolite 190's.