Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reality Check at Tahoe Rim Trail 50K

Earlier this year when I was making up my race schedule, I put the TRT 50K down as my "A" race of the year. I had grand plans of training well all spring, doing the Rucky Chucky 50K and AR50M as solid prep runs and then crush the TRT. Anyway, that was my plan. Plans change.

After battling injury early in the year, I took my time building up my fitness again. However, that meant that my longest runs weren't all that long and I was afraid that would come back to haunt me.

The TRT is a special race to me, not just because of the beautiful venue but because it was my first ultra back in 2007. I ran it in 7:28 and the next morning I thought I had been run over by a truck. This year my secret "A" goal was to break 7 hours but I knew that would be difficult given my not-so-perfect build up and what turned out to be a very hot day.

I got to Spooner Lake early and was able to see the 100 milers start. I visited Gretchen and met her pacer Donald, whose blog I follow but had never met. After talking to him for a short time, I knew Gretchen would be in good hands. Turns out she was.

The 50K and 50M started together at 6am. I set a good pace and arrived at the singletrack early enough not to get caught up in a lot of traffic. That meant I ended up running more of it then in years past but it felt good. Soon I was granted the magical view of Marlette lake in the morning and made a quick descent to it. After a quick stop at Hobart it was on to Tunnel Creek. I really enjoy this 5 mile stretch on the way out, not so much on the return.

The late winter snows this year meant we were treated to a dazzling display of wildflowers. It was still spring in the Sierras. The large patches of snow I had encountered a couple weeks earlier on a training run were pretty much gone. The trail was in wonderful condition.

It was on the descent to Red House that I started seeing 100 milers heading up. I was happy to see Gretchen and she looked good. I didn't know she was actually going through a low point and I hope my cheers helped lift her up.

After passing Red House I hit the flume trail and was determined to run the whole thing. Soon I had a train of guys behind me who didn't seem to want to pass so I pressed on despite wanting to stop and walk for a bit. I arrived back at Tunnel Creek ready to spend a few minutes refueling. I was running a little low. I was right at the 4 hour mark and 3 hours seemed like enough to get me to the finish in 7 hours. The long uphill switchbacks after leaving TC seem to go on forever but I ran as much of it as I could. I arrived back at Hobart tired but still confident.

Usually I enjoy the climb up to Snow Valley Peak but this year the climb just seemed extra long. I kept checking my watch and realized my time goal was slowly slipping away. Instead of enjoying where I was and what I was doing, I became obsessed with time. I arrived at the aid station and my Garmin said 27 miles. Technically, that should mean I only have 4 more miles to go to run a 50K. But this race is longer and it was demoralizing to hear the volunteer say I only had 7 miles to go. And I had been running for 6 hours. No way I could run 7 mph even if it is mostly downhill.

I downed some coke and hit the trail. I struggled. I suffered. I started getting chills in the heat and started worrying that my core was getting too warm. But I didn't care. I just wanted it over. I knew I had let my time goal over-rule my enjoyment of the experience of the day and I wasn't happy about that. As I passed the 31 mile mark I grinned. 6:54. At least I had accomplished my goal of running 31 miles under 7 hours. Too bad it wasn't the finish line :) I started thinking about my family waiting near the finish and my daughter waiting anxiously to run the last bit with me.

My new goal became to finish faster than I did in 2007 and to stay strong despite being very tired. I kept having to walk the little uphills but continued to run as much as possible. I passed the last aid station and I started rounding the lake and could hear the cheers of the finish line. I was almost there. I kept imagining my family watching for me and how it would feel to finally see them. It was a gorgeous but hot day, and I had just run 34 miles through some beautiful, tough terrain and my oldest daughter was going to take me to the finish line. What could be better?

The girls waiting patiently

Looking and feeling pretty ragged

Finally I crossed the last meadow and Caitlyn was quickly by my side to take me in. As I crossed the finish line and looked at the clock I had to laugh: 7:28. The exact same time I ran in 2007. Now how's that for consistency. Now, I just hoped I wouldn't feel like I had been hit by a truck in the morning.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Training on the TRT

Last Friday I wanted to get in a 20 mile long run on the trails used for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K race I'm doing in about 2 weeks. We've had an incredibly long and snowy winter with the high trails snowed in much later than usual years and I wanted to see what was open.

By 7am I was on Tunnel Creek Rd working my way up towards the Flume Trail and then a little further to the spot used for the Tunnel Creek aid station. Climbing strong and feeling good, so far so good. Next up I tackled the Red House Loop. After a long descent I made my way up to the source of the loop's name and continued straight up to the flume which I followed until the final climb back to TC aid station. I was pleasantly surprised when the climb ended sooner than I expected. 10 miles down, 10 to go.

Red House

Now I faced a dilemma. If I followed the TRT south to Hobart aid station and ultimately Marlette Lake and follow the Flume trail back to Tunnel Creek rd, I knew I'd be over my 20 mile goal but I wasn't positive by how much. So far in my build up my longest run was about 9 days ago and it was only 16 miles. I certainly didn't want to hurt myself just 2 weeks before my goal race but I also needed to build my confidence by going long. So I headed south.
This is a section of the trail that is always harder then I want it to be. Not incredibly steep, just long and lots of switchbacks. By now I started to feel a little tired. None too soon I finally found myself overlooking Marlette and Tahoe in a spectacular view. I had also come across only a few small patches of snow that didn't impede progress a bit.

Overlooking Marlette and Lake Tahoe

As I worked my way along the east side of the hill on my way to Marlette Peak I finally found a couple of large snow fields that obscured the trail. However, I knew the general direction the trail followed and it wasn't difficult to get back on track. The 50K racers won't have any problem with route finding on race day but since I didn't go north from Tunnel Creek, I can't speak for what the 50/100 milers might find.

Trail disappears

I made my way down to beautiful Marlette lake after sucking down more gels and a bar to flag my waning energy stores and I realized I was going to run out of water. I was 4 hours and 18 miles into my run and still had 8 more miles to go. I figured the outlet from Marlette would be flowing fast so decided to chance it and refill there.

Working my way to Marlette dam

Water source

It was along the Flume trail that my energy really started to fade. This was turning into a trail marathon, literally. I have to laugh at being an ultrarunner. Runners spend months training to run a marathon and yet we run marathons to train for our 50's and 100's. But the truth is, I was running 10 miles further than I've run all year and I really didn't want to get hurt. So I walked when I had to and ran when I could. And enjoyed the views on this absolutely gorgeous day.