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.


Scott Dunlap said...

Great job out there! You definitely won the award for "cutest crew". ;-)

Did you post this story on 7/28 too? It's your cosmic number. ;-)

Catherine said...

Thanks Scott. And thanks again for that great bag of ice. It was perfect.

It's great that Caitlyn wants to run across finish lines with me. Now, if I could just get her to run in the kids' runs but she won't have anything to do with that. All in due time.

Hope Burning River went well for you.

Gretchen said...

Great job, Catherine! It was really nice seeing you at the start. I loved all the friendly faces before heading out, so thanks for being there and saying high.

This really is such a classic ace. It was my first ultra too, the 50K back in '03, and my first hundred in '08. Hope to see you there again next year! (I ran almost my exact same time for the hundred, too! just ten minutes faster this year. Funny!)

Catherine said...


You did a similar time but on a tougher course! Great job.

I plan on being back next year if all works out. Love this race.