I have to be honest – when I race the only thing that I lead, if lucky, is the rear of the pack. This season was especially interesting as I moved up from 50K to 50M in a very short period of time.
It all started when my wife Helen decided to run the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100M. In past years she ran the 50M and I just did the 50K. I was getting the bug of longer races after crewing at Hardrock 100 and this TRT I paced her at night from mile 80 to mile 100. It was a great experience for both and lots of fun to see the sunrise together. Helen did great (earning a silver buckle) and I was left wanting for more.
After TRT, Helen happened to casually mention something that I interpreted as “there is a little lost 50K not far from Truckee, check it out.” When I inquired how hard it was her answer was “a little bit more technical than TRT.” So in my natural wishful thinking I combined the adjectives “lost” and “little” and signed myself up.
Feeling on a roll, I also asked about a 50M to be my first. Helen suggested the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M “down in the bay where you will have the altitude advantage.” In a single night I signed up for the “lost-little-50k” and the “low rolling-hills-50M.” I am the only one responsible for those interpretations given all the maps and information available, but… who reads written instructions these days?
My training leading to the 50k went great with even a couple of 30-mile wild mountain runs with Helen during our vacation in Spain.
Enter the Lost Sierra 50K. The night before, when I finally studied the course and made my just-in-case customary pre-load of the map for off line use on my iPhone (GPS Kit app), I noticed with concern three cut-off times that seemed aggressive for my typically slow pace. We drove from Truckee to Graeagle very early in the morning with friend Peter Fain, part of the incredible cradle of top runners in the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Paul Sweeny also showed up so I got to feel their sonic booms when they took off at warp speed. It was like a flash back to Spain running with the Bulls – everybody took off like a herd of mountain lions was after them – or maybe they were all confused and thought it was a half marathon?
So I decided to run the uphills from the beginning and for the first half of the course things were great other than that first red flag. The second red flag came at an incredible lookout aid station in which not one, not two, but three volunteers warned me that the race really starts in the second half… why I wondered? After my uneventful climb ‘leading’ the rear of the pack, my wonderful wife and children fed me at the half-way-point aid station, beating the first cut-off time with plenty of margin.
The technical part clearly started from that point on, some of the climbs and descents were steeper and rockier than TRT, as I expected. Finally a conclusion grenade hit me when I encountered some faster friends (who were, in fact, running the shorter distance course), and they reacted to my “unexpected presence” with something like, “Javier!? Did you sign up for the 50k?! Awesome (high fives)! This is a hard 50k!”
After this scene repeated itself a few times, it started to dawn on me that this was no easy 50K. The reservoir of wishful thinking lasted just until I finally got a full view of the big climb, at which time a fellow rear-pack-runner exclaimed “OMG, are those people from the event?” The trail ahead looked through my rear-of-the-pack eyes like a section out of Hardrock (of course not really comparable, but you get the point.) That moraine in peak solar loading for sure took all my energy, feeling that there was a false summit at every single switch back.
At the top, anxious for the final descent, I noticed people waiting for something: “We are afraid of descending alone.” And then the ladies (always the ladies!) disappeared down the ravine as if they base jumped. Not wanted to be left behind, I started chase but never saw them again. Still a tip from an iRunFar arcticle clicked in like “Use The Force Luke.” On steep descends reduce stride length but increase pace to abate impact. I somehow did manage to run a non-stop descend.
My family surprised me at the last aid station five miles before the finish. Helen gave me some critical intel on the remaining distance and I took off (well, more exactly limped off ) to finish it up – still downhill and painful til the end. This was my first race using Tailwind and for sure helped me to keep me going. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great race to be part of, perfectly signed with a great course and volunteers, a small town race feeling giving participants with different view of the sierras. I will for sure be back next year.
So all looked good as a progression to my first 50-miler. Still, the coordinated conspiracy of too many business trips and dense smoke from the King Fire placed me way behind necessary training. I only managed to get one 20 miler before the race. To accomplish just that, we were forced to leave Truckee to evade the dense smoke and spent a weekend at Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley. Our surprise was that that very same night brought the season’s first snowfall, so I ended up running in the middle of a storm on really steep trails covered with up to a foot of snow. I enjoyed the unusual combination of running shorts and a full Goretex jacket. I spooked equally deer, hunters and followed bear fresh tracks for miles. I loved every minute.
I did have a blast despite the surreal training conditions, solidifying my feeling that long training runs are more fun than the races we train for. It got a bit on the edge when the only tracks on the snow were mine and those of a bear that I seemed to be following all day, but I felt like Killian Jornet on the starting scene of his movie Summits of My Life.
Unfortunately, on the way down from 9,000 feet, it started pouring raining and the ‘trail’ became a rut full of invisible rounded rocks and slush. As a result I impacted my right ankle one time too many. I was able to run only an easy 17-miler on the Emigrant Trail prior to my race. I had to trade training time for healing time ten days before the race.
I was for-sure undertrained for 50 miles and was tempted several times to cancel a few days before, but decided to go for it. Helen did some miracle KT tape job on my foot the night before to force me to use the right muscles and so it started.
It turned out that my ankle only hurt for the first 25 miles and after the middle point it didn’t feel much worse than anything else. Dick Collins 50M was awesome with incredible views of the Bay Area, but I got to appreciate that those were not exactly rolling hills. There were quite a few more climbs and steep segments that I expected. I had some lows here and there, but enjoyed running with a new found friend for the first half and then, after I got out of my last low, was actually able to pick up the pace. I ended very strong (again – relative to the very rear of the pack) and reached the finish before dark, which was my secret goal.
Running my first 50-miler gave me an appreciation on how mental it must be for Helen and other runners to turn around and do another 50 miles to complete a 100-miler… so although I am not yet in the mind set for that challenge, I am considering going for an “easy” 100k next season. Helen immediately suggested Bishop 100k… which sounds like an easy 100k, right?