Castle Peak 100k

Test your fortitude at this demanding point-to-point run on trails forged by early emigrants to California. The Castle Peak 100k takes place in Tahoe National Forest and on some of the most scenic mountain terrain that Truckee / North Tahoe has to offer. Proudly presented by the modern pioneers of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Registration now open on UltraSignup.

Race Report – Silver State Trail Half Marathon

I had no intention to race a hard trail half marathon last weekend. Or ever, for that matter.

We already had a sitter booked for out-of-town plans that we had decided to cancel. After the previous two weekends of preparing the family for big race weekends, I had lost all enthusiasm for heading out of town. I asked Coach Peter to pitch some fun running plans closer to home instead. So he suggested topping off a high-mileage week by racing a half marathon?!

The Silver State Striders have produced the SS 50/50 Endurance Runs in Reno, Nevada, for 30 years now. It was my first time at the event, despite being an easy 35-minute drive from home.

A number of friends and fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners were running the 50k and 50m distances, as well as working two different aid stations. Inspired by the example of Gretchen B, who routinely races then volunteers at aid stations, I jumped right on that bandwagon. My husband, Javier, and I were signed up to help at the top of Peavine for the afternoon closing shift. It was shaping up to be the perfect running date weekend…

I was pretty exhausted by Friday afternoon. I had run over 80 miles in the past 7 days, including several hard workouts. So it didn’t seem surprising that my stomach hurt and I felt awful despite it being a “rest” day. I felt a little relief after an unpleasant bowel movement and went to bed.

The wake-up call on Saturday was a luxurious 5:30am, which is about when I wake up mid-week anyway. I went through my normal pre-race routine, including coffee and Vespa, which both can contribute to an “explosive” gastrointestinal environment. My gut was still feeling pretty bad, but I was just going with it.

We arrived at the start and I pleasantly realized that Javier would be able to help me at the start and see me at the finish with no kid distractions! Our wonderful Reno running neighbors greeted us with big smiles at check-in. I needed to hit the porta-potty twice, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good for the start.

I whined to Coach Peter earlier in the week that I had no idea how to even race a trail half marathon. We had run a 10k time trial on Wednesday, and he told me to go hard like that for the whole time.

The course is over 1500′ of climbing in the first 8 miles, followed by the same descent in about 5.5 miles (a heavy half-marathon according to my Garmin). I struggled to find the “correct” effort level in the first mile or two. I called on the memory of Wednesday’s time trail to dial it in. I soon assessed that I would just have to “hang on” to the field ~ not let anyone slip away ~ for the 8-mile climb and then I could have some fun on the downhill.

Man, it was tough to hang on! I used music with one earphone for the entire climb. Once in a while my mind wandered and the pace dropped, “Ah, this is a sweet song. So nice that Javier will be waiting for me at the finish… ”

I had to constantly remind myself to focus just on running and breathing. No chasing squirrels, I told myself.

The climb flattened between miles 6 and 7, and here I sensed that I might finally catch the gal that I had been trailing by about 200 yards. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that she had been there to pull me up the hill then re-focused on running and breathing.

I caught her on the final steep pitch where I hiked for the first and only time all day. Then I saw the white tent of the Ridgeview Aid Station, staffed by fellow club members on behalf of The Canyons Endurance Runs. Accordingly, I made sure to look like I had been running the entire climb and blew through the aid station.

Phew! Now all I had to do is run downhill hard for 5.5 miles. I found a tall fellow to follow, and, dang, it was hard to hang on to him! I had to put away the earbud and just focused on staying with him.

Warning: here are were things get really gross. Actually, downright crappy. After about 15 minutes of fast descending and barely hanging onto my tall, fast friend, I felt my disturbed bowels grumbling.

Stopping was not an option. There wasn’t a tree in sight and I had nothing resembling tissue, in any case. I’ve held it for longer, I thought, but it’s gonna be painful. And then, suddenly, the decision was not mine to make. My bowels moved on their own and I was thankful for compression shorts. Unfortunately, this was not a one-time deal. Things kept moving… in an explosive manner. I just kept running.

I exchanged a few pleasant words with the tall fellow and a short bit later he decided to take it down a notch. He yielded the trail and I hesitated for a second to pass him; worried how I must look and smell. I went over it all in my head as I continued to descend as hard as I possibly could:

There is no other way off this course. There are no trees and nothing to clean myself with. If I slow down, there will just be more human interactions to deal with. At least it doesn’t sting… just imagine it’s mud from a fall.

From there, I continued as hard as I could still muster and thought only of my egress to the ports-potty upon arrival. I saw no other racers those last two miles and crossed the finish line in 2:01:04. I waved Javier over as I continued running directly to the facilities, where he was amazingly patient during the slow clean-up process. And he told me that I was the third woman finisher!

A very uncomfortable 3rd-place finish
A very uncomfortable 3rd-place finish. Photo by Javier

After many wet wipes and lots of hand sanitizer, I put on clean clothes and decided that we needed to go up to the aid station regardless. I certainly wasn’t going to serve food or drink to any runners, but I could at least take numbers and provide some cheer.

Hanging out at the aid station was a ton of fun, minus the waves of intense stomach pain. I got to see lightning-fast Emily Richards come through fresh as a daisy. She would go on to finish the 50-miler less than a minute behind the first male finisher. I also enjoyed cheering many club members, including dear friend Jenelle Potvin before she jammed down the hill to her own stellar 3rd-place finish.

Eventually I was able to eat some food prepared by Aid Station Captain George Ruiz (a.k.a. TRT Race Director). George really showed us how it’s done with fun music and hot food for the runners! I’m so glad that we didn’t bail on him ~ although I wasn’t much help, at least Javier was able to contribute.

The next day I topped off my Bryce 100-miler training with a slow, 19-mile run on the Tahoe Rim Trail with Javier and a few friends. Still a bit weak from the whole stomach episode, it was a chore to finish,  but I was proud of the big training week and looking forward to a solid recovery / taper.

Not at all a crappy weekend.

Race Report – Canyons 100k

I could see the bright yellow team jerseys through a filtered tree view. The promise of arrival at our Donner Party Mountain Runners aid station had pulled me through the heat of the early afternoon. I yelled out our motto, “Unafraid!” and zipped around the corner to the most incredible aid station reception imaginable.

This feeling of excitement, community and accomplishment sums up my experience at the inaugural Canyons 100k race yesterday. Last year I ran the 50k distance, when the club was in its infancy. One short year later, our club members represented in force, including the ever-exuberant RD Chaz Sheya and both his assistant directors, Pete Broomhall and Chris Perillo.

Our club is now a wild teenager and we must have had a least a dozen runners on the course and easily another dozen volunteering. I felt the home-court advantage in a big way. I could not have been more proud of everyone out there and an experience like that makes all the work of the club worth it.

Enjoying the finish with the DPMR crew
Enjoying the finish line reception – photo by Jack Meyer

The Canyons

I started the race with the smart & funny Jennifer Hemmen. She likes to talk as much as I do. We ran at a perfectly comfortable pace up and down the canyons, chatting the morning away. I can only imagine how annoying that must have been for some around us.

Jennifer is training for her first Western States, but she is no novice. She has paced, volunteered and been involved with the venerable race for years and years. She was a 7-time lottery loser until now. The Canyons 100k is basically out-and-back in two separate directions on the States course. Jennifer’s knowledge of the course terrain and pacing between aid stations was a great help.

We arrived at the mid-point in Foresthill in under 7 hours, about 45 minutes ahead of my dismal 50k finishing time last year. I was delighted and took a few extra minutes there to recoup. My coach and co-race director for the Castle Peak 100k Peter Fain was there with my drop bag ready. He was walking on air after just winning the 50k and setting a course record.

Last week Peter and I discussed strategy for the day: go relaxed in the Canyons (the first 50k), let loose a little and cruise down to the river, then the race begins with hard work on the way back.

Cruising to the River

I left Foresthill feeling pretty rejuvenated by all the positive energy and started out on the 16-mile section down to the river. I caught up to Jennifer and soon found myself leading a small train of four runners for several miles. In the past this may have pushed my pace, but I didn’t let it and just did my thing, according to plan.

The day was really heating up now and it was a very long 8 miles to the club aid station at Cal 2. Jennifer and I submerged ourselves in nearly every creek crossing. I was really amped after leaving our aid station, and then delighted to encounter my bestie and running mentor Betsy Nye running the trail in to work the aid station. She was so excited to see me ahead of schedule and I was already looking forward to seeing her there on the way back.

The day became hotter and the creek crossings became fewer. The thing that kept me moving was the promise of fully submerging in the river. I put my tunes on for a while and that was fun, too. The river did not disappoint. It felt as glorious as it did last June when I crossed with my friend Tom while pacing him at Western States. Tom’s sub-24 finish that day provided plenty of inspiration and good memories as well.

My body (and especially my quads) were so over-heated that I spent several minutes fully submerged in the river and still did not feel cold. It was highly effective in restoring my core temperature as well as refreshing my legs. I walked up the stone stairs from the river to find Jennifer not looking so great… she was having some bad allergy/breathing issues, but didn’t quite realize it at the time. She sent me on my way up the river. This is where the race begins.

The Race Begins

Refreshed and refueled, I was ready to work hard. Our Wednesday morning club workouts and my Monday sessions with Coach Peter have helped me (and my body) learn that it’s ok to push harder.

I had committed Peter’s pre-race text message to memory, including his signature grammatical mistake: Know that your [sic] in really good shape and don’t be afraid to stay outside your comfort zone.

I felt pretty solid for the first couple of miles up from the river. Then I started to realize that my quads were super-trashed. At least this direction is “up” from the river, I mistakenly told myself. While the course from the river is net uphill, there are plenty of short and sometimes steep downhills. Those hurt. I mean, really, really hurt.

Luckily, there were also many sections of runnable uphills. For those, I drew on my experiences with Betsy to push myself.

My inner dialog went like this: Would Betsy run this? Yes. How far? To that tree. Ok. Go.

I was so fired up as I approached our Cal 2 aid station. Our Aid Station Captain-extraordinaire Mike Tebbutt came cruising down the trail toward me. He was pleasantly surprised to see me coming in so soon. He informed me that much of his crew would be leaving once the saw me again. (That was very sweet ~ I felt so loved!) So I apologized to him for coming in so promptly.

Betsy and the gang hurried me through and I enjoyed more VIP attention. Betsy lamented that she wouldn’t be at the finish (but she was anyway.) I left Cal 2 for the second time feeling great.

I promptly overtook a poor gal having stomach problems. It is a race, after all, and I thought about my husband Javier watching the live tracking from home and seeing me move up to 4th place. We were all wearing GPS tracking devices that were supposed to provide our families with real-time tracking. It didn’t work. It never does at ultras.

At this point every little downhill was excruciating, yet I couldn’t just give away the free speed. This is the time in a race where I start to entertain myself by crunching numbers. My dream time would have been sub-14 hours, but I was calculating something in the neighborhood of 14:30, which would still be an hour better than my finish at Bishop High Sierra last year. It would depend on how fast I could do the climbs.

I just had in my head that it was miles and miles of steep climbing. But it wasn’t. I guess nothing is really steep compared to the first 50k in the canyons. I pushed myself up the final climbs, not entirely sure of the final distance to the finish. Suddenly I heard Betsy calling my name, but I couldn’t see her. She was at the top where the course leaves the dirt for the final mile or so of pavement.

She was so excited for me and hauled to the finish to prepare my welcoming party. I suddenly realized that I’d be coming in under 14 hours! My finish-line reception was so amazing that I almost cried. My own cheering squad into the finish line followed by sweaty hugs all around. I finished 4th woman in 13 hours and 56 minutes.


My legs have never hurt so bad during a race and I had never pushed myself as hard. And, yet, it was not my most difficult day racing ~ that distinction goes to my first 100k at the Gold Rush in 100-degree heat. Nor was it the worst I have ever hurt ~ I’m pretty sure that natural childbirth will always hold that record.

It was definitely the best I’ve ever raced. While many ingredients came together, the most important ones are all human:

  • Peter, for his confidence in me, superb coaching, and just good friendship
  • Betsy, for her love, enthusiasm and mentoring
  • Javier, for his absolute unwavering support of all my endeavors (including waking up at 2:15am just in case my alarm didn’t go off)
  • Chaz and his team, for an excellent job producing an inaugural 100k
  • And, of course, all of the Donner Party Mountain Runners
Finally a photo op with the wonderful race directors of the Canyons Endurance Runs. After enjoying a few hours (in my Recovery Pumps!) cheering 100k finishers.
Finally a photo op with the wonderful race directors of the Canyons Endurance Runs. After enjoying a few hours (in my Recovery Pumps!) cheering 100k finishers.


Family Running ~ Gincana

One of my running goals for 2015 is to “include the family in more adventures.” So I was delighted when my coach prescribed a scavenger hunt during our recent vacation in Spain. I’m not sure that we executed it exactly how he envisioned, but it turned out to provide hours and hours of fun and precious memories.

First stop: atop the metal monkey bars in the rain. It was our second-to-last day in Madrid and dumping rain. I climbed the kids’ favorite monkey bars (tall ones at that!) and barely steadied myself on the wet metal bar to take the photo with my phone.

We had one more stop before heading down to the pirate ship playground. This one didn’t require quite so much climbing, for which I was grateful. It was hectic matching the prepared photos in the rain.

Clara & Alex on the monkey bars earlier in the week
Clara & Alex playing on the monkey bars during the “preparation” stage

Earlier in the week, I had spent an entire day touring the local playgrounds with our kids, Clara (10) and Alex (8). We were staying at Abuela’s flat in Madrid, so we went into it with plenty of familiarity. The kids snapped one or two photos at each spot, usually from awkward or high locations. This was a fun new context for them to experience old favorites as well as less-exciting spots.

The next day on my solo run, I snapped some photos of the pirate ship playground. It’s about 2 miles from the others, and the kids hadn’t made it that far. I returned to the flat and tried to explain the project to my Spanish husband. I wanted to know the Spanish translation for “scavenger hunt.” After some deep brain-probing, he landed on gincana (said heen-cana).

With our collection of some 30 playground photos, the kids and I did some mixing and re-organizing. I strategically placed the pirate ship park so that we’d get a good 2 mile stretch without stopping. We deleted some photos where there were several from the same playground. Then the kids did some more re-ordering, and the game was ready for Mommy and Daddy to play.

Photo thumbnails on my iPhone

Last stop: By the time we made it back to the last stop (back at the monkey bars, per the kids’ plan), my phone was no longer protected by the rain in its plastic bag. Instead, the water drops inside the bag rendered the touchscreen skittish at best.

At the completion of the gincana, we had run over 7 miles together in the dumping rain and compiled over 20 matching photos. It turns out that matching the orientation of the photos was quite important to Alex, and he pointed out that we failed on at least one count.

Central Madrid is in the hazy background
Central Madrid is in the hazy background

With a year of family travel ahead, I’m looking forward to more variations on this theme!

Race Report – MUC 50-miler

Neon pink compression sleeves caught my eye a couple of switchbacks above on the trail. I was feeling good and had just run most of a climb that I would normally be hiking. The Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) 50-miler was my very first exposure to the storied trails north of San Francisco.

I squinted for a better look at the neon pink runner. If it was Betsy, my very good friend and ultra running mentor, what does that mean? She should have been an hour ahead of me. I either needed to back down the pace or she was having a very rough day. It turned out to be the latter.

We arrived at the race start together in the dark at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I snapped a few photos as I would be leaving the phone behind. The small crew of Donner Party Mountain Runners exchanged hugs and soon we were each on our way.

Donner Party Mountain Runners (photo by Betsy Nye)
Donner Party Mountain Runners (photo by Betsy Nye)

The conditions were perfect for running without a pack: warm with no call for precipitation. I had never run an ultra without a hydration pack. I picked two hand-held water bottles with large pockets and stashed a few emergency items, including lip balm, one lubricated wipe, and a spare gel.

I could not have gone this light if I didn’t have full confidence in the quality of the aid stations at Inside Trail Racing’s events. I did wear my GPS watch and sported a Road ID. One item I ended up missing was an aid station chart. (Noted for next time!)

Betsy arrived at the Cardiac Hill aid station and blew through just seconds ahead of me. I heard her yell as she encountered her first snake of the day, and soon I had caught up to her. Rough day, indeed. Worried sick about her dog that had escaped from the sitter, she was managing intermittent text messages from the “search and rescue” team of good friends back at home.

Meanwhile, we traversed more scenic and varied trails, including the famous Dipsea trail and then a grinder up Willow Camp. Betsy kept thanking me for staying with her, but the reality is that she was helping me control my pace. It’s a tough course and some of the climbs were long and exposed.

We cruised along the Coastal Trail near the ridge until Betsy’s phone beeped again: Buck was found. He went home. This was right around the marathon mark ~ mile 26.2. We shared a huge hug and now I was the one almost in tears. Tears of happiness and relief. Filled with renewed adrenaline from the good news, we picked up the pace. The course continued on more beautiful trails and even passed through the popular tourist destination of Muir Woods.


We settled into something between training pace and race pace. MUC was just a scenic stop along the way to several longer ultras ahead for each of us in 2015. I super-enjoyed spending a long day on the trails with my dear friend, despite of the difficult circumstance that led to our trail reunion. I was especially happy with the experience of running a well-supported race with no pack, and plan to do that more often.

A few miles before the finish, we decided that we would cross the finish line together. We returned to Fort Baker 10 hours and 39 minutes after we had left, good for a 4th place tie. (I happened to be first in my age group, but I find these rankings to be quite arbitrary and not much to brag about.) We stuck around the finish for quite a while, greeting other friends, eating, drinking, and taking in the views of the Golden Gate bridge.

Racing Braids
Racing Braids after 50 miles. Braids by Emma @urbanangelstruckee. Photo by Julie Nye.