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 opens Sunday, March 15, 2015.

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.

Race Report – CIM

A Very Brief Report

California International Marathon (CIM) 2014 was a good, hard run for me. My time was not as fast as I had hoped, but I finished happy with my performance. It was a really hard effort – I gave all I had. And for all that, I finished in 3:53, the same time as my last run in 2011.


Other than the actual running part, it was a most fabulous day! I loved that my kids got to see me in a big race again. I loved sharing the experience with so many Donner Party Mountain Runners: training, anticipating, running, spectating and, finally, recovering. Thank you, friends and family – it would have been anything but fabulous without you!

Rear of The Pack Report

Javier’s report from Lost Sierra 50k to Dick Collins Firetrails 50M

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.

Epic run with Helen 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.

JCAUnfortunately, 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?

Race Report – Pine to Palm 100

Wagner Butte

Faint light filtered through the trees nearly 7000′ above sea level, indicating that we had been out on the trail for over 24 hours. I had been moving very slowly up the 2000′ climb to Wagner Butte, causing my friend Tom to stop and wait frequently. I had no fire. I wasn’t sad or even slightly bothered about moving so slowly. I was just a bit sleepy.

I finally sat down on a rock. I’m not sure how long I would have stayed there otherwise, but within 30 seconds I heard people approaching on the trail. A shot of adrenaline jolted me from the rock and I proceeded up the trail as though I had never stopped. Tom had waited for me and was happy to see me moving again. He was anxious to go ahead, as planned, at daylight.

A small group of us soon arrived at the base of Wagner Butte, a pile of rough and rugged rocks about 50′ high. Another shot of adrenaline… I love bagging peaks. While others groaned in annoyance or disbelief, I happily picked my way to the top, where we each retrieved a flag as proof of our summit.

Tom catching his flag at Wagner Butte
Tom catching his flag at Wagner Butte

Down to Road 2060

Tom went ahead to finish super-strong. My legs were slowly warming up to the idea of running again. Then I bumped into my “selfie buddy” for the last time ~ a young man from Nashville who posed with me for several photos during the day. I thought it would be funny to have a bunch of photos with a random stranger on my camera roll. It was funny. And fun.

Next I remember a section of steep downhill single track. My legs and mind weren’t quite ready for it. A woman passed me flying down the hill behind her pacer. So be it. Maybe I would be flying downhill if I had a pacer, I rationalized.

The sun was warming the forest floor and waking up all sorts of buzzing bees, wasps, insects, etc… I have been apprehensive of buzzing beasts since I was stung by a honey bee last month. The Road 2060 aid station was about 3 miles off, and I had to decide if I would take one last Vespa supplement as planned. Vespa is made from wasp-extract and I can’t get the idea out of my head that it somehow contributed to me being stung by that peace-loving honey bee.

I was finally feeling my legs run down the hill. I went through my pre-aid station list in my head. I imagine Betsy’s advice: dump everything and run light. There would be only 10 downhill miles to go.

Road 2060 Aid Station

I arrived at the last aid station where I asked for my drop bag. I felt great and wanted every advantage, so I swallowed my fears and took the Vespa. I left lights, batteries, and night-time layers in my drop bag. I finally pulled out my tunes and as I left the aid station I noticed a man and woman arriving. I wasn’t certain, but had a fair idea that the young woman was my competition and the man was her pacer.

I set the iPod to my “Anthems” playlist, packed with favorites from different times of my life. I tried to stay enough ahead so that the woman behind couldn’t see me. Each time I saw a bend in the road, I would speed up to get around it, to be just out of view. In reality, I was probably out of her view the whole time, but I didn’t know that. I wasn’t looking back.

Neil Diamond

I couldn’t believe that I was actually running at mile 90-something. Neil Diamond played in my ear bud. He had been a recurring theme of the day, as it turns out that few people can resist a little Song Sung Blue. During the day before, I had pulled out my iPhone on three occasions to host brief Neil Diamond dance parties on the trail.

Now I was having my own private dance party, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Loosy-Goosy Distances

I passed a fellow from earlier in the day. I think we had spent some time together in the wee nighttime hours on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He and Tom were concerned because we hadn’t seen a course marking in some time and because the aid station was a solid 2 miles further than advertised. I shared concern about the aid station distance, but I was neither surprised nor annoyed. The distances had been loosy-goosy all day.

I was certain that we had not missed a turn and used the course GPS tracks to confirm that we were still on-course. The men were still very worried and driving me nuts. The only thing to do is keep running. And we did, eventually, arrive at the mis-placed aid station.

I wondered if there were any more distance surprises in these last 10 miles. Hal Koerner, the world’s most likable race director, mentioned that he had some “really fun” single track in store for us in the final miles as we dropped into Ashland. With fewer than 5 miles to go, I could see Ashland terribly far below us, and had a difficult time trying to figure out just what “really fun” could really mean.

4 Miles

I blew past a water-only station and a sign that said “4 miles” on it. I kept going over the math in my head… maybe I am off by an hour? Am I really coming in under 28 hours? Is there any truth to that “4 miles” sign?

About a mile later the course turned onto the single track. Two runners were just arriving at the intersection from the bottom. “How far?” I asked, even though I rarely trust on-course intelligence. The gal said, “3 miles.” The young man took a moment to look at his watch and reported, “2.8 miles.”

And, then the big surprise… it really was really fun single track! It was a buffed-out downhill trail that was just a bit on the steep side. Now my only question, as I calculated a possible finish in less than 27 hours and a half hours: is there a mile of pavement in addition to these 2.8 miles, or is that included? The suspense was killing me.


And, then, before I knew it, I was running down some of the steepest pavement I’d ever set foot on. Betsy’s husband Paul greeted me a few turns before the finish. Betsy is so awesome ~ she was the third woman finisher (24:58) after running on a sprained ankle for 95 miles.

Paul directed me around the final few turns and pointed out the finish arch in the middle of the street. The (college?) cross-country running team was running up the road as I approached the finish. “Go get high fives from them,” Paul advised. I couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear as I slapped hands with a half-dozen shirtless 20-year-olds.

photo by Betsy Nye
photo by Betsy Nye

The Finish

I completed the 100-mile course in 27 hours and 24 minutes. Tom, who had spent the bulk of the day with me, was cleaned up and waiting at the finish. He had slammed down the hill to finish in 26:46. Betsy and my parents also greeted me at the finish. It was my parents’ first opportunity to see me at one of my ultras and I was excited to have them there. I missed having my husband and kids there, but was confident that they were tracking from afar.

My parents helped me retrieve my vehicle (a.k.a The Beast) from the start and we stayed for the finishing ceremony. Then we all ate a fabulous meal together. I slept well, then we all ate another fabulous meal together. And that was that.

Tom, Paul, Betsy, me, Dad & Mom
Tom, Paul, Betsy, me, Dad & Mom


I am now “qualified” to put my name in the had for one of the few, coveted spots at the Hardrock 100. But just barely. The day after my Pine to Palm finish, I received an email containing this statement: “Finishers of Pine to Palm 100 in 2013 and 2014 are qualified for the 2015 Hardrock, however Pine to Palm 100 will no longer be a qualifier after the 2016 HR.” I am thinking that, from now on, only I will decide what I am “qualified” to do… the Hardrock infatuation fades.