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.

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.

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?