Rear of The Pack Report

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.

JCA

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

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.

Pavement

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

Epilogue

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.

 

Race Report – Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100

Race Report – Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100

The Start: I’ve been here before. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs are in my backyard and I have run both the 55k and 50-mile distances in the past. This would be my first 100-mile race. There were lots of poor-quality pre-dawn photos to snap, and then we were off.

Mile 15 – Overheating on the Read House Flume: The morning started fine but not great. It was a little warmer and more humid than normal for Tahoe, and so I tried to ice myself from early on. But I was already too hot early on, running the flat and miserable Red House Flume. I lowered my expectations. Maybe today will not be “my day.”

Mile 17 – Out of Red House: Oddly, I started to feel better on the steep climb out of the Red House Loop. It seemed a little cooler. My friend Julie (running the 55k) spotted me with her camera, and I was feeling good enough for some goofy poses.

Mile 18 – Weigh-In: I came into the Tunnel Creek Aid Station for my first weigh-in of the day – 3 pounds lower than my pre-race weight. It was my wake-up call. I have to troubleshoot my situation. Ice more. Drink more. I got on it.

I was fortunate to have my own crew up at Tunnel Creek. My friend Tom hiked the 3.5 miles up the hill to help me for less than 5 minutes at a time on my first three passes through the Tunnel Creek Aid Station. He had my Tailwind sports drink mixed and ready to swap with empties. He executed flawlessly as I barked orders for ice and other necessities. Later he said that I was bossy. Really? That’s well-documented. I can’t believe he didn’t already know that about me.

Mile 30 – Best Day of My Life: The rest of my A-Team was waiting at Diamond Peak. I felt fabulous and was right on schedule. My husband Javier and good friend Betsy were both there to help me through. This time the weigh-in was spot on. I got more ice, ate some turkey sliders (turkey & avocado) and got doused with hose water on my way out. My friend Pete gave me some of his famous rice balls to-go and caught me up on other friends running as he walked a little ways with me up the Diamond Peak ski slope.

Mile 42 – Easy Does It: I left the high-point of the course, Snow Valley Peak, well ahead of schedule. I tried to ease up, but I could see that I would be into the 50-mile aid station about 30 minutes early. Thunder clouds formed in the distance, and it was not a question of if, but when and where, the storm would hit.

Mile 50 – Hail: My early arrival caught the team by surprise, but they jumped into action. I had hoped to spend as long as 15 minutes here to prepare for the night of running. As I started to change my shoes, it started to rain. And then hail. And then flash lightening. I put my coat on (I had been carrying it all day) and my team covered me with towels and plastic. I was already getting cold.

Betsy would be running with me for the next 30 miles. She has almost 3 dozen 100-mile finishes under her belt, so she knows what it takes. Sitting still makes you cold and wastes time. We saw a flash of lightening and heard the thunder just a second later. Time to leave. I missed seeing our kids who had arrived from Truckee just as the storm started. Javier intercepted them in the car and told them to turn around. He was soaked to the bone himself.

Half-way through changing shoes as the storm hit

With Javier – half-way through changing shoes as the storm hit. Photo by Julie Nye.

Taking off with Betsy in the rain

Taking off with Betsy in the rain. Photo by Julie Nye.

Mile 70 – A Hundred Miles is My Distance: We ultimately dried out and the sunset was beautiful. Running into the night with Betsy went smoothly. I was in better spirits than I had expected to be at this point and just kept marveling to myself, “A Hundred Miles is My Distance.”

Mile 80 – Not Enough Air: Javier met us at Diamond Peak Lodge at Mile 80, where he would take over pacing duties. It felt like a slow aid station stop. I had to go outside to find the toilets, but was pleased with the first flushing toilets in so many hours. I felt fine as we initially headed up the ski slope once again, but that didn’t last long.

Diamond Peak is the steepest and longest climb on the course. I have climbed it over a dozen times in training, and one training day climbed it 3 times back-to-back. I don’t do it quickly, but I don’t stop on the climb and it generally is not a problem for me. Except for this time.

I simply couldn’t get enough air. Is this just how it goes at mile 80? My chest was tight under the sternum strap of my pack. Did I over-tighten it this time? I took the tiniest, easiest steps possible, but I still had to stop and gasp for air on several occasions. It took me almost twice as long as normal to make it to the top of the 2-mile climb. I was annoyed, but not freaking out.

Mile 85 – Temporary Relief: I mostly hiked the remaining 3 miles back to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station, where I knew at least 3 volunteer physicians were waiting to help out. They administered oral albuterol and I felt better almost immediately. I was able to run the next 5 miles to the Hobart Aid Station.

I felt the air slip away from me again just out of Hobart. The next section is a climb to Snow Valley Peak up at 9000′ feet. I did alright with moderate hiking.

Mile 90 – This is Going to Take Forever: By the time we were to descend the final 10 miles to the finish, however, I just couldn’t catch my breath. Not even for a light downhill effort. I tried frequently to at least jog downhill, but would be gasping for air after just a few seconds.

Here I hit the low point. I did the math. This downhill to the finish, instead of taking one-and-half to two hours, it was going to take FOUR HOURS. Really? We are going to be out here for FOUR. MORE. HOURS.? I almost cried a few times, but then reminded myself that I chose this and that many are not so lucky to have this choice.

All this time, Javier dutifully followed me at my meager hiking pace. Spending the whole night and well into the morning on his feet, after spending all day crewing me. I felt bad for him. We were doing a “death march” and I know that they are particularly painful on the pacer. I couldn’t talk with him. I couldn’t even listen.

Mile 95 – Seeing Things. Cool: I knew they were coming and totally expected it, but that didn’t stop the hallucinations. I actually found this to be a bonus and it entertained me for a while. That looks like a circus clown’s suitcase at the side of the trail. I wonder what it really is? A stump. And not even a very interesting one at that. It went on like that for a while.

Mile 96 or so – Running Again! At last, I had descended and recovered enough that one of my attempts to “run” was successful. I could breath again! And I was able to run the final downhill miles to the finish!

Mile 101.5 – The Finish: Somewhere along the death march I had instructed Javier (bossy, indeed!) to update everyone via text message to expect us around 10:15am. We found our kids and friend Rachael waiting for us just before the final single track into the finish. Rachael ran ahead to take photos and my sweet family ran me into the finish 29 hours and 10 minutes after I had started the day before.

With my boys & my buckle at the finish. Photo by Julie Nye.

With my boys & my buckle at the finish. Photo by Julie Nye.

Reflections: I loved (almost) every minute of my first 100-mile experience. Though I was frustrated hiking so much of the final downhill, I was never really mad that my goal time of 28 hours slipped away. I did what I could. And I did have some good luck with moving away from that storm, so I was actually able to claim a spot as the 10th woman finisher.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs will always have a special place in my heart as my first ultra (the 55k a few years ago) and now my first 100-miler. It’s in my backyard and it’s an incredibly beautiful place to train and race. The run is well-organized, the volunteers are fabulous, and it all just keeps getting better.

Huge thanks to all who have supported me in this endeavor! I was especially lucky to have the A-Team including Javier, Betsy, Tom and Rachael. The encouragement and training support of my fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners made the ride much more enjoyable. I also want to thank my friends “down the hill,” the Wrong Distance Runners of Sacramento, who helped me get into shape earlier in the season. And, finally, to my parents and my family, cheering and sending love from afar, I knew you were with me!

Afterward: I slept surprisingly well the first night. I am still quite tired four days later, but my body is no more sore than after my first road marathon. Good thing, because a couple of weeks ago I already signed up for my next 100-miler, Pine to Palm! Abundance.

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