Race Report – Wildflowers 50k

Race Report – Wildflowers 50k

Nothing like a small backyard race, even if it’s in someone else’s backyard! Yesterday I returned for my second run at the Tehama Wildflowers 50k in Red Bluff, California.

The 50k Course

The course is mostly single track, with some dirt roads, through open meadows with minimal shade. The trail is relatively flat with a few rollers and gradual climbs. The only things to slow you down (besides the heat) are some sections with volcanic rocks under foot.

The 50k runners go on a modified out-and-back course. Some areas you back-track and others you diverge to take a different trail back. Race Directors Bev and Alan Abbs smartly changed the direction of the looping parts this year so that runners can enjoy the one lovely shady section later in the heat of the day.

Aid stations are frequent, with stops at 3 times at fully-stocked stations and 4 times at mini (water and GU) stations. They had GU brand gels and Chomps. Yum!

The Tehama Wildflowers 50k course wanders through open meadows of glorious wildflowers.

The Tehama Wildflowers 50k course wanders through open meadows of glorious wildflowers.

The Vibe

This is a great laid-back local race produced by experienced runners. Free camping is available at the start/finish Friday night and the post-race picnic (included) is a pleasant time to sit around in the shade and cheer finishers as they loop around the picnic area. Bring your own chair.

My Race

I came back to this course partly because I wanted to redeem myself after completely melting last year. I also think it’s great for us mountain folk to get down to sea level to move the legs a little faster and to get some heat acclimation. I had a horrible time dealing with the heat last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot since then.

Everything went wrong the day before the race. My period stated. I had an allergic reaction to something I ate. And, most concerning, I was still limping around with a tendon issue on the top of my left foot. I arrived to Red Bluff late Friday and wondered if I was even going to start the race.

After a short briefing, the race started and my foot hurt pretty bad for the first two miles. Then it warmed up and the pain faded to the background. I was running with the wrong crowd (that is, going too fast) so I took the opportunity to pop into a restroom for a minute and when I came back out I settled in with a crowd more my pace.

I prioritized pace and heat management with the goal of not imploding and finishing strong. There is a little creek crossing and I completely submerged myself there on the way back. It was 60 seconds well-invested, as it enabled me to cruise past a handful of runners in the next couple of miles.

It got pretty lonely during the last 10 miles until I started catching more runners during the final 3 miles. I had been relying on my tunes to keep me going… having my own private dance party and sometimes “singing” aloud. My apologies to the wildlife.

I finished in 5:35, a solid 30 minutes faster than last year’s abysmal 6:09. Mostly I’m pleased that I kept running the whole time and practiced my heat management and aid station maneuvering skills.

Next up: Canyons 50k. I need that to be a “C” race where I will try to hang out and just enjoy the company on the trail.

Five Fabulous Tahoe Events

Five Fabulous Tahoe Events

The race calendar is (over)full and training schedule loosely set, but be sure to save space on your calendar for some of these unique and wonderful non-running events happening in the Truckee-Tahoe area. These are five of my favorites, many of which have been on my calendar longer than I’ve called myself a runner.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Enjoy a professional Shakespeare play in the most exceptional of settings – the outdoor stage at Sand Harbor State Park. Purchase tickets online for this year’s production of “As You Like It,” running July 11-August 24, 2014. We have been to several shows and each year is more spectacular than the last! This non-profit seems to be one organization that really values feedback from their participants – they are always making improvements to the system and I can’t imagine what they could do better at this point. This year we will take the kids for the first time (they are 7- and 9-years old.) I’m sure that all will be delighted.

Sand Harbor - home to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival - as seen from The Marlette Flume Trail.

Sand Harbor – home to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival – as seen from The Marlette Flume Trail.

 

Trails & Vistas Art Hike

I recommend that all runners slow down and enjoy one of their favorite trails in this completely beautiful and unexpected manner. Each year this unique, guided art hike is produced on a trail in the Truckee-Tahoe area. Art along the trail usually includes dance, sculpture, music, poetry, storytelling, and more. Mark your calendar for this special event September 6-7, 2014.

I have enjoyed volunteering as a trail guide for several years and am so excited that this year the hike returns to my favorite venue, Spooner Lake. Trails & Vistas Art Hike tickets will be sold online starting April 22, 2014. If you’d like to bring the kids, be sure to purchase tickets to one of the “Family” hikes (and I just might be your guide!) Kids should be able to appreciate a 2-hour performance while hiking.

Spooner Lake Sunset

The Trails and Vistas Art Hike returns to Spooner Lake for 2014

 

Haunted Historic Tour

After a year off, it’s back and I can’t be more thrilled! Adults only on this sometimes-naughty evening Historical Tour through Downtown Truckee. Buy tickets online starting July 1 and don’t delay, because they will sell out. Expect the unexpected at this guided walking tour on October 16-17, 2014. You will learn about Truckee’s seedy past in a most fun & lively manner!

Donner Party Historical Hikes

Finally, keep your eyes open for the Donner Party History Hikes, also in October. I have yet to fit this into my schedule, but really hope to this year. This is not for lack of trying… we actually had tickets to a hike our very first weekend in Truckee in 2000. We woke up very cold on the floor of our new home that morning, and promptly decided that we needed to spend the day purchasing beds instead. In any case, I imagine these hikes are another great way to slow down and appreciate some of our favorite running destinations.

Truckee Day

Truckee Day is a street clean-up party followed by a town-wide picnic at Truckee Regional Park. It takes place on the first Saturday in June, so this year on June 7, 2014. Go to the Truckee Day website to locate the check-in station for your neighborhood. You will get to pick your street assignment – go early if you want your own street or another specific location. Volunteers at the station will give you tickets for the picnic and free t-shirts. Our station at SnowTech also has great raffle prizes every year. Truckee Day is a very family-friendly event which we have been doing since our kids were babies.

Truckee Day 2008

Truckee Day 2008

 

Race Report – Gold Rush Skate Ski

Race Report – Gold Rush Skate Ski

It turned out to be that kind of wonderful weekend you hope for on any vacation: sunny, fun, great outdoor family activities. And we didn’t even have to leave home for this weekend at Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski resort, home to the California Gold Rush Ski Race.

By Friday night I was loading four pairs of skis into the car for the free kids’ fun race and obstacle course. I would be doing it all over again the next night for my own race of about 36 km. Our 7-year-old son (Alex) is always game for some outdoor competitive fun, but our 9-year-old daughter (Clara) was decidedly uninterested. I told her she didn’t have to race, but that the family was spending the morning on the snow at Royal Gorge, so she would be there regardless.

When we arrived at the ski center, a girl Clara’s size was registering for the race. This was just the social motivation she needed and I easily registered both kids for the race. The kids skated a 3 km lap, then each racer received candy necklaces, Royal Gorge lapel pins, and unlimited cookies at the finish. I hadn’t skied with the kids all season and I was so impressed with how much they have improved since skiing with the Tahoe Donner XC programs all winter.

Clara skiing the obstacle course and Alex making shots in the background.

Clara skiing the obstacle course and Alex making shots in the background.

We met other friends and skied for about an hour until the fun obstacle course was ready. The course included basketball biathlon, roller jumps and a slalom downhill. Our kids loved it and I was glad to see some of the older kids play around and enjoy the course, too. Huge props to Royal Gorge for hosting this event and to Franz & Johannes for setting it up and making it fun for the kids.

At last, I was anxious to get off my feet and out of ski boots. I tried to relax for the rest of the day and make sure that everyone’s gear was dry and ready to go for the next morning. My race would be 6 laps of a 6 km course, and I really wanted the family there to support me at this one. They happily attended my first ski race, my first road marathon, my first ultra… but regular race support is not something they particularly enjoy.

That being said, I hoped that a lapping course would be more interesting for them, and I really felt their cheering would help get me through so many iterations. It sounds like the start was rocky for my husband with the kids… things were hectic and didn’t settle down until the kids got engaged with helping at the lap aid station.

I guess they missed me at the first lap, but I didn’t really notice because I was busy dropping my windbreaker and trying to hang on to two other skiers nearby. By the time I reached the second lap, Clara was serving water at the aid station and Alex was very active picking up empty water cups.

Gold-Rush-Ski-Race-005

Our awesome aid station volunteers at work. Photo by Daddy.

At the finish, Clara, who didn’t want to race Saturday and didn’t even want to be on snow Sunday, informed me that some younger girls (“10- or 12-year-olds”) raced the Bronze distance and that she is really interested in doing that in the future!

This is the end of the family fun race report. The rest is more just journaling that I’m writing for myself. Feel free to read on or not.

Before the race

The Gold Rush ski race has been around in various forms since 1980. More recently it has been setup as a 15 km loop, with a choice of 3 distances: Gold (45 km), Silver (30 km) & Bronze (15 km or shorter). It’s common with ski races for the distance and course to vary according to snow conditions. This year, the low snow conditions mandated a much shorter loop – just 6 km – and therefore more laps. This year Gold would be 6 laps, Silver 4 laps and Bronze 2 laps.

A dramatically dry and warm winter resulted in a downright pathetic nordic ski season in the Tahoe region. I managed to hit the ski trails fewer than 30 times; there have been winters when I’ve skied literally twice that often. All of the other long ski races in the area have been cancelled due to lack of snow. I was skeptical that the Gold Rush would happen.

By Wednesday of last week, the modified course had come together and everyone at Royal Gorge assured me that the race was on. It happened to also be really fast snow that day. I felt like Bambi on skis… it was the only fast snow I had been on all year and it felt like the first day of the season. Not encouraging. I signed up anyway!

I went back to ski a lap of the course on Friday. The conditions were excellent – by far the best I’ve skied this year. I started to feel a little better about my ability to complete 6 laps of 6 km.

It initially seemed like the 6 km course would be more difficult because it removed one of the long flat sections from the old course that I’ve skied a few times. It turns out the the course actually worked better for me for a couple of reasons: 1.) the descent at the beginning was less steep; 2.) the climb back up to the start/finish/lap was shorter – maybe 2 km instead of 4 km; and 3.) the course was much shadier, almost completely eliminating the deep slush skiing on the primary climb.

I prepped my skis with pretty deluxe race wax on Friday afternoon. Knowing that I would be out on the snow later than most the others, I waxed for the warmest conditions expected. I really wanted that wax to perform when I’m exhausted and the snow is mushy at 10:30 am.

The Race

I warmed up for about 10 minutes and was a little bummed that my wax was felt slow. Did I really screw something up? I’d find out later in the morning.

At the start - I am still wearing my signature yellow windbreaker.

At the start – I am still wearing my signature yellow windbreaker. Photo by Hubby.

I always suck at the double-pole start so I just relaxed and didn’t even worry about it this time. Once the skating started, I passed a few guys, then quickly settled into “my spot” with two other skiers. I remembered advice from earlier in the week, “Just find a skier to try to hang on to.”

The first two laps went pretty fast and the climbing pace was difficult to maintain. I had a mantra in my head, “This is not harder than chemo,” in memory of a friend who passed away last Spring. We used to do this race together, and for him, chemo treatment was more difficult than any of his impressive athletic endeavors. This mantra also helped me feel gratitude for the opportunity to ski, race, and share the weekend with my family.

By the third lap I noticed that my wax was working really well with the snow conditions. My skis slid across the old, course snow like a butter-laden knife atop hot corn-on-the-cob. This made me happy and I felt pretty good during laps 3 and 4. At the start of lap 5 I hit a real low and felt myself giving up the desire to ski hard. This usually happens to me a lot earlier in a ski race, so that was actually an improvement.

I was still skiing near the same two skiers (one guy and one gal) that I had started the race with, but I wasn’t exactly sure where they were. Somehow I made it through lap 5 and felt a competitive surge return. At the bottom of the last lap, I told myself that it was a new race – just 3 km. I knew this is where the guy skier could catch me because he was a light and strong dude.

I went hard up the climb and used my secret weapon mantra, saved for only the most intense situations:

“This is way easier than natural childbirth. About 10 minutes to go… that’s just a few hard labor contractions. You can do anything for 10 minutes.”

I crossed the finish line after 2 hours 30 minutes and ahead of both skiers that I had spent the morning with. I made an exaggerated “collapse” on the snow to mimic the elite woman skiers who I saw at the very same finish line during the women’s distance championship last year. My little Alex came with a cup of water and carried my skis for me. I hung out to cheer the few skiers who came in after me.

Alex happily pointed out that I was not the dead last finisher, as I expected, but that I was probably “sixth or seventh from the last.” He thought this was pretty good, because he was second from the last at his race the day before. Such a cool and innocent way to look at your race placement… not how close you are to the front, but how far you are from the back.

Meticulous timing by Franz for the kids' races. Alex was proud of his second-from-last finish.

Meticulous timing by Franz for the kids’ races. Alex was proud of his second-from-last finish.