Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

This was my 3rd TRT100 in 3 years and my goal was to finish sub 24 hrs and get that gold coin in the middle of the buckle.  My training had finally come together; I felt confident.  I logged 1300 miles and 220K feet of climbing (440k total change). The last 3 weeks focused on heat training while tapering with proper nutrition and recovery.  I had the feeling that this was going to be my day, I was excited, peaceful and happy leading up to it. My plan was to start conservative early and finish strong.

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One minute until go time

 

I got to Tunnel Creek at 7:40am, 2hr40min (10 min behind goal). The dreaded red house loop was better this year, I chatted with Bradley and next thing you know, Peter Fain slaps me on the back as he flies by, “feeling strong” he says, “flying” I say, and I decide to press the effort just a little. Wearing the gold Donner Party Mountain Runners shirt was a good choice! All through the day and night I heard, “go Donner Party” “nice shirt” “way to go DPMR”. Each time, I got a nice energy boost! So many DPMR members were on course and had amazing days.

The dreaded Red House Loop... not so bad!

The dreaded Red House Loop… not so bad!

I was moving faster,  I reached the 30 mile Diamond Peak aid at 10:51am, 5hr41min, (9 minutes faster than my goal) but at a very relaxed effort. At mile 20 or so, I had felt hot, my usual tight back and hip flared up, and hamstrings were cramping. Crap, not again, “hydrate and salt dummy”, so I did and by the time I left the aid station I was back. Thanks to Betsy Boopstinator Nye for hooking me up with 1 aleve and 2 tylenol and crewing for me. More inspiration, she just finished her 13th Hardrock and was here to crew all day and Pace Helen Pelster for 30 miles. Her energy and encouragement were just the ticket, “go get out of here, you look great”.

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sun shining on Marlette Lake

The infamous climb up Diamond Peak was over in 35 minutes and I passed 3 people, however that was not my goal. I was running my race today, not worried about passing or getting passed. “Find the speed that you can run as fast as possible”, but also where you can finish 100 miles running strong not hobbling. Listen to your body, stay cool, what do you need at the next aid, no more than 2 minutes, in and out, keep moving, be happy and thank the volunteers.  Those thoughts were repeated all day and night.  Enjoy your fellow runners and the view, embrace the pain, accept it and push through, drink, drink more!, salt, coke, watermelon, ice, more ice, in my hat and neck gaiter, stay cool, go, move.

Just past Snow Valley Peak the clouds rolled in and the temp dropped 10-15 degrees, finally I could run with more speed.

Thunderclouds on Snow Valley Peak

Thunderclouds on Snow Valley Peak

I pulled in to Spooner at 50 miles at 3:26pm 10hr26min, (20-30 minutes ahead of goal), but at my desired perceived effort level, (60-65%).  A quick 4 min stop and Pete Broomhall took charge of pacing me.  We were ahead of the crazy weather but it kept us moving as it followed us up to Marlette Pk.

Thunder and lightning surrounded us, but only a few drops. Quick stop at aid, my formula was fill 2 handhelds with ice and top with water, take 2 Scaps, 2 wedges of watermelon, 2 cups of coke, keep ice on me and get out. With Pete taking over mental functions, I could focus on running smooth, enjoying the view and a few laughs, making plans to run some cool places and keep at a 12 hour total pace for the 2nd 50 miles. I was now going for sub 23hrs! Pete kept saying, “under 12 hour pace, your moving good, stride is right on”, it worked! I believed him and we picked up the pace on the downhills without thrashing my quads. Power hiked the climbs and ran the rollers. It’s funny, but the more technical the trail, the more fun I have, hopping from rock to rock, finding the fastest line, in tune with the trail. I guess the change in stride helps to loosen me up, but flat even trails I get locked in to a cadence that wears on me.

TRT Selfie with Pete

TRT Selfie with Pete

Seeing Gretchen Brugman at Tunnel Creek is always the highlight for me, and 3 times is even better!  She took care of me with noodles and broth, iced coffee, tums, salt and encouragement. All that, after winning the 50k earlier that day, she is awesome!  On our way to Diamond Peak, “eat this rice cake, here’s your salt”, we were having fun and making good time. The sunset on the trail was spectacular, and Pete captured the moment on his phone.

More inspiration. I was ready to up the ante, “Running with Jesus” kept playing in my head after that and we pulled in to mile 80 aid at DP at 10:15pm 17hr15min, (45 min ahead of goal).  I changed socks, downed a coke, and hugged Pete as he had exceeded his goals and I felt great and ready to head out.  Eric Toschi took over and we climbed DP in 48 minutes passing 2. I asked him if anyone was gaining, he reminded me that it doesn’t matter, run your race and stay on track and all will be fine.

Sunset on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Sunset on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Back through Tunnel Creek, thanks John Trent, Noe Costanon, and Gretchen one last time, iced coffee, noodles, coke, water, baby powder for the chafe, outta there at Midnight! I can cruise in the last 16 miles under 5 hours, but we were going for a 4 hour split or better.  Eric kept me eating Pete Broomhall’s famous rice cakes, salt, chews, and water. Leaving there I felt great, power hiked hard on the ups and steady down.

The last 1.5 miles up to Snow Valley Pk I spotted 3 runners moving slow and I started running. I passed 2 and the 3rd got away at the aid station.  I needed fuel, not much food all day, a smoothie, some coke, salt and outta there at 2:15am. That gives me 1hr45min to break 23 hours. After the first 2 miles of rocky technical trail it opens up. We stayed on track and kept pushing but not all out. I kept seeing lights behind me, but not closing.

We finally hit the right turn to the finish and laughed and talked about how it all came together. Never catching the guy in front of me but content all the same. Nothing like seeing the finish line of this race, we did it!  22:35:31 in 11th place overall. Total satisfaction and gratitude enveloped me.

TRT100 finish line

TRT100 finish line

A shower and nap then back to the finish to cheer our fellow runners and to know the feelings of relief and joy as they cross that line, it’s almost like you are crossing it again each time someone else does. Three years and thousands of miles and adventures and I finally struck gold, maybe we are more like the settlers that came before us than we think.

22:35:31

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Gold Finisher's Buckle

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Gold Finisher’s Buckle

Western States Endurance Run DNF Report

My story with the Western States Endurance Run begins on the Thursday afternoon before what should have been the start of the 2008 running of the race. That afternoon I received a phone call at our catering company from one of the ladies involved with the race, I believe it was Shannon Weil (considered the “Mother Superior” of the race), letting me know that the race had been cancelled due to fires and smoke and that they were looking for someone to cater a BBQ the next day for upwards of 300 people. The WSER folks are such a class act that they wanted to make sure they ended the WS festivities, or lack there of, on a positive note. Fortunately, we were available and our crew was willing to pull an all nighter to prepare food for this group, who had just been delivered a devastating blow to their dreams of running this iconic route.

An example of their attention to detail!

An example of their attention to detail!

While I was excited to be catering for a group of fellow endurance athletes, I expected to show up that afternoon to a somber attitude, since all the hard work and money that people had invested into coming to Squaw Valley had just been burned away. However, we instead arrived to one of the most gracious group of folks that we had ever had the honor of serving! Sure, I heard a few remarks of disappointment, but really it was just a celebration amongst exceptional people that realized how fortunate they were to be there in the first place.

At the end of the BBQ, at which we ended up serving 375 people, Shannon and the legendary 25 time WSER finisher Tim Twietmeyer, brought our whole crew up to recognize us for pulling off this catering with such short notice. They also presented me with a really nice WSER Mountain Hardwear Jacket and coffee mug. I have met so many great people over the years, but I was really taken aback by the special group of people that I met on that particular day.

The Challenge is on!

I had known about this crazy 100 mile running race that went from Squaw to Auburn for many years. Every June I would start to see the runners arrive as they would be, very slowly, running around our town. I had long been a fan of getting out for 20-60 hour sleepless endurance days. I had run the Lake Tahoe Marathon a couple times BITD, and had long wondered if I could actually run the 100 mile distance, but had yet to set it as a serious goal. So when Shannon and Tim handed me that jacket and mug, I immediately knew that I would be finding out the answer to my question. That was my introduction to the world of ultra running!

We have since sold our catering business and moved on to enjoying a lot more free time in the summer!!!

Six years, two Ironmans, one 100 miler, three 50 milers, four 50ks, countless training miles and three lotteries later I was finally going to toe the line in Squaw Valley. I was excited beyond words to be bringing this chapter of my life full circle.

Let the Festivities begin!

I arrived to check-in on Friday morning and was immediately handed a clipboard by a smiling woman, with a couple of releases to sign. She then offered a comfy chair to sit in, rather than standing or bending over a low table to read and sign the papers. From there, I was whisked through about 20 other stations, with many more happy volunteers, including DPMR Board Member Gretchen Brugman. This was a check-in experience like no other. So that’s how it going to be, huh?!

Though short, I slept solid Friday night and arrived to Squaw Valley feeling feeling rested and calm. I was surrounded by family and friends while we waited for the gun to start the long day ahead.

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Topping out the Escarpment. Photo Credit: Bill Clements

As we slowly ascended Squaw’s Mountain Run, I met and chatted with JB Benna (fellow Tahoe 200 entrant), spent some time and with my friend, Sean Ranney and began seeing the first of many DPMR members that would be providing me energy and inspiration throughout the day. I was feeling great and made it to the Escarpment at the top of Squaw Valley feeling warmed up, relaxed and ready to throw down a solid run. Just before topping out, I took the obligatory moment to turn around and soak in the sunrise over Big Blue. There were several DPMR members at the Escarpment to really boost my energy, not that I was needing much boosting at this point.

Descending the back side of Squaw felt effortless as I made sure to control my speed and save myself for the many miles ahead. The wildflowers were lighting up the mountainside through this section as I fell into the train of runners descending towards Auburn. I wound up behind someone in particular that I was hoping to be able meet this weekend.

My “A” goal for this race was 20 hours and I was feeling decently confident that this might possibly be a realistic goal. My fantasy goal was to run sub 20, so I wrote down and brought along the splits of a gentleman, by the name of Andy Jone-Wilkins or AJW, who ran a smart and consistent 19:25:47 at last year’s near record hot race. AJW is a storied character of the WSER and has a self proclaimed love affair with the event. He calls it Statemas, is fortunate to have a family that shares his passion and achieved his 1000 mile buckle this year. I have been following his weekly column on IRunFar.com, that has been dedicated to his personal experiences surrounding Statemas and knew that he would have been at the cancellation BBQ in 2008.

After a few minutes of being on the heels of AJW, I finally introduced myself and told him the story of my introduction to WSER back in 2008. We chatted for a few and continued down the narrow and often scrappy and loose single track. In an effort to make sure that I paced myself well, I made sure to NOT pass AJW anytime soon as the running still felt easy and we came in to Lyon Ridge AS at mile 10.5. We arrived a few minutes under AJW’s 2013 split.

Shortly after leaving Lyon Ridge I fell back in right behind AJW and also Nikki Kimball, another WSER and ultra running legend who was  last year’s second place female finisher. Those two were chatting away and catching each other up on their lives when Nikki mentioned working with a blind bi-athlete skier and so I chimed in about how we catered for a group of blind cross country skiers for about 10 years, Sierra Regional Ski for Light. It turned out that Nikki works with the Ski for Light organization of Montana, so we talked about this for a bit as we made our way to Red Star Ridge AS, 16 miles in, still a few minutes under AJW’s splits. I felt comfortable with the pace so far and hoped things would continue in this fashion.

On my way from Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Nate Dun

On my way from Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Nate Dun

I shared some more miles and fun conversation with Nikki as we ran our way to Duncan Canyon AS and mile 23.9. I discovered that Nikki also had lots of experience in the food service industry and had even catered a few parties/weddings for some close friends. As much as I was enjoying the miles and dialogue with Nikki, I stayed with my comfortable pace as she eventually inched away from me, making sure to not try to keep up with someone else’s pace. I made it to Duncan Canyon still under the split and feeling good.

My Super Crew Awaits!

My lovely crew!

My lovely crew! L-R My beautiful wife Liz, Karyn Stanley & Jessica Zimlich. Photo Credit: Frank Aldana

The next AS that I had to look forward to was Robinson Flat at mile 29.7, where my Super Crew led by my wife Liz, along with Jessica Zimlich, Karyn Stanley and my pacer Frank Aldana, would be waiting to pamper me with whatever way I needed.  I made my way uneventfully to Robinson Flat, arriving just about even with Andy’s 2013 split and just starting to feel a little fatigue from my legs. I had hoped to not feel any fatigue quite this early, but nothing to be very alarmed about. My crew immediately velcroed the neoprene ice pack around my neck, as I had instructed them to do each time I came into an AS. I only left this on for about a minute as I wasn’t really hot yet. They did not have much time to take care of me here because I left quickly, not wanting to stop for long this early in the race.

Cruising in to Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

Cruising in to Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

After I left Robinson Flat my thoughts turned to gearing up for the mental and physical battle that laid ahead of me. The running still felt fairly easy as I made way to Miller’s Defeat at mile 34.4 of the race. About a half mile before reaching Miller’s, I noticed a twinge developing in my left hip flexor, but didn’t think much of it since these things tend to happen on long runs and always seem to work themselves out over the miles. I made it to Miller’s, now just a few minutes behind the fantasy goal split, which was no big deal considering how far I still had to go. I had slowed a little, but felt I had a lot of strong miles left in me before really slowing down.

Being attended to at Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

Being attended to at Robinson Flat. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

Things take a turn for the worse….

After I stopped for about a minute to refuel and let the volunteers refill my water bottles. I slowly started running out of Miller’s, still feeling the little bit of pain coming from below my hip. Within about half a mile, the pain dramatically increased and started shooting towards my knee, so I started walking and stopped a couple times to do a little active stretching, confident that this would pass. Still walking and playing it cautious, the pain increased and I began to develop a limp.

By the time I reached mile 38 and the great volunteers at the Dusty Corners AS, including my friend Sarah Kane who greeted me as I entered, I was really questioning continuing on. I feared creating a real injury. I hung out there for 20-25 minutes getting iced, fed and stretched by a multitude of volunteers. I tried jogging a couple of steps in the AS and it didn’t seem to be getting better, but the volunteers kindly talked me in to gearing up and leaving, to see what would happen.

The long gradual downhill to Last Chance and mile 43.8 escalated the pain to a level that made me realize that this was likely going to get intolerable rather work it’s self out. I tried to convince the volunteers that I needed to drop. All the while they pampered me with food, advice and encouragement. Simultaneously, they once again talked me in to continuing on. They cleverly explained that it was best to make it to the Devil’s Thumb AS, telling me I would be more likely to get an early ride out from there. I am pretty sure they weren’t being entirely forthcoming about my chances of getting a ride from Devil’s to Michigan Bluff, where my crew was anxiously awaiting my tardy arrival.

Hobbling down the steep trail to the river crossing at the burned out Swinging Bridge turned the pain level up another notch or two. I was certainly in no hurry at this point, so I hung out in the river for about 5 minutes. Convinced I was going to drop at Devil’s Thumb to end my day, I decided to roll with the fact that the uphill felt much better than the down, and put it in high gear for one final push in what was turning out to be a long training day. I felt better and better as I ascended, though still knowing that I needed to drop, and ended up passing about 20 people en route to the top.

Super Crew patiently awaiting my arrival to Michigan Bluff

Super Crew patiently awaiting my arrival to Michigan Bluff. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

“So, they told me at Last Chance I might be able to get a ride from here to Michigan Bluff?” The look on the volunteers face instantly said, “Fat Chance!” I tried to hang out there and mentioned that maybe I would just wait for them to close and catch a ride then. The kind and smiling volunteer, just like at the last 2 aid stations, proceeded to talk me in to convincing myself that the easiest way out was to just follow the path of yellow ribbons only another 7.9 miles (burly and hard miles) to my Super Crew in Michigan Bluff.

I had taken a couple ibuprofen way back at Miller’s Defeat since I was plenty hydrated and not really fatigued enough to worry about over stressing my kidneys. These took the best effect when I finally got into a groove and ran a solid few miles of downhill to El Dorado Creek and another welcome AS. I enjoyed some quality deep life type of conversation with James from South Carolina on the descent, which also helped in making the downhill running a little easier to bear. Once again, the steep uphill to Michigan Bluff felt great and I pushed hard up the hill, passing many people on my way to what I thought was the end of day.

I hate to disappoint, but I am DONE!

Dropping from the WSER  is a very difficult thing to convince the volunteers and your crew to let you do! As somewhat expected at this point, I get whisked away again by volunteers that bring me and my crew to a massage table in the back. Julia Millon, who moved to Truckee just the week before and has already connected and ran with the DPMR crew, happened to be the talented therapist that went to some serious work on trying to get my hip and leg to loosen in an effort to release the sharp pain that was hindering me. Also back there, were Founding Members Bill Hunter and Zachary Carter to help my crew in encouraging me to continue on.

I tried to explain to my crew that this was not fatigue or a low point, that this was something different. I told them it was becoming excruciatingly painful and that I feared real injury. This is when Karyn Stanley took over and did exactly what your crew is supposed to do. She told me what I was going to do and how I was going to continue on to mile 62 at Foresthill and that they would see me when I arrive there. She could not let me quit without challenging my will, making sure that I was truly ready to throw in the towel. My crew then led me to the little station they had set up for me and proceeded to feed me, clean up my feet, change my socks and send me hobble running on my way.

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Departing Michigan Bluff. Photo Credit: Karyn Stanley

Just after I turned the corner from my crew’s sight I started walking and let the pain get inside my head for a short while, still walking as quickly as I could. I just wanted to get to Foresthill as soon as possible so that I could finally end my run. The steep downhill into Volcano canyon had me grimacing and holding my breath to control the pain. However, once I got to the creek at the bottom and began to ascend, I felt strong again and kicked it back in to high gear for the last final push.

The AS volunteer at the base of Bath Road hurried me through so I could get up the road and to my crew sooner than later, now just 1.4 miles of uphill asphalt away. Immediately after leaving the AS, I tested the running legs on this smooth and moderate uphill. They seemed to be receptive so I continued running and looked up to see my pacer, Frank, approaching me from above. We ran the final 1.3 miles up to Foresthill, with the girls joining us for the last 1/4 miles. This is where I finally convinced all those concerned, in to believing that it was finally time for me to drop.

After leaving Miller’s Defeat and first realizing that I would likely have to drop from the race at some point, a wave of thoughts rolled through my head, from mine and my crews disappointment of not completing the goal, to all the explaining that I would have to do as to why I pulled the plug on something that I had trained and so hard for. I expected that Monday morning would dawn a gray day in my own selfish world. Today is Monday, it has turned out to be a fine day for me and my leg is already feeling better than expected.

Awards ceremony. All of those people standing in a row are REALLY fast!!

My attitude from mile 34.4 to mile 62 was changed from being ready to cry and hold a self-pitty party, to being amazed at and grateful for what a truly classy event the Western States Endurance Run really is. For me personally and for my crew, it was the right thing to do, to continue my run to my finish at Foresthill. I have absolutely no regrets for continuing this far and no regrets for also dropping from the race here.

We ended up camping, since none of us were awake enough to drive back home to Tahoe, on the lawn at the end of the track field and finish line in Auburn. We awoke to some tasty breakfast served by more kind and smiling volunteers. We all hung out and enjoyed the morning and festive, yet exhausted atmosphere. I was able to catch up with several of my friends that completed the race and met another fellow entrant of the Tahoe 200, Ken Michal.

I knew that I was in for a special experience through my running and participating in the Western Sates 100, but I really had no idea just how “over the top” every single aspect of this race is! As a former catering business owner, I am more than aware of just how difficult and complicated putting on events of this nature is. Attention to detail is a must and the all of the great folks involved with this race make sure no stone is left unturned in this department. They even asked the runner’s who did not finish to stand up at one point during the awards ceremony, as they wanted to acknowledge us for our effort. I humbly stood to an incredible ovation!

I look forward to completing this race in the future and getting the “monkey off my back”, as they say. I also look forward to crewing, pacing and volunteering over the years to soak in all the components of this special event.

Thanks again to all my family and friends for the support, encouragement and energy you provided me with!

My Me-Ow Marathons

The website for Mark Swanson’s The Me-Ow Marathons claims, “You have to be pretty dumb to enter Me-Ow. It’s sorta like Barkley only easier…” I can understand why most people have no desire to wander around with limited and devious directions to lead you through a maze of scrub brush and poison oak(PO) infested  mountain sides of overgrown trails, when there is a trail at all. All the while you are in search of elusive books with titles like Running Scared, Cold Trail, The Cat Who Went Up the Creek and The Big Nowhere, from which you must collect pages as proof that you have traveled the course. But I am drawn to this type of race like a young kitten to a warm bowl of milk!

Just enough of a map to help get you lost!

I met Mark last fall  at the finish of Sean Ranney’s Euchere Bar Massacre, another brilliant ode to Barkley. He came over and introduced himself and eventually mentioned I should come check out his event since I had managed to survive the massacre so well, then something about seeing if I can keep up with last year’s winner, Beverly Anderson-Abbs. Prior to EBM I had heard of The Barkley Marathons and had even listened to an UltraRunner Podcast interview with the legendary duo of Bev and her husband, Alan Abbs. They had been to Barkley a few times and even completed the 60 Mile Fun Run within the 40 hour time limit. Still, I was clueless as to what this Barkley thing was all about.  I  had no idea that this dark subculture of ultra running I had just been introduced to existed. A trail ultra isn’t enough for these masochists, they have to thrash their way cross country through terrain most would not send their worst enemy through!

SIGN ME UP!!

I couldn’t get any takers on joining me until my brother Joel mentioned one day that he’d like to check out the Putty Tat, or single loop course, while I braved the Siamese. Another Brothers Tebbutt road trip it is! This time to Whiskeytown Lake, CA.

At the not really a race briefing, Mark assures us that each “rounded to the nearest marathon” loop is most likely less than 30 miles, but he’s not exactly sure. He’d also been telling us for months that the PO on the course would be mostly avoidable, yea right! Mark hands us all a few pages of vague instructions with little time to look them over, one of those nifty maps the kiosk ranger gives you with your park entry fee, 3 towelettes designed to wipe off the PO and then casually says “OK, start.”

Purrrfect!

Meow-Marathons-010

As I had obsessed over Meow for the last 5 months, I did my Barkley history research and was excited to be toeing the line with a couple of veterans from the infamous race. I also did my usual Ultra Signups research on the 9 other entrants in the Siamese and was pleased to see they were all a strong bunch, including EBM mastermind Sean Ranney and a woman who has a knack for 24 hour track events. I looked forward to an adventurous day of pushing each other through the hills above Whiskeytown Lake.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty…

Photo credit: Scott Martin

Photo credit: Scott Martin

The race started amongst the tents we slept in last night and immediately began climbing up a dirt road to another dirt road before leaving the trail for the first major obstacle of the day, Spinal Tap. All 10 of us in the Siamese started this beast together and slowly spread out as we ascended. I held what felt like a comfortable pace and managed to top out on the ridge first with the 5 others right on my heals. We quickly followed the ridge to it’s end and found our first book, Running Scared!

Bev, Alan, Sean, Suzanna, Todd and I all descended the steep off trail backside of Spinal Tap almost too closely together at times. This ended up being some of the most serious terrain on the course, where a slip could easily lead to rag dolling down the mountain and taking out the person below. Fortunately the descent went incident free for everyone and we all popped out together on the Papoose Trail. We were now supposed to follow Papoose for 3 miles to Boulder Creek Falls (brief mention about taking care not to fall to your death) and another book. Simple enough and all on trail!

My only real race strategy was to try to latch onto the the dynamic duo or someone else out front and hopefully not get lost. This had worked just fine so far. I felt great running down Papoose Trail and tried to be patient by hanging onto the heals of the Abbs. Sean, Suzanna and Todd must have stopped for a moment because Bev looked back and didn’t see them. She wondered aloud what happened to them and commented for the second time about how the course is definitely harder than last year. Intersesting!

Certainly with some hesitation, but feeling confident and up for some solo adventure time, I passed Bev and Alan on the hill towards Boulder Creek Falls and our next book. I took care not to fall to my death and quickly ascended the spur trail to the falls, grabbed my page and charged back down to the main trail, passing the Abbs towards the bottom of the spur.

“I hope this is not a mistake!”

… I thought to myself as I ran towards Beverly Blvd., named after last year’s winner and to be renamed (or not) after this year’s winner. This section turned out to be this complex maze of what Mark called ravines, but were more like gullies, in which there was a book hidden in one of the many of ravines and amongst fields of PO. After I zig-zagged  my way down and across the ravines, I finally came out on the overgrown road mentioned in the directions. I descended this a short ways until I saw a green gate and a gravel road and knew that I passed the book and probably by a fair distance.

The masters leading the pack! Notice Alan casually reading his directions while on the move as Bev sets a swift pace uphill.

The masters leading the pack! Notice Alan casually reading his directions while on the move as Bev sets a swift pace uphill.

I power hiked back up the steep abandoned rode, seeing  Bev and Alan’s front sides descending towards me after a few minutes. They had found the book and Alan graciously  tried to explain which of the plethora of ravines the book was hidden in as they flew past me. Shortly after them, I passed Sean and he let me know that the book was still a ways up the road and that Suzanna and Todd were still there when he left. I went up a ways further with no signs of anyone or a book, so somehow I got the bright idea to go cross country again, thrashing through a PO’d ravine for about 5 minutes before going back to the road and finally finding S&T a bit further up. Todd told me the book was just 200 yards further up.

Moving forward again!

That debacle was stressful and left me a little frustrated to say the least. It was still early though and anything could happen, so I hauled butt downhill past the green gate to the gravel road and a water station with a kind volunteer. I found Suzanna and Todd there and managed to leave before them, anxious to try to gain back some of the time I had lost. I quickly forgot about being lost as I found book #4 behind the tree where Mark said it would be.

 I managed to only get  a little lost trying to find book #5. I passed it by a short distance before realizing my mistake and back tracked a couple hundred yards before hearing voices above me. Pheeew! I made my way up to Sean, Suzanna and Todd. Sean kindly explained how to find the book  a short ways back up the hill. More lost time, but I was back on track again.

Just follow the trail!?!? Photo Credit: Scott Martin

Just follow the trail!?!? Photo Credit: Scott Martin

Though I began to give up my hopes of catching the Abbs again, I still felt great and moved as fast as I could while taking care to spend a little more time in reading the course directions. And the directions are now clearly stating that I should recognize this spot as I am about to ascend Spinal Tap for the second time. Good times! Up at the saddle where I became I little confused the first time up, I found Kirk (a Putty-Tatter and one of the massacred at EBM), on his first lap up and trying to find his way. I stayed with him to a point where the route finding turned easy and marched on.

Scott finding the fun way down Spinal Tap! Photo Credit: Tina Ure

Scott finding the fun way down Spinal Tap! Photo Credit: Tina Ure

Photo credit: Scott Martin

Photo credit: Scott Martin

I soon reached the top of Spinal Tap again to find Sean, who was wondering if I happened to see his directions, map and the book pages he had collected so far, while on my way up the trail-less mountain below. Uhhh…no…sorry.  Sean decided to continue the course with a photo of the directions and map taken by his phone, even though he would likely be DQ’d for losing his book pages. Sean and I left Suzanna and Todd at the top of Spinal Tap and hammered down the steep and deceptive west side of Spinal Tap for the second time together and managed to avoid some of the gnarliest sections that Tina and Scott decided to tackle.

Off Course Again!

Sean and I got back down to the Papoose trail once again and went the wrong way on it thinking that we were coming out below the trail junction we needed to catch over to Shasta Bally Rd. We even passed Lorelei and Alex (a couple of Putty-Tatters) and Suzanna and Todd, all going the right direction, before confronting our mistake. More bonus mileage and time, awesome!

Back on track and full of water from the drop at the base of Shasta Balley, Sean and I started power hiking up the endless and painfully steep road to the highest point on the course and our next book. We chatted about our upcoming races that we will allow us the opportunity to run together again, Western States and the Tahoe 200. Shortly after the conversation tapered as we concentrated our energies on upward progress, I looked back to see Sean falling behind. I took this opportunity to push hard to see how far I could make it towards the summit before passing the Abbs as they made their way down to Sheep Camp and the start of the second loop. Sooner than I had hoped, they came pounding down the quad busting descent and we exchanged encouraging words in passing.

After they passed I pulled out my phone to check the time for the first time all day, making a mental note of my surroundings so I can check the time again here on my way down to see how far behind I am. I found Suzanna and Todd at the summit getting ready for the brutal descent and wasted no time in grabbing my book page and starting back down. I noticed that my legs were showing signs of potential cramping and knew that I needed to start eating and drinking more. I reached the point I last saw the Abbs and about an hour had passed. I managed to pass Suzanna and Todd before arriving to the much welcome Sheep Camp where a real nice man had our drop bags waiting and the unexpected treat of a “real” aid station. Mmmm…donut holes!

Marathon #2

I took my time at Sheep Camp to make sure I was nourished, resupplied and prepared for what lay ahead and would surely take me into the dark hours. It was a little after 2PM and 8 hours in at this point. I left here before Suzanna and Todd and just before Sean arrived, easily finding the next book at Upper Brandy Creek Falls and still feeling strong. I soon hit my low patch of the day though, slogging up the annoyingly steep Salt Gulch Trail. I then managed to pass another book by at least a half mile before realizing my mistake and backtracking. I picked Suzanna and Todd up on my way back as they had also just missed the crucial turn at Tina’s fallen tree, that would lead us down to the creek and our next book. The 3 of us found Sean down at the creek just as he was setting off and said a quick “Hi/bye”.

By this point in the game, I had become a little mentally worn down from getting off course so much and lost out there on my own,  so I was happy to fall in with the team of Suzanna and Todd for awhile. They kindly let me tag along, probably wondering how long it would be before I charged ahead, only to see me again after I got lost and had to catch back up. We all seemed to be moving at about the same pace, which was strong and steady with very limited stopping time and working together to make sure we don’t botch Mark’s easy to follow directions anymore. The 3 of us marched forward, enjoying good conversation and wondering every now and again how things were going for the others.

Suzanna on the "never ending ridge"

Suzanna on the “never ending ridge”

Todd on the "never ending ridge"

Todd on the “never ending ridge”

Todd spotted him first! There was Sean just a couple of minutes ahead, ascending yet another steep bump on this deceptive ridge that seemed like it would never end. It was now dusk and we had been on the move for 14 hours and still had a few more to go. As we made our way along this roller coaster of a ridge, we saw Sean again and we were a tiny bit closer, but never caught up before the ridge thankfully ended and led us to our next book. We then made the steep descent back down to the shores of Whiskeytown Lake and crossed the damn to head up the final PO covered hills in search of our last two books.

The Home Stretch!!

Suzanna, Todd and I made quick work of finding the next book and carried on knowing that we were now real close to being back at camp. We followed the directions down to Brandy Creek where we found a slightly frustrated Sean lost in his search for the final book. The directions said to look for the flag on your right just after passing under the power line and here we were underneath the power lines with absolutely no sign of the book or a flag. This spot of the course confused even the Putty-Tatters during the daylight, so imagine us Siamese folks in the dark and 16 1/2 hours into our day! Turns out you had to continue on this almost non-existent old road before passing under more power lines and the location of the final book. Power lines are hard to see at night!

Sean, Suzanna, Todd and I agreed to finish the race in a 4-way tie for third. Cute, eh? While this scenario is certainly not appropriate for all race situations, it was the right way to finish our day. Turns out that Bev and Alan finished together, holding hands (even cuter!!), just 41 minutes ahead of our 16:58, with a winning time of 16:17. Also turned out that Sean’s lost pages made it back to the finish before him, so he didn’t get DQ’d.

What a day!!

Special thanks to Suzanna and Todd for absorbing me into your team! I really enjoyed all the hours I spent on the course with these two great people and also the time I got to enjoy with Sean and the others. This was my first race experience in which I have worked with others as a team and thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of Meow. In the aftermath of Meow, we all seem to agree that this event best suits those that work as a team, even when it is just the moral support of being steered back on course or the comfort in seeing or hearing each other nearby on an off trail section.

The 24 hr woman I saw in Ultra Signups ended up being my new buddy Suzanna Bon, Bronze Medalist at last year’s 24 Hour World Championships and an instrumental part of Team USA winning the Team Gold Medal.

Cheers to Tina and Scott who made a full day of it, completing the Siamese in 24:03, just 6 hours and 3 minutes past the 18 hr cutoff. They were also not DQ’d, but OT’d instead! Cheers also to everyone else who managed to find the start and brave the Me-ow!

Strong efforts by all!

Joel petting Schmeezie, Me-Ow he's officially done! Photo Credit: Kirk McMorris

Joel petting Schmeezie, Me-Ow he’s officially done! Photo Credit: Kirk McMorris

Not to be forgotten, Joel Tebbut racked up another DPMR win when he out kicked Jesse on the Putty-Tat course by 2 minutes in the final mile, after they had found the last book together. Jesse might not have thought this was very cute!

Thanks to Mark Swanson for putting on such a brilliantly fun race and being a great host!!! Thanks also to the volunteers that helped!

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Photo credit: Scott Martin

Bishop High Sierra 50-miler

When the Bishop High Sierra Endurance Runs came under new management this year I thought, “Thank God!”  The rumors last year were that it may cease to exist. This race is a gem and losing it would be a tragedy for both the ultra community and the local community the race benefits.

My next thought was, “How much will it change?” Human nature is to resist change, but at the same time change is inevitable an constant. To survive we step out of our comfort zone and adapt. Having participated in and volunteered at Inside Trail events, I felt the trasition would be OK.

What I didn’t plan on was a sudden and complete melt-down with ten miles to go in my race. But there I was; unable to move; lying in the sage brush waiting for my mojo to return… stuck with my nausea, cramps, several dozen ants and very little shade. My get-up-n-go was long gone and far far away.

Bishop-High-Sierra-50mAs a pick-up truck came by, I assumed it might stop just to see if I was still breathing. Instead, it just lingered. The driver shut-off the engine and introduced himself. I did my best to convince Tom that I just needed a little rest and would be OK. Tom was friendly. I wasn’t feeling chatty. I learned he lived nearby, and liked to fish. He wasn’t much of a runner, but one year competed in the 20-mile fun run here in Bishop.

He inquired about my thick foamy-soled shoes. Said he preferred a minimalist shoe after reading “Born To Run.” They helped prevent injuries. Eventually he started the engine and moved on, but not before taking my photo and re-teaching himself how to send it from his device to mine.

Later on when I reached the next aid station, there was Tom! His daughter was working the aid station. I needed to sit. Another runner was there – a 70+ year-old man who, despite being mis-directed from his race course, seemed in good spirits and health (much better than me.) I was envious. His prospect of earning an age group award faded due to the detour.

There was another hept-geaman 1-1/2 hrs ahead. Awards at the BHS ultras are beautiful hand-crafted ceramic mugs and photos depicting the natural beauty of this area. They are much coveted. I got the sense there was no bitterness or blame with this runner. Shit happens. Tom’s daughter apologized to him. Not because it was her fault, but because she really cared about his race experience diminished by a volunteer’s honest mistake.

I think he was a glass 1/2 full kinda guy, just happy to be here. Besides, the misguiding volunteer was a old family friend, so “holding a grudge was not and option.” Before leaving he mentioned that he was really looking forward to a popsicle at the next aid station. It reminded of popsicles from past years.

With that thought, I convinced myself that a popsicle was exactly what I needed to start feeling good again. As I got closer, my obsession grew. I decided to have orange or maybe purple. I remembered last year I didn’t take one, but the runner ahead of me chose green (not my favorite.) That cool, sweet, hydrating treat along with gravity allowed her to cruise the final 3.7 miles to a first-place finish in the 50-miler last year.

Upon arrival at that aid station, I learned there were no popsicles!! Not this year. Sorry. :( My disappointment turned to sympathy and sadness for the older guy who had yet to hear the news.

I finished the race. I hope he did, but don’t know. Making my way to the finish at a glacial pace, I wondered if the absent popsicles symbolized change and the need to adapt… Or, does it provide an opportunity to affect change, to be a more active member of this ultra community, to make my voice heard. I do’t know. I do know that if no popsicle is my biggest complaint, then the regime change went pretty well. I hope all involved would agree.

This race is well-done and special. Thanks to Marie (former RD) and Tim (new RD) for your efforts congratulations to the winners, record breakers, PR setters and all finishers.

P.S. It was especially heartening to see Marie Boyd cheerfully wander through the finish campground, meeting with runners early Sunday morning – ater being on the course ’till just before dawn. She was pulling ribbons from the final course section. Despite her new title of RD Emeritus, the passion remains.

~Paul Sweeney

Inaugural Canyons 50k

Donner Party Mountain Runners had a fabulous showing at the Inaugural Canyons 50k race, which was run through the canyons of the Historical Western States Trail out of Foresthill. The course is extremely challenging with somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 feet of elevation gain. (Our GPS devices are varying quite a bit on the elevation measurements.)

Paul, Peter, Betsy, Pete and Todd at the start

Jennifer Hemmen rocked the course with a second-place finish in the women’s race. Club President Peter Fain led the way for the first half and posted a podium finish with third place. Paul Sweeney and Geoff Quine also killed it on the tough course, both posting top-10 finishes. Betsy Nye, Helen Pelster and Amy Lapierre all finished strong as well.

Sharon Fong found a few extra credit miles on the course and thereby posted her longest run to-date (about 34 miles) and her most vertical in one day. Congratulations, Sharon!

Meanwhile, Vice President Pete Broomhall and his wonderful family earned a first place medal for their aid station at The Pump (miles 14 & 18). They served up the best grub with Pete’s secret running fuel: homemade rice bars with blueberries and white chocolate chips. Gretchen Brugman and Jamie Frink helped at The Pump and also greeted runners as they turned around at the Swinging Bridge.

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Down at El Dorado Creek (miles 9 & 22), friend of the Club Todd Freitas was serving up huge smiles and cheers. Todd drove his Jeep down deep into the canyon and spent the day helping at the aid station.

Back at the start/finish, Club supporter Alpenglow Sports brought a spread of running gear and shared cold drinks. Everyone enjoyed the finish where we ate, drank and were merry.

Huge thanks and kudos to co-Race Director and Club Founding Member Chaz Sheya. The Inaugural Canyons 50k had all the elements of a successful ultra: challenging course, excellent course markings, great aid station staff, and a fun post-race scene.

Elsewhere, Tina Frizner conquered the ever-challenging Miwok 100k course. Joel and Mike Tebbutt spent the day up North at the Me-Ow Marathons! Early word is that Joel took first place – can’t wait to hear more about this adventure!

Next up: family camp-out at Bishop High Sierra. UNAFRAID.

Lake Sonoma 50

Lake Sonoma 50 Race Report

The Start

I finally got a chance to tackle Lake Sonoma this year. I was signed up last year but injury knocked me out of the race just days before. It has become one of the most popular Ultras in the country and I was excited to toe the line with the elites to see how slow I am.

I arrived early and really too early as I am one of the first in the parking lot. The good news is I am able to take my time and get my bib and get ready to rock’n’roll. It also gave me some time to chat with some fellow runners from Truckee and close by to home with whom I have been running with most of the winter.

The gun goes off as promised at 6:30am sharp and not a second later. We are off and of course I am out running hard way too early but hey we only live once. The first few miles are on the road before we drop onto the dirt for the remainder of the day.

The first two aid stations come in a blur and I quickly realize that I’m running way too hard to maintain this pace to the finish. I am cruising at around 8:00 min/mile and running in a rather large group. I hit the warm springs aid station second in the group and purposely move like a snail to ensure the other 8 to 10 leave before me.

Hitting Lows Running Strong

Ultrarunning can certainly be a social sport but letting everyone go and running solo for a while was the best decision I made all day. This allowed me to settle into my own race and enjoy the incredible trails of Lake Sonoma. While Lake Sonoma doesn’t contain huge ascents and descents it is a beast of a course that just keeps hitting you in the stomach, so pacing is very key.

I don’t see another runner for the next 7 miles as I make my way to my first visit at Madrone point. I am caught from behind by a few runners as I again move very slow through the aid station. Mainly because I am putting Tailwind from a bag into my water bottle. Nonetheless I am ready for company again as I hit my lowest point all day.

When things don’t feel well running the best cure is to have other runners to queue off and that is exactly what I did for the next 7 miles to the half-way point. The slog up the day’s biggest climb didn’t treat me well at all until about 75% of the way up where I was able to find my legs again.

Half Way Home

I hit the half-way point which is one of my highlights of the day. The reason for this is my lovely wife and daughter are there waiting for me. My daughter is very happy to see me and really finds every little way to help me restock. Of course my wife plays the biggest role but just seeing how happy my daughter is here makes the hurt go away for a few.

ls50

(Just after the half-way and starting to cruise down a nice long downhill.)

I like to pride myself in having a strong second half in all of my ultras but I was certainly questioning my ability to pull this off in this one. Funny things happen in ultras though and we go through many highs and lows. For the most part the lows had been conquered.

I am able to catch one gentleman on the way back to Madrone aid station and this got my confidence going a bit. I do get passed by the eventual 5th place female but thats ok it gave me someone to chase the rest of the day.

I cruise into madorne basically with 3 of us and I am able to make quick work of the aid station as I knew I had enough tailwind to make it to the wulfow aid station. This is a harder section then I remeber though and continues the theme of the course just trying to beat me up.

The Race Begins

I feel like wulfow is really where the race began. I left the aid station and quickly spot a few runners ahead of me which I push to catch but as it would be the rest of the way it takes a while to track each one down.

The Sonoma field is very deep and full of many good runners and everyone of them puts a fight up in the second half to put distance on them once I pass them. We were really lucky with weather but on the way back to the warm springs aid station the sun finally breaks out.

I go through an entire bottle in only 4 miles and realize I won’t have enough Tailwind to make it to the finish but do refill at warm springs. Right after warm springs is a very large creek crossing (There are many from here on out) where I take liberties to dunk my head and get my hat as wet as possible. Regulating body temps will be key for the rest of the run.

The last 12 miles are very rolling like the rest of the course but it is a total elevation gain to the finish. Fortunately the trails are about as nice as they come and the views are awesome.

Miles 38-41 are spent running solo until I approach two more runners. Once again this gets me motivated to race and I am able to make my way past them. This however would not be the last I see of them.

The Home Stretch

The course at mile 45 forces a small out and back to the island view campground. This is where the end of the race got really fun. I noticed a gentleman from earlier had caught back up to me. I get to the aid station first and get out first. Only 4.5 miles to the finish!!!!

The individual quickly catches up to me on the climb out and I also realize there are also 3 more runners within 2 minutes of us. I played the aid station smartly and drank an entire can of coca cola. I talk to Brian as we make our way to the top of the hill before we plunge down our final downhill of the day.

I am not sure what happened here but I am able to find another gear and hop in front and take on the pacing duties. By the bottom of the downhill my new friend informs me he will see me at the finish as his legs are done.

I am able to start running uphill again but still hike the steeper sections when I pass a spectator. A general rule of thumb is never listen to spectator intel on the course as it is generally false. None the less I am informed I am in 24th place. At this time I also round a switch back and 2 other runners are now with my friend Brian. Oh boy I am gonna have to work to the finish now.

This sets off a adrenaline rush and I am able to run my first sub 9:30 mile in I am not sure how long. I was no longer able to see any of the other runners even on multiple switchbacks.

The final mile of sonoma is not easy. It is the most technical trail of the day and all uphill. I keep grinding though and finally reach the road crossing. The finish is in site and I am able to run into the home stretch where my favorite part of the entire run occurs. My wife and daughter are awaiting about 20-30 yards from the finish where my daughter Siri joins me for the home stretch where I finish 31st!!!!! I think the following picture explains it all.

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Following the race there was lots of time spent hanging around the finish and enjoying some racer 5′s. I also want to say congratulations to Gretchen Brugman, Chris Perillo, Eric Toschi, Paul Sweeney, Betsy Nye, and Carrie Hyatt on great performances at Lake Sonoma.