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[WARNING: This race report has no pictures!]

Scratch that title. This really is more of a “Run Report” than a “Race Report.” I didn’t plan on racing or getting caught up in the nervous energy that all too often finds me running beyond my means during these types of organized events. During this particular event, I was able to focus on the process more than the outcome, and in doing so I had a much more enjoyable day than I did in 2012.

Pre-Race:

The day started pretty well, although I was a little bit slow in getting dressed in my hotel room. Still, I had plenty of time to walk over to the Plaza Hotel and catch the shuttle bus to the start. How awesome the shuttle was! No stressing about driving or parking, or having to get the family up at 4:00 a.m. just to drive me to Spooner Lake.

Start to Hobart 1:

My plan was to not have a plan. I wasn’t wearing a watch, I didn’t know my split times from 2012, I wasn’t trying to beat any other person who was racing that day, and I had no time goals for reaching any particular aid station in any particular split time. I know from personal experience that, whenever I print out little pace charts or try to plan out what I’ll eat at each aid station, and how often I’ll take salt tabs, and how I’ll manage each aspect of the run….. it generally goes to hell at some point, and then I’m left without the security and predictability of that plan. And whenever I try to visualize executing on a racing plan, and then something external (weather, trail conditions, etc.) or internal (why is this gel making me nauseous? why am I so thirsty today?, etc.) comes along to derail that plan, I feel a little bit lost.

Plenty of other runners can make those things work for themselves; I haven’t been able to do so.

Instead, I wanted to have an approach for my run. Specifically, I wanted to stay within myself and not destroy my legs in the first 30 miles. I would see if I could have a better day just trying to stick to the basics: keeping myself hydrated and fueled (based on how I’m feeling at each aid station, and after checking in with myself occasionally between stations), keeping my feet blister free, and trying not to focus on what’s coming up later in the course. Just run aid station to aid station.

So on the way to Hobart I told myself I was simply out for a little jog with some other runners I had just met. Pithy and predictable conversation (favorite shoes, past races, etc.) made it easy to set aside thoughts of the miles ahead.

Hobart 1 to Tunnel Creek 1:

This section has perhaps the best views of the entire course. The sun was now up, the skies were still clear, and it was great to see the view of Marlette Lake perched above Lake Tahoe.

I had already been using one of my two bottles to spray water on my hat and bandana to keep them wet. I knew that I had to stay on the right side of my overheating threshold, and a continuous replenishing of cold water on the head and neck was a great help.

Tunnel Creek 1 to Red House:

This was where I made my first significant “duh… stupid Jake” mistake in 2012. I ran the downhill portion of the Red House loop pretty fast that year, and the minutes I “gained” by doing so required repayment, with a great deal of interest, later in the race. So this year I took this downhill very conservatively. Once we started heading back up, I knew that it was the right thing for me to do. I was mixing in running and walking, and felt like I was able to do it all at a slow burn. I wasn’t moving quickly, but neither was I emptying my reserves.

Red House to Tunnel Creek 2:

In my mind, climbing back out to Tunnel Creek seemed to pass by faster than I thought it would.

The numbers tell a slightly different story — I went back this morning to look at the splits I had on my GPS watch from 2012, and compared them to the Lapio data. When I started the Red House Loop this year I was more than 20 minutes slower than my time to that point two years ago. By the time I got back to Tunnel Creek again, I was somewhere around 45 minutes behind where I was in 2012! Thankfully, since I wasn’t wearing a watch, I didn’t know that I had been moving slower; I only knew that I felt a lot better.

Leaving Tunnel Creek 2, I picked up a handheld bottle from my drop bag (in addition to the two I carried throughout the race), and filled it with ice and water. It was going to be warm getting all the way down to the Diamond Peak aid station, and I wanted to make sure I could douse myself as much as possible, and not try to conserve on any fluid intake.

Tunnel Creek 2 to Bull Wheel 1:

I stopped at Bull Wheel to put a blister pad on each foot, near the big toe (where the first metatarsal meets its proximal phalanx). This is sometimes a blister prone spot for me during longer runs, and I could feel that issues might be starting. I know it was costing time, but keeping my feet happy was more important.

Bull Wheel 1 to Diamond Peak:

This certainly isn’t a bad stretch of trail (I mean… just take look around!), but I do think it’s a bit less interesting than the rest of the course. To me this portion of the race is just a chance to get some work done and put some miles behind me as I transition from the first half of the course to the second. (It’s also a chance to experience firsthand how the notion of “trail flow” is really different depending on whether you’re on foot or riding a mountain bike.)

According to Lapio, by the time I left Diamond Peak I had gained back some of the time I had “lost” over my 2012 pace, and was now just a little over 25 minutes back.

Diamond Peak to Bull Wheel 2:

I suppose every good trail ultra needs to a portion of the course that makes you say — out loud — “this truly sucks,” then laugh at yourself for having said it. Despite the relatively cool temps on the rest of the course, this section (particularly those of us in the back half of the 50M field) was hot. Plenty of runners were strategically working themselves from shade patch to shade patch, in an effort to rest a bit and keep from overheating. But in the steepest sections (someone said at a 40% grade?), which were near the top of the climb (which sucks) and had very sandy footing (which truly sucks), the shade was harder to come by.

Bull Wheel 2 to Tunnel Creek 3:

In 2012, this is where I finally admitted to myself that I had absolutely screwed up my plan for that race. Back then I thought that perhaps I had been running too hard when I got to Diamond Peak. But when I left Bull Wheel 2 that year, and couldn’t seem to transition from walking back into running, I was sure of it.

This year, after downing some calories, I was back to my jog pretty much immediately after leaving Bull Wheel 2. I was feeling no ill effects or deep fatigue from the Diamond Peak climb. (For a moment, I almost thought to myself “oh, I guess that climb wasn’t so bad after all.”)

At Tunnel Creek 3, I checked my feet again. The blister pads on both feet had worked themselves back to the medial edges of my heels, so I took them off and got some Vaseline from the first aid tent. I also switched from the Altras I had been wearing to an old pair of Hokas in which I had strategically cut some of the upper to relieve the pressure on the sides of my forefoot. I generally love the toebox and shape of Altras, but prefer the feel of the Hoka cushioning… I’m still waiting for that “perfect” shoe…

My data comparison today revealed that as I left Tunnel Creek for the last time I was less than 10 minutes behind where I was in 2012. And this year, I was still running when I left Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek 3 to Hobart 2:

I remembered from my last TRT 50 that the climb from Tunnel Creek back to Hobart was more challenging than I expected, so I made sure I was ready for some more climbing. I had the energy to move a little faster than I actually was, but I didn’t want to risk an implosion. I just worked to keep myself eating and drinking, in order to maintain the pleasant and even-headed feeling I had.

Hobart 2 to Snow Valley Peak:

I anticipated that this was going to be where things would get a little more interesting. The clouds had been building, and it was apparent that the Race Director’s pre-start warning about possible storms and the closure of Snow Valley Peak Aid Station was spot on. So as I was leaving Hobart 2, I asked if the next aid station was open. The volunteer said they hadn’t received any closure notification yet. A quarter mile later, at the left turn to head up to Snow Valley Peak, I asked the course marshals if it was still open, and he said “go on up.”

Then, around a half mile before where the trail spits out of the trees and onto the exposed ridge, a patrol MTB’er comes blasting up the trail to tell us that they had just pulled the volunteers out of the next aid station. He described the situation; basically that there were currently lightning strikes happening very close to the peak, that there would be no¬†one in the tent to check us through, but that there would still be food and water at the station. He didn’t say “you’re not allowed to continue on,” but he seemed to be intimating that heading onto the exposed terrain probably wasn’t a good idea.

Smart man.

By the time four or five us had chosen to stop at the edge of the treeline, the rain became pretty heavy. A few more runners came up the trail to join us… and it started to hail. A runner came back down to us from the ridge, saying she had been with a small group that had just split up – some deciding to press on, while she chose to head back to the trees. She had given her arm warmers to one of the runners who was going forward, and she was now quite wet and cold. A few more runners came up from below to join our growing group.

And just as I started to consider how cold I needed to get before I chose to head back down to Hobart (I wasn’t cold yet, but sitting is never good for staying warm), the weather seemed to change. There was still a cloudy ominous sky above, and there was still the sound of thunder, but the overall feel was noticeably different. It was like the air itself had a different taste.

A few minutes later, one brave woman said aloud what I was (and probably most of the others were) thinking — that maybe it was time to get up and go. She turned around and quickly scanned the faces in the group, seeing if others were ready to join. I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Within a few moments, most of the rest of the group had made the decision to continue on as well, and we were on our way.

It was a little tentative for the first quarter mile, but once we were uncomfortably far away from the safety of the trees, I figured the best approach was just to get this section over with quickly, even if it meant running faster than I otherwise wanted to. Fortunately, by the time I got to the aid station the volunteers had returned, so I got a quick bottle refill and began the final section of the run.

At this point I had caught up to my pace from 2012 (and was actually a minute or two faster), even though I had probably spent 10-15 minutes sitting in the trees, waiting out the storm.

Snow Valley Peak to Finish:

This section was so much more enjoyable this year compared to two years ago. In 2012, I had long been running walking on empty by the time I left Snow Valley peak. This year, I still had plenty of energy left. In fact, the biggest challenge I had was containing myself and not completely opening it up on the cruiser downhill. I figured that I had gotten to this point by not overextending myself, so why not just enjoy the ride back down to the finish? I even pulled myself back a bit and walked all the little uphills on this last section, deciding that I’d rather be ready to go for a run again in a day or two back home than try to shave a few minutes off my time and potentially have a much longer recovery.

Two years ago I was really unhappy with myself, at the betrayal of my blistered feet, my seized-up hips, my lack of energy…. so much so that (according to my wife) I finished the TRT with a scowl on my face.

This year, I finished with a smile.