Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lake Tahoe 72-mile Ultra

This race starts at 12:01 a.m. at the Pope Beach, Nevada finish line of the Marathon, and the 72.2 mile course is the circumference of the lake. Just before midnight, about 20 intrepid souls with headlamps and reflective gear briefly milled around before been sent off towards the “bright lights” of South Lake Tahoe, home to tacky gambling casinos and a few drunken late-night revellers.

My run started smoothly and easily. Each runner was supposed to have a support crew & vehicle, but I wanted Claire to catch up some overdue sleep (she’d just returned from the UK where grandbaby #2 Ben has just been born), so I ran alone, hoping that the liquids I’d cached the previous two days were still there. Thankfully, they all were. I carried a small waistpack containing two PBJ sandwiches, some GUs and plenty of heavy dose anti-inflammatories.

Once clear of South Lake Tahoe, the streetlights ended, and without light pollution the most incredible display of stars and galaxies came into view. From time to time, I turned off my headlamp for 30 seconds, to get the best possible view. Words cannot describe the sight – a most remarkable 5 hours of stargazing. The lights all across the lake were a perfect man-made complement to nature’s phenomena. The temperatures never got below freezing, and there was almost no wind. In all, a perfect night to run through.

Before 5 a.m., I heard my cellphone ring. It was Claire checking in on me. I was pleased to report good progress. I’d reached 20 miles - the top of Spooner Summit at over 7,000ft - by 3:15 a.m., and was closing in on Incline Village at about 30 miles, still feeling strong as the dawn started to send the stars to bed. Suddenly though I started to have what we can delicately describe as “tummy problems”. Each time I needed to deal with one of these little problems – at least 3 of which I can clearly remember - I would emerge from portajohn or woods to see one or two of my competitors who had passed me while I was indisposed, and were now headed off ahead of me into the gloaming. This was a little worrying and dispiriting, but gradually my system returned to normal as I crossed the stateline back into California with about 37 miles to go. Ultrarunning does teach you patience and the need to accept the inevitability of fate. Eventually I pulled back on the folks who’d passed me, and realized that they were by that time in sorrier shape than I.

Between miles 60 and 66 there are some monster hills on this course and the combination of 75 degree temperatures and brutal climbs was taking its toll, but I confess that I did feel super-strong over the last 6 miles. I had managed to qualify for Western States by completing the first 50 miles in under 11 hours (actually 9 hours 35 minutes), and I got a nice piece of mantelpiece decoration for finishing fourth overall in 14 hours 6 minutes. This was my last real test before attempting Trans Europe in Spring of 2009, and I was very pleased that I managed to complete it feeling strong and without the injuries and pain that have been troubling me for the last two years.


Julia said...

Way to go Russ!! You are an animal!! John & Julia!!!

Rob L. said...

Nicely done, Russell!

Peter Lubbers said...

Nice work!
I reached the top of Spooner at about the same time, so I am pretty sure we must have seen eachother on the road.

Good luck with Trans-Europe!

chuckd said...

Congrats Russ!!
You're an inspiring runner. I'm extremely happy for your success. And I'm glad to know you.

Good luck in your training for Trans-Europe.


Anonymous said...

Nice job Russ! I really don't get it - you let Claire sleep in, wtf?
Srsly, congrats.
Cathy Bridge

Richard said...

That's pretty damn amazing! Good to see you at lunch today; and good luck with everything else you're doing... I'm looking forward to reading about your Western States run as well.

MikeW said...

nice job!