Sunday, October 14, 2007

Running LOTS and lots

The TRT on a Beautiful Fall Day

On Saturday I joined about fifty other runners to run LOTS (Lake of the Sky) 5oK trail run. I had, however, already been running lowercase LOTS in the last month (180 race miles since Sep 22), and if it was not for the lure of double grand prix points for the series in which I am going head to head with Scott Dunlap, I don't think I would have shown up for this race so soon after all those other races.

The combination of icy roads and running continuously on the camber of the left side of the road during the last 72-miles of the Super Triple had done a number on my left ankle. After the race it was swollen and I did not have the full range of motion. It did not look like anything serious, but I did not run at all in the two week period between the triple and LOTS. It had gotten a lot better, but I was not fully recovered yet. Add to that a crazy week at work where I had been working until very late and getting only an average of about four hours of sleep per night and my "taper" was complete. Well, enough with the excuses; I'll stop whining now, but you can probably see where this is going.

Despite my sleep-deprived week, I actually felt energetic and jumped out of bed when the alarm clock went off. At least I had not overslept; that was half the battle! I had a quiet drive to Tahoe City and arrived at Starbucks at 6:00, where I met fellow runner Jason Horne from England. He needed directions to the start, so when we were properly caffeinated, I led the way to Fairway Drive where the race started.
I picked up my race bib and received an enormous, "good-thing-I-brought-the-truck" goodie bag from the race directors, Robert and Linda Mathis. I met lots of familiar grand prix runners, like Scott Dunlap, Nancy Warren, and Claire Gilles.

It was still cold outside, but the forecast promised a picture-perfect day around Tahoe, with perfect running temperatures. We stayed inside as long as possible, but then at about 6:50, Robert and Linda took all of us outside, briefly explained the course, and sent us on our way.

Not having run for two weeks, I felt excited to be running again, but similar to how one's eyes can be bigger than one's stomach, my imaginary picture of how I was going to charge this first 2.5 mile uphill section was much bigger than my legs and lungs. Within about a mile of running, all the excitement was replaced with nothing but negative thoughts about the outcome of the race and the reason for running it at all. I was breathing heavily, trying to pay off my oxygen debt, and my legs felt heavy. On top of that, the section was quite technical and I could immediately feel that my left ankle still did not have the full range of motion that this trail required.

I ran on like this for a little bit longer, trying to calm down the negative thoughts and then I started throwing in some walking breaks, which I had not really planned on. Clearly I had come too far to just quit now at mile one, so I eradicated that idea and told that nagging thought not to even bother coming back again; I was going to finish this run, no matter what. It was time to, as they say in the army, "embrace the suck."

Things did get a little better with the arrival of the first downhills after the 2.5 mile aid station. I was surprised that I could still move pretty well on the downhills, but had to just make sure I landed straight on my feet. Any sideways movement would send a painful jolt through my legs that would make me walk for a few minutes. Thank goodness for aspirin! I normally don't ever take any pain medication, but desperate times call for a little vitamin I.

Despite the fantastic course marking, excellent volunteers (Norm Klein, Dave Cotter and Kevin from the TRT race, and many others), and wonderful aid station food, the whole run felt more like a job than a nice day out on the trail for me. I just kept pushing forward, running most of the downhills and power walking the flats and uphills. Sometimes, I would force myself to just run for 30 or 60 seconds, knowing that every second counted.

Since the course was out and back, I met Scott on the trail and to my surprise I was only about 30 minutes behind him. Asked how I was doing, I said something like "good," which was not a complete lie, because I had actually lost less time than I thought. However, there was still a long way to go and I figured I would lose at least another 30 minutes on the way back. I quickly grabbed a gel at the aid station and turned around. The following miles seemed endless and it was hard to even run some of the downhills.
I made it to the party station at Watson Lake, hosted by the TRT100 crew (Dave Cotter and co.), where they actually served grilled cheese sandwiches and pumpkin pie! I knew I now had 5 miles to go until I would get to Norm's aid station, where I was going to get some soup, so I took off quickly and swallowed another gel to try to keep my energy levels up.
This was another endless section and I was surprised at how my mind was just going around in the same infinite loop: grand prix point calculations, cups of soup, ankle pain, repeat. In order to break out of the loop, I tried to take in the nice impressions around me and I promptly landed on the lavarock. A fountain of water squirted out of my water bottle as it broke my fall, which actually saved me from getting hurt.
When I finally got to Norm's aid station, I got the hot soup I had been craving. I asked Norm where Helen was and he told me a very nice story. 85 year-old Helen was out running the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler that day, in honor of Dick, who had been the Klein's life-long friend. Dick had actually run close to 1000 ultras before his first DNF. The most touching part of the story was that Dick died while watching a movie about Helen's ECO Challenge Race. I hope Helen had a good run. In fact, a lot of the ultraholics were out there running Firetrails with her. It sounds like a nice run.
I started feeling a bit better during the last 7.5 miles. I regained my full-strength power-walk on the flatter, rock-littered sections and was actually power-walking 12-minute miles, which was certainly faster than I could run, so I just did that until I reached the final aid station, which marked the sometimes almost vertical and very technical descent to the finish line. I had at one point hoped to break 7 hours, but that now seemed out of the question, because of the technical terrain.

Just before the end, Jennifer Hemmen came running back up the hill to an intersection, and we had to decide which fork in the road to pick. A course marker must have been displaced during the day. After looking at both trails for a bit we decided to take the left turn and after a few minutes we breathed a sigh of relief when we found another marker indicating we were on the right track. I followed Jennifer to the finish line and arrived in 7:13, good for 22th place overall -- mission accomplished.
I will say one thing about the TRT markers: without Robert and Linda's excellent flagging, it would have been hard to stay on the trail with just the white and blue TRT signs. There were many spots where it was very hard to see where the trail was and that's during the day. I can't really imagine trying to find the trail in some sections at night (mental note for TRT speed record attempt!).
The post-race dinner was a real feast, with all kinds of delicious food, including Linda's famous vegetarian chili, soup, salad, meat, and all kinds of desert items. Fellow blogger Gretchen arrived shortly after I finished and I finally got a chance to meet her in person. We talked for a while and then I drove to the Lake Forest boat ramp (just east of Tahoe City), which is my favorite place for post-race leg icing in the cold Tahoe water. You can simply walk down the concrete boat ramp until you are submerged up to your waist. Take it from me (and Sean Meissner who told me about this years ago), 20 minutes of this Tahoe-icing can make a big difference the next day!

The Lake Forest Boat Ramp

In the spirit of Blog Action Day (support it today!), I had decided before the race that I would pick up every single (small) piece of running-related litter that I would encounter on the trail. Fortunately, most of my fellow trail runners were good trail citizens, and I only had to pick up the following items:

  • 1 Cliff Shot gel package
  • 1 Gu gel package
  • 1 package of aspirins
  • 1 paper cup
  • my own Endurolite salt capsules that I spilled all over the trail, because I spaced out and forgot to close the Ziploc bag before raising my water bottle (with the same hand) to wash them down -- not just once, but twice!
In terms of caring for our environment, I think that it is important that we don't always wait for others to do things for us. It can be something as insignificant as picking up some litter, or volunteering to work on a trail, or actively supporting organizations like Keep Tahoe Blue or Tahoe Rim Trail, which allows us to even have a race like LOTS or TRT in the first place. One great thing about the LOTS race is that the proceeds of the race go to the Tahoe Rim Trail organization to help maintain the wonderful trail.
Note: just like its owner, my camera had not properly recovered before the race, which explains the lack of pictures on this post. However, it looked like Scott was making a documentary out there (while still placing an impressive 5th in 5:51!), so make sure you check out his blog for the visuals.

Next up, Run Through the Colors 10K in Nevada City on Sunday, the 21st.


Anonymous said...

Great job in gutting it out Peter. It's how you respond when you're not having a perfect day that shows character. Glad you found my blog See you at "Colors" on Sunday.

Herman Lubbers said...

Ha die Peter,
Wat een moeilijke race voor je en ik hoop dat je vlug weer herstelt.Het is toch vaak iets met de markering! Goed dat je daar de aandacht nog eens op vestigt.
Perfect om de litter onderweg op te ruimen.
Jammer van je camera.
Waar kan ik de bijgewerkte stand vinden. Volgens mij is de laatste race er nog niet in verwerkt. Is dat juist? (jij met 264 en Scott met 176 punten). Al weer klaar voor het weekend?
Hartelijke groet van papa

Dave said...


Great race report. I'm impressed how you were able to tough it out. 33 miles at high altitude with tired legs and little sleep are no joke!


P.s. Based on the comment by Herman, I assume you must be Dutch. Maybe if we cross paths at some race some day, we can discuss our northern European heritage (I'm from northern Germany).

Peter Lubbers said...

Hi Dave,
You guessed it -- I am originally from Holland and moved to California in '91. My mom and dad (Herman) follow the blog from Amsterdam.

Look forward to meeting you on the trail some time. I just saw the interview with Scott Dunlap on your site. Great job!

Sarah (PCTR) said...

Great job - Catherine's right about the tougher races showing what you're made of.

As for your comment "I can't really imagine trying to find the trail in some sections at night (mental note for TRT speed record attempt!)." - WE AGREE!! In fact, even during daylight but at the end of the 165 miles, it's really, really tough and frustrating to stay on the trail through that section. That's the one downside to starting in Tahoe City and going counter-clockwise.

Again, congrats on another fine race in this fine season you're having!!


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Nice, report, Peter. I appreciate your candor regarding the pursuit of the mattress and associated glory and prizes. Jon and I never overtly mentioned it last year.

I got lost last year, maybe at that same turn you mentioned (should've turned left).

Tony Overbay said...

Peter, great report! Thanks for the comment on my report as well. Call me a blogging newbie but it took me a bit to figure out how (easy it was) to find your blog. Now I'm hooked, I'll have it all read by tonight :-) Great race, great ultra community. Now that I can put a face with a name I'll definitely say hello at HK. Best of luck!


Gretchen said...

Great to meet you Peter, and nice job on toughing this one out after a lot of racing! It was a gloriously beautiful day, but not the fastest for me either. I am not expecting much from myself at HK next weekend either as far as speed goes, so I think my goal will be something like "meet as many new people as possible." ;-) Good for you for picking up other people's trash out there, that always drives me crazy! Although I know some litter is accidental, I can't figure out why some people think it's okay to just drop your trash in the woods on a trail race! Hope you are recovering well, and I'll see you next weekend!

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