The Mountains Are Calling
If I don’t run (almost) daily I go crazy. It’s my stress release at the end of a day. However, trotting around the ‘burbs day in and day out doesn’t do it for me either. I have to get out, and get wild. Mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, oceans – the deeper into nature, I get the happier I am.
When I signed up for the TCTRuns Lover’s Leap of Faith 50K, I had already seen pictures on Facebook, but had no idea just how incredible it would actually be. I was looking for something out in the mountains to challenge my body and free my mind – this looked like the right race at the right place.
On Friday evening we loaded the car for the adventure ahead, and set off eastward towards the mountains. Established in 1910, the El Dorado National Forest sits between Yosemite and Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Rage. If you have never been, I highly recommend it. After a lovely starlit drive we arrived at our destination; the Strawberry Lodge in Kyburz. A historic Pony Express lodge, it caters to those looking to get out into the wild, as well as those just looking to get away. There are ski rentals and snow chains available for the winter, and weddings in the summer. It is a perfectly quaint spot for a weekend getaway.
The race was to start and end at the lodge, making it easy for me to roll out of bed on race day and let the family sleep in.
I woke up ready to run. I had a bagel, got dressed and grabbed my drop bag. I was sad to find there was no coffee, however. It seems we were up before the lodge restaurant had gotten started with their day, so I would have to face the miles ahead on what caffeine I could muster from my gels.
Despite the morning beverage setback, I was jazzed. I pinned my bib to my shorts, and headed for the door. Outside, the clean mountain air was cool and crisp. The grey morning was in low 40’s, but the weather was projected to be at about 80 F and sunny by midday, making the exposed trail sections difficult, but not crippling.
We lined up and at 7:00 am were on our way, wrapping down the road from the lodge towards the forest. We ran passed lovely log cabins, and fantastic mountain homes for the brief half mile on the road before hitting the first fire road section. We stayed on that for a few miles till we hit the first of the trail. Every step of the way took us deeper into the woods and into more and more beautiful wilderness.
I had the pleasure of running with seasoned vet Francesca Conte for a while, enjoying the trail chat, until disaster struck…
After hundreds of miles, the locking piece gave out. You can see how well worn the sole is in the picture; I knew they didn’t have much longer, but I did not expect it to be mid race! In a burst of inspiration, I grabbed the bottom two safety pins from my bib and improvised. I started off slow, testing and checking them periodically. When I felt comfortable enough, I settled back into my stride. Now behind, I had some catching up to do.
We ran up to 7000 feet, and down again; up and over hills, and down through meadows. Passed rock outcroppings that called to my enjoyment of bouldering, and scenery that just kept tacking on a few extra seconds as I couldn’t help but pause and take it all in. The sun was rising up over the mountains, casting it’s early light through the trees, gently warming the air. I could see Francesca most of the time, but was finding myself alone more often than not. The noises of the forest, and the rhythm of my breathing was soothing. Trail runners, hikers, and explorer types know the feeling you have when all you have is the raw world around you – there is no other feeling like it.
Today was going to be a good day.
Usually, my drop bags are relatively light. I never plan extra shoes or socks, as my Earth Runners are my only footwear; only bringing extra SaltStick capsules in a bag and a few snacks. This time, however, I made a greater effort to come completely prepared based on every little issues I had ever had in other races. My drop bag had my Body Glide, SaltStick, extra gels, snacks, bars, and Leukotape – with which I used to secure the safety pins on my sandal.
As per the norm for Troy, the aid station was well stocked and I gorged on watermelon and enjoyed a banana. I was feeling a little dehydrated and had not urinated yet in the race, so I made sure to drink two full bottles before filling them a final time and setting off.
I was feeling good about my calorie burn so far, having kept my heart rate low, and taking a few gels since breakfast. I wanted to stay ahead of the game so I snacked on a meat bar while I made my way down the course for more smiles and miles. It seemed as the race went on, the scenery became more and more enjoyable. The second loop of the course promised some of the more spectacular views, and it delivered in full.
On my way out of the second loop, I decided to make a video.
The rattlesnake was originally, and quite literally, at the edge of the trail. When I heard the rattle, I looked down to see him coiling up and rearing back to strike. I jumped/ran/flew back and took my bearings as he slithered away to the position in the picture above.
It was inches from my leg. I have no idea why it didn’t strike, but I am glad it didn’t…
After taking a breather, and calming my now shattered nerves, I walked out wide off the trail for fear of him striking as I walked passed. Shortly after the trail turned upward and I made the ascent to the aid station. On the long sinuous path I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I had to hike up over a thousand exposed feet for over a mile with a serious bite.
Although every lizard and bird in the bushes had me jumping, I did my best to put it out of my mind and enjoy the views.
I finished the climb and made it back to the final aid station. Feeling a little dehydrated from the mostly exposed climb, I pounded another water bottle before refilling both. I felt strong, and was calmer than after my encounter. More watermelon and banana down the hatch and I was back on the trail for the final 7 miles.
After a long, hot day I was filthy from sweat and trail dust. Caked with dirt and salt, it was time for a dirtbag shower…
A wonderful run. Longer than I expected, but I spent a fair amount of time talking to aid station volunteers, taking pictures, and emotionally recovering from making friends in the forest.
The single track, wide trails, and fire roads were some of the best I have ran. The Sierra Mountains offer breathtaking views – I almost kicked a few good rocks just staring off at the world and smiling.
I would love to see a 100k or 100 mile race out here – the Sierras would be a perfect place to earn a buckle, don’t you think?
Thank you to the RD, Troy for organizing another amazing event. Check him out at tctruns.com and if you want to see a new world class 100 just a stones throw from Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, send him an email!!
Thank you to the amazing staff and volunteers – your dedication to our misery is something special.
Recovery Beer: Yolo Brewing Orange Blossom Blonde
-The Winged Ling