Truckee Swim Classic – 2.4 Humbling & Inspiring Miles of Donner Lake

This past Sunday, September 10th, 2017 was the inaugural Truckee Swim Classic hosted by Big Blue Adventure as part of the Sierra Open Water Swim Series.  The series boasts four distinct events throughout the summer months in addition to this event:  the Sand Harbor Swim, Alpine Fresh Water Swim and the Lake Tahoe Swim.

Individual swimmers can opt to race in a 2.4 mile, 1.2 mile or 500 meter race. The race also includes a 4×100 meter relay option for teams as well as Kids’ Races.  This was going to be my first open water swim race so naturally I decided to swim the 2.4.  Go big or go home – right?

That was kinda, sorta the case with me. I had been swimming a lot leading up to the race – not necessarily to train for the event, but because I was coping with a calf injury that tabled all of my running for about a month. In an effort to stave off endorphin withdrawals, I turned all of my attention to swimming and cycling. Endorphins make me happy.  Exercise produces endorphins therefore exercise makes me happy. Really really happy.  You know what I’m talking about! Besides, there’s no better way to see the beauty that surrounds us – you don’t get that in a gym!

Anyway, I had a few long swims under my swim cap leading into the race including a three-mile East to West Donner Lake swim and a six-mile Donner Lake circumnavigation. The result: ego inflated.  So yeah – 2.4 miles?  No problem – I got this [I think]!

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The race takes place at West End Beach, which offers an incredible vantage point for some spectacular sunrises. The morning of the race didn’t disappoint.  As the sun came up during check-in, the sky lit up in a spectrum of color, steam rose off of the lake in white ribbons and the moon was perfectly positioned above the peaks that hover over the beach.

As for the course itself, the 1.2 and 2.4 mile options consisted of laps around three buoys in a triangular shape (see the orange triangle below). The blue triangle depicts the 500-meter course.

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1.2 mile swimmers completed two laps while the 2.4 mile swimmers completed four laps after a swim start in the canal that you can see leading into the lake. If you don’t know Donner, this canal is the inlet into the lake and is full of water coming from runoff at higher elevations.  In other words, it’s snowmelt and it’s cold.  Thankfully, the start is the coldest part of the course and it only got warmer from there.

Swimming out of the canal, into the more shallow depths gives swimmers the ability to see the floor of Donner Lake, which is actually quite interesting if you can relax enough to pay attention to it. There’s a lot to see – fallen trees, little white shells and the shelf of the lake, which drops dramatically.  You can actually see it in the picture above.  Notice where the brighter green turns to darker green – right about that spot, swimmers transition from easily being able to see the bottom of the lake to swimming in an abyss of dark green water.  With 2.4 miles of swimming to go, it gave me plenty of time to take in all of the scenery both above the water and below.

Mentally, I initially found the first two laps to be a bit daunting and not as interesting as a point to point would have been. With that said, I found that I enjoyed being able to tackle different parts of the course with more efficiency with each lap.  For example, with the first lap I found that I kept getting pushed out to the right of the first buoy.  Now this could have been a fault in my navigating as we were sighting into the sun, but physically, I’m almost convinced that there was a slight current created by the water flowing into the lake from the channel.  With the subsequent laps, I was able to compensate and maintain a more direct line out to the first buoy.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, I could hear the announcement of swimmers coming in to the finish line from the various distances. I got to hear a lot of them – I had started the race in the back of the pack and stayed there the entire time.   Rounding the last buoy and making my way into the finish I was surprised with a fresh-water kelp forest that was beautiful, but at the same time, a bit creepy to swim through.  As I crawled on to the shore and made my way through the finish arch, I was met with a wildly opposing set of realizations.  First, the time clock read 1:12:44.  I finished almost 18 minutes faster than I had anticipated.  I was elated!  Second, and completely in contradiction to my first reaction, I realized that I may be the last person out of the water.  I actually asked Bryan Rickards (Big Blue’s Director of Ops) at the finish arch if I was “DFL” – Dead ____ Last.  No, but very close. I was completely humbled.

DFL isn’t a dig; it’s not an insult. DFL is a badge of honor to be worn proudly. It means that you had the guts to take on a challenge, and the tenacity and grit to finish regardless of how you might place.  It means you didn’t give up and drop, or ask for a tow in to shore.

Humbled by the talent and speed of the field and inspired to train harder and with more focus, I will be back next year to see if and how I can improve my performance.

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Breaking Up with Running

On Wednesday, August 2nd at precisely 6:07AM, I pulled my right calf. Yes, I know the exact date and time because I was running with my friend, Cortney and we were heading up a hill just outside of the Donner Picnic Site to meet more friends, Audrey, Tiffany and JP, for a run on Drunken Deer. My calf had been tight since the night before and suddenly, I felt a pop followed by pain and an inability to run or even walk without a limp. #@&^!! Damnit!   #@&^!! #@&^!! #@&^!!. #@&^!! All the bad words!

I had literally just signed up for the Sierra Crest 30K two days before this happened and planned to run the race in three days’ time. #@&^!! Damnit!   #@&^!! #@&^!! #@&^!!. All the bad words!

Needless to say I was in a very bad mood for the rest of the day, but then managed to convince myself that it really wasn’t that bad and I just needed to stay off of it for a day and it’d be fine. Fine! It will be fine damnit! Wear a compression sleeve, ice it, ignore the limp, ignore the pain – mind over matter right? It. Will. Be. FINE! Yeah, not so much.

Three days later, Abe (my husband) and I headed to the Alder Creek Adventure Center for the start of Sierra Crest. Our plan had been for him to run the 50K which starts an hour ahead of the 30K, catch up with me on the 30K course and then we’d run together for whatever portion remained of the race. The 50K started and I sent him off with a kiss, a pat on the behind and a “see you in a little bit”.

An hour later, the 30K started and I was limping from the first step – this was not going to end well. A little running guardian angel (eh hem – Carol Lindsay) called out to me “Mone’ you’re limping”. Yes, yes I know, but maybe it’ll loosen up. It’ll be fine. FINE! I swear – it’ll be fine! Nope.

It did loosen up for a bit, but was never pain free. Then the pain started to get worse and three miles in, I decided to throw in the towel and accept my first DNF. It wasn’t worth a long term injury. Discouraged, defeated and depressed, I turned around and started my hike back to the Adventure Center. I crossed paths with Abe about a mile and a quarter on the way back. This was not how we had planned this. Nonetheless, I could tell he was having a great race thus far and was so excited for him. Another quick kiss and he was on his way. I proceeded down “The Path of Defeat” [read with an ominous, gruff voice]. No swear words, no feisty defiance – just depressed resignation.

Abe at the Sierra Crest 50K finish

I decided that I would allow myself to wallow for a few hours and then buck up in time to go watch Abe finish. He called me about an hour away from finishing so that I could be there in time. Of course Abe finished a lot faster than he expected and I managed to miss it by about five seconds. Abe had a great race and was pretty happy as a result. I’d like to say that it was contagious but I’ll be honest in that although I was happy for him, I was still depressed about what I was coming to terms with as a legitimate injury that wasn’t going to miraculously vanish any time soon.

The day after Sierra Crest, I rebelled against my calf and broke up with Running. “F@#^ you, calf! F@#^ you, Running! If I can’t run, I’ll date Biking and Swimming and whatever! I don’t need Running – yeah that’s it. I’ll find endorphin fueled happiness again without you, Running!” Anyway, I decided I was done wallowing and that I was just going to focus on other things until my calf decided to cooperate. That morning I took my mountain bike out on the Animal. What on earth made me think I could ride Animal? I suck at mountain biking. I’m not exaggerating and I’m not being humble. I’m being factual – I suck at mountain biking, but since I was in a defiant, rebound from Running mood – F@#^ that! I went out and pedaled away on freshly rained on dirt. It was GLORIOUS! Angels singing, sun light emerging from behind clouds – GLORIOUS! When I got home and told Abe how much fun it was, he beamed. He has been trying to get me to mountain bike for years. Later that day we went to visit friends at Palisades Lake and when they wanted to swim across, I happily joined in. Same thing – angels singing, sun light emerging, all that jazz – it was awesome! “See – told you so Running, I don’t need you! I have these other sports that want me! Ha – take that!”

So for the next three weeks, I did my best not to drunk dial Running and just be happy dating Road Biking, Mountain Biking and Swimming. Yes, occasionally I would succumb to my feelings for Running and give a reconciliation a chance. Each time, Running and I would work well together for a little bit but then old wounds would reopen and I’d feel hurt and depressed again.   “F@#^ you, calf! F@#^ you, Running! We are never ever everrrrrr getting baaaaaaack together [thank you Taylor Swift]”

Before swimming Donner East to West

I managed to talk Cortney into swimming Donner Lake with me from East to West. I love that Cortney and I can talk each other into almost anything. Everyone needs a friend like that – especially when you’re going through a break up. So yeah – we did that on Wednesday, August 16th bright and early in the morning. It took us about an hour and a half to swim the three miles from the TD Beach to West End. Queue singing angels…..

Looking West before walking in

I got to thinking that if swimming East to West was that awesome, what about swimming AROUND Donner? Searching online for a swim around Donner turned up absolutely nothing. I remembered that Rich Molsby had circumnavigated Donner a couple of years ago so I reached out to him to get some insight. Turns out he had done it solo and not as part of an organized event or race. He recommended swimming it after Labor Day and early in the morning.   Alrighty then. Hold that thought.

On August 26th, Cortney and I raced in the Lake Tahoe Sprint Triathlon. Cortney had a great race! I had a great race! My calf was fine throughout the race and even on the two-mile run leg. Maybe Running and I would be getting back together after all. I was signed up to race in the Olympic Triathlon the next day, but in typical fashion, Running hurt me again and my calf started to tighten up that evening. I wouldn’t be racing in the Olympic. “F@#^ you, calf! F@#^ you, Running! We are never ever everrrrrr getting baaaaaaack together [thank you again Taylor Swift]”

Well, as fate would have it, my father in law was going to visit that Monday through Wednesday and Abe and I would have childcare if we wanted to get out for an adventure together. Having run Waldo 100K on August 19th, I was able to convince Abe to stand on a paddle board for up to three and a half hours to pace me while I attempted to circumnavigate Donner. So, ready or not, I was going to make the attempt on Tuesday, August 29th.

Abe prepping the paddleboard

Abe and I headed out to Donner at 5:30 on the morning of the 29th. Abe unloaded the paddleboard and I put my wetsuit on. We entered the water at 6:09AM – while it was still pretty dark. Swimming the perimeter of Donner gave me an entirely different vantage point of the homes and area surrounding the lake than what I had experienced while running around the lake. The contrast was remarkable. Above the water, I got a tour of the homes, piers and landscape surrounding the lake. Below the surface, there is a whole otherworldly landscape. Huge granite boulders, tiny white shells, fallen trees, crawfish traps and the occasional human artifact suspended in the depths. I even saw what I think is an aquatic moth. Once the sun came up, the rays of light illuminated the deeper sections of my route and even proved to be a navigation tool. I found that I could tell if I was headed in the right direction depending on the angle of the rays. My mind didn’t wander once. I had anticipated that the swim would almost be entirely devoid of sensory stimuli, but it was completely the opposite. I was hyper aware of the visual and auditory surroundings as well as the temperature changes in the water and even changes in how the water smelled in different areas of the lake. Having Abe pace me on the paddleboard provided me with a sense of safety and security that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I knew he was watching for ski boats so I didn’t have to. Seeing him when I turned my head to breathe allowed me to relax and enjoy the entire experience.

Swimming with a buoy for safety. (pc: Abe Haen)

Even with a swim buoy, I’m difficult to see, so I was very grateful to have Abe scouting for ski boats. (pc: Abe Haen)

Three hours after entering the water, I drunkenly stumbled out of the water. Holy crap – I actually did it – I swam 6 miles around Donner Lake. As soon as I stopped moving I started to shake and shiver uncontrollably. Abe had to help me out of my wetsuit, and my neoprene booties. He wrapped me in a blanket and poured me a hot cup of coffee. I could go on and on and gush about how amazing and wonderful he is, but it makes him uncomfortable so I’ll just say he’s amazing and wonderful and leave it at that (sorry honey – I had to say something).

So, as much as I really really really hope that Running and I will get back together one day soon, I’ve fallen in love with Swimming and Biking as well.

Lake Tahoe [Sprint] Triathlon

Ahhh the Lake Tahoe Sprint Triathlon: yet another one of my favorite local races!  How could it not be a favorite?  The entire course showcases North America’s largest and most pristine alpine lake – Lake Tahoe of course!  The race starts and finishes at Sugar Pine Point State Park, which is home to the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion; a historic estate built in 1903.

This year I was all signed up and ready to race the Sprint on Saturday the 26th and the Olympic on Sunday the 27th.  Having tackled the Donner Lake Sprint and Olympic in similar fashion and having loved every second of both races, I was determined to repeat the process here in search of the epic, week-long endorphin high I had after Donner.

The morning of the race arrived, I jumped out of bed, piled all of my triaFullSizeRender 3thlon accoutrements into my car and drove the fifty feet to pick up my friend/neighbor, Cortney who was also racing.  It was 5:45AM and we were off to the race start at Sugar Pine Point.

Arriving on scene, there are three main stops to make. 1) Parking & Potty:  The parking lot at Sugar Pine Point is easy to access and has plenty of clean, well-maintained restrooms and of course the event provides even more porta-johns for those pre-race potty preparations.  2) Packet Pick Up: As usual, Misty (Big Blue’s Volunteer Coordinator) and her crew of volunteers ran a smooth operation and we had race packets in no time.  3) Transition & Body Marking:  Here comes that Sharpie again!  Bib number on left arm, age on calf then rack the bike and lay out all the gear.

FullSizeRender 2After our typical transition area antics, Cortney and I made our way down the roughly quarter-mile path to the water’s edge ahead of the race start.  The water level was SO HIGH this year!  I expected it to be higher than it had been in previous years, but not quite this high.  There was no beach.  Literally!  The water was right up to the edge of the wall that was built as part of the mansion grounds. While receiving prerace instructions and waiting for the waves to start we were able to take in the sunrise and scenery.  This is one of the most beautiful views of Lake Tahoe around.

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Waiting on the shore to start. Photo courtesy of Big Blue Adventure & Lefrak Photography

Once the first couple of waves launched, I overheard a group of fellow women pointing out that some of the swimmers in an earlier wave were cutting inside of the first buoy and that if those swimmers were going to cut the corner, they were going to follow suit.  Not cool for a couple of reasons:  1) I watched what these ladies were talking about and I actually think it was an optical illusion based on the angle of our vantage point.  I don’t think anyone was actually cutting the corner and I doubted that the course marshals on paddleboards would let anyone do so.  2) Even if some swimmers were cutting the corner, IT’S POOR FORM!  Who does this?  Why would anyone do this?  It’s CHEATING!  Forget for a moment that you’re cheating your peers and fellow athletes, and loudly announcing that you’re about to do so.  Why on earth would anyone cheat themselves the pride of knowing they completed an event in its entirety? Wouldn’t you have a nagging little voice in the back of your head every time someone congratulated you on your race saying [in a squeaky little Gollum voice] “oh but you didn’t really do the race, now did you sweetie?”  Rant over, back to the event…

SWIM: The 550 yard swim is a rough “U” shape starting at the “Nswimmaporth Boat House” of the mansion grounds. Upon starting, we swam east for about 100 yards to the first buoy and then south for another hundred(ish) yards to the second buoy which proved to be a guide around the small pier at the property.  From there it was a straight(ish) line in to the golden finish arch.

Beyond the usual triathlon gear, one piece of equipment I would highly recommend for this event would be neoprene booties. While the water temperature is fantastic, waiting for the swim start as well as running back up to transition via the roughly quarter-mile combination of asphalt and dirt covered with pine needles, pine cones and rocks is made much more pleasant (and speedy) with booties to protect the feet.

bikemapBIKE: The 10 mile bike ride travels out of the transition area and south along Highway 89.  The course is comprised of rolling hills with a total of about 500 feet in elevation gain.  It is open to vehicular traffic, but still provides plenty of opportunity to take in views of the area including Meeks Bay.  As an out and back course, the turn around point is about 5 miles from the transition area.  Don’t forget to thank the volunteers and Highway Patrol as you slow down to make the turn around and head home.

RUN:  Be still my beating heart!  Oh how I love this part.  It’s two miles and as John Mellencamp would say, it Hurts so Good!  Although the course has a mere 100 feet of elevation gain over the entire 2 miles, for whatever reason, it sure feels like a lot more.  As you run out of transition and on to course, there’s a steep(ish) descent on pavement which will make those legs feel a bit more rubbery than normal. Once you’re past that, there’s a bit of trail, a bit of sand and then before you know it, you’re running back up that steep hill into the finish.  While you’re out there though, ignore the fact that your heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of your chest and look east out over the lake for more of those beautiful views.runmap

Running into this finish is so fun and exciting. The crowds are awesome, the announcer is hilarious and the race staff and volunteers are ready to trade you your timing chip for a finishers medal.  The post race goodies are plentiful and range from fruit and bagels to a full BBQ and beer!

Cortney and I both had great races and have yet another fun day of racing memories to share. We wore our finisher’s medals along with our Sharpied body markings for the rest of the day!!!!

Two Days, Two Tris

The Donner Triathlon Events take place over two days in July with a Sprint distance triathlon, Open Water Swims and Kids triathlons taking place on Saturday; and the Olympic and Half Ironman distance triathlons and Aquabike events taking place on Sunday.   This year, I had the pleasure of competing in two of those events – the Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.

While I’ve competed in the Sprint every year since 2014, 2017 was my first time participating in the Olympic distance as well.   How did this come about?  Well, in the midst of Snowmageddon 2016/2017, when we had 10 foot snow berms in front of our house, no power and a house full of kids who hadn’t been to school in about a month, my friend Cortney and I got to drinking some wine.

Shocking, truly shocking – I know.

Long story, short, I peer pressured her and her husband, Jeff into signing up for the Donner Lake Tri. I either didn’t specify which distance, or she decided to raise my peer pressure bet; thus she signed up for the Olympic Distance. I am a sucker for peer pressure so upon hearing that she signed up for the Olympic, I decided to followed suit.

The prolonged winter made training interesting to say the least. Running in snow and ice turned into running in slush and mud turned into running on dirt.  Throw in a few “real” road rides, lots of towing my daughter on our tandem attachment, a decent amount of swimming at the Truckee Rec Center and a few open water swim sessions at West End Beach and voila -Tri Training Truckee Mom style.

Fast forward to event days…

Sprint Triathlon – Saturday July 22, 2017

The Donner Lake Sprint course is comprised of a ¼ mile swim, followed by a 6 mile ride and a 2 mile run. This race has become one of my “benchmark” races.  By that, I mean that I participate in the race every year and try to improve upon my performance from the year before.  I love this race, because it’s short, but challenging and it’s in my back yard, figuratively speaking.

Arriving on the scene the morning of the race, with my gear and bike in tow, I was greeted by lovely volunteers ready to adorn me with a Sharpie. Although the body marking really isn’t necessary anymore due to timing chips, I love that this tradition carries on – my bib number on my arm and my age on my calf somehow makes it feel all the more fun and exciting.  The body-marking ritual complete, I proceeded into the transition area and began the process of racking my bike and laying out my gear.

The energy and excitement was palpable from the athletes and spectators and I found that adrenaline was starting to pump through my veins in anticipation. It was only 6:30am and my wave wasn’t going to start for over an hour.  In order to calm nerves and stop my adrenaline from wearing off before the race even started, I put my hoodie on, put my earbuds in and tuned out of the surrounding activity.

Under cloak and headphone, I walked over to the water’s edge to get a bit of quiet and take in the scenery. I’m a Truckee local so I’m spoiled in that I enjoy these views on a regular basis, but I’m still in awe each and every time I swim, ride or run in or around Donner Lake. The scenery couldn’t be more beautiful.  The lake is surrounded by granite and pine, and this time of morning, the water was glassy.

Just before the 7:30am race start, the transition area was cleared and we all made our way to the shoreline in anticipation of the race start. Right on time, men 49 & under were sent into the water.  Ten minutes later, my race began amongst fellow women in wetsuits and pink swim caps.

The water temperature is right around the same as the air temperature, if not a little warmer, at this time of day, so the swim is really pleasant and it’s not a shock to the system. In a quarter mile, it’s not really possible to “settle in”, but unlike previous years, I found my groove in the water right away and swam the course in 7:48.

Exiting the water, I hustled into the transition area, peeled off my wetsuit and cap and cleaned the pine needles and sand off my feet as best as I could. Bike shoes – check, helmet – check, sunglasses- check (for me this isn’t a luxury – they’re prescription)…..  go.  I never run out of this transition area to the bike course.  It’s too far on loose sand and I’d rather conserve the energy for the ride, so I trot out of the transition area and mount my bike on Old 40 aka Donner Pass Road.

Upon starting the bike course, there’s a very short runway before the climbing starts – about a tenth of a mile. Then it starts – the long climb up to Rainbow Bridge.  The course description sounds easy – a 6 mile bike ride?  Piece of cake!  Nope.  It’s an out and back and there’s a thousand feet of elevation gain, so yes – that’s a thousand feet of climbing in less than 3 miles.  Pedaling up the roughly 7% grade at about 6-8 miles per hour allowed me to look around at the beautiful scenery surrounding Old 40.  There were towering granite cliffs in all directions and old retired train tunnels to southwest.  The climb is rewarded once again at the turnaround at Rainbow Bridge with early morning views of Donner Lake below.

The climb over, I turned my focus entirely to the descent down Old 40. I’m a chicken on the downhills and going 30+ miles per hour (note that some athletes achieve speeds well in excess of 40-45 miles per hour) is pretty intimidating to me, not to mention that the visual basically gives the optical illusion of riding off a cliff at times. Nonetheless, I got into my drops with a light touch on my brakes and started silently chanting my own little mantra of “stay off the brakes, trust the bike, go fast”.  Well, that worked great and I was feeling pretty confident until I hit a small pot hole about a third of the way down.  It was really nothing, but it scared the shit out of me and I slowed my pace a bit after that.  All in all, the climb up took me about 25 minutes and the descent took me about 7 minutes.  So yeah, I got a 7 minute “rest” before the foot-down stop at the bottom of Old 40 followed by the dismount and run into transition.

After a quick change of shoes I ran out of transition and headed out on South Shore Drive. The run course is a 2 mile out and back and is largely flat, but has a bit of a climb (about 80 feet total) between the half mile mark and the turnaround. The road is flanked by adorable, old family cabins and crosses two quaint bridges with rushing water beneath.  Having run the course before and knowing what was in store, I knew it was time to push hard and use the legs I conserved on the climb up Old 40.  I ended up running the 2 miles in just under 16 minutes for a final time of 59:58 and a 2nd place age group finish.  It was over my goal time of 57 minutes, but 4 minutes faster than I had completed the Sprint before – a new benchmark set.

While my endorphins started pumping as soon as I got in the water at the start of the race, they really surged after crossing the finish line. I was ecstatic.  It had absolutely nothing to do with my time or where I placed amongst my peers, it was simply a chemical reaction to the physical exertion and the energy surrounding the event.

To top it all off, I got to watch my six year old daughter, Sawyer participate in the kids race. There is nothing cuter than a bunch of tiny humans racing around a tri course.  Sawyer ended up winning her race and having a blast every second of the way.

Olympic Triathlon – Sunday July 23, 2017

The Donner Lake Olympic course is comprised of a 1500 meter swim, followed by a 24.8 mile ride and a 6.5 mile run.  While I’ve completed this distance before, this was my first year racing on this course.  Still, I pretty much knew what to expect from my experiences with the Sprint and having the area as my training ground.

The morning of the race, at about 2:00am, I woke up with my stomach in knots. I’m not sure if it was a touch of food poisoning or what, but let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep after that.  If I hadn’t committed to doing to race with my friend, Cortney, I would have thrown in the towel and gone back to bed.  I couldn’t flake on her though so I forced down some oatmeal, drank a lot of water, pulled my big girl tri shorts on and headed out to West End Beach.

Given my digestive “issues”, I was actually concerned that I wouldn’t even be able to start the race much less finish it. I resolved to just give it a go and see how it went.  Gradually my body started to settle down and by some minor miracle; I actually started to feel pretty good. In spite of that I knew the stomach issues and lack of sleep had taken a toll on my energy level so at that point I just resolved to take it easy and cruise for whatever portion of the race I could.  Ironically, having this mindset resulted in an unbelievably calm start to the race.  No race jitters, no adrenaline, no expectations.  It was oddly Zen.

My wave started at 7:55AM and I literally walked, very calmly into the water. No running or diving in.  I walked in, and slowing started swimming out to the first buoy.  I grew up swimming competitively from the age of 7 to 16 so my form isn’t terrible.  I knew I swam more efficiently when I was relaxed but I had no idea how efficiently until this point.  I somehow managed to get out of the school of swimmers and find my own little pocket of water. The swim was literally blissful.  My breathing and nerves were calm, my body was at ease and I was enjoying the swim more than I thought possible.  Rounding the second buoy and heading back to the shore, I picked up pace a bit but not much.  I still maintained a calm and relaxed stroke.  I ended up finishing the swim at an average pace of 1:51/100yd.  By way of comparison, my swim time for the Sprint was an average pace of 1:42/yd and I was gunning for it on that course.  So, lesson learned – RELAX.

I’ve participated in endurance sports long enough to know that my body can revolt if I don’t listen to it. So although I felt amazing after the swim, I walked into transition and calmly got ready for the bike.  No rushing, no adrenaline, just calm focus.  I walked out of transition and mounted my bike to begin the same climb up Old 40 that I had completed as part of the Sprint the day before.

I ascended Old 40 at a conservative pace and kept my heart rate hovering around 120-130 bpm, still not wanting to risk a bodily revolt. The same granite cliffs were no less inspiring and breathtaking (or maybe that was just the climb).  Anyway, I caught up with Cortney at the summit and we proceeded to ride and gab and ride and gab and sing until we happened upon another rider who had clearly collided with something.  There were plenty of people already at her aide and we didn’t have any means of providing assistance or evening calling for help so we resolved to get out of the way.  We later found out that she had hit a deer going about 45 miles per hour.  I have often had to avoid hitting a squirrel or a chipmunk while riding, but never thought of the possibility of hitting a deer.

A bit sobered from seeing the aftermath of a bike/deer collision, we proceeded to the turn around and then made our way back up to the summit. Happily, we discovered that the injured cyclist was being attended to by the Fire Department when we passed back by her and she appeared to be sitting unaided.

As we approached the summit, I pulled a bit ahead of Cortney , but then as we began the descent down Old 40, she blew past me like I was standing still. This was the same woman that was terrified of riding Old 40 a mere 3 days before.  After that, I didn’t even see her until the transition area!!!

After my extremely focused descent, I took a head to toe assessment of how I was feeling. Shockingly, I felt great.  Really great!  I remember thinking “How the hell is this happening? Well, whatever, go with it.”  I got into transition, re-racked my bike and got my running shoes on.  At this point I decided to push it.  I felt good and had a ton of energy from taking the first two legs of the tri easy.  If I blew up, oh well.

Running out of transition and onto course, I got giddy – endorphin high, slightly spazzy – giddy. I still have absolutely no explanation for any of it and it still doesn’t make sense that my body somehow managed to recover from the wrenching stomach issues I had, but I ran with it.  Pun intended.

I’ll admit it; it’s immensely satisfying to pick off runners one by one that passed me on the ride. I kept a fairly fast pace (for me anyway) all the way around the lake and was encouraged and fueled with each successful passing of a mile.  The giddiness only increased as I got closer to the finish and when I hit the one mile to finish mark I was ecstatic!

I rounded the corner into the West End parking lot and heard my daughter, husband and friends cheering as I ran onto the lawn approaching the finish. I heard my daughter yell “ENGAGE TURBO BOOSTERS!” and turned the wheels on for a sprint finish.  It was good enough for a 3rd place age group finish.

I had zero expectations going into the day and ended up having one of the most incredible and satisfying racing experiences of my life.

**Thanks to Todd, Bryan, Misty and all of the wonderful volunteers at Big Blue Adventure for putting on a phenomenal weekend long triathlon festival!**

Waddle Ranch Half Marathon Course Recap

The Waddle Rach Half Marathon took place on June 4th, 2017 and is part of the Truckee Running Festival and the Tahoe Trail Running Series put on by Big Blue Adventure.

If you’re a local Truckee runner, you have likely “explo-run-ed” Waddle Ranch. If you haven’t, you should as it’s one of the many local trail running/hiking treasures that the area has to offer. The half marathon starts and finishes at Riverview Sports Park in a mini “race village” amongst very high-energy event staff, volunteers, announcer (can I please have whatever coffee he drinks in the morning) and participants. Besides the fact that there are 5K and 10K options for family and friends to run, the Park is a great place for spectators and family to hang out as there’s plenty to keep them busy along the lines of a playground, bocce court, the Truckee Bike Park, etc.

Once the Big Blue crew gives the pre-race speech, and the very enthusiastic GO signal is given, you’re off. The first 1.6 miles of the course is very flat (not Tahoe flat) and is comprised of getting out of the park itself, running a short distance on pavement (Joeger Drive) and then on fire road. Here you pass behind the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Bus Dispatch Center. If you’ve ever been late to pick up your kid from the bus, you’ve likely been here to collect him/her (not that I would know anything about that). Anywhooooooo……   It’s a pretty meadow with scenic views to the east.

At 1.6 miles you begin a short climb on pavement which takes you up to Martis Creek Road. The climb itself is only about a quarter of a mile, but you then stay on pavement for about a mile. I know pavement – ew, but the views of Martis Valley, Martis Creek Lake and Waddle Ranch (where you’ll be running) are very pretty, so consider it an opportunity to look around before you have to pay attention to not tripping on rocks.

After you cross the dam (at about 2.2 miles into the race), you finally hit dirt via Matt’s Trail in the Waddle Rach Preserve. It’s relatively flat for about three-quarters of a mile and then you start to climb – for a solid mile. You’ll gain about 450 feet in elevation in this mile. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it will put your legs and your lungs to the test. The trail here is mostly single track with some wider sections that look like they used to be fire roads. Run as much as you can – it’s only a mile. You peak out where Matt’s Trail intersects with Sawmill Road (don’t let the term fool you – it’s a fire road) and then you descend.

The descent is fast since Sawmill Road is fairly “groomed” and doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear from runoff or loose rock. After about 1.2 miles, you divert off of Sawmill Road and back onto single track for a bit more technical running. This section lasts for just about a mile and then you re-connect with Sawmill Road and run just under a half-mile to the turnaround.

Now begins your second ascent. The whole half marathon course has about 1,200 feet in total elevation gain, so that 450 feet you descended down before, you now have to climb back up. This section spreads the climb out over two miles so while it’s a bit gentler than your first climb, it seems like it lasts FOREVER. At 7.9 miles into the course you veer off of Sawmill Road and back onto single track via Erika’s Trail. You climb for about a half mile here and then begin a pretty technical (read rocky) decent. I constantly have to remind myself here to watch my ankles, stay on my toes and don’t let the feet get sloppy. That steep, technical descent lasts for about 3/4 of a mile and then it opens up onto less technical ground. At 9.5 miles the course flattens back out, albeit at a very gradual climb out to the pavement. Once you’re on the pavement, it’s a fast and flat return into the park where family, friends and spectators will be awaiting your arrival along with beer and a BBQ!

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Father’s Day at the Burton Creek Half Marathon

The Burton Creek Trail Runs are part of the Tahoe Trail Running Series put on by Big Blue Adventure and include three distances which appeal to all abilities on the running spectrum – 6K, 12K and a Half Marathon.

This year, Burton Creek took place on Father’s Day. I had signed up to run the half marathon about two weeks prior to the event, completely forgetting that it was indeed Father’s Day (minus 10 points for me on the good wife scorecard). Luckily for me, it doesn’t take much arm-twisting to make these sorts of things family affairs and my husband (Abe), father-in-law (Jim) and six year old daughter (Sawyer) all decided to participate as well by running the 6K.

My morning started bright and early at 5:00AM for the usual pre-race necessities – food, caffeine and bathroom visits being the three primary keys to a good day. Considering that the 6K didn’t start until 8:30am whereas the half started at 7:30, I had arranged to carpool to the start with my friend, Tiffany, so my husband and daughter could sleep in a bit more. This proved entirely unnecessary as Sawyer woke up at about 5:30 rearing to go. It worked out well though since it gave Tiffany and I a chance to catch up on the drive from Truckee to Tahoe City and allowed Abe and Sawyer to have a daddy-daughter morning on Father’s Day.

Tiffany and I arrived at the start of the race in the beautiful Burton Creek State Park just in time to check in and ditch bags before the start. Tiffany is a former collegiate runner and is a lot faster than I am. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her once the starting “gun” went off so we got our last little chit chatting in and settled in at the start for the race briefing. As we quieted down, I caught glimpse of Carol Lindsay who is my primary care physician as well as a friend. Carol is a wealth of knowledge and the best diagnostician I have ever been to, so I take her input very seriously. She immediately looked at my shoes with a somewhat skeptical look as if to say “You’re wearing Altras huh? Weren’t you having Achilles issues last summer?” I preemptively and enthusiastically declared: “My ankles, Achilles and hips are all good! No issues!”

Right at 7:30 the go signal was given and we were off. Tiffany and I ran together for all of sixty seconds, during which she declared that she was going to see how she felt at mile 8 and then decide to take off or not. Once sixty seconds hit, she took off and I knew there was no way I could keep pace with her for the duration of the race so I resolved to settle in and find my own pace instead.

The first half-mile of the course is a climb at about a 5% grade – nothing crazy, but enough to get my heart pumping especially with race jitters fueling a faster than normal start pace. From there, we descended for about a half-mile and then started a solid one-mile climb. This is where the crowd started to spread out a bit and the dust settled underfoot.

I was immediately surprised about the condition of the trails. A lot of the trails in our area took a beating this past winter, also known to locals as SNOWMAGEDDON, but not these trails. This course is run primarily on what, during the winter, are cross-country skiing trails. I’m not sure if they just suffered less abuse or if trail maintenance fairies (read very hard working trail maintenance crews) worked their magic to clear trees, remove obstacles and clear rocks and ruts. Either way, I was very excited to worry a bit less about rolling an ankle than I have been on other courses throughout the spring and enabled me to take in a bit more of the scenery.

Along those lines, the middle six miles of the race were made up of gentle rolling hills, all on either single track or buffed out x-country skiing trails. These miles flew by and showcased towering pines, massive granite boulders, an assortment of wildflowers and the occasional, filtered view of beautiful Lake Tahoe. There was even about a half-mile of the course that still had some snow (all runnable) covering the single track.

Right at 8:30AM or when I was about 5.8 miles into the race, I knew the rest of my family would be starting theirs. I couldn’t wait to hear Sawyer tell me all about her race. We didn’t quite know how long it would take her and guessed about an hour and a half. I had mom-visions of hitting the timing just right and we could finish our respective races at the same time.

At about 7.8 miles into the race, there was a short out-and-back resulting in very muddy three-quarters of a mile. I’m guessing this was added to the course to ensure that 13.1 miles was indeed the length of the course, but at the end of the day, I’d venture to say this wasn’t needed. Nonetheless, I actually like out-and-back segments – it’s fun to see who’s ahead of me and by how far as well as to give props and shout outs to fellow runners on course (even if they don’t acknowledge you because they’re too engrossed in whatever distraction their headphones are providing – note to self: resist the temptation to shout “BEAR” just to see if they’ll remove headphones for that).

Alrighty then – having the “easy, cruiser” miles done, it was time to pay attention to my feet again. At 8.2 miles in to the race, I started a nice descent that lasted for about 2.5 miles and provided an opportunity to pick up the pace and just let gravity take me. I was cruising and feeling pretty comfortable here still checking out the beauty that surrounds these trails. Then BAM – I reached the bottom of the hill on what I now know is Burton Creek Sate Park Road and was faced with a hill wall in front of me. The first half-mile of this hill ranges from a 6% grade to a 15.5% grade: in writing this report and looking at the map, this section of trail is aptly named “Judge Judy”. Yeah well, Judge Judy was tough but I actually found it to be really fun at this point in the race. The hill continued for about another one and a half miles, albeit at a more “gentle” grade ranging from 2%-8%ish.

Finally, I crested the hill at mile 11.5 and started the final descent into the finish. Sawyer smoked our expectations and she finished her first 6K, at 6 years old in 59:12. It turns out she was also the youngest participant overall. More importantly, she ran the whole race and crossed the finish line with her daddy and grandpa on Father’s Day.

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