Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ragnar - The Red Loop Pt 2

Ragnar Running Report - The Red Loop Pt 2

The first time I ran the Red Loop was at 10:00 pm. I knew that a waning moon was going to rise at 10:48 pm, but it was dark, pitch black, blacker than a Vin Diesel movie. I was prepared - I had a head lamp and two mini mag lites. I was ready to go... except I was told there would be coffee.... I was already bouncing off the walls of the transition tent. This was going to be the best leg, in my mind, working on my strengths, long, slow downhills.

The trail begins with a ride up a ski lift to appx 9000 ft, the top of the ridge. I loved the ride - it was like flying over a sea of blackness. I imagined bears frolicking in the dark beneath me, hiding behind the boulders. 

At the top, I saw a handful of other runners, bobbing up and down in their headlamps, but they all passed me until I was alone in the dark. The trail markers were relatively easy to spot, however, where the path twists and turns you could not see any marker, with no clear path or fire road. I would pause, get my bearings, and then shuffle onward. Shuffling was my safety speed. 

About two miles into the run, a girl started using me as a pacer, borrowing my illumination to push forward. I didn't want to break my rhythm, so for awhile we ran in silence. But after another half mile we started small talk. Her name was Michelle, and she was from Texas, unfamiliar with Tahoe trail runs, much less in the dark. We hit the downhill fire road and picked up a little speed; I set an 11:30 pace, so that we would not trip, or burn out our quads. This lasted for about three miles straight down.

At the five mile point, the trail narrowed into rocky single track, and I was suspicious that the deadly creek was around the corner. Squish. I stepped right in the middle, but fortunately did not slip or hit and rocks. Then the trail veered up and up, and down fast on the single track. And then back to the start.

Back at camp, I enjoyed a Rolling Rock and another piece of pizza, under the (almost) full moon. The night was mine, all mine. This is why I run. 

Ragnar Running Report - The Red Loop Pt 3 - hit repeat

I got a solid five hours of sleep, and woke up ready to run. Sadly, J got altitude sickness, so our team was down a second runner. Our legs were down to 6 pairs. All of us would have to volunteer to pick up a leg. I quickly volunteered to do the Red Loop a second time. I wanted to see the view I missed at midnight, and wanted to see the bears spawning ground from the chair lift. The catch was I would have to do the Red Loop back to back with my already assigned Yellow Loop. The work on the street was that the Yellow Loops was the toughest of all three loops. And I would have to run both, essentially a half marathon. Since J did it the day before, there was no reason not to man-up and do it. Especially since the reward is the views. I was stoked. 

The Yellow Loop

I liked the yellow loop. It was not as bad as everyone said. It started off with rolling hills on the same trail as the green. After about a mile, it sharply turned into the mountain and took you straight up a winding fire trail up the mountain. The reward for that effort was miles of single track through a pine forest and sandy boulder fields. At mile five, my endorphins kicked in hard, and my head started buzzing with runners high happiness. Which was good, since I was not even halfway done.

Red Repeat

In the transition tent, I teamed up with the Red Rolling Rocks, our mini team! Ragnar had underestimated how long the race would take. This was not a surprise since they asked teams their road times rather than trail times. To solve the problem, teams were allowed to double and triple their runners up. And our team needed to pound out three red runs! This was going to be even more fun that I thought!

 On the way up to the top of the Red Loop - sub team The Red Rolling Rocks

The Red Rolling Rocks are almost done!

Green 00:37:55
Red 02:03:00
Yellow: 01:43:00
Red: 02:15:00

Ragnar Tahoe - The Red Trail

A photo of the Red Loop at night

Ragnar Running Report part 4 - The Red Loop

After I finished our team's first leg, The Green Loop, our Wisconsin native, runner C, was up for the first trip on the Red Loop. This is where our Team came together as a unit, a well oiled, sweaty machine. 

C started out the run looking good. Since she was our second runner, we, the team did not know what the route would entail and could only guess as to what her time might be. But we were all at the finish line two hours into her run, waiting to cheer her over the finish line. But we waited, and waited. No C. 

Finally the news was in. 

C had broken her foot/toe on the second stream crossing, and had finished the course walking, and went directly to medical.  I was shocked. I have broken my left foot/toe a couple of times, and know that this is no fun, and the last thing you can do is run two more legs. One casualty on the Red Loop.

My brain was shutting down from lack of sleep and knew the best thing I could do to help the team was be ready to run a few extra miles. I took a nap. Our team leader R went into overdrive, and with the help of J, started to rework our running schedules and times. J picked up a double loop, a Yellow and a Red back to back (average 13 miles). She would be on the trail all afternoon, and the rest of us needed to be ready to run the night shifts.

After my nap, I decided to get a lucky pizza. It can't hurt. 

I was up for the deadly Red Loop at 10:00 pm, attacking that stream in the dark. I was full of pizza and ready to run.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ragnar Running Report - The Green Course

9000 feet!

Running Report Pt 3 - The Course

After a fitful night's sleep, (but no visit from bears) our team was up and fueling with bagels and bananas. Ragnar had promised coffee, however, apparently this coffee was to be served at 10:00 pm at night. Thankfully, I had brought Nescafe. Registration and bib pick up was to start at 9:00 am, and runners were to begin their relay in small waves of about 15 runners at a time at 11:30 am. I thought that was a little late to start a race, especially one up in Tahoe, above 7000 feet, in July. 

The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed (according to Wikipedia) 2 million years ago, by a series of different geological events, including faulting, the scouring of the land by glaciers, and an eruption by Mt. Pluto. This unique landscape contains the second deepest lake in the USA, and peaks higher than 10,000 feet, such as Mt. Rose. As to climate in July, the Basin at lake level traps heat, and can average in the 80-90 Fahrenheit during the day. At higher elevations, the thin air allows some of the heat to escape, and is a little cooler. However, the thin air allows the sun's radiation to bake human flesh to a nice crisp. At night, the thin atmosphere allows all that heat to dissipate, and night temps drop down to the 50-40's.

Our team was to start at 12:30 pm, and I volunteered to be the first runner. My logic was to burn off some adrenaline and get my legs moving, and to finish my least favorite route first, so that I could kick back and enjoy the rest of the runs.


According to the Ragnar website, the race was to consist of three different routes, and each of the eight team members was to run all three routes once. The routes were designated by color: a three mile green route, a six-seven mile yellow route, and a seven-eight mile red route. The team leader was to assign each team member a position, and then the team would cycle through that order three times. Which order you ran the routes would vary per team member, so if you sat down and figured what your favorite/least favorite route would be, you could approximate what position you wanted. I wanted to get my weakest leg done first - the fast green three miles. 

I also was the only Ragnar virgin on the Team. Running first would give me a chance to make up time later if I needed to pick up the pace. My mental plan was to go slow and scout out how the relay was set up, what type of trails were being used, and how accurate the website portrayed the routes. I felt that even with the disadvantage of being a virgin, it was offset by my past experience running in Tahoe. Two weekends prior to the relay, me and members of my trail running club had run 20 miles up at Mt. Rose, to test acclimation and trail conditions. This year there had been almost no snow, and the trails were very dry and clear - perfect for running. In other years, there had been snow cover at the peaks, and rivulets cutting down the mountains. But not this year. 

My team cheered me on as I lined up in the starting corral with fifteen other runners. The start was a simple countdown and "Go". I did not sprint out of the gate - I shuffled my way to the back of the pack, and started my GPS. The first half mile was a simple rolling hill single track, dusted with pine wood chips, soft and easy, flanked by California pines. The single track emptied out into a fire road next to a ski lift, and for the next half mile the route went up a grassy meadow, that in wintertime would be a bunny hill ski run. I began catching up with the sprinters who walked up the bunny hill. 

After the bunny hill, the route veered right, cutting back toward the parking lot. This was a deviation from what was published online. I was expecting  a mile of hard running straight up the mountain. But that was not to be. The route twisted down a short, sandy hill, and leveled off on an actual road, not a fire trail, for the next mile. Half mile out from the finish line, the course turned right again, and lead back into a single track up, and back to the start line. Total mileage = 2.7 miles. My time was a slow 37:55. 

Green done.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ragnar Run - Meeting the Team

Our Team Shirt - a shout out to Back to the Future

Race Report: Part Two

I always believe it is better to be early than on time, to be on time and never late, and better late than never. Which translates into "Eleanore is always way to early".

I got to Tahoe around 2:30 pm the day before the race, and the first of our team to arrive at the campsites. Other runners had beat me to the site, however I still had first choice spots, to ensure we did not get a spot anywhere near the trash, main walkways, or port-o-pottys. Ragnar had reserved a parking lot to use as a campsite, and the edges of the lot had pine trees and scrub, so if your team was lucky, you could get a thin slice of nature on one side of the site. I pitched a tent (lolz) and made friends with our neighbors, Team Hot Pink RILF. They shared their beers and we played cards, hiding from a rain squall that quickly rolled in and rolled out. I also made one enemy, some bald guy and his woman, who interrogated me for reserving the spot. He got on his mobile phone and attempted to call some Ragnar person. I nicely told him if her were smart, he would do what I was doing, and pop a squat before his team arrived. I never saw him again.

Our team began arriving around 5:00 pm, from various parts of the country. Two members, S and J, had flown in from Florida. Another two members (C and H) had arrived from Wisconsin, via the California Zephyr (one of the most famous Amtrak train that I had the pleasure of taking across country in 2001).   The last four (R, L, C, & S2) were all from Nevada, arriving separately by plane and car, flying in from Las Vegas and driving in from Reno.

The small rain squall had everyone anxious to set up camp and get dinner cooked without delay. R, our team leader, had done four months of careful planning, which included a hot, home-cooked chicken, veggie and rice meal for our first get-to-know-you dinner. Being a relay run, this would be the only time the whole team would be able to eat together, and, as runners, all of our diets and colons functioned delicately and differently. Any runner can tell you that eating too close to a run can cause cramps, or certain foods can cause a very different type of "runs". In addition, some runners (like myself) have lucky foods. (My lucky foods include Coke, Almond Snickers, and pizza. No one ever said lucky foods were health foods.) Over the passing of the sriracha, we all discussed how we loved the team tee-shirt, and our worries about possible bears roaming around the camp at night, and how registration started at 9:00 am in the morning. 

We also had to decorate the campsite. Our team name was Team Uter Zorker, named after the fat German kid on The Simpsons who famously stated "Do not make me run - I am full of chocolate!" L, who teaches elementary school kids, had a knack for crafts, and created a whole display that included German and USA flags, a solar powered spinning flag pole, 3 hours of non-stop polka music, and free chocolate in a "Please take one" bucket. 

I think I am on the right team!

My First Ragnar - Tahoe Trails

Team Uter Zorker

Race Report: July 28, 2013

I have not run with a race team since high school, and I was never very good at it, due to my slowness and my love of just casual running. You know the casual runner, the runners who cut the trail, who stop to look at the scenery, those who take stretch breaks, those who step aside and tell everyone to pass them on the left. I have no need for speed - I want to prolong my afternoon in the sun. 

However, when I got e-mail spam from Ragnar, advertising their new trail running series in my own backyard, I was curious - Can I run with a relay team 25 years after my failed running career in high school? It was tempting, since I love a good trail run, and signing up with an organization that will monitor your routes at 3 am on the mountain would give me a run I would never do on my own, due to my fear of breaking an ankle in the dark and no one finding my body for five years.

Also, this run would give me a small taste into what my ultra runner friends do. You know, your friends who run those 100 mile races in the Sierra Nevada (yeah, some of my running buddies have done Western States, damn them), up and down mountains, all day, all night. I envy them, and dream of running their races. But I will never join their ranks -  I am just too lazy. I love to run and run (almost) every day. But I don't enjoy pain as much as they do. My current limit is 6 hours of slowness. I have topped out at 26.2 miles. After that I am ready for some tri-tip and a Coke. But this Ragnar would give me a chance to taste their world without actually doing it. I would still have to put in some tough training, on trail, in altitude. But nothing over my magic miles of 26.2.

I asked some of my running buddies if they wanted to put together a team. Nope, no one wanted to pay money to run on Tahoe trails, since you can do it for free any day of the week. Why would you pay? I argued that you pay so that you can get eaten by a bear at 3 am on the backside of the mountain, and a rescue crew would be on stand-by to come get your bones within 24 hours. You are paying for safety. But it looked like if I was going to do this, I would have to find a pick-up team. I would be running as a team with total strangers who have no idea, except what I tell them, as to what kind of runner I am. And vice versus. I would have to get out of my solo mentality, and care about helping seven other runners. The dynamics of an unknown team can make or break an experience like this; it is not just about the trails and the weather, but the attitudes and spirits of eight people. It could be a ship of fools, or a car of idiots, or a trail of runners! 

I found my team through Ragnar's Facebook. I think we were well vetted. This team was made up of middle aged, laid back professionals, who did not care about times or pace. Half the team had run together before, and the other half were other pick-up runners. Ages (appeared) to be between 50 and 30. I ended up being the second oldest runner in the mix, but in the same physical shape as our average runner. I was concerned about this more than I should have been, however, since my hip surgery in 2005, I know that I cannot run fast, ever. I have endurance and stamina (insert perverse joke here), but speed makes my rebuild hip scream in pain, and I end up unable to walk, much less run, for weeks afterward. And I like walking, much less running. Not that I was ever fast anyway.

So I joined a pick-up team.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Double Dipsea

My toenail is about to fall off. I would take a picture and show you, however, I painted my toenails orange and don't feel like finding a camera.

Those of you who run trails and mountains know the hassle of the black toenail. This one, the left big toe, is due to The Double Dipsea.

The Double Dipsea is a 15 mile ordeal, set in Marin County, CA. This trail race starts at Stinson Beach,   famous for being part of the Red Triangle, a breeding ground the The Great White Shark. And a great boogie board beach here in NorCal.

The race takes you from sea level through a series of rolling hills, with the top elevation being Cardiac Hill, elevation 1360. Doesn't sound that hard, right? Wrong. The challenge of this race is that it is a roller coaster on Mt. Tamelpias. You run up 600 feet, then down 100 feet, then back up another 500, then down to sea level, then back up 760 feet, then down again, and repeat, for four hours. Black toe is guaranteed.

Along the trail route, you will encounter rattle snakes, slick wooden stairs, dodgy tourists unaware that this is a race route, small cliff faces, heat, and more stairs. You will also have amazing vistas of the Pacific Ocean, Meir Woods, plum trees, and tons of single track, technical goodness.

I am ready to hit the trail!

Mile 2 and mile 14, since the Double Dipsea is an out and back route.