Sierra Crest Ultra 2017 Post Race Report

Suffervests Are Sometimes for Suffering

If you like a perfectly varied course, a super well-organized event, the best volunteers around, and the company of cheerful Tahoe runners on the trails, the Sierra Crest Ultra Run is where it’s at. 2017 was no exception. Even the weather was incredible, with cool temps, cloudy skies and just enough rain to keep your body temperature perfectly regulated. Although the Sierra weather can send anything your way, the weather that day was definitely the exception to the 80 degrees and sunny weather of most summer days.

Apparently just one exception wasn’t enough for me and I woke up not feeling like my usual self. Something unidentifiable was a little off. And that gave me some butterflies.

I put on my suffervest (aka my Ultimate Direction running vest) knowing full well there was a possibility of suffering. Some days are easy and running feels freeing and fast. On a few rare days, it’s more of a slog. But if you stick with it on the slog-like days, when race day rolls around and it happens to be an off-day, at least you are prepared to suffer all 30k. So, that’s what I did.

In some ways, crossing the finish line this year was even more rewarding for me than last year, when race day was one of my best of the season and it all seemed to come together easily. Last year, I actually had no idea I could even run 30k. It was my first season running, ever.

This year I had run nearly 30k twice in the previous month. I was faster and I had better form. Things were easier. It was FUN. These are the runs where all the hill repeats pay off and the miles float away. My feet were light and I reveled in the Tahoe summer air and views and being able to cover so much ground and see so much on a morning outing.

This year, I trained (read more about that here) with my husband, Garrett, and we decided that we’d run the course together. We’d been running at about the same pace, pushing each other at just the right moments all season. Plus, he’s grown into the role I volunteered him for of photographer, documenting both our Sierra Crest training and the race itself. 30k would be his longest run ever.

This is how the day went. We’d push through a tough section, Garrett would enthusiastically say “great job” or “we’re keeping great time” or “keep up the good work” or some other amazingly positive and encouraging chatter. He’d reach out for a high five or fist bump, all smiles. I’d look at him like he was crazy, weakly lift my arm, thinking it wasn’t the best use of energy, grunt something unintelligible, then re-focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

I stubbornly didn’t stop when it got tough, or when it got easier, or when Garrett was at the aid station, first dropping his electrolyte, then picking it up and washing it off, then taking Pringles, then dropping them, then taking more, then dropping them. I trained myself to not have to eat, so I just kept moving, figuring if I stopped to think about anything besides putting one foot in front of the other, I just might not get going again. And he’d be able to catch up since I was slower than usual. This is how we made it 30k. Minus Garrett’s hat, which he also dropped and lost somewhere.

Though it doesn’t sound like a great system, and not one I’d recommend, in the end, this is exactly what I trained for. Yes, I trained to be better on hills, I trained for better form, I did endless drills and mobility exercises. But, during all that, I learned to listen to my body and know when enough is enough or when to push through. Race day was the day to push through for me. And you can see it on my finish line smile.

I smiled that smile for pushing through and overcoming, for Garrett, who didn’t get a smile back from me the whole 30k but kept positive anyway, for all the incredibly amazing volunteers who put together the race and cheered us on, for all the 50k runners with words of encouragement as they passed, and for everyone at the finish line, hooting and hollering as we crossed.

The start line! Photo: Garrett McCullough
Somewhere in Tahoe Donner. Photo: Garrett McCullough
The first aid station at Glacier Way. Photo: Garrett McCullough
Heading out of the Glacier Way aid station. Donner Lake is down and to my left. Photo: Garrett McCullough
Taking the corner so fast, I’m leaning? Ha, right! Photo: Garrett McCullough
Coming down into Johnson Canyon. One of my favorite parts of the course, where I was actually able to hit my stride for a bit. Photo: Garrett McCullough
Ooooh! Look at Castle Peak! I was actually running at this point, I promise! Thank you to this volunteer who was very supportive! Photo: Garrett McCullough
Walking towards the finish and attempting to smile for what I thought was my first photo of the race! Photo: Garrett McCullough
The endless flowers on the Auburn Ski Club trails. Photo: Garrett McCullough
Me and Garrett crossing the finish line together! Photo credit: Pam Jahnke

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Rachel McCullough is an avid runner, hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery. When Rachel isn’t enjoying her free time in the outdoors, she’s leading Tahoe Silicon Mountain events for entrepreneurs, teaching skiing at Northstar California or building impeccably designed websites for her clients at McCullough Web Services.

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