Friday, July 25, 2008

Tahoe Rim Trail 50K

A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell

My first ultra ever! A mountain 50K to boot...

Training for the July race at Lake Tahoe meant that most of the 3+ months of training happened in the hot and humid Texas summer. The extreme heat meant that I rarely got to do any meaningful long runs except for a couple of back-to-back runs at Guadalupe Mountain National Park. Those runs at Guads were very useful, and almost perfect training of what to expect of running at an elevated altitude on the mountains as I would face in Tahoe. Despite the rather unsatisfactory training runs I had, I knew that the Tahoe 50K had a generous cut-off and that the challenge would mainly rest on my endurance and not speed.

I flew into San Jose a couple of nights before to meet up with Naresh. After having some amazing breakfast made by Roopa, we packed some food for our drop bags and left for Tahoe, a 4-hour drive away. After packet pickup, we met all the Rogue and HCTR folks over the carbo-load dinner.

Race day
We woke up early next morning and got into the race bus that took us from the host hotel to the park entrance. The weather was nice, in the 50's maybe when we started the race.

Course profile

We started at Spooner Lake at an elevation of around 7000 feet. We had a nice 6-mile run to start with, initially climbing 1500 feet in 4 miles and then adding both fast downhills and steep climbs, to reach the Hobart aid station through the Marlette Lake. At this point, I had started out slow but kept up a steady pace through the uphills and flats and stepped up a little on the downhills.

Immediately after the aid station, we had a steep climb up the Marlette Peak (8780') and Herlan Peak (8837'). From Marlette Peak, we also had some fantastic unobstructed views of the entire Lake Tahoe and the Sierra mountains surrounding the lake. Truly, a glimpse of heaven. I was tiring as I rolled into the Tunnel Creek aid station where my drop bag was.

The dreaded Red House Loop was next. I clearly underestimated how hard this section would be. It started out with a nasty downhill where I could barely manage to not hurt my shins or ankles while uncontrollably hurtling down. Then started a series of very steep uphills and my lack of nutrition intake showed badly. I struggled through most of this loop, referred to rather aptly as a taste of hell.

Nearing the Tunnel Creek aid station, still climbing a nasty hill, I met Brad and we sat on a stony ledge for a few minutes while we let our legs recover from the pounding. Brad and I chatted away for a while and that helped end the loop positively for us.

At this stage, 17 miles were over and I was feeling very beat up. But I also realized that the worst was probably over and that I was still doing very good time (well ahead of cutoffs). I sat down at the Tunnel Creek aid station, and changed my shirt and socks, and had a rather nice lunch while I let my sore feet relax a little.

As I left the aid station, the first few 100 milers passed me as they were still going strong. I felt much better though after the lunch, and climbed steadily but strongly on the way up to Snow Valley Peak, the highest point in the race at 9214'. We had more-or-less climbed all the way from the lowest point in the Red House Loop at 6800'!

I was still feeling fairly good after I crossed the last aid station and had less 3 miles to go. John Sharp, who was doing his first loop on his 100-miler caught up with me here and pushed me hard to sprint down the last mile or so. John was quite incredible, he amazed me with his energy and enthusiasm even after 50 miles!

I finished strongly despite the struggles in the Red House Loop and all the mountain climbs with a time of just over 11 hours. This was my longest run by far, and only my second run longer than 5 hours through my entire training. And apart from my sore feet, I was feeling good enough for a few more miles! Maybe, it was all the beer the volunteers at the finish handed out...

As I waited around for the other runners to finish, confusion reigned as the race organizers had Diana listed as DNF, but Diana ran in strongly to finish her 50-miler in less than 14 hours. Jeff, Jeanette, Diana and myself then waited around for Naresh and Robert to finish. Naresh finished just before cutoff and we picked up an injured Robert from down the trail.

All in all, I had a good race, it was a first for me in many ways -- my first mountain race, my first ultra and so on. The scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and I met quite a few nice folks there. I would love to do the race again sometime in the future...

Review: The Science of Good and Evil

Title: The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Author: Michael Shermer

Summary: great book, Shermer writes very well and presents theory and argument equally well.

Some of the topics discussed in the book that I found interesting:

1. The origins of morality, why we (humans) are moral and how we are moral etc, based on a fascinating mix of evolutionary processes, anthropological studies and historical examples.

2. The evolution of morality itself, based on the needs of humans and the size of the society they lived in etc. through the ages and across various cultures, religions and tribes in history.

3. Debunking the prevalent myth of religion being the only basis for morality; in many ways, follows the recent atheist/agnostic arguments for morality being independent from religion. He also argues that religion is generally something that comes about when a human tribe or society grows beyond the point where approval/disapproval can be communicated on a peer to peer basis. Hence, the invention of religion as a way to codify moral rules that were needed and appropriate for that society to thrive. Over time though, religion becomes complex of its own and you get the modern organized religions which are multiple levels removed from why religion started in the first place.

4. Free will and determinism: this is a common problem in moral philosophy - if natural and unchangeable processes (or laws) govern how we act, then do we still have free will? One answer to that is that the deterministic processes are so complex that we cannot know all of them, and from that ignorance, comes free will. I felt Shermer's treatment of this topic was a little dense through the introduction of some verbal jugglery.

5. Historical examples and analogies: analyzes several events such as Hitler's final solution and the Columbine tragedy.

All in all, a great read, written logically and eruditely for the most part. Shermer's treatment of the historical evolution of morality is riveting, though the predicted or suggested evolution of future morality using fuzzy logic and probabilities sounds less convincing and perhaps even impractical.