Race on at last: Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance runs draws competitive field
With wildfires and race cancellations hoarding headlines in the Tahoe area the past three weeks, ultrarunners are chomping at the bit to run themselves ragged.About 450 of them will get that chance Saturday beginning at 5 a.m., when the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K/50M/100M Endurance Runs kick off at the Spooner Lake start line. Its sure to be a moment of relief for Race Director David Cotter, whos been fielding questions from concerned athletes since the June 28 Western States (100-mile) Endurance Run was called off due to dangerously smoky conditions.I dont have a crystal ball, Cotter said about the flood of inquiries. Ive been telling people it will probably be a little smoky, most likely, but it looks like it could also be fairly clear. Were just hoping for no new fires.So far so good as of Thursday, a day in which blue skies prevailed over the dingy-gray blanket that has choked the region since last month.Were still moving forward, said Cotter, who was forced to cancel the 2004 Tahoe Rim Trail 50K/50M Endurance Runs because of a nearby fire the only time the event was canceled. It would have to take an unforeseen event (to cancel this years runs), most likely something very close to the race course, like the Waterfall fire in 2004.The Waterfall fire predates the inception of the 100-mile race, which was added to the Tahoe Rim Trail runs in 2006, while the 50-kilometer and 50-mile runs started in 2001. The trio of ultramarathons presented by Tahoe Mountain Milers and Sagebrush Stompers running clubs now serves as the USA Track andamp; Field National 100-Mile Trail Championship, the Road Runners Club of America National 100-Mile Ultra Championship and the Nevada 50K and 50M State Championships.
Cotter expects this years field of 100-mile racers to be the most competitive yet, in large part because Nevada State Parks gave him the OK to add 40 slots specifically for athletes who were registered to compete in Western States. That beefs up the number of runners to well over 100 at least 118, Cotter said and greatly increases the level of competition.Weve always had very good competition, but theres more upper-level athletes this year than ever before. Some of the top ultrarunners in the country are coming out, Cotter said.Top male athletes include Erik Skaden of Folsom, Jon Olsen of Modesto and Ian Torrance of Ashland, Ore. Favorites on the womens side include Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, Mont., Beverly Anderson-Abbs of Red Bluff, Jenn Shelton of Virginia Beach, Virg., and Connie Gardner of Medina, Ohio.Kimball has won Western States three times the past two years as well as 2004 while Anderson-Abbs finished runner-up to Kimball last year. Gardner is the 2006 U.S. Track and Field 100-mile national champion, and Shelton won the American River 50-mile run in April. Skaden, who placed second in the 2008 American River 50, finished runner-up the past two years in Western States, while Olsen and Torrance boast impressive ultrarunning resumes as well.Jasper Halekas of Oakland, who won last years Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and set a new record with a time of 18:16:01, is not listed on the registration. Cotter said there are a number of others who are capable of winning on any given day.
Truckees Peter Fain is back to defend his title in the 50K, in which he established a new course record last year in a blazing 4:33:29. Although hes unsure how his body will react after nearly a month of sporadic training, due to the unhealthy air quality, Fain has his sights set on another record-setting performance. But hes not making any guarantees.My goal time is 4:30. Now, realistically, my body feels like itll probably do more like 4:45, he said. What I want to do and what I think I can do are two different things. …Race day doesnt concern me as much as the past few weeks leading up to the race, because I havent been training how I would normally. It kind of came down to how much smoke you wanted to suck in. I didnt put in the miles, but I still think it will be a good time. It always is.Gretchen Brugman, a 34-year-old ultrarunner from Truckee, will take on the 100-mile distance after racing the 50-miler last year. Her goal: Primarily to finish.Its my first 100, so I guess thats my big goal and to try to remember to have fun. Im kind of nervous, said Brugman, who estimates shes run a total of 10 or 12 ultramarathons, which doesnt feel like a lot. I still feel new to the sport, especially since I havent done a 100.If everything goes smoothly this weekend, Brugman can claim bragging rights to an endeavor few athletes have matched.