Friday, May 14, 2010

The Most Inspirational Ultra Runner You Never Heard Of

Cathy is a friend of my wife's family.  Her story is much more incredible than this column lets on, if you can believe that. I hope to post the rest of her story as her columns appear in the Fingerlakes Runners Club Newsletter. You won't believe it.  Please click the comment link and leave your thoughts.

CTC (Cathy’s Tahoe Column): Before The Beginning, Part 2
 By Cathy Troisi
Link to Cathy's Article Click "News - 5-13-2010"

As I sat at Albany's airport, I realized a pattern was evolving.  My first column was written while I was at gate B5.  Next column, B7.  Now I'm at B9, awaiting a flight to Pensacola via Charlotte.  Although this weekend is void of a marathon or ultra, it is a 'run away' weekend that will have comparable runner camaraderie.  Before I divulge the details of this weekend, it's back to Tahoe.

Eight of my fourteen trips to Tahoe in the previous fifteen years were for the purpose of attending Jeff Galloway's Lake Tahoe Running Camp at Squaw Valley Lodge.  It's the best way to spend a week's summer (running) vacation.  The accommodations at the 1960 winter Olympic Village are five star.  The locale has a variety of activities in which to engage one's leisure time, restaurants abound, shopping is plentiful, and the scenery underscores majestic.  For me, Tahoe is an all-encompassing experience, not only in the beauty of the area but also in the week long running camp.  I'd previously attended Jeff's camp in Boston but I was a 'newbie' at Tahoe when I attended in August, 1996.  It was readily apparent those who had previously attended this Tahoe camp.  Their social exchange indicated that this gathering was a family reunion of sorts for camp alumni.  Their easy interpersonal banter was contagious as they readily embraced newcomers into the group.  I readily noted Joe and Dexter, finding comfort in our comparable chronological age but also in their obvious camp seniority which gave them the patriarchal presence of this family of campers.  Between them they'd been at the camp twenty-two times over fourteen years since the first Tahoe camp in 1975.   Their wit, humor, and easy-going personalities readily encompassed the newbies in the group of 40 campers from nine states who had gathered together based on a like-minded interest in running.  By the end of the next six days I was adopted into this Galloway family and departed the week long activities already anticipating the next year's reunion. 

The daily routine at camp was predictable.  We met at 6 AM for an hour run (a different location each morning but always within a short driving distance of Squaw Valley Lodge), then a quick shower before breakfast which was followed by Jeff's morning seminars and/or the guest speakers who regaled us with their running knowledge and experiences.  During lunch Jeff would identify the location of the optional afternoon hike.  The first day we hiked the mountain behind Squaw Valley Lodge.  The next afternoon found us carpooling to Emerald Bay.  E-Bay, as I affectionately call it (before the popularity of e-Bay) is considered the most stunning and memorable feature of Lake Tahoe.  It is easily the most photographed place in Lake Tahoe and is recognized as its signature tourist attraction.  Although there are many 'pull-off' viewing areas along the 72 miles of shoreline around the lake, including eight other bays, one would be hard contested to find a more beautiful site than Emerald Bay.

Despite the large parking lot at Emerald Bay which accommodates its thousands of visitors, the area remains pristine.  There's nothing tourist-y to spend your dollars on (although many other places in the Tahoe area offer the typical tourist souvenirs of Emerald Bay) and the only attraction is its natural beauty.  No matter your vantage point, Emerald Bay provides an aesthetic vision.  I climbed one of the large rocks that would put me at the pinnacle of observation.  As I stood there, looking out across the bay, three miles long and one mile wide, viewing the opposite shoreline of the lake ten miles away, I thought, "That would be an awesome lake to run around."

I have no idea as to what generated that thought.  I'd been running for two years three months and, as yet, was unaware of UltraRunning magazine.  I was unaware of the term 'ultra' as it applied to running.   I was unaware that there was a run around that lake.  At that point in time, I was unaware that I wanted to run around that lake.    Yet I was aware of Lake Tahoe's magnetic pull, especally Emerald Bay.  I believe it was at that moment that the lake permeated the totality of my being, mind and body, heart and soul.  It was love at first sight.  

Eight weeks later I was en route to Boston for a fundraising marathon (for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) on Boston's famed marathon course.  I stayed overnight in Hampden, MA with a friend whose husband was a runner.  On their kitchen table was a copy of UltraRunning magazine; it was my first exposure to the publication.  Perusing the issue, I noted race results for the run around Lake Tahoe.  Hey, that was MY idea!  And here it was, in print, with eight official finishers.   I still never thought about doing that run myself.  Even though I now knew the term 'ultra' as applied to running, it still hadn't slipped into my consciousness for me to attempt those 72 miles.  Perhaps subscribing to UltraRunning magazine paved the way.

I cannot recall the specific how, when, where, or why I decided to run around Lake Tahoe.  I suspect it evolved in the same manner that a seed is nurtured by sun and rain and time, slowly and consistently until it breaks through the soil and blossoms into the light of day.  I remember calling the race director for 'America's Most Beautiful Relay and Solo Ultra.'  I explained I was planning to run around the lake, that I'd prefer to do it during his race although I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the 72 miles in the official 15.5 hour time limit.  I further explained I was familiar with the course (having driven it several times), I had done several marathons at altitude (including Lake Tahoe Marathon), Jeff Galloway would validate I was capable of finishing the  course, and  I would be accompanied by a two person crew.  He asked, "What do you want to do?"  I replied, "Finish the same day I start.  23:59:59 is good enough for me.  I want to start at 12:00 AM, September 8, 2001."  He agreed, only asking that I keep track of my time, that I not wear the bib number until 5:30 AM when the race officially started, and that I needed to be self-sufficient since the aid stations wouldn't be available until the race started.  So, at the age of 55,  five years after my first sighting of that "awesome lake to run around,"  I took the first step that would allow me to circumnavigate Lake Tahoe.  Accompanied by my incredible crew of FLRC's own 'Sal Gal' (Sally Rusby, who was then 65) and one of my favorite fellow Galloway campers from San Jose, Joy Johnson (then 75 years young), their ever vigilant 'TLC'  for 19:31:17 provided me the best experience of my running life.  It remains so to this day.  And the frosting on the cake: I won the Open Division for women.  All the other registered women were using the race to qualify for Western States.  They only needed to complete 50 miles in a specified time and then dropped out.  So, by default, I was the only female finisher, aka, the women's first place finisher.   When you're at the back of the pack, you take whatever win comes your way, however it occurs!

I celebrated my 'win' by taking my crew on a hot air balloon ride over Lake Tahoe.  As incredible as the view was from any point on land, the overview from the air was indescribable.  Plus there was the added bonus that I had nary an ache or pain from those 72 miles.  Afterwards, Joy drove back to San Jose while Sally and I headed to the airport for the red-eye flight to Rochester.  As we landed, the flight attendent announced it was 8:45 AM.  We were blissfully unaware it was the exact time American Airlines Flight #11 out of Boston crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

My Tahoe statistics:
I attended Jeff Galloway's Tahoe camp in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006.
I ran the Lake Tahoe marathon in 2000 and 2009.
I ran the one day ultra in 2001.
I ran around Lake Tahoe in two days while at camp in 2006, 36 miles each day.  It was a training run for the upcoming Pikes Peak marathon.  It was also the first time I went around the lake in a clockwise direction.
I ran the Tahoe Triple (three marathons in three days to go around the lake; an extra 10k is added to the first day to make it three full marathons) in 2004 and 2008.
I made a side trip to Tahoe when I did the Bishop Sierra 50k in 2006.

Lake Tahoe statistics:
*third largest alpine lake in the US and third deepest in North America
*Lake Tahoe sprawls California and Nevada, elevation 6,228 feet above sea level
*21.6 miles long and 12.2 miles wide
*water volume: 122,160,280 acre feet
*deepest point is 1,645 feet; average depth is 989 feet
*1,400,000 tons of water evaporate every 24 hours (dropping the lake level by only one tenth of an inch)
*lake clarity allows objects at a depth of 100 feet to be seen from the surface
*holds an estimated 39.75 trillion gallons of water
*the lake has enough water to cover the state of California to a depth of 14.5 inches

FYI: Albany airport has a gate B11.

Until my next column, safe miles.