When traveling for work I always look to get a race in when I’m going to be away for more than a week. This time things worked out particularly well when it coincided with the bank holiday weekend. So when I needed to be in San Jose, California this week I found a 10K race in a place called Chico in Northern California.

California has been dealing with record-breaking fires for the past month and they aren’t even halfway through their fire season. Chico is pretty close to one of those massive fires so a change of plans was called for. I found a race in a place called Truckee, California. The only problem was that the race started at 6200 feet and just went up. Running at high altitudes decreases the amount of oxygen getting to the muscles and there’s an increased risk of dehydration. At 6000 feet above sea level, you exhale and perspire twice as much moisture as you do at sea level.

I signed up and after a Thursday flight to San Franciso, I set out on Friday morning on the 200-mile road trip to Truckee. With a few stops along the way to see some old gold prospecting towns, I arrived to pick up my race number. There was around 250 signed up. The number would decrease on race morning due to the high levels of smoke from the fires.

After running a hard half in Killarney the weekend, and struggling to run a mile in the last graded I opted to sign up for the 30K distance rather than the 50K. The race was on point-to-point trails, taking advantage of the best single track dirt trails between Truckee & Donner Summit, near better known Lake Tahoe. The courses offered scenic views of some of the Northern Sierra’s most stunning terrain, including Euer Valley, Frog Lake Cliffs, Summit Lake, Castle Peak, and other beautiful peaks of the Sierra Crest.

The 30k route crossed over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains offering runners a fun, challenging high altitude route, with plenty of dirt, rock, forest and elevation change. Getting to run some of the Pacific Coast Trail was the chance of a lifetime. Beginning in southern California at the Mexican border, the PCT travels a total distance of 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington until reaching the Canadian border.

A 5.15 AM start on race morning had me at the finish line for 6.00 AM to be bussed up to the road to the start. At 8.00 AM we were off. Immediately you could see and feel the effects of the smoke from the fires. Breathing was labored and eyes were burning. I was rubbing them constantly in my Sportsworld singlet.

After only a few minutes of running, we turned to start climbing up the mountain in front. Within 5 minutes I was run-walking on small steep sections. It took around 20 minutes to settle into 5th place, a position that I would hold onto for the majority of the race. A few times during the race I got quite close to the two runners in 3rd and 4th. The eventual 3rd placed runners held her position the whole race. She was very impressive at the high altitude, being well adjusted. As soon as we got to the next hill they could run away from me.  I gained some confidence as none of the other runners around me, could run the flats as fast, my only issue being that there were very few flat sections.

The race was broken up into 3. The first 10K was the most difficult I’ve ever run, the middle 10K gave some respite with around 50% being downhill. At 20K I felt great but by the time I got to the last 5K  I was starting to feel light headed and struggling to keep myself from tripping. One runner passed me with 6K to go on a very technical section of the course. I almost made the back in the closing section but ended up 50 seconds behind in 2.49. The winning time from last years race was 2.35 so I set a goal of breaking 3 hours. At times was having real doubts as some sections of the course were incredibly tough. starting out at 6200 feet and going close to the top of two 9000+ feet mountains. The scenery was magical, passing through redwood forests, alpine lakes, and rocky outcrops. descending with switchbacks that passed through meadows of summer flowers. It was incredible. our only instructions were to respect the altitude and follow the pink ribbons that marked the course.

All runners had to carry their own water bottle as disposables were not allowed on the course. They gave out a fantastic fold up a water bottle in the race pack. These were great as you could drink and then stick it in your pocket. I was amazed at all the belts, water packs and devices people had.

After the race and awards presentation, there was a great buzz about the place. The finish was at a ski resort so there were plenty of facilities for refueling and cleaning up. I spent the rest of the weekend exploring LakeTahoee along the California and Nevada state line. Its a magical place that even pictues cant do justice.  A highlight was running round echo summit, which is where the 1968 US Olympic Trials took place for Mexico city. Seeing the track cut out of the forest was some site.