Sierra Crest Ultra Race Report
by Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador, Emily Blackmer
In case you somehow managed to miss it, the Sierra Crest Ultra happened earlier this month, and it was awesome! While I’ve raced long distances on nordic skis many time, it was my first time running a race over 10k. So here’s a 30k lead-up/race recap from the perspective of a newbie!
Full disclosure: I don’t actually know how to train for a running race. So to prepare for the Sierra Crest Ultra, I did the only thing I know how: train like a nordic skier, except with more running. This meant uphill intervals and a long mountain run once a week, along with a few medium distance days, where I practiced running uphill or at a faster pace. I don’t think I logged over 40 miles a week, so nothing earth shattering here.
Everyone knows that the secret to a good race is a good taper. In the week leading up to the 30k, I took two complete rest days, went on one full-day river adventure, and ran 13 miles over three days. Easy peasy.
The other secret to a good race is cool gear. I opt for comfort over just about everything else. Here’s my race kit:
- Salomon Sense Ride shoes. If you haven’t tried these yet, do yourself a favor and check them out. They’re the only shoe I’ve worn for two summers now.
- Oiselle Toolbelt Roga shorts. Gel-sized pockets built into the waistband — need I say more?
- Kari Traa shirt. I wasn’t familiar with this brand before finding this top, but I was looking for an ultra light tank that offered shoulder coverage. Check and check.
- Salomon 250ml soft flask and glove.
- Suunto Spartan Trainer watch and heart rate strap.
- Kuhl lightweight hat. Keeps my hair and the sun off my face.
- Suncloud Airway sunglasses. Light as a feather and clear as day, with purple mirrored lenses.
- Calories and electrolytes: espresso Gu, salted caramel Gu, and lemon Tailwind.
Even though the smoke in Truckee had cleared in the days leading up to the race, race morning dawned with the thickest smoke we’d seen this year. Yuck! I briefly thought about bailing, but then realized I was too excited about racing. I jogged a 15 minute warm up, got psyched because my legs felt good, and peed about a million times. I felt ready to tackle a new race and optimistic that I could achieve my goals — the first, more achievable goal being to average 10 minute miles or less, and the second, loftier goal being to finish in the top 3!
The 30k race went off at 8am, up into the smoke-obscured hills of Tahoe Donner. I settled into a good pace with a group of dudes as we climbed up to the top of Tahoe Donner. We rolled through the first aid station in about 1 hour and 4 minutes, and I was running faster than goal pace and feeling good!
At the Drifter Hurt, I learned I was running in third place (for the women). I was stoked! As we bombed down from Drifter Hut, I sucked down my espresso Gu, sipped some Tailwind, and felt badass going 7:30 pace. I am a total wuss when it comes to running downhills, so this was a big accomplishment. My ankle rolled going through aid station #2, and I had to drop back from my group of dudes for a bit, trying to regroup for the slog/climb up the Donner Lake Rim Trail.
Though I did catch back up to one of my dudes, I was hurting by the time we hit Summit Lake just shy of mile 13. My calves and adductors were starting to cramp, which made it risky to keep pushing the pace through the rolling hills to Castle Valley. Many thanks to the course patrollers, on mountain bike, who let me know the distance to the next aid station. Mentally, I was definitely counting down the miles.
I kept it together until the aid station in Castle Valley, but from there it all fell apart. A monster side cramp struck, so bad that I could barely run. I was reduced to speed walking downhill, bent to one side in an attempt to stretch it out, fingers digging into my ribs to massage the trigger point. I found some camaraderie with a man who was crippled by calf cramps and we tried to hobble along together, but nonetheless a woman blew by me and snagged the podium spot I had been eyeing. Grimacing, I walked/shuffled/jogged my way to the finish and immediately lay down in the dust.
Despite missing my biggest goal due to the vicious cramp, the race was definitely still a success! When you push your limits, things don’t always work out in your favor, but I love the feeling of testing myself, seeing what I can accomplish, and learning something for next time. I’m already itching for the next one!
The course was awesome — 100% single track or mountain double track. Running point to point is way cooler than doing loops (which is typical for a ski race). Everything went super smoothly, with well-placed aid stations, bike patrollers on course making sure everyone was okay, and an incredible post-race feast. Special thanks to the Brewing Lair guy who could tell I needed a beer, to Darn Tough for hooking me up with my new favorite pair of socks, and to all the other race sponsors (Salomon, Mountain Lion Aviation, Ultimate Direction, Camelbak, Tahoe Donner, US Forest Service, Nature’s Bakery, Hammer Nutrition, Silver Sage, Adventure Sports Journal) for making such an awesome race happen!
And for any of you out there who also suffered from cramps, I’ve learned a bit about how to mitigate their impact. It turns out that cramps are most likely to hit when your muscles are over-fatigued and your brain says, Nope, I don’t like this! To help prevent them, you basically need to shock your nervous system by ingesting something spicy! I have heard that capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers), spicy mustard, and pickle juice can all do the trick — next time I’m going to carry some mustard packets.
Name: Emily Blackmer (@emilyblackmer)
Core Activities: Nordic skiing, backcountry skiing, mountain running, mountain biking
Most epic adventure: It’s hard to compare racing 50k on Nordic skis during a blizzard to multi-day wilderness trips, but probably the adventure I treasure most was skiing the Haute Route with my brother and dad. The Alps are so breathtaking, and it was incredibly special to share that experience with my family.
Who Inspires You? I am inspired all the time! I love following and learning from people who know when to go hard and when to lie on the couch, people who use their public platform for good, people who aren’t afraid to hustle in pursuit of a dream or goal, and people who value quality of life highly.