Just how thin can that air be?!

(Contributed by Chuck Amital, Pamakid member since 2009)

The short answer is “pretty thin,” although if you run long enough, you could almost pretend that you’ve gotten used to not having enough air to breathe.

You couldn’t say that we hadn’t been warned about this race. Some teammates who ran it last year had these things to say about it:

“A sublime hell on earth!”

“Up, around, down, up, down!”

“Peavine, the biggest little climb in the world… or at least Reno.”

“Did not start…damn you’re smart.”

And perhaps the most prosaic:

“Flat? No. Air? No. Re? No.”

However, some of those very same teammates were running again this year. So, it really couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

Silver State 50/50 Pamakid Runners crew. (photo credit: Eduardo V.)

Silver State 50/50 Pamakid Runners crew. (photo credit: Eduardo V.)

William, Erica and I made our way together to Reno, where we were going to meet Denise, John G., Kelly, Kyria, and Tower. When we took a break in Auburn, I got a text message, “Ohlone cancelled. No reason given other than park issue.” I was hoping that was an omen that we had chosen the right race to run that weekend. We posted an invitation to our teammates, who could no longer run Ohlone, to join us in Reno. Helen took up the challenge on her own, thus completing a mixed 50k team. (We had men’s and women’s teams for the 50M.)

As we approached Donner Pass, light rain turned to light snow, which was also gathering on the trees. When we arrived at the local pizza place in Reno to pick up our race packets, we were greeted by cold weather and more light rain. We were told that runners who were marking the course reported that there was snow on Peavine Summit (elevation 7800 feet), which meant that there would be mud. We went to sleep wondering how cold and wet it would actually be on the following day.

The following day dawned with as close to ideal conditions as it gets: Cold, but not overly so (50s). Overcast skies, but no sign of rain, or of snow, thankfully!

At 7:00 a.m., the 50-milers among us started to make our way up the hill to Peavine, some 12 miles and a 3200-foot climb away. The elevation at the starting line was 4600 feet.

You know how trail races are mostly about going uphill only in order to go down again? Or about going downhill only in order to up again? Well, this race was no different. We climbed. A lot. We gave back any elevation gained on the descent. We went downhill. A lot. And so it went.

Peavine really was the climb that went on forever — from 4800 feet to 7800 feet — on the way out to the turnaround, but more, especially on the way back from the turnaround. You know how there’s always someone at a race who says, “It’s all downhill from here?” Well, that’s what “they” said when the 50-milers crested Peavine again, with 11 miles to go. Sure, it was net downhill, with quite a few rollers thrown in for good measure. “They” were really going to make us work to make it to the finish!

These races always look so much easier to me on paper, as I sit in the comfort of my home, by my computer, trying to prepare myself, mentally and logistically, for the distances between aid stations, elevation gain or loss, etc. I forget that “the map is not the territory,” and that no matter what distance I’m running, I always start at “Mile 0.” There are no shortcuts, and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, but perhaps that’s just because with each successive race I’m able to push myself a bit more.

“Was it fun?” you might ask. For the most part, except for those few “dark moments” that weren’t so fun. (Can you say “long slow slog from the turnaround to Peavine?” And “long slog back from Peavine to the finish?”) Fortunately for me, the off-hand comment that I made to a man volunteering at the aid station at mile 44, “Are you going to pace me to the finish?”, yielded the response of “No, but she will.” And he pointed to a woman who had run in to volunteer at the aid station (and whom I subsequently discovered was a very accomplished ultrarunner!).

“Was it scenic?” you might ask. If you like the high desert, you were in for a real treat.

“Would you do it again?” you might ask. In a heartbeat! Those of us who ran that day might not have felt it at the time, but hopefully, the R.E.M. song, “All the Way to Reno,” captures how we feel when we look back on the experience. (Thanks Denise.) But don’t take my word for it, check the course out next year. Here’s the song to inspire:

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