George Ruiz, director of the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, suspected that summer thunderstorms would one day crash his event.
In year 14, the lightning finally struck.
“It was really just a miracle that no one was injured,” Ruiz said. “I’m hearing numerous stories from runners who had lightning strikes very, very close to them — like hair-standing-up close. We’ve never experienced storms like that in 14 years, but I kind of had a feeling that this was going to be the year we were going to have lightning storms, and we did.”
Despite the weather-related dangers, a total of 444 athletes reached the finish line at Spooner Lake after completing one of three race distances — 50 kilometers, 50 miles or 100 miles. Some were drier than others, depending on their locations when the storms hit.
“It was a perfect day for me. It was really nice and not hot like last year,” said Truckee’s Gretchen Brugman, who finished first among women and 13th overall in the 50K. “I was done by around noon. That’s the benefit of the 50K.”
Truckee ultrarunner Jenelle Potvin also managed to remain a step ahead of the weather, as she recorded a third-place finish in the 50-mile women’s field and was sixth overall.
“I got in before the rain, so I got the benefit of the clouds coming in and the temperature cooling. I was lucky,” Potvin said.
Not all the 100-mile runners were so lucky. While the frontrunners avoided the worst of the late afternoon/evening thunderstorms, many felt the brunt of the weather both Saturday and Sunday.
The exposed Snow Valley Peak high above Marlette Lake was a particularly bad spot to be late in the day, while the finish area at Spooner Lake also was inundated with heavy rain and hail. Ruiz said at the height of the storm on Sunday, when the last of the 100-milers were finishing, the rain was falling at a rate of 3.9 inches per hour.
“Oh my gosh, it was unbelievable. It was apocalyptic. It was the most radical storm you could imagine. I’ve been living here for 33 years and I’ve never seen it storm like that,” Ruiz said, adding that event staff were forced to move the aid station at Snow Valley Peak and evacuate some of the runners off the exposed ridge.
“We had to implement our lightning plan on Saturday, and I’m really glad we did because we probably saved lives that day. The aid station crew had to move down the mountain about a hundred meters to a safer area, and they put probably 20 runners in cars. One runner decided not to do that and she started up the ridge line and a lightning bolt hit right in front of her, and she came running back to a car with her hair literally standing on end.”
Helen Pelster of Truckee, who was paced by fellow Truckee ultrarunner Betsy Nye in Pelster’s first-ever 100-mile run, said she felt fortunate to have an experienced crew helping with her decision-making. Nye instructed Pelster to bring a rain jacket and keep moving when the storm hit, as opposed to waiting it out.
“It started hailing on us at the 50-mile mark and there was lightning, but we just put my coat on and got up and went,” Pelster said. “We went away from the storm. Yes, we were drenched, but we kept moving and I stayed warm, and it was OK. But I’m sure it was very scary for some people. I think a lot of people were really stuck in the storm.”
Despite struggling through exercise-induced asthma the final 20 miles, Pelster went on to finish 10th among women and 141st overall, covering the 100-mile course in 29 hours, 10 minutes, 34 seconds. The final cutoff for the 100-miler is 35 hours, or Sunday at 4 p.m.
Last year’s 100-mile winner, Bob Shebest, 40, of Santa Rosa, defended his title while also setting a course record with a time of 17:38:35. The previous record was 17:47, set by Thomas Crawford in 2010. Mark Austin of Boise, Idaho, was second in 20:24:50, and Gregory Benson of San Rafael was third in 20:55:26.
Roxanne Woodhouse of Weaverville, Calif., claimed the women’s victory and finished 19th overall with a time of 23:42:36. Woodhouse also won the 100-miler in 2010. Jamie Frink of Folsom was the second woman finisher, in 24:07:33, and Amy Burton of San Jose was third in 24:08:38.
Alan Barichievich of South Lake Tahoe finished 38th in 26:23:01, his wife Caroline Barichievich was 75th overall in 32:30:24 and Jeff Brown of Truckee was 91st overall in 28:12:09. A total of 186 runners finished within the cutoff. The drop-out rate was not available, Ruiz said.
While Potvin led the local contingent in the 50-mile run, finishing with a time of 9:41:28, Josh Anderson of Boulder, Colo., took the overall win in 8:28:12, and Emily Richards of Reno was the top woman and second overall in 8:31:39. Brian Miller of El Dorado Hills placed third overall in 8:48:04.
Locally, Abram Haen of Truckee finished 23rd in 10:55:26, Nicholas Martin of Truckee was 32nd in 11:21:09, Joel Tubbutt of Truckee was 38th in 11:43:12, Janice Pilkington of Tahoe City was 100th in 14:55:14, and Avril Harcourt of South Lake Tahoe was 101st in 14:55:15. A total of 142 people finished.
Truckee’s Donald Montgomery won the 50K in a field of 113 finishers, recording a time of 5:08:36. Ben Tedore of Reno was second in 5:12:09, Ross McMahan of Incline Village was third in 5:19:20 and Jamie Adams of Kings Beach was fourth in 5:48:16. Nathan Chorey of Tahoe City also posted a top-10 finish, as he was seventh in 6:13:20.
Brugman, who has raced all three distances of the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs in recent years, outdistanced the women’s 50K field to capture the win in a time of 6:31:41. Brugman was trailed by Elisheva Verdi of Auburn (6:40:03).
Other Tahoe-area finishers included Kristy Oriol of Tahoe City, who was ninth among women in 7:32:00, JP Prince of Truckee, who was 45th in 8:00:08, Monika Jaworska (8:01:10) and Ryan Collins (8:03:02) of South Lake Tahoe, Stephanie Nistler of Truckee (8:20:46), Darcie Collins (8:26:26) and Heather McMartin (8:29:14) of South Lake Tahoe, Randy Anger of Carnelian Bay (8:59:24), Sheree Ganske of South Lake Tahoe (9:06:27), and Sharon Fong of Truckee (9:09:35).
Find complete results at www.tahoemtnmilers.org.