Masters, masochists and one hell of a hill
By Dr. Mike Dostrow
“ Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like a toad, though ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head.” -William Shakespeare
The 29th annual Tioga Pass Run (TPR) took place on Sunday, Sept. 13, in lovely Lee Vining. This year’s race was dedicated to the memory of National Park Ranger Ferdinand Castillo, who cheered on TPR finishers for 13 years. This formidable challenge starts in downtown Lee Vining at an elevation of 6,781, follows Tioga Pass Road and ends 12.4 miles later at the entrance station to Yosemite at 9,945 feet. According to race officials, the TPR is the “longest continuously running event in the Eastern Sierra, a favorite with local ultra runners and triatheletes.”
It was a perfect day for running … Clear blue skies, shining sun and a moderate temperature. Organizers warned of conditions varying from “Indian summer to snow flurries.” Fortunately, the weather fell pleasantly in between. With only 46 finishers, this race draws fewer participants than most, and for good reason … this race is for the hardy. Those who were there, however, seemed excited and possibly even anxious about the daunting incessant steepness to come. We all listened intently as Ken Corathers, race organizer, reiterated the logistical details.
12.4 miles, 3,200 ft. Don’t attempt this if you suffer from heart conditions, seizure disorders, pregnancy or lack of intestinal fortitude. There will be support stations at 3,6 and 9 miles, which will provide Gatorade, water, defibrillators and welcome words of encouragement. If you are inadvertently struck by one of the many oblivious automotive passersby, CHP and paramedics will be but a stones throw away. Cool shirt, power gel and best of all, killer grub at Tioga Toomey’s Whoa Nellie Deli after the race.
At 8 a.m. sharp the gun sounded (actually, Ken just said “GO”). The stratification of real runners, joggers and schloggers was immediately apparent. I watched with amazement as some of the more elite speedsters bounded up the hill with ease. By mile three, as I sucked down my electrolyte solution, it was difficult to see the frontrunners. They seemed like little ants busily scurrying up an endless anthill in the distance. By mile six the grade had increasd considerably and I wondered whether I was in over my head, but only for a moment. Peaking out on mile nine at Ellery Lake conferred a false sense of accomplishment as a considerable 3.4 miles still remained. After a gradual yet perpetual climb I finally reached “the gate” and in less than four hours. The winner, Dan Yarborough, finished in an astonishing 1:33:48, that’s an average pace of 7:34 per mile at a speed of almost eight miles per hour. Alana Levin, winner of the womens division came in with close to 11 minute miles finishing in 2:16:07.
One wonders what motivates an individual to undertake such a grueling challenge. I posed that question to some of the participants while enjoying a tasty and well deserved lunch at Whoa Nellie Deli. Ian Edwards from over the hill in El Portal said simply, “I do it for the challenge.” Matt from L.A. exclaimed, “Coming from sea level … I guess I’m nuts.” Dr Andrew Bourne told me he ran, “because my big brother told me to.” Coming in first at 1 hour 33 minutes, Dan Yarborough of Bishop explained that he likes this run because “there’s no downhill.” He runs with his dog in the Buttermilks to train and hopes to break the course record of 1:28 next year. As for me I guess I just did it “because it’s there.”
For more info and photos, visit www.tiogapassrun.com.