I awoke extra early on race morning to check the Air Quality Index and was pleased to find a number under 150. Smokey air was coming from wildfires from the north and the south putting the race at jeopardy. Favorable winds meant that 2021 Castle Peak 100k would run.
The Castle Peak 100k course starts at 6700” with over 15,000” of ascent and descent covering remote areas of the Tahoe National Forest. Runners cross peaks and ridges, travel through alpine meadows, and visit granite slab lakes nearly circumnavigating and summiting Castle Peak 9,100” midway. I had run most sections of the course in training and I knew it was going to be challenging… arguably one of the hardest 100k races in the country.
At 5am the start gun fired and we were off with our headlamps lighting the way. The gorgeous landscape I explored during training was obscured in darkness and later by hazy skies. But instead of focusing on distant vistas, I found inspiration in what was right next to me… other racers and volunteers.
As I settled into a steady pace, I chatted with racers around me. Nick from sea-level San Diego had done repeats on the same two hills to train for this mountain course. Steve shared anecdotes from the six Castle Peak 100k courses he had run. Luke was running his first 100k to qualify for Western States following his father’s example who had raced the Tevis Cup on horse.
The aid stations were also a source of inspiration. Beyond fluids and calories, the encouragement from these volunteers kept me going.
The crew at Warren Lake mile 26.5 was throwing quite the party. Heavy metal music accompanied high fives. A volunteer replenished my pack as I jumped in the lake to cool off from the 90-degree day. This support re-energized me to tackle the hardest climb of the course out from Warren Lake.
At Soda Springs mile 46.2, I changed my socks and a volunteer offered to carefully wipe the grime from my feet. At the same time, another volunteer served me food and drink. I was literally being waited on hand and foot. This respite was followed by my fastest miles of the day.
I arrived to Point Mariah mile 54 at sunset and was greeted by a solo volunteer checking in runners at the turnaround. He also invited me to toast members of the local ultra-community who had recently died. It was a somber moment of reflection yet filled with gratitude and beauty from the colors of the sunset sky.
The remaining miles to the finish were dark. Runners ahead were beacons of light beckoning me to continue. As the glow of the finish got closer, I was able to turn on a little speed.
This finish line represented all that I had given of myself and received from my community while going through life, months of training, and a hard day on the trail… and all along the way others were traveling the same direction or cheering me on. In ultrarunning, as in life, the support of community gives inspiration, encouragement, and lights the way when haze or darkness obscures the beauty around us.
Meggie Inouye finished 2021 Castle Peak 100k in 17:26 as 5th place female. She works as Nurse Practitioner in the town of Truckee, CA and volunteers as a board member of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. She failed to mention in this write up that her family brought her homemade blueberry pie and popsicles at the Castle Valley Aid Station…pie, popsicles, and her family are simply the best.