By Kristin M. Bohm
The trail options in Lake Tahoe are never lacking, and the views from nearly every trail in the region are nothing short of breathtaking. This marked the inaugural year of the Big Chief 50K where for the first time, runners would be able to link a number of trails on one single 50k loop while experiencing every type of terrain with unparalleled views of Lake Tahoe along the way. Not to mention, the new Big Chief Trail has been an amazing addition to the network of trails in the Tahoe community, made possible with a lot of planning, effort and dedication by the Truckee Trails Foundation. As a local, I had run various sections of the course over the years but being able to run all of them in a loop was a really special experience.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into the race, being unfamiliar with some of the sections and how technical they could be (and given the fact I signed up less than a week before without studying the elevation charts). What I did know was the forecast called for 80-degree temperatures by 11 a.m., which I knew could be challenging. I came fully prepared with my own hydration, but the race was extremely well-stocked with aid stations and I definitely could have packed lighter. Because I was familiar with some of the sections I had run, I knew this course was bound to be beautiful and a whole lot of fun.
The race began at the base of Northstar Resort, where runners were briefed on last minute details. I’ve run numerous trail races and this course was very well marked, with little room for error. From the Northstar base area, runners proceed uphill for the first mile or so. From there, the course takes a left turn onto single track with a steady climb toward several miles of fire road, with some flat and downhill sections. Runners are greeted by gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe running parallel to Carnelian Bay after mile seven. From there, the course includes several miles of single track climbing through scenic forests with some rocky granite technical sections (Lower Big Chief Trail to upper Big Chief Trail), which made this the hardest part of the race. The most technical sections came at a time when I was in need of my second wind, around miles 15 -16, although the mountain crest views were a sight to behold as I dug deeper to find the strength to push through. It seemed at just that point, I got it, and was able to pick up a little speed on the downhill and flatter sections.
Though the most technical sections were out of the way and long behind me, miles 25- 31 seemed equally as challenging with the weather conditions this year. Runners were faced with a steady fire road climb around Lookout Mountain on the back side of Northstar. With the heat, many runners had to slow down after reaching the aid station at mile 26 while bracing for the climb towards the crest. The last few miles of the race were a fun descent through Northstar back toward the base area, and with so much snow in Tahoe this year, the trails were gorgeous with all kinds of wildflowers and water falls.
I had an absolute blast on this course and will be running this race again next year for sure – perhaps a little faster now knowing what to expect – and taking in even more of all of Lake Tahoe’s beauty along the way.