What is the most defining quality present in those who push their limits to the extreme? When we look at the greats throughout history many of them exemplify similar traits that we describe as winners, successful or elite. In our world of running, especially when you get into ultra distance running I am convinced that the qualities that make up that greatness are found in each and every one of us no matter your skill level or time involved in the sport. One person who is a veteran ultra distance runner that is a prime example of what it looks like to fight for greatness in everything she does is Bree Lambert. Bree celebrated her 50th birthday 2 weeks ago and the following weekend placed 1st overall woman at the Tahoe Rim 100-mile endurance run. Bree took some time and gave us the inside scoop on her experience running this race, and what it took to walk away with that much deserved victory.
How did you feel going into this race and what was the goal?
Bree: You know I felt really good overall going into the race. My main goal was simply to do my best and I was going to be satisfied knowing that I did that. Last year at Western States I went out to hard and just ended up blowing up, I think by mile 45 or something I was already feeling done with the race and I hadn’t even hit the 50 mile point so I knew going into this race it was important that I pace myself, take care of my body, and just focus on the things I knew I should be doing. Something I’ve learned is that my race can’t be dictated by anybody else but me.
With pacing yourself, how did the first stage of your race go?
Bree: Well right at the beginning Jenny (who placed 2nd) and I ran together for the first mile until she pulled back slightly. I continued on and I felt really good and of course was staying within myself, I lead the race for about the first 38 miles until Jenny came up and passed me leading into the aid station. She pulled further ahead coming out of the aid station and I wasn’t overly concerned at that time because I knew we had more than half the race to go you know, we weren’t even at 50 miles yet.
So Jenny is ahead of you? How did you manage to not let the gap increase?
Bree: So she went into the start finish before I did, I didn’t see her but I knew she was ahead of me. I found my crew and they had my change of clothes ready, grabbed some fresh shoes, socks and grabbed some calories, the usual stuff you know? At that point I picked up my pacer who is my husband Joe and he is a very accomplished runner so he is very good at giving the right advice and knowing me and my limits. So he told me “okay you’re doing well, Jenny is about 5 minutes ahead of you so just stay on course and do exactly what you’re doing” and as you can imagine at that time those words of encouragement are crucial for morale. I came out of the aid station feeling good, 50 miles down 50 to go right?
So you’re on what I would call the third leg of your race, you’re in 2nd place, how was this section for you?
Bree: So I think it was probably mile 62 when I was running the Red House Loop that I actually felt tired. Usually I hit my low mark around that time for a 100 mile race so it wasn’t something out of the ordinary. I was like “okay this feeling is familiar, I just need to push through this” you know I wasn’t going to try to maintain a fast pace and I wanted to let my heart rate come down and keep on top of my nutrition and just focus on all of those kinds of things. At that point we went into kind of a walk/run phase for the next little bit. So what happens when you run that race is you run the Red House Loop twice and then you circle back up Tunnel Creek which is an aid station. When I got there I did the usual aid station thing but nobody really was giving any information on how far ahead of me she actually was.
Being that you felt tired at that point were you concerned at all coming out of the aid station?
Bree: When I left Tunnel Creek the next stop was Diamond Peak and that marked mile 80, nothing overly great or bad during that stretch I just kept a pace that I felt I could maintain. I switched pacers to my friend Isaac and recharged a bit and grabbed my night clothes and Lumen waist lamp and I asked Isaac how far she was ahead of us, and he wasn’t all the way sure but he felt like 15-20 minutes and that was all. It was tough to be sure because I had slowed down significantly and I know that could’ve allowed for her to open up more of a gap.
So 20 miles left, you know you’ve got ground to make up, how did you do it?
Bree: So we left Diamond Peak which leads into about a 2 mile vertical, it’s literally like a black diamond ski run. I can’t remember the exact feet of gain but I just know it was ridiculous and it’s at mile 80 so you’re already worn down but I pretty much just put my head down and told myself “okay, I gotta keep it together here” and I knew I had to push forward. When I reached the top it was about mile 82, and ran back to Tunnel Creek it was mile 85. At that point it was really interesting because I ran into the aid station with Isaac and I saw a friend who was a volunteer there and he goes “Bree what do you need?” I needed some calories so I asked for that, refilled the water and everything and I asked him how far Jenny was ahead of me. He told me she was maybe 15 minutes in front of me, and that was a hard maybe and it could’ve been less and the whole time I thought I was an hour behind you know? So that was super encouraging and my friend had told me the race wasn’t over yet and that was really what I needed to hear.
So it was the last stretch for you guys, how did the pass happen?
Bree: When we left I saw some lights up ahead because there were several runners coming towards us, I was just like “let’s go, let’s keep going” I was just pumped. When we got to Hogarth road the most amazing yet confusing thing happened, the volunteer there said to us “yeah you are doing amazing you’re first female!” I obviously was very confused and Isaac was like “no she isn’t she’s second” and the volunteer was like “no no, she’s first female and there has been no other woman that has come through”. At that point my mind was blowing up because I really didn’t understand what had just happened there but I felt a huge adrenaline rush and we left the aid station and I was ready to bring this thing home. We couldn’t remember a point in time that we passed her and we were playing through all of these scenarios and It was just sort of unbelievable at that time.
So now that you’ve learned you are in 1st what was the plan to bring it home and keep 1st?
Bree: Well I said to Isaac it was best for us to double check when we got to Snow Valley Peak and just be sure. It was the last 8 miles of the race and when we got there we asked another volunteer and sure enough it was double confirmed that I was first female. I wasn’t about to waste any time and we left the final aid station and I told him to tell me when we had 3 miles left because I wanted to tempo those out. All I knew at the time was I had somehow pulled into first female position and I was about to win this race and it was my third win on that course which was huge to me. The last time I had ran that course was in 2011 so it was a much needed reunion for me to be there. And on top of that I had just turned 50 last weekend and I was just on cloud 9 at the time. And also for Jenny you know she is very accomplished and has been in this sport a long time, she knows how to run 100’s well, she’s run Wasatch and Western States and just really is no joke you know, she’s a solid competitor all around. And for me i was just so proud to be competing at that level is really what that feeling was in those moments. At the end of the day with 100 mile races you have to run them smart and you have to understand that anything can go wrong, that’s just the nature of that distance and things can change at any time. So you never know and you just have to show up and whatever the trail can do that day, you have to embrace it and adjust.
So at what point did you take the the 1st position during the race?
,Bree: So interestingly enough when I finished the race and we got some applause the race director asked “when did you pass her?” And my response was just that I had no clue and it’s the strangest thing because I never saw her you know? Well after the race was done she sent me over a congratulatory email which I thought was amazing, and had told me that she was at Tunnel Creek at mile 85 when I passed her. So when I came into Tunnel Creek she was sitting there, and I had never saw her and we just continued on thinking we were in 2nd the entire time, so of course I was running my butt off to catch up when in reality I had just not seen here at the aid station. She was extremely gracious and congratulated me and was just so kind and it really meant the world to me that she reached out.
To sum all of this up what you say about your experience at the Tahoe Rim 100?
Bree: Well it was sort of a tough year with lots of life transitions you know? To try and train efficiently with the pressures of life is a lot. So to balance that and be able to show up and run well, that makes me happy. There were days that I honestly didn’t know if I could really pull this race off, could I run 100 miles again because I didn’t finish last year at States. So yes I had some moments of doubt as I think everyone does but having such a great support team and me just having to slap some sense into myself was required. There are some runners out there who don’t need as much support and don’t need pacers, that is definitely not me because I love having the support and I want to be able to share this experience with other people in my life, and that truly is what I think this is about because when you go through the low points in life you’re not going to go through them alone right?
So you celebrated your 50th birthday, then go and get this 100 mile win. What advice do you have for Ultrarunners who might be feeling worried about performance decrease as they age?
Bree: So for me it’s about knowing myself. You’re not going to see me running another 100 mile race before I am ready I can definitely say that. I think that often times it’s easy to let the successes from the past determine your racing for the future and that is a quick way to race yourself into the ground and get injured and I won’t be one of those. The truth is I love running, I want to do it for a long time and even longer than I have been running thus far. For advice, this is a sport of maturity. It’s not a sport where you burn out fast and you can get better and be competitive for longer as long as you take care of yourself, and understand training and nutrition and all of those things. If you have the patience and you allow maturity to happen then you can race for a really long time and remain competitive. It’s also a mental thing you know? I think runners sometimes start to doubt themselves and settle into this mind state and become a little more sedentary and let a number overshadow their mindset of what their body can still physically do, I don’t feel 50 I feel 35. I mean that probably sounds crazy but I don’t feel like I look 50, I don’t act 50, I have a 17 year old daughter who keeps me on my toes and I think so much of it is mindset.
So many people I talk with all share this spark, this want for self growth and progress and are willing to fight for that growth on the trail. Bree is an extraordinary example and role model of what it takes to be great, and have longevity in the sport she loves. What race do you remember the most? Why was it important to you?