For those of you who are glutton for details. I am more than happy to oblige. The very lengthy blow by blow race report. For those of you who just got here you can read a much shorter overview. This is super duper long folks, just a warning.
The silver buckle of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. According to the website the coin centerpiece was created by a coin press that was manufactured in the 1860's. The 6-ton press arrived at the Carson Mint in 1869 and was painted "1" to signify the first press located in the coiner's department. More info on the buckles here.
JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS
The two weeks leading up to the race were not the best but I was glad to have the work which funds all my racing and training anyway. Raced through deadlines, one after the another, pulling all nighters like I was back in college. I did manage to get some sleep and by the time I left on Friday I had left things in good order. Friday morning was another race, from San Francisco to Carson City. What should have been a 4 hour drive turned to 5 when a coffee stop at Placerville took longer than normal and I got lost in the campgrounds of Lake Tahoe. The tight window for race registration is tough for people traveling the day of the race, 10am - 2pm. What they don't tell you is that during the race briefing which starts at 2:15 you can still check in and they keep it open until everyone has gone and all drop bags have been picked up which was about 3:30pm or so. Drop bags need to be dropped off on Friday however I found out from a volunteer that you also have another chance to drop them off the morning of the race. I got there just when the race briefing was just starting. Got checked in, got my race goodies and all that and caught the most important parts of the talk. After the briefing I chatted with friends. I spoke to Harry Walther in length about my leg issues and the race. He had done several training runs on the course. I bought and watched the DVD documentary on the race and he corroborated some of the things I observed; sandy trails, some above treeline, high enough altitude to make a difference, good running sections not all technical, etc. Including Western States this would be only be my second time trail running in Lake Tahoe. By the time I sat down for an afternoon meal at a Chinese restaurant around 4pm I was hungry and sleepy. An hour later I was very full and sleepier:) Thankfully there was a Starbucks next door.
The hour drive to the house I was staying at took 1.5 hours because of tourist traffic and me getting lost again. Might as well get in out now on the road, better on the road than on the trail. I was staying with a bunch of friends who were doing the Trans Tahoe Swim Relay. While I was up at the rim on Saturday I thought I saw the boats of the relay making their way across the lake, shadowing their swimmers. By the time I got in almost everyone was there and the kitchen was busy, busy, busy. There were meals, drinks, desserts and lots of conversation. Before hitting the hay I showered, taped my feet, got dressed in my running clothes and packed my bags. I also spoke with a friend on the phone who gave me that extra boost of inspiration. I was tired when I hit the couch. However when my head hit that pillow nothing happened. I am notorious for not sleeping much the night before a race, 2.5 hours at the most, but this was a new record. I fell asleep, woke up after 20 minutes and was awake for the rest of the night.
@#$%&!! EARLY STARTS
If you thought the window for race registration was tight and short, wait till you find out the time you have to be at Carson City to catch the shuttle to the start - 3:30AM. Even if you had your accommodations at the race hotel itself you won't be getting enough sleep. I left our place by 2AM, the drive over was the most peaceful relaxing part of the entire weekend. The full moon was bright and I took my time, driving just below the speed limit. There were barely any cars on the road and it was quiet. I reflected on the things I wanted to accomplish and got my head into the game. Lengthy drives to races actually work in my favor. I arrive mentally ready for the task at hand, cool, calm and collected.
I meet up with Adam Blum and his girlfriend at the host hotel and would end up riding together with him on the bus. We were at the start by 4AM. It wasn't that cold although people were wearing hoodies and jackets. I had on what I was going to race in, a sleeveless shirt, shorts and my buff. It did get colder right before the start, that early morning frost before sunrise but we started shortly after that - 5am. Chatted it up again with people and made new acquaintances. Met a few runners who were running their first 100-miler, kind of crazy now that I reflect back on it. Met up with Gretchen Brugman, a blogger friend who I had never met in person. She too was running her first 100-miler and she would finish! I read her entire report. She had passed out momentarily at mile 75 in Mt. Rose aid station only to get up and finish the race. Husband and her friend pacing were both EMTs so they kept a good eye on her. Ultra women are tough, so tough. Some really great runners were in attendance, in particular Nikki Kimball. I've never seen her in person but she looks fast just standing and walking around. She wasn't the only one, there were a lot of fast looking hardy people at 5am. You can feel the chained energy ready to start, like muscle cars idling throatily in the morning air. Eyes focused, body relaxed. RD David Cotter starts us and we were off, it was still dark and dust clouds rose in the trail as we made our way to our first trail head. My Buff head gear was already pulled up to my face to capture the heat of my breath, it also protected me from all the dust. New conversations start right away, people fall into their paces and start talking. I fall behind Karyn Hoffman and friends. Karyn and pacer would get lost in the middle of the night between Tunnel Creek and the Mt. Rose aid station, lose 45 minutes before rallying and getting it back together. She told me at the awards ceremony the next day that the first thing she did was get her mind in the right place. She didn't get mad, took control of herself and worked constructively towards getting back on track. That's a veteran for you. No one taught me that, I learned it the hard way. Lose your mind, crap on your race. She too would finish like her husband Mike.
UP, UP AND UP SOME MORE
The race tops off at 9000ft. which isn't even at the graduate level for high altitude races, it's not Leadville, Wasatch or Hardrock. There are 50-milers run at higher elevation than this race but all of that matters not a whit if you are suffering because you live at sea level and don't have or willing to spend the vacation time to show up a week early to acclimate for this race.
The first half mile is relatively flat then you climb, you come down a bit but then you resume climbing. A good part of the race happens between 8000 and 9000ft. Our first aid station which was Hobart at 6 miles took me 80 minutes. I'm a slow starter anyway so it's all in the plan. What followed was the Tunnel Creek aid station which was another 6 miles. On the way there Gretchen Brugman pointed out to me that all the fog I was seeing in the low lying areas wasn't fog at all but smoke. Wow that was a lot of smoke and I was glad it was over then and not here. After more climbing it was about a 2.5 mile downhill to the station and I was starting to really hit my stride at this point. I was careful to monitor my pace via heart rate not going any lower than 20-25 beats below my maximum. At this rate I'm moving quick but not going all out, saving energy for the second loop. I kept my speed and effort on a tight leash and I would hold this effort all through the first half. I was running well and starting to pass people especially on the downhills which is where I'm most comfortable at. I was very good with my drinking. I read somewhere that you need to drink more at high elevation and I sipped on those bottles thirsty or not. Tunnel Creek is special in that the hundred milers see this place a whooping 6 times which makes it a good drop bag location. Most of my stuff was stored here. I had an extra pair of shoes in case I needed it, my caffeinated energy gels, extra regular energy gels, a Starbucks Double Shot Espresso drink, my Camelback type pack loaded up for night running and extra clothes. I would end up only using half the stuff but it was good to have just in case.
RED HOUSE LOOP
House smouse. On the video this loop was hyped up as a very difficult part of the race, even a couple of the volunteers I met at Tunnel aid station reiterated this. If you're comfortable at climbing it's not that bad. First of all it's only 6 miles or so. You drop down and about half way through you start going back up again. It's something but really it's nothing to be worried about. The toughest part of the climb is the last mile when you have to go back up the sandy steep slope to Tunnel aid station. The people who suffer the most here are the 50k and 50-milers since they leave the start much later and hit this loop later in the day. For the 100 milers we hit this area early enough in the day and not again until much later in the afternoon. Going up the first time hurt, I was reduced to a slow walk but it was over before I could really start whining. Really it's not that bad. In my limited experience with 100-milers I can already think of much harder, pain in the ass sections; the "Wall" at Bighorn 100, the "Pirates Cove" climb that you have to do three times in the Headlands Hundred, the "canyons" of Western States. Anyway my thinking is that they hyped up the difficulty of this area to take your mind away from the real painful part of the section. This section hurt during the day and it was much worse during the night, the trip to Mt. Rose and back to Tunnel Creek. Maybe it was just me but I suffered through this section, both times!
DEHYDRATING ON MT. ROSE
I left Tunnel Creek running at a very good pace. If you looked into my eyes you would have seen nothing but fight and energy. I was mooovin. Now Tunnel Creek is around 8500 ft., the trip to Mt. Rose which was 9 miles away would take us past Diamond Peak which was at 9000 ft. It was on the trip up to Diamond Peak that I started really feeling the altitude. My heart felt like it was going to beat itself out of my throat. I started feeling a slight headache, shortness of breath and sleepy. Worse, 4 miles later the water only aid station at Diamond Peak was not set up yet. There was no water to be had. My water consumption up until this point was very good. I was constantly drinking despite not being thirsty, I was taking in more than I thought I needed because of the altitude. I left Tunnel Creek with bottles not completely filled because i didn't want the extra weight and had counted on the aid station for the refill. By the time I passed Diamond Peak I only had a couple of swallows left in one bottle and it had to do till Mt. Rose which was another 5 miles away. I started to dehydrate and combined with the altitude problems I slowed down considerably. For the next hour and 5 miles I was not a happy runner. The trail continues to wind and roll all the way to Mt. Rose. No big climbs and no big down hills, just meandering trail which drove me crazy. It was in this section that the eventual 50-mile winner passed me and I saw the 100-mile leaders led by Jon Olsen heading back to Tunnel Creek. He was followed closely by Erik Skaden and Mike Wolfe. Not too far behind them was Nikki Kimbal and Beverly Anderson-Abbs, these two looked more serious and in sync than the men. No smiles but no frowns either, just faces set with determination with running postures that screamed "I'm going to kick some ass today". Seeing them put some wind in my sails but I was in bad shape by the time I got to Mt. Rose. Gatorade doesn't sit well with me but I drank it anyway when I got there. It sounded like the best thing and tasted the best when I drank it. It was getting warm at this point but because of the heat training I felt okay. The ice in my bottles bugged me more. Despite telling volunteers not to put ice in my bottles I got them back freezing. They were too cold to hold. I ate and drank my fill and as I was leaving mountain bikers were dispatched to set up the water aid station. I left with two bottles and 40 ounces of Gatorade in my belly. I also took in some food and a couple of ibuprofens for the headache. Oh it was damned uncomfortable to be sure, I wanted to wretch it all on the side of the trail. Running with your gut full of liquid is not the most pleasant of experiences as you probably have already experienced. Fortunately one of my other talents is the ability to keep things in. This was a bad talent to have in college and post college days after long hours of drinking beer and tequila but here in ultra it's an asset. What you throw up you can't use and I needed that liquid, nutrition and pain killers. I'm still walking when I see Mark Tanaka, he was a sight for sore eyes. The last time I saw him on a race course was when we were both racing Kettle Moraine, he was on the way back and I was still on my way to the turnaround, good times, good times. He snapped my picture, we had our quick hello's and he yells out "I'm not racing" as he moves out of earshot. The trip back to Tunnel Creek was still slow but better. A half hour later I recovered enough to start running comfortably again. By the time I got back to Diamond Peak water was available and I filled up. In the space of an hour my body had absorbed the 40 ounces of Gatorade and gone through both bottles for another 40 ounces on the 5-mile trip back up to Diamond Peak. I was thirsty! I came down that trail back to Tunnel Creek in the same shape that I started, strong and moving well but done with Gatorade.
SWIFT RIDE HOME
The next 15 miles flew by. I was feeling very good and running very well, all under 20-25 beats of my maximum heart rate. Caught up to some 50-milers and 50k folks. Some of them were not looking very good, walking slow and looking very tired. If you're not used to the altitude or distance this would be a difficult 50k/50m. No one was tired enough for a little cheering and "good job" yelled out now and then. It was much appreciated. Caught up to and changed leads with a 50-mile runner towards the end before he finally got his last wind and took off. Half a mile from the finish another 50-mile runner passed me, elated and happy to be done. he was all smiles and joking around. I told him he looked so good he should consider the 100 next time around. Oh he says "no" now but he might come around. Haha planting that seed, yeah right, I'm sure he's thought of it already. Well no need to rush things, just race/trail talkin' is all.
SLEEPY VERY SLEEPY
When I got in I was attended to right away, weight checks and all that. Ray Sanchez was on hand helping runners with food and beverages. Ray is a prolific racer, I've seen this guy many times.I stayed there for a bit. Towards the end of the 50 mile I started to get a little sleepy. Maybe it's the altitude but I had not counted on needing caffeine until at least mile 62. All my caffeine products were at Tunnel Creek, another 12 miles away. I asked around but no coffee was to be had at the station. It was only about 4PM or so and no one had coffee brewing. When I finally left I was feeling groggy and tired. I wanted to lay down for a bit. Instead I just walked and ate for a bit. What should have been a 10 minute break turned to 25. I walked with Grae Van Hooser who was also feeling the last 50 miles. Finally I just started running again so I can wake up. At Hobart aid station I caught up with Mark Gilligan who was pacing. Mark was second overall last year. I asked him if he had any caffeine and like magic he produced a caffeinated gel. I took it right away and was back in the game 20 minutes later. By the time I hit Tunnel Creek I was awake and alert once more. There I chugged down my single can of Starbucks coffee and embarked on my second trip on the Red House loop. I ran that loop faster than the first time however by the time I got back the clouded, groggy feeling had come back. I figured I just ran out of caffeine. I was out on the loop for about 1:15 minutes so that sounds about right. Soon as I got in I took another shot of a caffeinated gel, picked up my pack which had everything I needed for the night; a shell, lights, caffeinated gels, extra set of batteries for the handheld light, pepto bismol tabs, small blister kit and ibuprofen.
THE EVIL FOREST
I named the 18 mile down and back loop to Mt. Rose the "Evil Forest" in homage to a section at Cascade Crest 100 that runners have dubbed the same. They are nothing alike except that they are both sections you want to get done and over with as soon as possible. The 5 mile section at CC100 however takes longer to navigate than the one way 9-mile section to Mt. Rose. It's quite technical to say the least and like the second loop to Mt. Rose it is done in the dark. Soon as I started the short climb out of Tunnel Creek I felt foggy, loopy, and hazy. The best way I can describe it is like a flashlight at night. Where I focused my attention, it was clear but all the surrounding edges was fuzzy and blurry. I thought it was just insufficient caffeine so I took more. I felt a little better but the loopiness never really went away. Again this section, after a short climb, just meanders on and on and on. In the dark it seems like forever, the moon was bright however and it was beautiful in a way. My condition wasn't getting any better and it was at this point I pondered the wisdom of having a pacer. My biggest concern was if things got worse would I have my wits about me to just stop, get help, or even just sit down on the side of the trail or would I totally lose all rational thought, get lost and pass out where no one could easily find me. Would I know when to say when was the biggest question on my mind? Well I wasn't just going to ponder the question in the middle of the trail so I plodded on. A benefit of being so loopy and detached is that I was a bit numb to the physical act of running itself. I could just run and not really feel the exhaustion or discomfort. The problem was staying focused to keep on pushing. I noticed that I was easily confused like I was drunk. I could see the trail markings, the shoe prints in the sand but I would still stop frequently to make sure that I wasn't going the wrong way. Once I stopped to take a caffeinated gel and I couldn't remember which way I came. I was so out of it! I went with my best guess knowing that Grae and Ben was just right behind me. If I choose wrong I would run right into them anyway. This has happened before. My brain got so addled with the heat on one race that I got turned around and started running downhill and into the runner behind me. It never occurred to me that if I was running downhill trying to get to the summit of a mountain. Ouch, crazy times. This continued until I was about a mile out of the Mt. Rose aid station. Fortunately for me I caught up to a runner and his pacer and they would give me the cure. He was no longer running because of an issue with his leg but was determined to walk it in. He asked how I was doing and I told him I had problems with keeping my focus and he suggested salt. He said he had the same issue two hours prior and it cleared up with Gatorade and salt. I had been good about taking my salt but I spaced them out to every two hours in the afternoon when I stopped sweating as much. I kept up with my drinking though, drinking the same amounts I had been drinking earlier in the day, paranoid about getting dehydrated again. Once he mentioned it, it made perfect sense. I had a similar issue with salt years back at a 50-miler that I had forgotten about. I started taking salt right away. At Mt. Rose I sat down and took some time to eat a couple of cups of chicken soup and having a cup of coffee before heading out. I felt better quickly and the fog cleared by the time I was well on my way back to Tunnel Creek.
Quitting was never a serious thought but I've never felt so much reluctance within me to continue than on my last trip over Diamond Peak back to Tunnel Creek. It was here that I felt the muscle on my left knee start to throb painfully. I was wearing a neoprene sleeve on it which worked great all day and I'm sure it prevented the muscle from totally seizing up like it did at Kettle Moraine. It didn't hurt to walk, I could walk as fast as I wanted with short jogs thrown in but running was out of the question. Running made it throb painfully and the danger that it would completely seize up prevented me from pushing further. Before this setback t I still had a chance for coming in under 24 but under the circumstances I had to let it go. I could have valiantly kept on pushing and DNF when the muscle finally threw it's final tantrum or pull back now and hope it's enough to make it to the finish. I opted for the latter and I walked, walked and walked. I thought of my good friend Olga and her fast power walk. I've paced her and run a whole 100 with her, I know the form. I've seen catch up to and pass people with that walk. Instead of my fast short running strides I was now taking long quick steps. When you're short with short legs this is kind of a pain:) but it was doing the job. I pumped my arms and off I went. Walking sucks when all you want to do is run but the thought of quitting even more unappealing, so I walked and walked, over the hills, roots, rocks and sand. I'm not a professional/sponsored runner, finishing is my prize, my only main goal.
After getting back to Tunnel Creek I quickly refilled my bottles, ate, thanked the volunteers for all their help. It was my sixth and last time through and I was glad to be seeing the last of that station. One more look back and I was gone. On my way back to Hobart and mile 90 I saw the last two runners who were still heading out to Tunnel Creek, both female. They were only on mile 60 or so, they still had the 6-mile Redhouse loop to complete before even embarking on the 18-mile round trip to Mt. Rose and back. Ugh! my heart just went out to them. They would both finish though. Ultra gals are tough! I said that already right, so damned tough. They line up, gut it out with the men and finish. They get just as dirty, just as stinky and grin just as wide when the going gets tough. My hat's off to the ladies of ultra marathon.
From here on out it was just a walk. The knee wasn't any better but not getting any worse. The biggest challenge was just staying focused and awake on the slower pace. It was hard to keep the powerwalk pace for too long. Eventually I would slow down to a walk before I would mentally crack the whip and get going again. I wrote it before and I'll write it again, it sucks to be walking when you'd rather be running. I was at peace though, no more major issues, no more new problems, just heading home with the fastest speed available. I knew I was going to finish at this point. I thought about toughness too, where do you get it and how do you build it up? Is it nature or nurture? My father's family are athletes, I could have gotten it from them. On the other hand my grandfather on my mother's side was a soldier. He fought against the Japanese in WWII and survived the Bataan Death March. I felt silly thinking considering such things but I imagined my grandfather not being very proud of me quitting a simple 100-mile race. Besides as hard as they were, 100-mile races are still safer and better than training. Hey I don't have aid stations in my training, spaced every 5 miles or so and staffed with eager helpful people.
At Hobart I was invited to sit by the fire, there was about 8 or so volunteers with chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the fire. I was given chicken soup and I was told I was in 14th place overall. They just confirmed what I already have been suspecting. I didn't see many people in front of me at the turn around at Mt. Rose or at Tunnel Creek and a whole lot of people behind me. I didn't think it was that bad though. Hobbled as I was how can I be at 14th!? They told me they had just taken down 16 people to the start/finish area, runners who dropped. It was wonderfully comfortable in there by the fire but with only 10 miles to go I was ready to be done.
THE LAST CLIMB
Snow peak aid station a mere 2.7 miles away from Hobart is mostly climbing, I'd guess that 2.2 of it is climbing. When I got to the top I was greeted by ferocious gusting wind that had me going back to my pack for my shell. I had been using it intermittently during the night and needed it the most now. It's also that time of the morning when it gets colder before the sun rises. I climbed and searched for the aid station as soon as I got to the top. Finally seeing it, bright and welcoming at the peak. brought a new wind in me, my last until the finish. I was weighed in for the last and final time. I was up in my weight as I had been since Tunnel Creek. I had over compensated and taken too much salt this time but aside from weighing in 1.5 pounds heavier and being constantly thirsty I was just fine. I did not linger long and was soon on my way. I was in the single digits now and would be home soon, by my calculations another 2.5 hours. A long time really but compared to what I had already invested, not so much.
I would get passed about 5 times on these last miles. The next 5 miles after Snow Peak is downhill, a gentle drop but technical in some parts. Think big rocks embedded on the trail. This section felt close to forever. I had started anticipating the end and every minute I wasn't there was torture. Fortunately I was tired enough that I'd lose my focus even on the negative stuff. I just bumbled along. I would re-focus get a good spurt in then fall back to an easy pace. On and on I went. The runners who passed said their hello's and asked about my state. Might nice no? They cheered me up on their own way and I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't follow. It sucks to be only able walk when you want to run!
ITS DARKEST BEFORE DAWN
There was a small aid station a mere 1.8 miles from the finish. I filled up one of my bottles and one of the volunteers asked if I'd consider running the race again in the future, I said no way. A few yards after the station my mood turned very sour and negative. All my frustration came to surface at the point. I remember swearing and thinking that if I ever have to walk in a hundred again I would just quit right then and there, why go through the slow torture, the prolonged agony. I swore I was done with slow struggling finishes. No more I said! Run or DNF. "I'm tired of this!" I screamed in my head! No smiles coming in, just glad it was over with no desire to ever return to the course. This was my last and final dark moment. I walk through relieved but dejected at 26:20.
I come in they rip something off my number and I promptly plop down on one of the chairs. They bring me water in a glass printed with the logo. Another race schwag I get to keep. Slowly I return to normal. Before I even took a sip, I got back up and headed for the drop bag tent to retrieve my phone. I had messages to retrieve and messages to send. On the way there a waking Brian Wyatt gets up from his nap and starts attending to me. He had paced Kevin Swisher from Mt. Rose back to the finish, 25 miles or so. He told me how aggressive Kevin was on the final quarter of the race coming in under 23 hours. The good news cheers me up and the phone messages pulls me out of my funk completely. He proceeds to look after me, all of a sudden I had my own crew! He got me my drop bags, got my water that I left at the finish line and offered to get me some food. He then offered me a ride back to Carson City at my convenience, now or later it was up to me. I opted for now since all I could think about was bed. How's that for support? I've known Brian for several years now and we are always racing against each other. Some days I never catch him, some days I succeed in sneaking up behind and passing him on the last half of an ultra. Oh c'mon he loves it. It's a friendship born out of competition and that morning he was my finish line crew and my ride back to the race hotel.
I bumbled around a bit, looking for my drop bags and gathering my stuff. A truck pulls up and Grae Van Hooser was on the passenger seat. We talk for a bit. He looked a bit dazed, probably what I looked like to him too. He had stomach issues and had to pull at mile 90 or so. He had a tough second half after a great first half, finishing the first 50 in 10:20. Last I heard from him was at Tunnel Creek after the Mt. Rose loop, said he couldn't keep anything down, didn't realize how bad it was. I finished gathering my stuff and got into Brian's car. On the short ride to the hotel I could barely keep a conversation going and I made the decision not to drive the hour back to the house in Lake Tahoe. I just saw myself falling asleep on the wheel on the drive back. I rented a room, chatted with some runners and crew, the desk clerk and promptly crashed. Thankfully seeing my condition the desk clerk got me a room on the first floor. Bob would wake me up and I mumbled a few words before crashing back to sleep. Mom would wake me up too and I did the same. After a couple more hours I was golden. Made a phone call and proceeded to take another shower before heading out for some food and the awards ceremony.
NO BLISTERS! That has never happened before. My legs were a wreck though. Lunch was good despite taste buds not working properly, things tasted a bit dull. Got my buckle, shuffled around with the other runners and got more food and drink. Many faces were familiar now but there were also many familiar faces that was missing from the crowd. Only about half of us finished the race, incredible considering the weather was good. I'd hate to see this course on a heat year or a storm. When I got my buckle and saw my time etched in the back I was already going through my mind the things I would do better for next time.
Went back to the hotel, crashed for another hour before finally leaving Carson City at 8:30PM. I wanted to wake up in San Francisco besides the car rental was due at 9AM Monday morning. Monday morning traffic was nothing to mess with either. It was raining when I left, good thing there was no rain during TRT, nothing I felt anyway. Overall it was a tough race put on by a great organization. I'd like to come back and finish under 24 hours on this course one day. It won't happen anytime soon though, this country has many 100-milers to experience. Many!
Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Miler
19,788 ft. Total Climb | 19,788 ft. Total Descent
2 loops of the 50-mile course.
A good amount is run between 8000-9000 ft.