This past weekend I finished my first hundred mile race, the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (“TRT”), which consists of one fifty-mile loop run twice. Elevation change is estimated at around 22,000’ total ascent, with a similar amount of descent. The low elevation of the course is around 6800′, high is 9200′. Weather this year was dry and warm- highs in the low 90s during the day, with lows in the 40’s at night.
I put together a little story as to how I became interested in this race, who helped me get to this place, and how the actual race turned out.
A little background One week before TRT in 2011, Gretchen Brugman sent out a last-minute request, looking for a pacer for the 100, for a friend of a friend. I offered, met Tom Logan at mile 80, and shared the last six hours of his first hundred. I was very intrigued, to say the least. A month later, I paced Betsy Nye at Cascade Crest, which further motivated me – I wanted to build up to eventually attempt that magical distance. Over the next eight months, I ran Lake of the Sky (36M), Rock ‘n’ River (50M), Woodside (50k), Surf City Marathon (yuck), Way too Cool (50k), Grand Canyon R2R2R (43M), and Lake Sonoma 50M; all with pretty good results.
Despite my successes, I was battling a sprained ankle that kept flaring up every month or two. I began physical therapy in April, and had an x-ray to clear myself before attempting the next race. It was clear, so I headed down to the East Side for my first 100k- the last big race before my 100 miler.
At the Bishop 100K, everything fell apart. I was disqualified for missing a turn, rolled my ankle badly, but continued on anyway, eventually to my demise around mile 59, when I collapsed into the last aid station, unable to even walk the last two miles to the finish. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, my weak ankle, and complete moral demise had ruined me. I was sick for several days afterwards, and pretty much convinced myself that I was just not cut out for anything over 50 miles. Betsy had warned me, 100 miles is no joke. A lot of people can do really well at shorter distances (meaning 50’s), but a 100 is not for everyone.
I texted Tom, who had offered to pace me this year for TRT, and told him I was downgrading to the 50k or 50M. I had hardly been able to run much more than short little stints on the treadmill since Bishop (two weeks prior) and with less than six weeks before TRT it was just plain stupid and naive to think I could run 100 miles. He told me all I had to do was get through the first 50 and he would get me through the second. Hmmmm. I went over to Betsy’s that night, confessed my fears, and she and Paul also did their best to encourage me not to give up yet. Betsy was very optimistic, she was so fired up about my Bishop disaster; she thought it actually made me more prepared to handle a 100 miler. However, she said that if she was going to continue coaching me, I couldn’t be wishy-washy about it. She needed a firm commitment that we were going to make this happen. I told her I was in.
About five weeks before the race, all in the span of a week, I met an amazing array of people who were either running the 100, 50, or pacing someone at TRT. I had some very quality long runs on the course with these new friends that made me feel extremely comfortable with every section of the course. On one 44 mile run in particular three weeks prior to the race, I felt I was able to nail down almost the exact pace I could handle in each section and still have enough left to survive the 2nd half.
As hard as it was to get the negative thoughts about Bishop out of my head (you can’t even run a 100k, what makes you think you can go 100M), I tried to replace it with positive mental imagery, visualizing running through each section and how I would feel, both physically and emotionally. Despite my attempts to calm myself, the Thursday before the race I was only able to sleep about two hours.
Before Bishop- I had big dreams of running in the 24-25 hour range. After Bishop, this was adjusted downward simply to finish. After assessing how I felt on the last big training run, I decided my “pie-in-the-sky” goal was 26 hours- if absolutely everything went perfectly. My more realistic goal was 28-30 hours, based on other runners’ finishing times at TRT100 compared to what they ran in races that I had also done. Still, the ultimate goal was to finish, and to keep diligent tabs on my pace, hydration, nutrition- all of the things I had direct control over. I did NOT want a repeat of Bishop. I also had an important attitude goal- I have read reports and heard stories about other runners doing the 100 mile distance, and above all, I wanted to have fun doing it, have a genuine smile on my face, and relish every bit of the experience that I could. I had trained and dreamed of this day for about 10 months, and I had better enjoy it. If the enjoyment level started to go down, then I needed to adjust my pace, nutrition, hydration, etc, to bring it back up. I wanted to greet my crew and pacer with a good attitude and show my appreciation to them for being there, at every opportunity.
Friday afternoon arrived and I found myself surrounded by friends who were all preparing for the same adventure the next morning. After a lovely afternoon and dinner in Carson City (packet pickup), and a quick pre-race briefing with Betsy and Kathy, I settled down to play some music for three of the most awesome, enthusiastic guys, who were all racing in the morning – Chaz, Travis, and Greg. Most of the races I have done have been totally solo ventures, or with just one other person, and it was really exciting to know so many people going into a race. After my little concert we finished our final preparations and went to bed. I slept about two hours total, and tried not to worry about the fact that I had slept a total of four hours since Thursday morning, and would not be sleeping again until sometime on Sunday… no problem!
The 45 minute drive to Spooner flew by, with the excitement and anticipation building. At the start, we wished each other luck – Chaz, Carrie, Travis, Mike, Joe, Greg, Shane, Jack – and took off. It was 5 a.m., and I was grateful that many runners had their headlamps (myself not included) as we took off down the mostly dark trail.
Miles 1-50: The first 50 miles were incredibly enjoyable- think blue skies, pristine granite boulders scattered across the most beautiful mountains, pine trees, and of course the grandeur of Lake Tahoe, Marlette Lake, and perfect, mostly runnable trails. I covered about 95% of it with my dear friend Carrie, who I now feel like I know on a much higher level. We talked, laughed, cried (at stories, not at the task at hand), spent a bit of time trying to ditch Creepy Runner Guy (sexual harassment during an ultra, seriously?), and spent a lot of time just enjoying the phenomenal scenery, good company, and encouraging each other on our awesomeness. We were very efficient at the aid stations, didn’t dawdle, and had a quiet understanding that at times, we just didn’t need to talk. It felt like the best day of my life. We were greeted very enthusiastically by Gretchen and Jamie the several times we passed through the Tunnel Creek aid station, which added to the enjoyment and excitement of the day.
At the 30 mile aid station, Diamond Peak Lodge, I met Paul, Betsy, Lizzie (Betsy’s 8 year old daughter) and her cousin. Paul and Betsy swapped out my drinks and food, the little girls rubbed Traumeel (homeopathic pain reliever) on my legs, and Betsy sent me off. I would see them again at the 50 mile mark, where I would pick up Tom, my pacer, who I had paced the previous year. At the weigh-in I met Bill Rose, who I had heard so much about, and also saw other friends- Allyson and Chris. Everyone’s energy and enthusiasm levels were extremely motivating.
Around mile 40, we saw Travis, who I had expected to be an hour ahead of us, and this was the first time I felt an emotional blow at seeing a friend having trouble. Unfortunately, this would be repeated several other times throughout the race, apparently it is just a part of it that you have to accept. There are no guarantees when you are going this distance.
In the final descent to the 50 mile mark, which was also the start and finish, Spooner Lake, a friend of Carrie’s who was running the 50 mile race passed us. He said that of all the 100 mile runners he had come across, we looked like we were most on top of our nutrition, hydration, and in the best condition for this far into the race. He said to keep that in check and adjust our pace accordingly to maintain that condition. That invaluable advice stuck with me to the finish.
At the 50 mile mark, I came across Tom, Betsy, and the girls, who all enthusiastically greeted me, swapped out my stuff, and sent Tom and I on our way. I was so excited to be doing well, and seeing Betsy proud and Tom proud was highly motivating. We saw Bill, who again was very encouraging and supportive, Jon and Don, and Allyson. Their smiles and cheers were priceless.
The next 11 miles were possibly the toughest of the race, not that I was hurting, but I think I still had that reminiscent fear of the 100k distance haunting me. I don’t think I spoke much, I just focused my energy on seeing runners ahead, then gradually catching up to them and passing them. Each one was a small victory and Tom and I were loving it. He continuously praised my efforts, and told me how strong I looked. I fed off the encouragement and focused on keeping good form, staying on top of the hydration (thanks to Tom’s constant nagging), nutrition, salt- all the things I had control over. My feet started to hurt mildly around mile 65 and I took the first ibuprofens of the day. The sun went down just after we hit the Red House aid station, and when the headlamps came on, I felt revived, instead of tired. I told Tom that I had not had any caffeine aside from the small cup of coffee at 4 a.m., and I was saving it until I really needed it. As minor as this may sound, I felt like it was my secret weapon. I can handle anything- I haven’t even had any caffeine yet!
The ibuprofen apparently kicked in because about mile 68, I felt like I was running on new legs. We calculated that to run in the 24 hour range, I would need to cover the last 50k in 7 hours or less. At first this seemed very unlikely, but as I came across the first girl in the 2nd half (all the previous passes had been guys), I said out loud, probably a little bit too cocky, to scare her, “I feel like I just started! a 7 hour 50k is no problem!” Tom laughed and said “let’s just focus on the next aid station for now”. Ok, good point. On the way to the Bull Wheel aid station, we came across my next friend, Greg, who was off the trail, barely speaking, saying he was feeling really badly. I was devastated- Greg was a super strong, fast runner, and I had high expectations for him of breaking 24 hours no problem. We talked a little, gave him a salt tab and a Sportenine, and told him to let it pass, he would pull it together and be fine. That was a big blow, but again, nothing I had control over. Keep moving.
At the Bull Wheel, the aid station informed me I was in either 4th or 5th place. Wow! We got out of there quickly and took off towards Diamond Peak, mile 80. I probably talked the most during this part of the course, 1- because I felt so good, and 2- because I still had someone to talk to! We came across another runner in trouble, he had lost his pacer then got lost himself, and was without water or nutrition. We filled his bottle, gave him a pep talk and a caffeinated gel, and wished him the best. Scary!!
As we got closer to Diamond Peak, I noticed Tom had stopped responding to my little “this is awesome” “is the trail in 3-d for you too?” quips, and I wondered if he was getting into trouble. Although he was a much stronger runner than I at Christmas, his training had been reduced to single-digit mileage most weeks, with a random long run every few months. I wasn’t worried about his fitness though, as the week before he had biked 61 miles up Tioga Pass with no problem, off the couch, and the month prior had run one of the most difficult 50k’s in the country, the Old Gabe, off the couch.
Once we hit the short stretch of pavement leading to Diamond Peak, I was at about the highest point emotionally that I had been the entire day. Until we saw my Chaz, reduced to a walk with what looked like a sheep herder’s staff. This was just wrong- Chaz was supposed to beat me by 1-2 hours, what the hell was happening to everyone!! We walked with him for a short while, then continued on to the aid station at mile 80. Betsy swapped out my hydration pack, let me use the indoor bathroom for the first time of the day (where I saw myself in the mirror- YIKES). At the weigh in they told me that I had moved up to 3rd place (wow!!!) and then I saw Chris and Jon, Carrie’s pacer and husband. They informed me that Carrie was hung up at Tunnel Creek for over an hour with serious GI issues. I was, again, devastated. I had been waiting for her to pass me at any moment…
Miles 81-100 Tom and I began the climb up Diamond Peak, and he immediately fell behind. He confessed that he was having major stomach issues and wouldn’t be eating solid foods for the rest of the 20 miles. Oh no!!! They are all dropping like flies! I must be next! That thought came and went very quickly, as I reminded myself of how great I still felt. Tom told me to continue on and not worry about him, he would catch up later. As scary as it was leaving him, I admit it also gave me a slight boost of confidence. I can do this, all by myself! I don’t even need a pacer! I’m tough! This was quickly replaced by some reality checks- ok, Tom has my only shell- I may need that on Snow Valley Peak, yikes. He also has my spare batteries for my only light source, and the only watch we were carrying. I left my ipod at Diamond Peak- crap! I knew I could still get by without these things, it might make for some challenges, but I had an extra long sleeve shirt at Tunnel Creek (I was still only wearing my tank top), a hat, and a face mask in case it got really windy, batteries. I would be fine. People have run all night alone without music before too. I can do it!!
On the way down to Tunnel Creek, I saw Carrie, alive and smiling at the Bull Wheel aid station, (THANK GOD!!!), and then Mike French, Allyson, Joe, and his pacer. Seeing each of their smiles and exchanging words of encouragement further lifted my mood. I couldn’t be happier. I spent a little more time than I would have liked at Tunnel Creek, maybe ten minutes or so, but I wanted to be sure I had EVERYTHING I could possibly need for my solo journey into the darkness. I continued passing folks, one by one, seeing the headlight off in the distance, gradually moving closer, and then a warm smile and cheerful greeting as I passed. It was very exciting. At the Hobart aid station, I finally passed two guys that had maintained a comfortable distance in front of me for the last 10 miles, and they were amazed as I strolled through the aid station, with just a refill to my hydration pack, as they were sitting down to tend to various issues. “We knew you looked strong! Off you go! Wait- did you DROP your pacer!? You GO girl!”
I had to smile as I took off. It seems like I ran most of the climb up Snow Valley Peak, still feeling strong, not in pain, and overwhelmed with the beauty of the stars, the stillness of the night, the 3-d effects my headlamp gave all the flowers and features sticking out from the sides of the trail. I was on top of the world.
When I got to the Snow Valley aid station, I greeted the workers, grabbed an s-cap, and took off. I needed to run as fast as I could to make it to the finish in 25 hours, which had become my new goal. It was 4:48, so I had an hour and 12 minutes to go about 7 miles. I could do it! And I still hadn’t had any caffeine!!
On the final descent, although I was running as hard as I could, there were still several little climbs, some technical sections where I really didn’t want to crash, and I realized it was probably unlikely that I would make the 25 hour mark. Who cares though, really. I was finishing this thing, feeling great, like I could continue on beyond the finish, with a smile on my face. It was all good. I passed two guys in this section, one of which said “holy moly, how are you running that fast??”, and the other just groaned and kind of glared at me.
Tom met me with about two miles to go, and we had a very exciting, beautiful run to the finish. I crossed the line and Betsy greeted me with a big hug. Best day ever. 25:12, 3rd female, 14th overall. George Ruiz, the incoming race director, greeted me shortly after. I had met him in mid-June and we had talked a lot about the course and training, and I was very proud to show him I had really done this.
The day only got better as I learned that every single one of my friends finished, which was pretty remarkable, considering the drop rate was about 45%, and especially considering some of the obstacles they had to deal with out there. Especially incredible, was the fact that my friend Shane had finished sub-24, in his first 100 ever. After only running one 50 miler, the AR50, months before!
After reviewing my splits, I discovered a couple of fun things- 1) I was able run an almost even split- just under 12 hours for the first 50, just over 13 for the 2nd. 2) My last 10 miles, including the climb up to Snow Valley, were faster at miles 90-100 than they were at 40-50. I was very happy with my pacing, and how I had stayed on top of my nutrition, hydration, attitude- all of the things that contributed to the positive result. I thought it was also interesting that I did this entire thing without caffeine (considering I usually require caffeine to drive more than an hour) that I hadn’t sat down the entire race, or touched my shoes (even though I had packed about six pairs of socks and an extra pair of shoes in my drop bags).
Thank you Tom for getting me hooked, and pacing me through the most challenging part of the day, keeping me on top of the hydration; and although you weren’t there for a section, your words stayed with me throughout. Thank you, Betsy, for being my hero, mentor, coach, insane NASCAR style racing crew, everything! And thank you to all of my new and old friends for making this so much fun.