Thrilled to have my sister Lynette (aka Net or Netty) fly out from Michigan to crew for me at the 2016 Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I excitedly drove my “new” 1983 VW Westfalia down to the airport in Reno Wednesday to pick her up. This would be the ultimate crew-mobile!
Within 20 minutes of getting Net from the airport though…
Lynette, Avian, Beverly and I got to take our first ride in a tow truck. The driver gave me his card, you know, “just in case it happens again”.
After getting the VW “home” (to a shop in Reno filled with other broken-down Westfalias), we squeezed into a tiny Porsche for the ride back to Truckee. It was so small that Lynette had to cock her head sideways to fit. We were grateful for the ride though (thanks, Jon!)
I had high hopes of spending quality time and relaxing with Lynette in the days before the race, but life happens, and so Friday afternoon after a hectic week at work, we found ourselves racing down to Carson City, barely making it in time for runner check-in.
Friday night, 10pm, I finally put an email together to Lynette, Pete and Lucas (my pacers) with my race plan. It was ambitious, but I’d had many solid weeks of training and had run a mountain 50-miler PR (personal record) at the Silver State 50 in May (2F in 9:27). This would be my 4th time on the Tahoe Rim Trail course,
and the first time I haven’t had to use a treadmill as part of my regular training routine (twins now old enough that I could sneak out for some early morning runs). It was time to shoot for a 24 hour finish.
At 3:30 am Saturday morning, Lucas, Lynette and I left for the starting line at Spooner Lake, Nevada, which is also the 50 mile aid station and finish line, in this double loop course. The course consists of mostly single-track, breathtakingly beautiful trails along the East side of Lake Tahoe. Spooner Lake is about 7,000′ in elevation, and the majority of the course is over 8,000′, with a high point on Snow Valley Peak of over 9,000′. Each lap contains around 10,000′ of elevation gain.
After the National Anthem and an exciting countdown, over 250 runners began the gradual climb towards Hobart. Around mile 7 I found myself running next to Caroline Barichievich, a talented South Lake Tahoe runner. We chatted with the other runners and the miles clicked by. A Reno runner asked if I was “Jenelle from the Donner Party”… I liked the sound of that.
I found myself cruising into Tunnel Creek, mile 11, happy to see Lynette and Lucas, who had made the 1800′, 3.5 mile climb up. I saw them again after a fun and easy-effort Red House Loop, and they said that only Roxanne (a super fast woman with the 3rd fastest time on course!) was ahead of me. I didn’t really believe them…
As the temperature rose, I hit the Bull Wheel aid station, and they told me I was in 3rd. I decided that 3rd is better than 2nd this early on. It was going to be a long day and night.
There were many other users on the trail – hikers and mountain bikers, who happily told me I was one of the top women. Lots of “Girl Power!”, clapping and cheering. A group of mountain bikers told me “You’re burly”. I think that was meant to be a compliment. 🙂
Despite all the positive energy, I started to drag, felt waves of nausea, and it took forever to get to the Tyrolean Downhill (a 4 mile descent of 2,000′ down to the Diamond Peak Aid Station). This hadn’t happened to me since the Bishop 100k – which had ended badly, and I began to lose confidence. To make matters worse, I heard footsteps behind me, and they sounded too delicate to be one of the 50 mile men catching up (50 milers/55k racers start 1 hour behind us). On a switchback, I allowed myself a peak, and sure enough, it was Caroline. We ran and talked for a mile or so before she bounded down the trail towards the 30 mile aid station. I thought I was now in 4th, and although 3rd had been better than 2nd at Bull Wheel, I decided that 4th was not better than 3rd at this point.
Lucas led me into the aid station and told me I was actually in 3rd, but I didn’t want to hear about that until later -it was becoming stressful since I felt so crappy.
Lucas and Lynette walked me up the Diamond Peak climb, a brutal, exposed, steep climb up a ski resort with about 20 false summits and 15,000′ of gain (not exactly, but that’s what it felt like). It was now really hot, I felt weak and nauseous, and to top it off, I found it necessary to start the Imodium regime. I felt defeated and dumb, for going out too hard, and blowing up at mile 31.
After a few of the long switchbacks I tearfully told Lynette and Lucas I should continue the rest of the way alone, or I would start crying and want to go back with them. In my prior TRT races and training runs, I was so proud of my fast DP climbs – I always felt strong and passed people, cheerfully even. Judging by how I felt at this point, I thought my dreams of a PR were over. At the top, I breathed a big sigh of relief, smiled and snapped a photo, to help remember that moment.
Over the next 10 miles, I focused on making myself feel better, which meant slowing down, increasing my calories and fluids, and reminding myself how privileged I was to be out on this beautiful trail with people waiting on me and cheering for me. Around mile 40, I hit the Hobart aid station and caught up to Caroline. We ran together for the next 11 miles, over Snow Valley Peak, and down the long descent to the halfway mark. She had also been experiencing nausea and stomach issues, plus some major blister problems. We had a lovely time, cheering at the various landmarks – water drop aid station, our first views of Spooner Lake, and I was grateful for the company.
Lucas ran me into the fantastic 50 mile aid station to meet Lynette and Pete. The volunteers gave every runner a standing ovation, which made me choke up a little. My friend Mike served me a quesadilla, Lynette took care of my hydration pack and supplies, and my friend Spike convinced me to let his medical team tape up the hot spots on my feet. I hesitated; I’d never sat down in a previous 100 miler much less taken my shoes off, but he assured me it would be worth it. I was so glad! The hot spots were non-issues for the rest of the race.
My coach, Meghan, was at the aid station waiting on her runner, so we chatted while my feet were tended to. She was so sweet she offered to trade shoes with me – in case mine were causing the hot spot problems.
I felt good again, and ready to charge with Pete, who would pace me for the next 30 miles. We set off; I was back in 2nd place for the women, 32nd overall, and about 30 min faster than prior years. Things were looking up.
We made our way up towards Marlette, and both commented that the conditions were quite pleasant – as far as the heat. Pete ran behind me and inhaled pounds of dust over the next 7 hours (but he didn’t mention that at the time).
At Tunnel Creek, I was thrilled to see Lynette again – I couldn’t believe how much she had hiked/run to help me out. Throughout the race, she would put over 25 miles on her own feet crewing for me. I also got the royal treatment at the aid station from incredible volunteers like my friends Gretchen, Marisa, Jackie, and Kym.
I told Pete that I had never made it out of the 2nd Red House Loop before sunset. This became a new goal.
On the descent, we came across Roxanne, the first female, on her climb up. We congratulated her, and she seemed eager to hear what place I was in. Pete quietly told me she looked to be about 1 hour ahead of us, which meant I’d made up nearly 20 minutes on her since the 50 mile mark. I took her asking what place I was in as a sign that she cared, and maybe she was getting tired, and maybe….well, it all made me run a little faster.
On the way out, we celebrated my first time of not needing the headlamp on the 2nd Red House Loop. We headed towards Bull Wheel, now in the dark, and looking out for runners to hunt. The trails are so interesting at night with the fairy-tale look of the foliage, spiders, field mice, and beetles by the light of the headlamp. We could see the nearly-full moon illuminating Lake Tahoe along the way.
Despite the fun, on the way down to Diamond Peak I started to feel nauseous again. When we reached the dark, quiet, 80-mile aid station, Lynette and Lucas excitedly updated me that Roxanne had just left about 40 minutes before I arrived, and I had now moved up to 14th position overall.
Around 11:45pm, Lucas and I headed up what would be my most challenging Diamond Peak climb ever. It was stop and go the entire way, and I had great difficulty talking or smiling. Lucas was very encouraging, patient, and made me feel like I was doing really well (even though I was basically taking 10 steps and stopping). We were passed by one runner – the only 100 miler to pass me since the last Diamond Peak climb at mile 30 [it would take 15 miles to pass him back]. Eventually I turned around and walked backwards up the climb, which somehow allowed me to keep moving without stopping.
Once again, as I finished that climb, I felt better. We saw many friends, like Jill, Tina, Kathy, and Candice, in a two-way section of trail. At Tunnel Creek Aid Station, we learned that Roxanne had increased her lead slightly, but was only 6 runners ahead of us. Time to count headlamps. I realized we had less than 3.5 hours to make it to the finish (16 miles with a climb over the highest part of the course- Snow Valley Peak) to break 24 hours – that was unlikely.
We reached Snow Valley Peak in 12th position, one of my favorite spots on the course, with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the moon reflecting over the sparkling water. I allowed my first peak at my watch since Tunnel Creek, and was disappointed to see it was just after 4am – there was no way I could run the last 7-8 miles in under an hour. I quietly accepted this and decided to still give it my best effort on the long, mostly downhill set of switchbacks that led to the finish line.
The final miles became fun again when we spotted a headlamp in the distance- the first runner we’d seen since mile 90. The chase was on. It took a few switchbacks, but we passed him and I was now 11th overall (Sorry, Paul :)). Lucas thought he saw another set of headlamps, and it became a race again. I could feel Lucas getting a little too close, and just when I thought he might accidentally knock me down, he tripped and did a perfect somersault, landing upright and continuing to run.
As we approached the beautiful lake, just before sunrise, we heard cheering in the distance.
It’s difficult to put into words the intense high I felt while racing around that lake, with glimpses of the finish-line lights, and Lucas cheering me on and supporting me like he had throughout the past 4 months of training. I’d visualized this moment repeatedly and it was all playing out better than I could have hoped. We charged to the finish line to a very exciting small reception of friends, in particular my sister, all the way out here from Michigan, to wrap up the most amazing race of my life.
As it turned out, Roxanne had a phenomenal race and finished about 50 minutes before me, so the lights we saw turned out to be a new friend, Louis, who made sure I didn’t pass him in the final miles. The 2016 race had 155 finishers and 75 runners who didn’t quite make it. I had several friends in each category, and realize how fortunate I was to have a good day. You just never know what can happen out there.
I’m eternally appreciative of the love and support I received before, during, and after the race from Lucas, Lynette, Pete, Meghan, my parents, my brother and his family, Betsy, Angela, Audrey, Helen, Gretchen, Diana, Holly, Spike, Chaz, Moné, Kathy, Jessie, Anna Mae, Avian and Stephen, and all my family, friends and fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners. I had so many quotes from each of you going through my mind throughout the race. I’m super grateful to my friend George Ruiz, Race Director, for putting on such a high-quality event, year after year. I’m also thankful for the hundreds of volunteers that gave up their weekend (or more) to provide us runners with the best experience possible.