Last weekend I completed my sixth Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run 100-miler. The race’s tagline is “A glimpse of Heaven, a taste of Hell.” The average elevation of the course was 7800′ and took place on mostly single-track decomposed granite trails. This was the first year the race started and finished in Carson City, and the course changes had amounted to a longer distance (about 104 miles) with more climbing (about 20k’ gain).
To prepare for the 2021 edition, I enlisted the help of Jen Gariepy at Select Physical Therapy in Truckee. Jen helped me address the issues that were causing my knee pain, neck pain, and migraines. After a few months of PT I got back on a training plan with my coach, Meghan Canfield. My plantar fasciitis (PF) began to flare up so I followed the stretches prescribed by Jen and also started weekly shockwave sessions with my podiatrist, Dr. Condon at Truckee Podiatry.
Each of these issues still flared up at times, but I kept the faith and kept up with my PT and training routine, and had a successful first-race-in-22 months at the Silver State 50 miler in Reno, Nevada in May (Gretchen and I even shared the podium). I was gifted a pair of The North Face Flight Vectiv shoes a couple of days before the event (thanks Mary and Rory), and was rewarded with a relatively pain-free (no blisters!) race. After nearly 10 years in Hokas (and many blisters) I had my magic new shoes.
While training was progressing nicely, it was time to address the mental aspect. My goal was to go into race week excited yet calm, and then get to the race and remain present so I could soak up ALL the things I love about being outside moving through the mountains.
During the lows of the pandemic, when I’d found it difficult to get out of bed at times, I listened to self-help TED talks (Mel Robbins was a favorite). It helped profoundly so I returned to Youtube and Audible to search for guidance.
I listened to “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey (about finding positivity in any challenge), “Endure” by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell (recommended to me by my 77-year old friend Carol Patterson, who took on the TRT55k), and “Let Your Mind Run” by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton (amazing). I listened to Ted Talks like Change your mindset, change the game – by Dr. Alia Crum (this one several times), How endurance athletes are using the power of the now – by Ned Phillips (I learned to count my footsteps whenever I needed to go back to the present moment).
I soaked up the research on the power of a positive mindset and visualized using those tools during the race. I adjusted my watch so that I couldn’t focus on total distance covered or any elevation stats, instead, I could only see my average pace and my current lap distance (which I reset at every aid station). All of this was designed to keep me focused on the mile I was in.
Two weeks out, I tweaked my neck during my last long run, and could barely move – it hurt to sit, to lay down, to run…. I got back in with Jen and also scheduled 3 massages over those final 2 weeks. One massage therapist I randomly found (Jesse Ysunda at Truckee Massage) incorporates “intention setting, breathwork, and sound therapy tools such as tuning forks and singing bowls – bringing balance to body, mind, & spirit.” PERFECT. Now, some might think the neck flare-up was a total roadblock, but instead, it led me to seek out a healer which brought me to Jesse. We worked on replacing “anxiety” with “ease” and I learned how to pull myself back to that mindset whenever the doubts began to creep in. And between the PT, the mindful massages with Jessie, and one with James at Zenergy, I arrived at race day pain-free.
Steve Martelli and Jan Horan would be my crew at miles 45, 82, and the finish. Spike Wimmer would be on hand with medic supplies to take care of any blisters. Naomi Plasterer would pace me from 45-80, and Jeff Gould would take the final section, from 80-104.
Runner check-in on Friday was in Carson City, and we saw many friends that I’d really missed over the past two years of little-to-no racing. My friend Alex gave me a hug, then pointed at me and said “You’re my pick!” “You’ve worked so hard!” I was flattered by his confidence and kept that with me. #imthepick
It was comforting having Jan with me as I introduced her to many of her son Lucas’s old friends. Everyone loved her Arkansas accent and many knew her from either Lucas’s memorial page, or her strava, where she’s been documenting her own running streak after losing him last Christmas.
My old neighbor Jessie moved to the beautiful Washoe Valley last year, and Jessie and her husband Scott hosted us for the night. They cooked a delicious meal that included venison they’d bow-hunted themselves.
Race morning I was up at 2:30am – in time for my daily 15-minute morning yoga routine, foam-rolling, a little coffee, and the egg-cheese-potato scramble that Steve had made me the day before. Gretchen’s sister Laura drove us to the start.
Gretchen and I took off at our own paces but eventually settled into a comfortable rhythm together. We kept it conversational on the initial 8.8 mile climb of 4400’ up to the high point of the course at Snow Valley Peak, chatting with other runners, admiring the sunrise, and hoping the smoke wouldn’t blow in. We’d checked out this climb once before during a training run, and laughed about how I’d forgotten my water bladder that time and had to run back down to the car to get it. I was pleasantly surprised to find the climb so much easier on race day without the added out-and-back!
Gretchen and I happily chatted our way through the next 20 miles or so, meeting new friends along the way. We got the all-star treatment from our Silver State Striders family, in particular from JoAnn, Andy, Mike, and Kaycee working the Tunnel Creek Aid Station (which we pass through 5 times), and I was excited to head down to the Red House Loop for only ONE lap this year. I covered the miles with ease. I called Naomi on the way to Diamond Peak to alert her I might arrive earlier than scheduled – and she was ready. My running club (Donner Party Mountain Runners) was hosting the aid station and it was thrilling to arrive at mile 45 feeling so great, surrounded by friends.
Just as I was changing my socks (no blisters!), Steve, Jan, and MY BROTHER Marcel arrived! Marcel had driven over 7 hours from Oregon to surprise me at the race. Naomi and I headed out around 4pm- I was in 20th position overall and 5th female. I kept telling myself, the race doesn’t start until the 2nd Diamond Peak, but it was still nice to hear I was doing alright.
As we climbed Diamond Peak, the sky looked ominous as the smoke billowed over from the Tamarack Fire.
I kept asking Naomi if she smelled smoke and she’d say “no but I smell you!” She kept things light and made fun of me at every chance, telling me I smelled like B.O. and “crotch rot” (I blamed the Squirrels Nut Butter, which is highly effective but so gnarly), apologizing to others as we passed “sorry about the smell”, and strategizing at what point I would drop her so she didn’t have to do the entire 36 miles with me.
Around mile 60 we caught up to our friend Alex, who was happy to see us. He reminded me that I was his pick! #imthepick
Shortly after, we came across Roxanne Woodhouse, whom I have a ton of respect for. Roxanne has won the race nearly every year she’s run it and was on her 9th finish. She was recovering from some serious injuries but determined. She encouraged me and told me “now go catch those other gals” as I passed by.
The sun set and we switched our headlamps on around the Hobart Aid Station. We had about 17 miles to go together and Naomi again spoke of her desire to be dropped. I just laughed and told her she’d be fine, and as the miles went on, I started to feel some nausea set in. Food and drink no longer sounded appealing, my pace slowed, and at some point the GI distress became dire. I ran off the trail to dig a hole to poo, and in total darkness and silence, as the “distress” signal sounded, Naomi busted out laughing so loud. Laughter really is the best medicine, and we continued on our way.
Some negative thoughts tried to make their way in, but I reminded myself how lucky I was to be out there (thinking of my friend JJ and her son Wylder, who’d just broken his neck), thinking about Jan who’d flown out to help me, all the sacrifices my kids and Steve had made throughout the training, and of course the fact that my brother was there.
It was time to break this nausea spell – I started psyching myself up to take a Spring Energy Gel – I’d used these throughout training, never had a problem, and it was time to get back to basics since nothing else would work. I remembered all the placebo effect research and firmly told myself that the Spring would taste good, settle nicely, and get me back on track. It worked. I really do love running at night, taking note of the little spiders and bugs and mice scurrying across the trail, and enjoying the illusion of the 3-D flowers popping out from the sides of the trail in my headlamp.
When Naomi and I reached the DPMR Aid station at Diamond Peak (mile 80), I was so grateful to see my friends and family again, but had also resigned to thinking the “racing” part of my journey was over. Now it was just a survival to the finish. But wait – hadn’t I been the one to say the race didn’t start until the 2nd Diamond Peak? As we set out at 2am (this time with poles – magic), I learned I was in 14th position and 3rd female. Oh boy, apparently the race was NOT over.
Jeff encouraged me up the climb with whatever stories he could tell. I’d warned him that I probably wouldn’t be responsive (the nausea had taken a toll). He later joked to someone “it was just like talking to my teenage sons!”
My energy returned and the nausea dissipated and by the time we hit Tunnel Creek Aid Station for the final round, I was feeling great again. I restocked on water and Spring Energy Gels (this was my only fuel now, it was working!) and I asked Andy how Carol Patterson had done in the 55k – she finished! We all cheered, hugged, and I headed out thinking “if Carol can do this hard thing then I can too!”
As we approached Hobart Aid Station around mile 90 I saw lights ahead of us – as we passed, a woman said “holy $hit, you’re flying, great job!” I couldn’t tell if she was a runner or pacer. While passing through Hobart Aid, I heard her call out to Jeff “that was just the kick in the dick I needed! – I had planned to run all of this!”
The next couple miles were beautiful singletrack (Sunflower Trail) and the combined thrill of it being the last 12-14 miles, the break of dawn, the absence of any physical pain or nausea, and the “kick in the dick” after hearing my new friend was close behind was all enough to make me RUN. I had envisioned running this entire, mostly downhill section back to the finish line and it was now happening.
We reached the dirt road that wound along the side of the mountain for about 5 miles and continued our steady pace. After rounding a bend, I saw a runner and pacer ahead of us. I realized it could be the lead female. We glided by and offered each other encouragement and kind words. After several minutes had passed, I quietly asked, “Jeff, did we just take the lead?” and he said “I believe you did, and that’s why we are surging now, it’s time to break the elastic.”
We picked up the pace, the road continued on forever, but I had a new lightness and strength that came from the incredible surge of excitement in believing that I now actually had a shot at WINNING. #imthepick
I focused on keeping the pace at a manageable-enough level that I would not blow my wad or trip and get hurt (and get passed!). I knew the woman I’d passed was a faster runner than me (I hadn’t seen her the entire race) and had no idea what would happen when we hit that last singletrack but I committed to giving it 100% – and then it didn’t matter if she (or the “kick in the dick” gal) passed me, because I had given it my all.
We hit the singletrack and let it fly. I passed one guy about a mile down, nearly flew off the edge on a switch back (that was close), and then we hit a challengingly steep downhill road section again. All of the miles were downhill and I didn’t hold back. When we made the last turn onto the 2 mile singletrack section, Jeff firmly told me: “Now you run like you stole it!”
I didn’t have any music to listen to but the one song I could hear on repeat in my head was “THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG!” It was dang effective.
I crossed the finish line as 1st female, 10th overall, in 26 hours, 34 minutes. Filled with joy, gratitude, relief, and love for everyone who had helped me execute the race of my dreams, both on earth and in the heavens. I think Julia and Lucas were having a f-ing party up there.
Many thanks to my coach, crew, pacers, Race Director George Ruiz (I love the new course! Thanks!!), Jessie and Scott for hosting, Laura for driving us and all the support, all the volunteers throughout the weekend, the many friends and family that have reached out to me – thanks for believing in me. Congratulations to my fellow racers, especially my friend Gretchen, who also had a super strong last 12 miles and moved up to 3rd female! I’m so proud of all my friends who had the courage to take on this challenge.
Special thanks to my friend Gia for many months of trail therapy and encouragement and for driving it into my head that we can do hard things.