(17-18 Jul, 2010)
When I arrive at the staging area for my first attempt at running a 100 mile mountain trail race, the event staff is all dressed in bathrobes, curlers in hair. Even race director, David Cotter has curlers in his beard. I can’t blame them it’s only 4:15am, but this is going to be an adventure to remember. I mill around a bit and meet a few other runners; Jose and his buddy from the bay area and Ben and his crew from Oregon. After nervously waiting for a while, we all toe the line and wait for the countdown.
When I reach Tunnel Aid, they weigh me to make sure I’m not getting dehydrated. So far so good. I take a little time for sunscreen and food and get going towards Diamond Peak Lodge where Crew Chief Cara will meet me. I’m starting to feel nauseous and bloated from all the Hammer drink and wonder if my nutrition plan is going to work. The heat combined with all the climbing is affecting my stomach so I back off from the drink and stick with water.
I don’t remember this stretch of trail because it was dark this morning the first time I ran it. After a few miles I hear a large animal charge away from the trail and some pine cones roll down on to the trail. Could this be the big bear? It’s dark now which adds another element to my running adventure.
I keep going trying to make a little noise as I run to warn any bears of my approach. A few claps here and a fake cough there make me feel better. Running alone at night is actually very peaceful and I settle into a groove. I think about finishing Red House Loop, because that will be the point where I’ve run the farthest in my life. I cruise through Hobart Aid, crest Marlette Peak and enjoy the stars above. I can see boat lights on Lake Tahoe and am really having fun. The weather is perfect.
Soon I’m at Tunnel for the fourth time and get ready for the Red House descent and climb. When I start down my quads are killing me. I try to let gravity do the work, but the pain is too great. I back off a little. My feet are twisting and rolling as I descend and I can feel some hot spots developing on the outside of each heel. Finally I get to the bottom and wonder if the bear is here. I ascend the first steep hill and am back to the Red House. One older gentleman is manning the mini aid station and comments about how peaceful it is down here all by himself in the middle of the night.
By this time I’m really feeling the effects of being awake for over 20 hours. My legs are completely wasted and my energy is waning. I am really moving slowly through this section and then I run into Ben and his safety runner. They take time from their run to give me encouragement. The young lady says, “Greg, you look great. You can make it.” Ultrarunners are the most down to earth people anywhere. Consider that Erik Skaden and Mike Wolfe helped each other to share the win in this race two years ago which was the USATF 100 mile National Championship. I could not get through this without my experienced fellow runners.
I really don’t think I can go any more. The thought of climbing the ski slope is too much to think about. A doc looks at me and asks how I’m doing. I let him know that I’m very weak and woozy. “I can tell”, he says. “Lie back in this chair with your feet up and let it pass.” I reluctantly climb into the chair knowing quite well that I may never get out again. He brings me some broth and puts a blanket over me.
Aid station captain, Tom Gallagher, asks, “What’s wrong?” “I feel like I just ran 80 miles”, I respond. The first thing I notice about Tom is that he is wearing a Western States finisher’s buckle. “How about a fruit smoothie with some Ensure?” he asks. I take his advice and it is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. After I rest for 20 minutes Tom asks, “Why aren’t your feet on the floor?” I guess I should try to stand up, but I don’t think I can finish the race. Tom encourages me. “You still have plenty of time. If you can average just 3 miles per hour you will finish at 2:30 with an hour and a half to spare before the cut-off. Without his encouragement I don’t think I would keep going.
Before I know it I’m back in Tunnel for the last time. I don’t waste any time. I grab my sunscreen out of my drop bag and a volunteer packs a lunch for me. I apply sunscreen as I walk because I know things are about to heat up. Surprisingly I’m moving fast and even make up some time. I can really notice my blisters now and, as much as they hurt, I suppress my pain and run the downhill sections. When I get back to Hobart with time to spare, it dawns on me that I am going to finish this thing after all. 90 miles down and only 10 to go.
This chair feels sooooooo good!