About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed one 100 miler and numerous other ultramarathon trail races and marathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

Other race reports: Sultonic, Gretchen, Davy, Scott, Joy

(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.

I’m wearing my headlamp as we start out past Spooner Lake. We follow a dirt road that takes us through the park until we reach a single track trail. Let the climbing begin from 7000 ft to almost 9000 in about 7 miles. After the first 4, we run down and get nice views of Marlette Lake, just one of many that we will see on this beautiful course. After rounding the lake we continue up and I’m feeling great. I’ve just seen the first sunrise of my journey.

After some more climbing I arrive at Hobart aid station where a young girl is waiting with a lasso. It’s a game. Toss the lasso over the steer and win a prize. This is going to be a fun day. I take a moment to get my picture taken with the lasso, scarf some PBJs, fill bottles, and get going. I better not dawdle I have 94 more miles to go. I’m drinking Hammer HEED and Sustained Energy in bottles that I’ve placed in my drop bags. Hammer gel and Endurolytes (E-Caps) are also part of my nutrition strategy.

I leave Hobart a little worried because I was only 10 minutes from the cutoff time. I pick up my pace a little and continue the climb up to Marlette Peak. I see the first view of the azure waters of Lake Tahoe, the “glimpse of heaven”. The spectacular scenery is my motivation to run this difficult course.

The wildflowers are gorgeous this year and it is all I can do to keep from wasting time taking pictures. I allow myself a few shots and then continue on. Finally I get to a nice downhill where I can cruise effortlessly. I arrive at my first of six passes through Tunnel Creek Aid Station. I grab some sandwiches, pretzels, and fill another bottle of sport drink that I get from my drop bag.

I leave happy and begin the 1.5 mile 1200 ft drop into Red House Loop. Running downhill is worse than going up and really does a number on my quads. I try to let gravity do all the work and just go with the flow. This is where I can make up some time. Locals have recently sighted a 600 pound rogue black bear with a white ear tag down here. Most bears run when they see people, but this one has reportedly been killing livestock and is not afraid. We were warned to be careful of this guy; I hope I don’t run into him. I reach the base and enjoy the lush vegetation down here in the creek bottom. No bears so far.

Unfortunately, what goes down must come back up, so I slowly climb the steep hill, cross a creek and then see the Red House. A mini aid station awaits. I grab some fluids when I arrive and continue making the climb back up to Tunnel Aid. I reach a flat section and enjoy listening to the flow of water. I get to the intersection where others are making their way down and I continue up. I overhear a 50K girl ask, “Do we have to go back up this?”.

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.

In four miles I reach Bull Wheel Aid at the top of a ski run and fill my Camelbak for the nine mile stretch to the lodge. I run along a rolling ridge with views of Twin Lakes to my right. My stomach is a little better now and I reach the downhill section into Diamond Peak. It seems to go on forever, but I reach another lady who I had passed earlier. We chat a little and she informs me that this is her 19th 100 mile run. Wow, what an accomplishment. Soon I start to see some hikers and mountain bikers, so must be getting close. I see ski chalets and then arrive at a road which brings me to the lodge. 30 miles down and only 70 more to go.

I enjoy Cara’s company for a few minutes and she helps me get ready for my departure. I have a few sandwich pieces, some boiled potatoes, and get grit out of my shoes. Gatorade quenches my thirst and then I start up the ski slope towards Bull Wheel. Red House Loop used to be the “taste of hell” on this course, but one runner comments, “I will never complain about Red House again.” Going up this sandy, steep, slope in the heat of the day is the most grueling task I’ve ever attempted. 1800 feet elevation gain in 2 miles. I kick my toes into the sand like a mountaineer front pointing up a peak. It helps me get some traction and I slowly make my way up. I watch others and notice that hands on hips with slow steady steps is the preferred method.

I’m elated when I see the bull wheel for the chair lift at the top of the slope because now I get to run downhill for a while, but first I turn around for my reward; a spectacular view of Tahoe. When I make it back to Tunnel Creek, I’m feeling the drain of the big climb. I start back up to Hobart and really hit a bottom. By the time I get there I’m completely spent. I hit one of my espresso flavored Hammer gels with 50 mg of caffeine and drink a little shot of cola. Some more PBJs and potatoes and I’m ready for the last 10 miles of loop number one.

I run along with a 50 mile racer who says, “I’m glad to be almost finished, but I see that you still have a long way to go.” Thanks for reminding me. All the same, I’m happy to be closing in on my first loop and love what’s coming up. Having run the 50 mile course last year, I’m looking forward to Snow Valley Peak (9200 ft).

We continue making our way up through the trees and then come to a clearing where we can see the snow patched peak. Views of Tahoe come into sight and the heat is abating. I enjoy the breeze and then see a sign that reads, “Food, Fuel, Lodging next exit…” I’m nearing the next aid station and then see the Boy Scout troop flag along with “Old Glory” waving in the wind. I make my way down and take care of my aid station necessities. The scouts treat me well.

After another weight check, I’m on my way for a seven mile drop back to Spooner Lake. Cooler temperatures and knowing that I’ll get to see Cara soon lift my spirits. On the way down I pass Jose and his friend and give a word of encouragement. After five miles I reach a mini aid station and decide to skip it and run the last couple miles to the staging area. I love this aspen lined trail that circumnavigates the lake and has several boardwalks that cross marshy areas. It seems like forever before I reach the end, but finally I hear some cheering and know that I’m at the finish…or…I mean, half way point. Cara is waiting and the clock reads 15 hours. It’s 8:00pm and I’m right at my goal time.

This area is bustling with activity. Some runners are celebrating their 50K and 50 mile finishes, but others of us are just half way. Since the evening will be chilly, I change into a dry shirt and grab a long sleeve for later. Another weigh-in and then I have some potatoes, soup, and granola. I don my headlamp, bid Cara farewell and start out on my second loop.

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.

Mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer, in his account of the first ascent of the Eiger north face, spoke of the night by writing, “Those hours between night and day are always a keen challenge to one’s courage. One’s body goes mechanically through the correct movements essential to gaining height; but the spirit is not yet awake nor full of the joy of climbing, the heart is shrouded in a cloak of doubt and diffidence.”

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.

I start the climb out and enjoy a short flat section. I can see a few headlamps through the trees down below me where I was running earlier, so I’m not the last runner. I keep climbing up and reach Tunnel again very tired and hot. 67 miles down. I change my wet shirt and put a dry long sleeve one on because I am told that it is windy on the ridge. I get some advice from some experienced ultra runners, have some hot soup and get on my way.

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.

Feeling encouraged I make it to Bull Wheel aid which is not manned, so I just fill up with water and continue on my way. 9 more miles to the lodge. I’m walking a lot and am losing time. I begin the downhill part and am in a lot of pain. I feel very weak and woozy. Why am I doing this? I will never attempt another 100 mile race again. If you are reading this and you ever hear me talking of another 100 you better talk me out of it. I pass another runner who is also having a rough time and then experience my second sunrise of the run. This motivates me to run some and then John, who was retching at Tunnel, passes me. His encouragement keeps me going and finally, I limp into Diamond Peak Lodge, mile 80.

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.

I muster enough strength to get ready to go and then Jose rolls in. He wants to come along so we can encourage each other up the mountain. Great idea. I grab some food in a baggie and eat while we go. Surprisingly I feel so much better. The human body is truly a remarkable machine and what a difference a little rest and food makes. We plod up the mountain for the second time and the sun is shining down. It takes us over an hour to go just 2 miles. Jose lets me know that he can’t go very fast, but thinks he will finish in time. I take off when we reach the top because I’m afraid I may have another rough patch and not make the cut-off times.

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.

It’s extremely hot now and the sun is radiating off of the white sandy trail. I make it to the top of Snow Valley 30 minutes earlier than I thought. The breeze feels nice and the views are inspiring. I only stay a few minutes and then start the descent to the finish. When I get towards the bottom the breeze disappears and I can’t believe how hot it is. I keep drinking to make sure nothing bad happens in these last few miles. My training in the west Texas heat is paying off and I keep a steady pace.

I reach the last aid station with less than two miles to go. I stop because of the heat and a nice lady grabs my hat and fills it with ice. She wets my bandanna and away I go. When I reach the boardwalk that takes me to the lake I break down emotionally. What an adventure! I see Cara at the finish line and the clock reads 33:30. Tom was right. I made it back by 2:30 with an hour and half to spare. Which 100 do I want to run next? Maybe Rocky Raccoon, Vermont, or Massanutten in my birth state of Virginia.

Cara helps me get into my Crocs and we inspect my feet. All I can say is ouch. I have the opportunity to thank David and Tom and then Jose makes it into the finish. I’ve made some lifelong friends on the trail here in Tahoe. Later we enjoy the awards ceremony where I receive my first 100 mile finisher’s buckle. Out of 105 runners 60 of us finished the race (57%).It has indeed been a very special couple of days. See you on the trail.

Acknowledgments: Cara, thank you for all your support, endless waiting, and for picking me up when I bonk. Raymond and Betsy for pet sitting and for providing the best base camp for training. Mom and Dad for putting up with my worrisome endeavors. Granny and Gramps for introducing me to Pre’s Trail. Tom Gallagher for getting me back on my feet at mile 80 and all the volunteers and staff that work so hard to make TRT such a spectacular event. Jose, Ben, John and all my friends, family, and readers who sent their positive energy when I needed it most.
This chair feels sooooooo good!
The End

8 comments:

  1. Good write up, and congrats on a 100 mile finish. Way to hang in there.

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  2. congratulations on your first 100 miler. I know how hard it is to stick it out. I've been there before. This year I didn't finish TRT. I lost too much weight to dehydration and was getting very disoriented and losing my balance. By mile 56 at hobart aid station I still could not recover. I decided to call it quits because I didn't want to pay too high a price to my health. I'll be back next year. Reading about you getting out of the Diamond Peak lodge at mile 80 was very inspiring. Keep it up!

    Marco

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  3. Sultan, congrats on your finish also. I left DP at the same time as Joy and was amazed at how fast she cruised up that slope. Way to overcome that 13 between Tunnel and DP.

    Marco, keep at it. I know you will be back again. Congrats on making 56 miles on such a tough course. Good luck.

    Greg

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  4. Way to go Greg! We both came back from the dead at Diamond Peak. I didn't want to tell you, but I thought you looked really miserable! You should have seen me when I got there, I was stumbling, cranky, and had made my mind up to quit. I spent 3 hours there with my husband and brother trying to convince me to go out again. What a proud finish for you!

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  5. Thanks Joy, I was amazed at how well you did after having your blisters taken care of. Great job. See you on the trail. -Greg

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  6. Great running Greg - and a great write-up too! I was with you there for the last few miles - I've been there so many times myself I can relate :-)
    I also find it's a bit of a balance between running and photos - you want to get the best time that you can, but also want to have the pictures to help you remember the adventure - and the memory does fade so quickly, doesn't it!
    In every long run I do, I find myself questioning my motives and doubting doing anything like it again - it's all part of the highs and lows I think.
    Well done again.
    Richard

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  7. Thanks Richard. I'll be thinking of you in a few weeks when you are running Leadville. Good luck. -Greg

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