The first thing I did on January 1, 2016 was check my email to learn I had “won” entry into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler via the lottery — which inspired many brash resolutions around training and lifestyle. But my training did not go as vowed. In the winter, I built up a good running base, but didn’t follow through on cross-training or strength/mobility/flexibility work. When spring came, for various non-running reasons, I wasn’t able to put in the hard, long efforts I needed. I bowed out of the Wapack and Back 42-miler; I lost some crucial weeks in June recovering from the San Diego marathon.
I knew that the TRT 100 would present many challenges for me: altitude (most of the race takes place between 7000-9000 feet above sea level, and I live at sea level); elevation gain (over 20,000 feet, which is difficult to train for when my nearest “mountain” has a measly 350 foot climb); and travel (I’d be arriving with Mr P. and Little Boy in Sacramento late Thursday night and traveling to Nevada on Friday for the early Saturday start, meaning I’d start with a certain amount of weariness).
The week before the TRT 100, I took an honest look at my training and decided to downgrade my distance to the 50-miler. Since the 100-miler is two loops of the 50, I’d still see the whole course. I’d have more time to relax on the beach with Mr. P and Little Boy. And, I would rather comfortably race and finish the 50 than suffer and probably not finish the 100.
The travel went well. On Friday, we arrived in Carson City in the early afternoon to pick up my bib and check into the hotel before heading to Zephyr Cove beach. Mr. P and Little Boy enjoyed periodic bursts of snorkeling in the brisk clear waters while I waded and mindfully hydrated.
On Saturday morning, I woke up at 3:45am. We stayed at the Carson City Plaza for the shuttle to the start/finish line at Spooner Lake, so Mr. P wouldn’t have to drive me. I had all my gear readied the night before so my priorities were to drink coffee, eat some nut bars, and use the bathroom. I arrived at the shuttle bus early and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations about the race and the course. I felt anxious so every little bit of knowledge gleaned was reassuring.
The bus arrived at Sooner Lake in time to see the 100-mile race start at 5am. I felt a little wistful as the 100 milers ran by with their headlamps. As the 6am start for the 50 mile and 55K race neared, the sun gradually rose.
The race started with the national anthem and then Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” I ran comfortably in a tightly-packed line of runners as the trail climbed gradually. Some runners already had audibly strained breathing; it always amazes me how people basically guarantee fatigue and misery in the last stages of an ultra in order to gain a few minutes at the start. My plan was to maintain a slow, steady pace, promising myself that if I wanted to go “beast mode”, it would wait until mile 43, where the 7-mile downhill to the finish commences.
The pack was spread out by the first aid station (Hobart) at mile 6. I grabbed some PB&J (my staple ultra food) and filled up my soft flasks. The next part of the race climbed some more to the Tunnel Creek aid station, where I grabbed more PB&J and applied sunscreen before starting the Red House loop — a part of the course known as “the taste of hell.” It wasn’t as bad as all that, though (and especially not as bad as the hell that awaited at mile 30).
After the Red House loop, the course climbed some more and the views got amazing. The trails started to fill with mountain bikers, who were very courteous but added some apprehension as their presence divided my attention. Around mile 20, I tripped and fell in front of three mountain bikers. Luckily I landed in soft sand so I only suffered some surface scratches on my elbow and a heavy dousing of dirt on my quads.
At mile 22, they warn you to fill up on liquids because the next aid station is in 8 miles. Unfortunately, the water tasted horrible — like glue. (I later found out the taste was due to the new PVC pipes that were being used to transport the water. Yikes.) On this mostly downhill section, I did share some miles with some nice folks, and the chatting helped to pass the time going into Diamond Peak at mile 30.
Mr. P and Little Boy awaited me at mile 30. I arrived just before 1pm, which was my optimistic target for Diamond Peak.
My drop bag was at mile 30, so I changed my socks and retrieved my trekking poles, which I knew would come in handy for the impending 2 mile climb up a ski trail. I sat down for a bit, drinking water and eating PB&Js while smiling like an idiot at Mr. P and Little Boy. I told them to come to the finish line around 6pm, as it looked like I might be able to pull off a 12-hour finish.
The steep, 1600-foot climb out of Diamond Peak was hell, but it was a hell I had trained for. I used my poles to push myself up the sandy slope, passing more than a dozen other runners, some of whom commented on my “nice pace” (although I was moving at about a 30-minute per mile pace). For the first time in the race, my breathing was not so relaxed but it never got out of control.
Miles 32 to 42 are sort of a blur. I was still running steadily but slowly, and felt good. The highest point of the course is Snow Peak at mile 43; it was on this climb that I started to feel nauseous. The views were amazing but there was some serious wind! I realized the altitude was getting to me. I choked down three tortilla chips and some pickles at the aid station; I tried a peanut M&M and nausea quickly welled. Finishing the last seven miles on only water was not ideal, but I knew I could do it. As I took off jogging slowly on the downhill, there were some moments I had to stop, thinking I was going to puke. Breathing became harder. My legs were also starting to feel fatigued. It was a slow jog to the finish and I counted down the miles with a wee bit of impatience.
Reaching Spooner Lake was such a relief. The last part of the race is along the perimeter of the lake, wth the finish line in sight. I could see Mr. P and Little Boy just before the finish line and again, I started smiling like an idiot.
I crossed the finish in 12 hours, 35 minutes. The race director George greeted me and urged me to sit down. He asked me how I liked the course and I said something about how I loved it, it was the most amazing race I’d ever done, and I’m from Boston so it was extra special for me. He commented that I must be very “well-trained” to come from sea level to run without much affect from the altitude.
A nice woman asked me if I need anything to drink. I still felt queasy so I asked for more water. I started to give her my soft flask to fill up and she chuckled. “You’ve been drinking out of that thing for 50 miles. Let’s get you a cup, dear! Wouldn’t it be nice to drink out of a cup?”
Oh yes, it would!
After 20 minutes of drinking water from a cup, I was finally able to eat. There was some Mexican food but I was more intrigued by the ramen soup. There was free beer for runners but I let Mr. P drink mine.
Finishing the 50 miles in 12 hours, 30 minutes is actually a really great time for a low-lander (and flat-lander) like me. I placed 12th lady out of about 50 ladies. And, I did not regret switching from the 100-miler to the 50. I had good training for a 50 miler, but frankly, I do not think I would have finished the 100 miler.
We headed back to the hotel, where I took an amazing shower and we ordered takeout salad and a meat/cheese platter. I sipped wine until bedtime and awoke Sunday feeling stiff but not too bad. Mr. P went for a morning run. We were leaving Sunday night but still had the day to enjoy Tahoe. Overall, it was an amazing race and wonderful little vacation.