Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report, Lap Two. The second 50 miles.
One of the truly unique experiences of running 100 mile races is running all night. Tahoe was my fourth 100 and therefore my fourth time to run from sunup to sunset to sunup the next day. It is a surreal experience as the your world is slowly reduced to the area illuminated by your headlamp. The brightness of the headlamp seems to make the darkness around you even darker, especially while running through the woods. In mountains as high as Tahoe or Wasatch or especially Colorado it takes a long time for the ski to become totally black. Several hours after sunset there is still a faint glow on the westerly horizon. And of course, the same is true at dawn. This glow is only viable from high ridges where the horizon is not obstructed by trees or hills.
By the time it becomes dark in most 100 mile races, runners have been running for 15 or 16 hours or more. Almost all 100 mile races are limited to between 100 and 250 runners and by night they are scattered over 30 or 40 miles of the course. (Jorge Maravella, winner of the Tahoe 100 mile race finished in 18 hours and 48 minutes. I met him and his pacer in the first snow fields above Hobart. They were headed for the finish less than 10 miles away. I still had over 40 miles to go.) Runners were so scattered by then that I ran much of the night totally alone. Occasionally I would meet one of the lead runners headed for the finish but mostly I was alone. I came up behind a runner on the Red House Loop and there were usually several other runners at the aid stations, but on the trail, there was usually no one around.
You are busy during the night. The trail is often hard to follow in the dark and, although it is usually pretty well marked, one momentary lack of attention can send you off into the dark on the wrong trail for miles. It is of course much harder to see rocks and irregularities in the trail at night, so you really have to stay focused or risk a fall. You do not want to get hurt miles from the nearest road on a very cold night. Tahoe had something I had not experienced in my three previous 100 miler races. Race night had an almost totally full moon in a cloudless sky. The moon did not come up until a while after dark but once it was up I could have almost turned off my lights and run in the moonlight. It was so bright that at times when the moon was behind me I kept looking back thinking someone was coming up behind me.
I found this picture taken during the night. That is what you see with a headlamp although I am sure this shot was taken with a flash. Headlamps illuminate a small spot down the trail not a large area like this.
As I was heading up from Spooner Lake to begin the second 50 mile loop the sun was just setting. The trail follows a deep valley all the way to Hobart but runners could see the mountains surrounding the trail on most of this section. As I followed the trail up the 5 miles to Marlette Lake, the light slowly faded and the mountains began to disappear in the dark. At some point I realized it was becoming hard to see obstacles in the trail and I turned on my two headlamps. I know that sounds strange but I wear one on my head and one around my waste.
I use the headlamp (on my head) to shine where I am looking. Generally I use it to illuminates the trail 10 to 20 yards ahead and to spot trail marking. The one around my waist is a flood type and I angle it to light up the trail 10 or 15 feet immediately in front of me. The problem with a headlamp alone is, it produces no visible shadows to the wearer. Everything is flat or two dimensional. The light around my waste creates shadows which adds a critical third dimension. I can tell if the rock I am about to hop over in 1/2 inch tall or 6 inches tall. That can make a difference. Some runners use a handheld LED flashlight but I was using trekking poles on the climbs so I wanted my hands free.
As much as I enjoy running at night, an aid station in the middle of a cold night is a wonderful place finally reach!
Back to the race. Everything was going great as I started the second 50 miles. I made it up to Hobart with no problems at all. However, about a mile past Hobart (mile 57) I started feeling sick at my stomach. I wasn't too concerned. I always get sick at my stomach at some point in a 100 mile race and even in some 50k's. That is why I always carry a few ginger chews. In fact, I had already had one bout with an upset stomach earlier that afternoon. I had failed to add NUUN electrolyte tablets at an aid station when I added water to my hydration pack. So at the next aid station I added extra. I still didn't think I had added enough so I added even more. In a few minutes I began to feel a little sick and soon was having trouble drinking the water. I had probably added double the concentration of electrolytes in my water that I should have. At the next aid station I poured the water out and added only water. In 20 or 30 minutes I was fine again.
Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to add an exact amount of water to a bladder in a backpack. It is hard to see the scale printed on the bladder, especially at night. Aid station volunteers tend to put more water than you ask for and so on. I have a tendency to add additional NUUN tablets to compensate. What ever the reason the stomach thing was happening again on the second lap. This time it did not register that I was again adding too many electrolytes and I started eating ginger chews but did not fix the real problem. By the time I reached the Tunnel Creek AS at mile 61, I was feeling pretty bad and having to walk a lot.
As I started down the Red House Loop after Tunnel Creek I could not run at all. I walked all the way down, almost all the way through the creeks at the bottom of the loop, and most of the way back up to Tunnel Creek again. I was becoming really frustrated at the amount of time I was loosing. I had another major concern. The only thing I had been able to eat since leaving Hobart, probably 3 hours before was a little soup at aid stations. I was concerned that soon I was going to "bonk." (That is, totally run out of fuel for my body to burn and come to a complete halt.) I have been experimenting with a product called "Vespa," a concentrated amino acid supplement, that helps you burn fat as a fuel instead of carbs. Apparently it works because I was not able to eat enough the rest of the race to keep me going with carbs and I felt strong all the way to the end once I recovered from the stomach problem.
One of the creek crossings on the Red House Loop (Photo taken by James Plant)
I finally reached the Bull Wheel aid station and by then I had figured out that I had once again messed up the electrolyte balance. I again dumped out the water and added plain water to my pack and found a few electrolyte capsules for later. It had about 3 more miles along the crest of the Tahoe Rim Trail to where we started down the long, 2,000 ft descent called the "Tyrolean Downhill" by mountain bikers to Diamond Peak Resort. By the time I reached the descent I was beginning to run a little. As I hit the steeper section of the trail I was feeling pretty good and ran the final 4 miles down to Diamond Peak. I cannot imagine riding my mountain bike down that descent.
It was getting light as I reached the mountain bike descent and I actually enjoyed the run down and occasionally looked up at the spectacular view of Lake Tahoe. I met a number of hikers coming up the hill for an early morning walk and even passed a few fellow runners. I was really glad to see Marye Jo at the aid station. She had all my stuff laid out inside the resort building where it was nice and warm. I sat down and relaxed for a few minutes while sorting through what I needed. I pulled off my running tights and jacket, left my headlamps, gloves and toboggan with her. I also left the Nathan belt that held bottles of Perpetuem drink. I had not been able to dink any of it all night and I saw no point in continuing to carry it. It was still cold outside but the sun would be up and warming the air pretty soon and I would create a lot of body heat on the ridiculous climb up to Bull Wheel. I also decided to do something I have never done before in an ultra. I changed shoes and socks. My feet had been wet or damp for the past 22 hours and I decided it would feel good to have dry feet again. I probably spent 20 minutes at Diamond Peak but I enjoyed every minute of it.
Diamond Peak volunteers were out in the cold cooking all kinds of breakfast burritos, or just about any other breakfast dish but I only ate soup again. It was really difficult to get up and go back out into the cold, especially facing that two mile climb up to the top of the ski resort, but it was time to go. I kissed Marye Jo goodbye and told here I would see her in 20 miles, at the finish.
Amazingly, the climb was much easier on this second ascent after 80 miles. The only thing I can figure is that it was a hot during the first climb up yesterday and there is no shade at all. Now it is cold. I also started doing crossover type steps (much like an ice skater does in a turn) all the way up on the steep part. That is, take 10 steps with my feet turned about 10 deg. to the right, 10 steps straight ahead and 10 steps with my feet turned to the left, then back right again, etc. This technique constantly switches the effort to different muscle groups. It works. The first trip up, I zigzagged.
Another picture of the Diamond Peak climb (by James Plant)
You know it is funny, but once I reached the Diamond Peak Resort I knew I would finish even though this climb was still ahead. By the time I reached the top, I felt like I was almost there, the finish that is. Even though I still had 18 miles to go, that was just a formality. I just had to keep going and that is exactly what I did. I added nothing to my water the rest of the day and ate one electrolyte tablet each hour. I ate a cup of chicken noodle soup and a little fruit at each aid station and that was all I ate. I felt better the longer I ran.
As I left the Tunnel Creek aid station I thanked everyone for their hard work and said good by. I had spent a lot of time there in the past 26 hours (six stops.) When I reached Hobart I thanked them too. I had been there 4 times since the start of the race. Then it was off to the final 1,000 foot climb to Snow Valley Peak, then 7.1 miles to the finish. That was all sort of a blur. The descent from Snow Valley was were the race began with the "Too Dumb to Quit" man. That was what it said on the back of his shirt and the first time I saw it I remember thinking, "he is not the only one!" His name is Joey Anderson, from North Carolina. He passed me the first time about 5 miles into the race on the run up to Hobart. We passed each other back and forth all during the race. I remember him because of the shirt and the fact that he was wearing "Bright Pink" gaiters. Look closely at the man in the gray shirt coming up the hill in the picture above. That's him.
I came up behind him about 5 miles from the end and the race was on. We both ran continuously, except that I walked up a few short hills, until about 2 miles from the end. He had some problem and had to stop. I continued but was pretty sure he was coming back up behind me because he had been running so strong. I couldn't slow down and would not look back so I just ran as fast as my crumbling legs would carry me. I really was beginning to wonder if someone had moved some of the course markers and I was headed for Carson City instead of the finish at Spooner Lake. Finally I came out of the woods and saw the small foot bridge that crossed the marsh at the south end of the lake. I knew I was almost there. I hit the gravel road and I could see the gates that lead to the finish. Then I saw Marye Jo and I think I hopped up and down as I ran.
I actually felt pretty good as I finished. I got a big hug from MJ. My time was 33 hours, 17 minutes and 07 seconds. We walked over to a chair in the shade, removed all the junk I was carrying and sat down. I considered never getting up again. Marye Jo brought me a coke. I took off my shoes and drank the coke. I realized I was hungry so I did get up and go get real food. (I actually do not remember what I got to eat, but it was good.) We hung around, talked to a lot of the people we had met over the weekend and waited for the awards. After an hour or so of resting and eating I decided I needed to go find my drop bags that were deposited up in the parking lot. The lot was about 1/4 mile up a hill form the start/finish area. As I started walking up that hill, I realized, for the first time, just how tired I really was.
Finally, at 4:00PM they started the awards ceremony. This was the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) National Ultrarunning Championship. If they had had a "Great Grand Master" (60 and above) I thought I would have won it. Turns out they did, only I not only did not win it, I was not even close. Tom Hicks from California ran a 30:42:38. He is 67 years old. That is a humbling experience!
This is the trophy, the Belt Buckle! The center is actually a coin minted at the Carson City Mint. Note the "CC" mint stamp. We spent the rest of the week in Tahoe at a wonderful little bed and breakfast called the Shore House at Lake Tahoe. Barb and Marty are great hosts and the breakfast is great. And the view... We lounged around Monday, ate a lot and drove to South Tahoe to see Heavenly Ski Resort. Then we came back and ate more. Tuesday we hiked up to Marlette Lake from the Tahoe side. This was a 4 mile fairly steep hike but my legs didn't complain too much. We actually ran most of the way back down. Another day we drove over to Emerald Bay, a beautiful area on the southwest corner of the lake. Here are a few pictures from the the area. Those are pretty big Redwoods and Emerald Bay, below. Did I mention how clear the water in Tahoe is. And the Shore House Bed and Breakfast.
We have decided that we will go back to Tahoe, soon. I plan to run the race again, probably next year if I don't get in Hardrock. We might even go to "just hang out." Hevenly and Squaw Valley ski resorts and 19 other small resorts surround the lake. Might be a fun winter trip too.