I’m finishing this race report up on September 20th, a mere 2 months after the race ended. One would think that I’ve learned my lesson by now. Write it soon after the event and the memories are still far more vivid. As I’ve written many times, for pure justification sake as one wonders why one would write an 11,700 word race report other than to scream to anyone who will listen “hey, look what I did!” I view these race reports as a long personal journal entry (and I highly recommend keeping a journal by the way) as well as a document that one can read who is looking for more info on the race itself. I read everything that I can before running a new race, so for the guy or girl who has come here looking for info on the TRT 100, read on if you like detail, and if not, let me just say that this was one incredible, gorgeous race! I have challenged myself to try and write less, but I think more of that “journal” angle comes into play and I find myself going off on tangets. I’ve also been surprised at how often I’ve opened up a race report a year or two later before running the race again, and I read my race report like it was somebody else’s. A true testament to how quickly my memory is failing me now that I’m blown past the age of 40 (and staring very quickly at 42!). So if you’ll indulge me, here is my race report for the 2011 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run.


There I stood, December of 2010 in the Placer High School cafeteria at the 2011 Western States lottery, watching the lucky person whose playing card had just been drawn walk up to the front and claim the final entry into the 2011 WesternStates 100 mile endurance run. The previous year, my first in the lottery, my name was called about half way through, and the rest of the lottery was a blur, all smiles, interrupted every now and again by sheer panic. Fast forward a few months and I had the run of my life, loving the day and missing out on the coveted Silver Buckle (sub 24 hour finish) by 18 minutes! At the time I told everybody I didn’t care, but as the days passed I wanted another crack at Western States, and based on my previous experience, you put your name in the lottery, the lottery gods smile upon you and you get picked and run. Only this time, I wasn’t picked!

My first thought was to take the season off, this was my brief pity party. That lasted a day or two and then I was determined to pick another 100 miler for 2011. I had run the Rio Del Lago 100 in 2009 and had a great run! I ran States in 2010 and loved it! I wondered if 100 milers were truly my “wheelhouse” so I was determined to pick a new adventure and go for it! I first thought about putting in for the Wasatch 100 lottery, the course ran practically through my backyard growing up in Utah. But I hesitated and didn’t turn in my application in time. I then semi-forgot about picking, or running, a 100 miler and instead started focusing on the American River 50 miler in April. And then I got a call from a friend, Scott Suchomel. Scott called and left a message that he was signing up for the 2011 Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile endurance run, his first 50, and he asked if I was running that one. He said that he heard that they were almost full. I logged onto the TRT website and without even thinking signed up for the 100! Just like that my racing season was committed. It was after the credit card had been charged that I started reading about the race, times were quite a bit slower than States. I read race reports where people talked in detail about the effects of the altitude; the race starts at 7800 feet, has one “low” spot at 6800, and peaks at 9200 feet. There was mention of a 2 mile, 2200 foot climb up the front of a ski lift, and with the course being a 50 mile loop completed twice, that climb came at miles 30 and 80! I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into?

And now here I sit, typing my race report a mere month after the race (and now 2 months later!). What happened to those days where I sat there, laptop resting on my still sore legs, banging out 20,000 words about the race I ran the previous day? I mention this only because I’m now going to ease into the Reader’s Digest version of my Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile race report (TRT100) based primarily on two things, one, I’m beginning to forget the details, and two, I’ll never finish it if I don’t, just, well, finish it! (Another note, so much for the Reader’s Digest version, I jumped back into “full details mode” when I picked back up a few weeks later).

Race Morning

Man, I’m skipping so much good stuff that I’ll never remember when I go back and re-read this report in a year or so, heck, even in another week or so. So let me just throw out some random pre-race thoughts in the following paragraph, maybe I’ll remember what they mean down the road, or maybe they’ll just prove further evidence of complete senility in the not-too-distant future when I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of what I’m about to write…

Not as much training as I would have liked! I trained fairly well for April’s AR 50 miler, PR’d that race by half an hour, and that lead right into my GEMS 24 hour trackrun in May. I figured I’d take a couple of weeks off and train HARD in June, taper the first couple of weeks of July and tear up TRT. I did the resting part after the 24 hour track run, all too well, actually. Exactly two weeks after the track run I headed up to the dreaded Canyons (cue ominous music!)  with friends Chris Perillo, Amy Schmich and Steve Itano for good, hard 25’ish mile run complete with 2 or 3 of the canyon runs from Western States. I was about 4 or 5 miles into the run (which means I bombed 2.5 miles downhill and was then heading 4 miles uphill) when my legs just started screaming, “what in the heck are you doing? We haven’t done anything like this! We just ran around a track, a FLAT track, for 111 miles!” So they sort of protested. I made it up to the pump and I was done. I knew I had another 7 plus miles back the way I came to get to the car and I was fine with just heading back and waiting for the rest of the group to finish. But being the kind friends that they were, we all decided to run back to the car. Steve had run through Yosemite earlier that week and his legs were complaining a bit, too. 

We headed back to the car, Chris and Amy would run on through to Foresthill and Steve and I went and got Subway in Foresthill and sat at the car and watched runners running the organized Western States training run go by. Needless to say I was sore after that canyon catastrophe and before I knew it I was looking at June, and I just wasn’t feeling it!

Insert Mark Stacy and Trevor Nielson. Both are good friends from church, both have been picking up their running over the last few months, and both were willing and interested in pacing me over the last 50 miles of TRT. They ran with me for 13 or 14 miles around the track in the middle of the night in May and, I believe, in seeing how flipping slow I was running after 70 or 80 miles, figured they could handle pacing me just fine! Mark and I went on a couple of longer trail runs, around 20 miles or so, and then I had a last minute trip to Japan get in the way. Where once I thought I’d be heading into TRT feeling like “THE MAN” I was instead heading over to Japan ready to run the streets of Tokyo for a few miles a day instead of the trails of Auburn for a couple of hours a day. And then a miracle happened!

The Saturday that I would be returning from Tokyo was the Saturday of Western States. No one had asked me to pace them, so I volunteered to help out at Dr. Gade’s Mile 96 aid station to get my volunteer hours in for TRT (you needed to submit 12 volunteer hours to be able to run the 100 miler, I had 5 or 6 hours of volunteer time from AR50). I would get in from Tokyo around 1 PM on Saturday, see the family for a while and head to mile 96 around 5 or 6 PM and watch the leaders come through, put in 8 hours and be home and in bed by 2 AM). I was excited. Disappointed that I wasn’t running the race, or even pacing somebody for a bit, but I was excited to be a part of the race, and Dr. Gade’s aid station crew. And then I got back from dinner on Thursday night in Tokyo (Wednesday in the US) to an email titled, “Western States” from incredibly fast and talented runner Eric Johnson. Eric’s first States was insane, sub 22 hours. I knew Eric, but I didn’t run with Eric, he was too fast! But in his email he said that his pacer was injured and he asked if I would be able to pace him the LAST 38 MILES OF THE RACE! Holy Cow! 

This was a dream come true…but hold the phone! A FLOOD of negative thoughts started racing into my head. The therapist in me just sat back and thought, “wow, talk about giving me even more empathy for some of my clients who suffer from negative thinking!” I wasn’t fast enough, I would be too tired and jet lagged, I still needed to volunteer at the aid station because the volunteer hours were due the Wednesday after States, I WASN’T FAST ENOUGH! I’d be that pacer that comes into an aid station solo, all the aid station volunteers clapping and yelling, “runner!” until you finally have to say in a very low, quiet voice, “no, just a pacer, I lost my runner a few miles ago.” THAT WAS GOING TO BE ME!!!

But I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run the last 38 miles of States…and with Eric! I immediately wrote him back and told him I was willing, but there was always a chance my flight would be delayed, and I shared with him that I’d sort of have been up for a full day by the time I would meet him in Foresthill which could possibly slow me down running through the night with him…and I told him he was too fast for me. He came back right away and said no problem to all of the above and we set up a Skype conversation the following day. He filled me in on what he would need, where and when to meet and then I was ecstatic! 

The flight home was smooth, WAIT, this needs to go into my “Pacer Report.” Needless to say I completed the 38 miles with Eric, he crossed the line under 21 hours and I was able to hang with him just fine. I made it to the mile 96 aid station by 2:30 or 3 AM, completed my service and lived happily ever after! TRT was 3 weeks away, that counted as a long training run, I was back on top of the world!

So I had my rookie pacers, I was feeling good, it was time to run. Back to the brainstorming. I ate dinner the night before the race at ultra-friend Jeffery Johnston’s in-law’s house in Carson City, NV along with several other runners, all running the 50 miler. I was the only one doing the hundo. Fantastic time. I stayed in a room I got on hotwire for cheap, a straight up casino. Nothing better than coming into the lobby of a hotel the night before a 100 miler feeling in the best shape of my life and second-hand smoking a few packs of cigs. The lady at the counter was super nice, and she seemed genuinely flabbergasted when she asked me why I was there (to run a 100 miler the next morning). She said that she had worked her way up to half of a spin class!

I slept pretty well, actually, and woke up around 2:30 AM to start the morning routine. I had laid everything out the night before, and I had even pinned my number of my shorts before going to bed (thank you Jeffery!). I ate a bagel (chocolate chip), a Balance bar (chocolate chip), drank 32 oz of Gatorade and downed a banana on the way to the starting line. 


Now, tangent time (again). I've been excited to talk about this next discovery, yet it's going to mean I have to get comfortable with a couple of words, ready...NIPPLE PROTECTORS! There, I said it! Nipple protectors, nipple protectors, nipple protectors! That feels much better. So I've made mention in the past of chafing on a long run. If you're a runner, I don't need to say any more and if you're not a runner, go watch the finish of a marathon and look for the guys with red circles where there nipples should be. Google it and you'll no doubt find some classing pictures. Well, I can't stand chafing and I had ONE experience I think I shared pre-Western States last year where my faithful, trusty bandaids let me down on a long training run. I sweat so much on that run that they wouldn't stick and I ended up running 20 miles in the trails with my shirt off, my love handles jiggling and my white flesh exposed and begging to be burned (and it was!). So I've been experimenting with the best nipple protection solution. I've gone back to various glides and roll ons and those work fine, but we're talking 100 miles, and if I don't have the right stuff in the right bag I'm dead!


So a few days before the race I was buying more gels on ZombieRunner.com. I visited their anti-chafing section and found these, the Liqui-Cell Nipple Protectors by Pro-Tec Athletics. I knew that if I ordered them on that day I'd have them a few days before the race. I did, and figured I might not use them on this race, but I'd have them to try for a future long run. They came in 2 days later and I opened up the package and they looked awesome! Like a clear bandaid that was big enough to cover the whole nipple area and there was some time of gel inside, but they were VERY flat. So I severely violated the cardinal rule of not trying anything new right before a race. I was tapering and only had one 7 mile run ahead of me before I took it down to 4 and 5 mile runs (and then nothing at all 2 days before the race). So I wore them on the run and kept them on for a full day, just walking around (to make sure they didn't irritate my skin, they say you can wear them for 72 hours). I took them off the following day and nothing, no problems. So let me just say that I put those on before the start of this race and didn't take them off until I got back home some 29 or 30 hours after the run began, and we're talking 100 miles of insane sweat and insane cold (more on all of that to come). They were awesome! Never a need to worry about NIPPLE PROTECTION again! 


And out of full disclosure, I wrote them, which I never do, to tell them how great their products were and they sent me some more, along with a couple of their other products that I'm reviewing now. Let me just say that I love this company, and I love their products and if you are a male ultra runner and you don't use the Liqui-Cell Nipple Protectors you're just straight up asking for trouble! OK, back to the story...


We had to park half a mile or so from the start, located at Spooner Lake, and it was cold, high 30’s. I waited for a shuttle with ultra-ER-doc Mark Tanaka, and it was good to catch up with him. He’s run the course before and was filling me in on the 2200 foot climb up the ski resort (it’s hard, especially the 2nd time!). I made my way to the start, heard some pre-race instructions from race directors David Cotter and George and started to panic. They talked about course markings, CRAP, I hadn’t thought of that AT ALL. I get lost at races, and just hadn’t really even spent a second thinking about following course marking for 100 miles. Thankfully this is not foreshadowing, I went off course once or twice but never for more than a couple of hundred yards!

The Start! To Hobart Aid Station (Mile 6) 5.5 miles to the next AS 7,000 feet at the start, 1400 ft up

Before I knew it we were off! I felt the altitude immediately. The first 7 miles were uphill. My pacers and I got together a few nights before the race and put together an amazing chart that shows distance to aid stations, time I hoped to get there, and elevation up and down. It was great! (Email me if you want it future runner, it was really fantastic). 1400 feet up to the first aid station, Hobart (6 miles). It was darker than I thought it would be and nobody around me had a light. So I ran using only the force, faith, you name it, and thankfully never twisted or turned anything. I settled in behind Mark Tanaka and a couple of other guys. Back to that altitude, I was feeling it with my breathing (shallow) and I felt my heart beating up in my neck and ears! That would be something that I would feel for most of the day, but I got used to it. 

I remember making a mental note of seeing my first snow patch at 4.4 miles. It was on a downhill stretch that I found myself (already) running alone. Mark and co. had gotten a bit ahead of me and I had gotten ahead of the people that were behind me. There was a road that went up and to the left, and one that went down and to the right. I could have SWORN I heard people down and to the right so I headed that way. I didn’t see any trail markings, or people, for what seemed like an eternity but that I was sure was only a couple of minutes. I was just starting to panic when I popped out by a lake (Spooner Lake?) onto a fire road and spotted a marker, what a relief!

I made my way across a field and into the Hobart AS (mile 6). I was feeling good, but I made sure to try and down a gel and some bananas, no messing around today, I needed to stay on top of my fuel and hydration. 

Hobart to Tunnel Creek (Miles 11.5 and then 17.5 thanks to the Red House Loop) 

From Hobart we truly started to hit the snow, a lot of snow, miles of snow. The snow was still pretty crusty and in a couple of places there were volunteers with shovels cutting steps into the side of the snow banks. They really weren’t too hard to summit, and speaking of summits, the views from on top of these hills was amazing, and I’m one of those guys who pretends to really be impressed by a sunset but who admittedly isn’t quite as moved by it as his wife! But these views were incredible, you could see forever. I even tried to do the self photo thing but even that doesn’t do justice to the views (and makes me look so old!). On the way back, and then out later and back again the next morning I would say to myself a couple of times that these views were something that everybody should see…all you have to do is hike to 8400 feet or run this race. 

Running on snow is not something that one gets used to, well, I don’t get used to. I read a couple of post-Western State race reports last year where some of the leaders said that they love running on snow. Truth, or just intimidation factor? Just like my experience at Western States last year, there are daredevils who attack the snow and there are people like me who run through the snow like you’re running through a minefield. I wish I could get somewhere in between. The daredevils were going down, hard. The snow pack was hard, it was icy, and I saw several people turf it. I didn’t want to see my day go south this early on just because I wanted to make up a few minutes on the snow, but at the pace I was initially running on the frozen tundra, it was going to take some time to cover the 3-4 miles we were told we’d run through. So I tried to push it a little, and for the most part it worked…for now (there’s the foreshadowing!). 

After the snow there is a very nice, runnable 3-4 mile section slightly downhill to the Tunnel Creek aid station. At this point I settled in with a group of runners and we all admitted that we were feeling pretty good. This is where I need to get back to writing my race reports within a few days after the race! I remembered names…briefly, but I ran into a couple of guys who were running their first hundred. What a first hundred to bite off! It still cracks me up, too, when the topic of hundreds gets brought up in an ultra and somebody asks me if I’ve run one before, and after I say yes, the question goes to “which one(s)?” It’s odd for me to even say that I’ve run “a few” assuming that three now counts for “few?” But even funnier is when I say I’ve run Western States, it’s like you get a little more “hundred cred” and the conversation typically (and definitely at this race) goes to my experience at States. I realize now how lucky I was to get into States on my first try! I ran with one guy who had tried twice in the lottery, then was injured and missed a couple of years, and has tried twice again via the lottery to get in. 

I came into Tunnel Creek, 11.5 miles, feeling great. The snow was gone, for now, and I liked the idea of going through the red house loop, 6 miles, and coming back to this aid station. I’m telling you, I like out and backs, I just like seeing people out on the course. 

Red House Loop

After about a half a mile of gradual descent, the Red House Loop takes a quad-killing dip for what feels like a good couple of miles. I was running with this large group of people still, but nature was indeed calling me. So I pull off to take care of things, and by the time I got back on the trail, my group was gone, as in long gone. It was unbelievable how quickly they disappeared down the trail. I ended up running the rest of the loop on my own. On the event website, and in a couple of emails, we were warned to have bug spray with us because the mosquitoes would be thick on the loop. I never saw (or felt) one of the blood suckers, but that didn’t stop me from dropping $10 on some high-end bug lotion from REI. Thankfully I kept the receipt, didn’t use any, and I was able to return it after the race (I only mention this because my wife gave me a “yeah right” when I said I would return it…I’m not so good at returning things). This was also the section of the course where we were told that we WOULD get wet, no matter what. We were told that there were a few mini-lakes that were impossible to go around, that we’d have to run through them. I really don’t mind getting my feet wet, I’ve never really had foot or blister problems before, but regardless, when I came up to a mini-lake-sized-puddle, my instincts were still to come to a dead stop and try to find the least wet way around…which there appeared to be none. I would then step gingerly through the water. I repeated this for a couple of the puddles until finally realizing it really didn’t matter at this point as my feet were wet, so I proceeded to simply stomp through the remaining puddles. 

The experience reminded me of the first time I shaved my head and hoisted my daughter up on my shoulders…liberating. At that time I had no worries about her messing up my joke-for-hair wait-is-that-a-comb-over-you’re-starting that I sported pre-shaved head, and here I was not worrying about my feet getting wet because they were already wet. What have we learned today? If you’re rocking a comb-over shave it off, and just plow through the puddles…both in a trail race, and life! And don’t do drugs! And eat your veggies! And all that other good stuff!
There’s an aid station at the “Red House” in Red House Loop and then you hit a very nice, flat, single track trail for a mile or so before heading up a brutal climb back up to the Tunnel Creek aid station. At this point, many of the 50 mile runners were heading down (they started an hour later). I saw several friends who were running the 50, Hansel Lynn, Jamie Frink and Amy Schmich, first time 50 miler Scott Suchomel, as well as a few others. 

They were on the downhill, so they were smiling! I was trudging an uphill, so I was pretending to smile! It was at this point that I was passed by the first 50 mile runner…amazing. I was power walking this steep hill and here comes a guy running, not jogging, but running up this steep hill. At first I panicked, “getting passed already by a 50 miler!?” But then I tried to reassure myself that I was out there running my “all day pace” and that it was inevitable. What I secretly didn’t want to happen, however, was to be passed by some of the people that I knew, specifically my ultra training partner and all around great guy Jeffrey Johnston! Jeffery had said the night before that he was going to catch me, so I can admit now that several times throughout the race when I wanted to back off a bit I told myself, “Jeffery is coming!”

Tunnel Creek to Bullwheel (Mile 20.5)

I came into Tunnel Creek and it was hopping with activity. There were those of us 100 milers back there ready to head out to Bullwheel and there were a lot of 50 milers and 50k runners coming in before descending down into the Red House Loop. I saw my friends Bill Carr and Sandra Ross, as well as Kuni and his wife Daisey, who were there crewing 50 miler Anthony Brantley. There’s just nothing better than familiar faces to keep you moving (well, I guess a big dog, or a bear or the promise of a million dollars if you meet a certain time…I guess there are things that are better, but familiar faces are definitely somewhere in the top 20). Quick check of myself at that point, 17 miles, 3 to the next aid, it looked runnable on the course, it was starting to warm up. I was feeling good, my only complaint would be that I wasn’t digging the altitude. I had a pretty good headache by now and whenever I started a climb of any sort I noticed that my heart felt like it was beating in my neck…and beating like crazy! I had just upped my life insurance policy, so at least if my heart did burst I would a) leave my family in fairly decent shape and b) my wife would be able to say that I both died doing what I loved to do AND I died because I had too big of a heart! But I sort of expected some effects of the altitude and kept on pressing forward. 

The next three miles to Bullwheel cover a gradual ascent of about 500 feet. It’s definitely runnable, single track trail and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The trail was beautiful, a lot of trees, and while the trail was single track, there weren’t many rocks or roots so it made for just a nice three mile stretch. Another pit stop or two, that’s a good sign at this point, I was staying hydrated. 

Hydrated, yes, but  I realized that I was beginning to get behind on my salts and gels. I find that I do this on a lot of runs. I have a plan going in, typically something like a gel every 45 mins and a salt every hour, but then time just starts passing, I’m not looking at my watch and I get behind. It’s truly amazing how caught up in the surroundings you get during a trail run. It’s part of what I love about trail running (and I can hear my wife now saying “If you love it, why don’t you marry it? So it’s part of what I truly like about trail running, I love my wife :-) I tried to focus on the gels and salt a little more, and not neglect my hydration. I continued to run with one bottle of ice water and one bottle of Gu Brew. They had the blueberry pomegranate flavor that I had used throughout my training, so it went down fine throughout the day. 

And let’s just say for those ultra runners still with me this far, I was putting fluids in, and giving fluids back, very well thank you. I knew that my system was working great! OK, in fear of forgetting to include this later, my pacers, Mark Stacy and Trevor Nielsen, were fantastic at keeping me honest with my gels, both of them, almost to a fault, had me gelling every 30 minutes…and by almost to a fault, I’m talking about YOU Trevor! Mark was pretty good about exactly 30 minutes, and then he’d challenge me to eat two gels instead of one. Trevor was doing the same, but once I took a gel and 9 MINUTES LATER he tells me I have to take another! Busted! I think when he and Mark conferred at mile 80 while Mandy (Trevor’s wife) was helping me change my socks (bless her!) Mark probably told him I was getting loopy, the more gels the better, so try and have me take one every 10 minutes! That was the only time I think I said “No!” the entire night (and last 50 miles with my pacers). 

Bullwheel to Diamond Peak (Mile 30)

I was just about to tell myself to just start skipping the details and get to the end of this report already! But there were a couple of significant events in this 9 mile section with no aid. And I try to remember that before I ran this race, I read EVERY race report I could find from previous years and they helped a lot. So let me write this to you future TRT 100 runners. 9 miles sounds like a long time to go without aid from mile 21 to 30 and then again from mile 71 to 80, and let me tell you, IT IS, but it’s doable. This section worried me. In previous races (see Rio Del Lago 100 miler) there are sections of 6 or 7 miles where the race directors suggest you bring a 3rd bottle! This has panicked me in the past, it truly has. But I’ve gotten through those stretches (at Rio and other races) without a problem. So I tried to tell myself this would be the same. I was hydrating well, and so (here’s the key, future TRT racer) at Bullwheel aid station I made sure to top off the bottles, swig a couple of cups of whatever they had and I set off for a 9 mile-getting-hot-no-aid-station adventure!
 
WHAM!

What was that? It was the wall, well, the first wall I would hit this day. I remember the mileage well, it was at 24 miles. We were back to running on snow drifts. And by we I mean mean and my water bottles. I was running alone, had been for a couple of miles. I had plenty of fluids, the head was still pounding from the altitude, but I really was OK. But I hit a quick stretch of pity party, a HUGE pity part, with cake and balloons and party hats. I was running all by myself, doing that “am I lost, where’s a ribbon!?” routine every few hundred yards. I was convinced at one point that I had gotten off the trail but I kept on trucking. Going over the snow fields played tricks on me, too. They “post holed” some flags and on long stretches of snow you would look ahead for the next flag. Some of the flags had fallen down. I was looking for the flags right around mile 24 when I hit a particularly icy patch of snow and found myself doing the splits. Let me state for the record, I can’t do the splits, at one time, playing first base in high school baseball I could come close when stretching for a ball, but that was some 24 years ago. But I did them! I felt a pull to my right inner thigh, my “groinal” region as I like to call it. 

I immediately stopped running (well, I guess the split actually took care of that part) but I started walking favoring the groinal region. I did the typical “rub the area that hurts” routine just in case anybody came upon me from behind, rubbing a thigh or hamstring during a race is a universal “I’m not walking because I’m tired, it’s because I’m either a) injured or b) faking an injury and contemplating dropping out of the race. And unfortunately I was all of a sudden contemplating doing letter “b” above! What the heck? Where did that come from? I had been running great all day, feeling fantastic for the most part and now not even a quarter of the way in, when I had felt amazing just 3 miles earlier, I was honestly thinking “this could be my ticket out for the day!” Yes, my groin hurt a bit, but not that bad. I only share these “inner ultra thoughts” because I have shared them with a couple of other runners since and both admitted to having similar feelings in races from time to time. I’m going to blame it on the altitude! I really don’t think I was going to drop at all, but I was bummed that my mind even went there. I power walked for a bit, and I was back to a run moments later, and then it happened…

Tom Logan!

I sensed a guy coming up behind me. He asked me how I was doing and I was going to just give him a “fine” and let him go, but I told myself to try and hang with him for a minute and get myself “right.” It’s amazing what can pull one out of a funk during a race, and talking to somebody for a while has pulled me out of a funk on numerous occasions. I asked him if he minded if I drafted him for a bit and he was nice enough to say, “let’s run together.” We were on a stretch where we could run side-by-side and we started talking races. This was his first 100, he was a young buck, I believe 29 or so, and had some nice races leading up to TRT. He viewed me as the wise old sage (again, amazing what saying that you’ve run States will do for your ultra cred!) and the miles started passing by. It helped that this section was all downhill. We talked jobs, I told him I was a therapist and we talked people, we just had a fantastic 6 mile stretch. I would occasionally glance down at the Garmin and we were easily doing low 9 min miles, some 8 min stuff, it was fantastic! I was back! And we came into the Diamond Peak ski resort aid station to “rock star” status. I love that part, I truly do. There were a lot of people there, music playing and as Tom and I hit the parking lot there were bells ringing, people clapping and cheering and I saw A LOT of people I knew there crewing their runners. I weighed in right around where I needed to be, around 162, just a pound or two low for the day. I took probably a little too long soaking up the positive energy and started off on what I had been thinking about in the back of my head most of the day. The climb back to Bullwheel!

The Climb (miles 30 – 32)

The climb was just silly it was so steep. I loved it, I can’t lie, from the simple fact that you get to tell the story, “at miles 30 and 80 there was a 2 mile climb up the face of a ski resort that went up 2200 feet in elevation with some places at a 30% incline!” The first ¾ of a mile really wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was a climb, and it was definitely getting hot, but it wasn’t insanely steep. I actually pulled out my cell and took a couple of pictures, called my parents, my wife, I could slowly jog / power walk and still keep a conversation going. I passed a few people on this section and before I knew it Tom was right back with me. He had family back at the aid station and had spent some extra time there, but he had easily caught me. We climbed together until we hit about the 1 mile mark of the climb. This is where it just got ridiculous. You could see people far ahead, and way, WAY higher up on the mountain. True confession time, one of the games I’ve played at races before, ones where you can see too far ahead of you, is if I could just have one “free pass” to exchange places with another runner when would I take it? Now was one of those times. The climb was so steep that it felt like you would fall backwards if you weren’t careful. And it went ON and ON and ON. 

The start of the climb, it went on and on and on and on...
 
Tom was making it look easy, though, he told me that he had some serious hills right near where he lives and so he did a lot of hill work. It showed. He tried to take me with him, and believe me, hills and climbing are definitely my strong suit, but he was leaving me in the dust. I had to almost beg him to go ahead, as much as I enjoyed his company, I felt like a boat anchor and he was being kind. I think he knew that he had brought me back from the dead 7 or 8 miles earlier. So Tom eventually left me and I watched him put distance on me immediately. I kept looking behind me and I was putting distance on anyone behind me, so that just shows what a climber this guy was! Tom would go on to have an incredible 100 mile debut finishing ahead of me in 25 hours and some change. I hope to get the chance to run with him again sometime. 

The climb featured a couple of false summits. You could see far ahead, but would eventually not be able to see any farther up, assuming that was the top. But then you’d get closer to that plateau and you could see that the trail just kept going up and up and up! OK, I think, future racers, you get the point. I don’t think you can prepare yourself for this climb, just do it! My only goal was to never stop moving forward, regardless of what baby steps I took. I was happy to say that I kept both miles under a 20 min mile pace. And let me quickly remind the non ultra folks that THIS is why ultra people don’t talk in “what was your overall pace” type of talk. Put together back-to-back 20 min miles and then spend even 2 minutes in an aid station trying to eat and you’re not going to be able to run a couple of 2 min miles to get your pace back to an attractive number.

I just read in an article in Running Times about road runners (not the type that get chased by coyotes, but the kind that run on the roads) switching to trail running. It said that many road runners are so focused on mile times, splits, 5k, 10k, even marathon times that they can’t get used to running races like this where splits, per mile pace, etc., go out the window. The race becomes about pushing yourself, it becomes about the “science” of running, aka nutrition, hydration, it becomes about going to places that you’ve never been before, both the lows (see mile 24 above) and the highs (you’ll get to that point if you stick with me a few more pages, it’s called Snow Valley Peak, it’s 9200 feet above sea level and it has the most incredible views I’ve ever seen). 
Bull Wheel to Tunnel Creek (miles 32 to 35)

Now I’m back on familiar ground. The 3 miles from Bullwheel back to Tunnel Creek are extremely runnable. I find that I never quite notice a slight uphill as much as I notice a slight downhill, meaning on the way from Tunnel Creek to Bullwheel I was able to run it nice and easy, not thinking much about the uphill, but on the way back to Tunnel Creek, I felt like I could fly down the trail with just a slight decline. It was wonderful, and I was passing several 50 milers on their way out so that always keeps me motivated exchanging “nice jobs” and “looking good!” 

Tunnel Creek to Hobart (miles 35 to just under 40)

From Tunnel Creek to the Hobart aid station I truly don’t remember much. This would have been miles 35’ish to 38 or so and I was running pretty much on my own. At one point I caught sight of Anthony Brantley coming up from behind me. There is a series of switchbacks and I knew that he was gaining ground on me and that eventually he would pass me. I was fine with that and looked forward to touching base with him. He eventually caught up to me and we stayed together for a bit talking about different races we had done, and had on the calendar. Anthony was running the 50 as a training run for the upcoming Rio Del Lago 100 miler. Just a few days before Tahoe the folks in charge of Rio put out a notice of a course change that would make the race pretty difficult. This is 100% foreshadowing as I would go on to pace my friend Jeffery at Rio, more on that in a separate report!

Anthony left me and went on to finish I believe top 10 or so in the 50 miler. I headed back across the snow, this was now the best time of the day to make it across, it was hot and the snow was slushy. Sure, your feet would get wet, but as I mentioned previously, I haven’t really had any issues with blisters or wet feet in the past, so I embraced the slush and powered through. I caught up with a couple of runners just as we hit a section or two of downhill that just couldn’t be run, it had to be slid down and we had a good time watching each other slide down the trail on nature’s seat cushions! I was starting to pay attention to the time of day wanting to make sure that my pacer Mark and I were back through this section in the daylight and it looked like that wouldn’t be a problem. That was still 15 miles or more from where I was at that moment, but take away that pity party at mile 24 and things were really going well now. 

I started running into some of the 50k folks and I was passing plenty of walkers. Again, it’s an energy boost to see folks on the trail, especially when you’re catching them, I don’t care if they’re walking the race, just out walking the trail, just show me people I can pass from time to time!

Hobart to Snow Valley Peak (Mile 43 and 9200 feet)

From Hobart starts another climb up to Snow Valley Peak, the highest point on the course, over 9200 feet. The climb was only 3 miles, but it covered over 1,000 feet in elevation. I ran the first mile fairly easily, and quickly and started doing the “that means we now only have 2 miles to climb over 1,000 feet” math. I was starting to think that this was not a gradual 3 mile ascent, but a couple of flat miles and then another Diamond Peak! I hit mile 1.5 into this section and still pretty much running flat, maybe a slight uphill, so that left only a mile and a half, and then, sure enough, the climb began. I climbed on a single track trail that had large bushes and brush / weeds on both sides of the trail. I eventually hit a large snow field which broke up the scenery and you could start to see the aid station. 

There were signs telling you that the aid station was only a mile away, the signs also had funny sayings on them to keep you going (by only saying that the signs were funny and not writing what they said clearly is a product of me writing this report a couple of months after the race. During the race I swore I’d remember the signs). I made it over the snow field and was staring my final climb toward the aid station, there was a 50k runner right in front of me. Runner etiquette is for the person walking on the trail to step aside and let the runner actually running to pass and I made sure I was coughing and clearing my throat and running “heavy” with my feet so that she’d hear me and move over. I got right up behind her and didn’t see earbuds in her ears, no doubt she heard me, and I finally said “can I squeeze by you?” Which in race talk means, “Get outta my way!” 

She replied with “If I stop I don’t know if I’ll be able to get started again so I’m not going to get off the trail, you’ll have to go around me.” I can’t lie, I expect this kind of attitude in shorter races, or definitely in a bike race (cyclists!) but come on ultra woman! I decided to be the peacemaker (always trying to tell my kids to be one so I better give it a try myself) and I ran out into the brush and told her to have a great run!” 

The Snow Valley aid station was fantastic! The scouts met you before the aid station to get your bottles and run them in to fill them up. It was incredibly windy up on the ridge and they had a nice, big tent set up to get you out of the wind. I filled up, thanked the scouts, and I was on my way. 

Snow Valley to Spooner Lake (miles 43 to 50)

The next 7 miles were heaven. Yes, it was mile 43, but my legs felt good, I was still hydrated (nice way of saying that I was still pee’ing) and these 7 miles were seriously pretty much all downhill. I opened up the stride a bit and my quads were in good shape. The 7 miles flew and I passed a few folks on the way down the hill. With less than 2 miles to go to the finish/turnaround you make your way onto a trail by Spooner Lake and you can see across the lake the 50 mile and 50k finish (and my turn around). There were plenty of people walking the trails on their own and they were very nice with their support. It’s always fun to have a couple of people ask, “how far you running today” when they see you with race numbers on and replying back with “100 miles, I’m half way there!”

Coming down the trail into the half way point. Only 50 miles to go!

The turnaround (Mile 50)

From the time I left Snow Valley Peak I was starting to get really excited to see my crew. I was working with rookies. Two rookie pacers, Mark Stacy and Trevor Nielsen. Trevor’s wife Mandy would complete my crew (also a rookie). We had met together a time or two at my house to go over race strategy. Between our three families there were 12 kids, so we threw them all in the pool and had plenty of time to chat about the race. Mark would be running from mile 50 to mile 80. Mark’s previous long run was 24 miles, but he had done some trail running with me and he’s a natural. Trevor would take me from mile 80 to 100. I’ve known them both for a long time, and I never would have imagined that I’d be running with these two the last 50 miles of a hundred. They had both put in some track time with me at my 24 hour GEMS run and I believe that was when the idea really started to solidify. I had mentioned to Trevor earlier in the year that I’d like him to pace me, but I wasn’t sure if it would come together. I learned as race day drew near that he had been putting in the miles preparing for the run. I was excited. One could argue that the bad thing about having rookie pacers is their lack of experience. Sure, they might not know what the source of a cramp is or maybe they aren’t up to speed on when to increase salt tablets or back off on fluids, but their energy and enthusiasm was there by the truck full. 


The last half a mile I had a brief freak out moment. You hit a point where the 50 mile finishers take a right and run down to a finish line near the lake. The 100 milers keep going straight, meet their crew, grab some aid and then head out to do the entire 50 mile loop again! As I approached that turn for the 50 milers it hit me that people were done. I was closing in on 12 hours and I knew that I had that plus a couple to go. I had an entire night ahead of me of running, and one little turn to the right would still give me an amazing experience of 50 miles on a fantastic course. But this was my “A” race. Just a couple of hundred yards down the trail Mark, Trevor and Mandy were waiting, so I pushed forward (literally). 

My Crew, Mark and Trevor (Mandy taking the picture) working on my feet!

Seeing my crew gave me an immediate boost. And for rookies they were amazing. Mandy had my drop bag waiting, my change of clothes ready, gels, you name it. Mark was literally bouncing with enthusiasm, he was ready to go and Trevor was just grinning. Trevor, to me, has always been a “man’s man.” He’s rugged, can kill things and build things and all of that good stuff. I feel sometimes like I have to check my “man card” around Trevor but over the past couple of years we’ve been hanging out more and he’s just a darned good guy! So I was excited that he was there, that he was going to be a part of the run. As an outdoorsman, I figured he’d really like the experience of being out there on the trails, I just hoped that I would have some legs left at mile 80 so it wouldn’t just be a 20 mile walk. But first, Mark!

Change in shirt, hat, shoes, I'm ready to go back out!
As we pulled away from the aid station and started down the trail to start the 2nd loop Mark was bubbling over with enthusiasm. Sadly, I wasn’t. I was back to a little bit of the mental funk that I was just starting out on a 2nd 50 miles! Plus, the first 6 were all uphill, so I knew for the most part that we were about to power walk / shuffle for 6 miles before we really were able to start running, and at that point we’d be hitting the snow fields. I had posted earlier that day to my Facebook account that I was running the race, and Mark pulled out his iPhone and started reading everybody’s comments. That was a nice touch. Admittedly I don’t post much to Facebook, but I looked at posting that AM as just another reason why I needed to finish the race just in case I went into a deep funk during the run. Nothing worse that throwing something out there and then having everybody ask how you did and having to say you dropped. So I was looking for all of the extra motivation I could get.

I have to say that for the most part Mark and I ran alone for 30 miles, we passed a couple of people, and I believe we were passed, only to pass the folks who passed us a little bit later. So it was Mark, me and the wild. We both joked about wanting to see some wildlife, particularly a bear! We would later read from Davey Crockett’s race report that he saw a bear on this 6 mile stretch, and in doing the math, it was probably only about a half an hour before we came through. So we missed our big chance. I never got to meet Davey, I’m a big fan of his race reports and I reached out to him before the run, but missed him at runner check in the day before. Davey  was running ahead of me and then I believe he ran into a little trouble and I must have passed him when he was at the Hobart aid station. He did go onto finish and you can read more about his bear sighting on his blog.

There is a stretch in this 6 mile section that heads downhill and I was happy to see that we could get the miles back in the sub 10 min/mile range for a bit, it felt good on my legs, my quads were in good shape. Overall I was really holding up well. Mark did an amazing job of keeping me on top of my salt, gels and fluids and this is where we got into a routine of gels every half an hour no matter what, and Mark would keep asking me (reminding me) to drink. The miles seriously flew by. We made it through Hobart and headed to the snow fields. 

Hobart to Tunnel Creek

Thankfully I had stayed relatively on track the last 15 or 20 miles and we hit the snow fields in the daylight hours. I think Mark was a little surprised by how slow we had to go on some of these stretches, welcome to ultras! We could move relatively fast for short amounts of time, but then we would hit a slight uphill or downhill patch and while the snow wasn’t horrible, it was crunchy/crusty and keeping your footing could be difficult. We came across a couple of race volunteers who were carving steps into the snow in places and we thanked them profusely because some of the drifts would have been impossible to climb, or worse yet, slide down. Little did I know that what they were doing would be a life saver coming back through this section at 4 or so in the morning. 
 
We made it through the snow fields unscathed and started down the single track switchbacks into Tunnel Creek. I was back to running at this point (thanks mainly to the downhill) and as we hit the Red House Loop again I was in a really good place. Mark ate up the steep downhills, he would leave me in the dust for a bit while I was starting to feel my quads and I’d gingerly run the steeper sections. I warned Mark that there was no getting around some of the puddles but he was beyond determined to keep his feet dry. I didn’t blame him, it took me a couple of races before I really knew that my feet would respond OK to a lot of miles while wet. Some people aren’t so fortunate and wet feet equal major blisters (Major Blisters, I believe I had a cousin who served under him in the war! Darned good man). 

But to Mark’s credit, he did it, and it was much to my amusement. I swear a couple of times I’d go splashing through and I’d look back literally to find Mark swinging from a branch, or running off into some brush just to keep his feet dry. I told him that we were lucky there wasn’t any poison oak (future runners, apparently poison oak can’t grow at that elevation! As somebody who gets it bad, it was wonderful not to worry about it at all). Mark stayed dry, I got wet and day turned to night. As we hit the actual Red House, I chatted with the aid station captain, I don’t know his name, but he’s from back in the South, he’s older, and he’s an incredible runner! I swear I’ve seen him either running, or volunteering at every race I’ve ever been a part of. He hiked out of the aid station telling us tales of runners who blew up on the 2nd half of this race in years past. I felt like I was far from blowing up, and we slowly made our way back up that really steep section coming back to Tunnel Creek. Which reminds me, when we were heading down Tunnel Creek, we crossed the women’s leader and her pacer coming out of the loop. Yes, that meant they had 7 miles on me! I was definitely getting “chicked” this race.

The only negative thing that was starting to happen was that at each aid station we’d try and get me to eat a little more, some soup, bananas, chips, I was at the point where I didn’t WANT to but I knew I needed to and my stomach wasn’t fighting me, I just didn’t want anything. Each time I would eat, I would get lightheaded as we headed out of the aid station. We worked with that, though, and just power walked for a bit after I would eat. Heading out of Tunnel Creek toward Bullwheel was the first time where I really worried if I had brought adequate clothes for the night. I grabbed a lightweight jacket and a stocking cap from a drop bag but as we hiked out of the aid station my legs were cold!

To Bullwheel! (Miles 68 to 71)

Once my lightheadedness subsided, we were able to start a slow run again. One we started running, I was instantly hot, to the point where I was sweating profusely! I would play a game for the next hour or so of taking my stocking cap off and getting cold, putting it on and getting too hot. I’ll take that over just flat out being cold. 

About half way to Bullwheel we saw our first runners on their way BACK to the finish. We were at mile 70’ish, and that meant that these guys were around 84 or 85! Incredible. We saw the first 3 or 4 runners by the time we hit Bullwheel and they were all fairly well spread out. Bullwheel was pretty dead; the guys running it were huddled together protecting themselves from the wind. I knew that we were about to go 9 miles in the dark, over some snow with no aid. I wasn’t as worried about it as I thought, but we still tried to eat whatever they had at the aid station, Mark forced two gels down me and after an initial powerwalk to get past the dizzies, we started on Mark’s final 9 miles. I had just a little over a marathon to go, which is just bizarre to look at in a race like that and think, “I’ve got this!” But I truly did start to feel like I had this race in the bag. 

Even with a pacer I find myself playing mental mileage games. I was approaching 25 miles from being done. I typically think when I get to that point that it’s “only like running from my house to Sacramento!” That’s doable. And then as the miles get less I pick different areas of the Sacramento valley until I finally have myself running just a few miles around my little town of Lincoln (at the start of a 100 I admittedly think, “this is just like running to San Francisco!”).

Diamond Peak, Mile 80!

Mark and I stayed in good spirits through this section. We hadn’t seen anyone in a long time, and it felt like all of a sudden a couple of runners were right on our tails. Mark didn’t want us to get passed. I was well, well beyond caring about that at this point. He tried to get me to rally, and at first I resisted, almost like when a kid doesn’t want to do something that his or her parents want them to just because it wasn’t their idea, even though they know it would be a good thing to do. They passed and we stayed right on their heels. At one point they got a fair distance ahead of us, but we could still see their lights. Mark was asking me to give him a little more, and I slowly started to.
We eventually eased past these guys and started on the 4 mile downhill to Diamond Peak. I was happy that Mark kept me on those guys because once we passed them I really didn’t want to get passed back, so I think it gave me a little extra energy for the push to Diamond Peak. Mark was having more fun than me as he would take off and run far down the trail ahead of me. He was having fun; I didn’t have the heart to remind him that with nearly 80 miles on my legs, I kind of needed him a little closer to me to let me know if there were any rocks or anything major on the trail. I settled into my own happy place and knew that we were getting closer and closer to the lodge, the pacer exchange and what I still had to worry about, THE CLIMB!

Mark and I found ourselves out on the pavement before long and I knew we were probably a quarter of a mile from the lodge. Nighttime at the lodge wasn’t nearly what it had been earlier in the day. No music, no bells or whistles, just aid station folks that now had to stand up since a runner was arriving. They looked cold and I almost felt bad that they had to move! My crew was there, Mandy and Trevor, and a couple of folks from the ultra world, Erik Skaden and a friend of mine who I can’t for the life of me picture in my mind! There again is another reason to write these sooner. They all had some really nice things to say, telling me I looked great, all that stuff you’re supposed to tell a runner after 80 miles even if it’s not true. On that note, a quick glance to inside the lodge and I could see a couple of runners who were just dead, one trying to walk and get himself back into race mode and a woman who was laying down covered in blankets. I don’t know who they were or if they were able to finish, but I was grateful that I wasn’t having one of those kind of days.

This is where Mandy earned her full “crew stripes” at this aid station. I wasn’t even really thinking, I was just sitting in a chair as Mark and Trevor were talking strategy, Mark doing the official “pacer handoff” and I look down and Mandy was changing my socks! That’s what I’m talking about! She didn’t even seem to flinch, but then again, as a mother of 4, I guess seen (and smelled) far worse than dirty feet in her day. And to be fair we had changed socks back at mile 50, so these only had 30 miles on them.

I thanked Mark and Mandy, and Trevor and I were off! I built the climb up to Trevor like it was going to blow his mind but he was still all grins ear to ear. My favorite thing about Trevor, he calls whatever drink you’re drinking “juice.” He kept asking me if I was drinking my juice and I was thinking that he thought I drank apple juice or something at the aid station? For the rest of the night he remind me to drink my juice, and I’d just smile and go with it!

We hiked the first mile and I kept telling him, “just wait, man, just wait!” As we hit the steep section I kept looking at him, here’s my rookie pacer, it’s 2 AM or so, he’s had no sleep, and his welcome to an ultra is this kind of hill…and he looked like he was just out for a walk! I’m barely moving at points and he’s right beside me just looking like it’s nothing! Flash back to earlier in the day, there were quite a few hikers coming down the climb while I was going up. I can’t lie, there were some shapes and sizes of people that made me just wonder, “how did they make it up in the first place?” It wasn’t until I talked to Trevor a week or so later when he told me that while the climb was steep, he was taking it with fresh legs. Even my first go around I had 30 miles on me, and at night 80! 

We made decent time up the hill, not too far off from earlier in the day. We hit Bullwheel and it was even more of a ghost town. We were now pushing 3 AM. I had the opportunity to work the mile 96 aid station at Western States this year, granted, after flying from Japan earlier that day and running 38 miles with Eric Johnson, but I just remember those early morning hours being incredibly tiring. I think Trevor was curious what “running” would now look like since we were done with the 2 mile climb. I was wearing another Garmin (the first one only made it about 12 or 13 hours, nothing better than outrunning your watch battery!) and I glanced down as we made our way on the slight downhill toward Tunnel Creek to see that we were in the double digits with our per mile pace. This stretch flew by as Trevor and I were talking quite a bit about the day, both his and mine. Again, I can’t tell you how great Mark and Trevor were for being not just new to pacing, but new to trail running. It truly is more of an adventure than a race. Trevor wanted to see “critters” and we were constantly keeping our eyes open fo r eyes looking back at us from off the trail. 

We started to really notice that anytime I ate a gel I would get a little lightheaded for a minute or two, again, our guess was that whether it was just my system being raw, the altitiude, a combination, all the blood in my body was making a mad dash to the stomach to help digest whatever I was dumping into it in an effort to get more energy to keep those legs going. 

It was sometime on this trip down to Tunnel Creek that we passed the group running right at the cut off time. They were just on their way out to Bullwheel, the loop, the ski resort, I was ahead of them by about 15+ miles and as I said my “nice jobs’ and “keep it going” I wasn’t getting much in the way of a response. My first 100 miler, Rio Del Lago, was somewhat of an out and back, too, and at that race you also saw a group running along the cutoff, but that time they were singing and having a great time. That group at Rio was led by the ever jovial Rajeev Patel. Rajeev told me later that they all stuck together and finished together having a wonderful last 20 miles. This group needed a Rajeev! I would learn later than a few of the runners would drop at the lodge due to the cold. 

Trevor catching me running on the way back to Tunnel Creek, it's in the 40's and around 3 - 4 AM.


Tunnel Creek (Mile 80 something!)

This time through Tunnel Creek I was looking to keep calories going. During my Western States experience the year before I had been running absolutely fine and then I got really lightheaded around mile 88. I spent almost a mile in a panic thinking that the day had gone incredibly well, and that it could go south in the span of just a few miles. I was a little bit worried about that now. We took in some soup, I forced down a banana and ate a gel, so I remember leaving Tunnel Creek toward Hobart feeling full, and I was hit with a pretty big dose of lightheadedness. Trevor and I slowed it to a power walk and kept it there for a bit as the trail started a gradual incline. 

We eventually made our way to the snow drifts and this time there was no getting around it, they were now ice fields. We were sliding everywhere and Trevor moved up ahead of me at times and let me slide into him. At one point he slid down a small hill and I came sliding down after him giving him a pretty good push. He steadied himself and in my mind he was standing next to a 50 foot drop, but I think it was more like a foot or two off of the ice onto the dirt. At one point we took a look up toward the sky and the amount of stars, at 4 AM at close to 9,000 feet was incredible, truly incredible. We made our way across the final ice patch and ran down the downhill into the Hobart Aid Station. 

On the climb up to Snow Valley Peak under a near full moon.

Hobart to Snow Valley Peak (Miles 90 – 93)

We had hit mile 90! While I knew we were finishing many miles ago, I love getting to mile 90, that’s when the distance truly sounds long to me. At Hobart I was feeling great and we spent probably a little too much time there as I was trying to down some Ensure and anything else that would agree with me. At Hobart somebody told me that I was in 16th place overall. That turned out not to be true, but it sure sounded great. I was probably in 19th as I would get passed once at the end to claim 20th overall at the finish (spoiler alert!).
On the hike out to Snow Valley Peak daylight was starting to break. I just shared this with another ultra runner who watched the 2nd sunrise at the Wasatch 100 that while I would truly like to finish races under 24 hours, there is truly nothing like the energy that one feels when that sun comes up on your 2nd day of running. 
Making our way across the snow fields.

At this point I have to confess that I was more tired than I’ve ever been on a run of any sort. I’ve run other 100’s, 100k’s, dozens of 50k’s and marathons. I’ve done a few night runs where we start at 9 or 10 PM and run until 2 or 3 AM, and I’ve competed in a couple of 12 hour night run races and I have been amazed at how I’ve never really felt, for the most part, like I wanted to curl up and fall asleep during a run. I had one brief moment during my first 100, somewhere in the late 80 mile or early 90 mile range, where my pacer, Theo Wirth, took a brief pit stop off the trail and I thought for one, tiny second that it would just feel really good to lay down on the trail for just a moment, and he was out of the bushes and, I think, wise to my thoughts and he kept me going. 

Just before Trevor and I began our final hike up to the aid station, we were running on some switchbacks in a more dense part of the forest and I told him simply that I was “thinking something weird.” He asked me what, and I believe I told him that I wasn’t sure. The only problem is that I was sure, but it just made no sense to me at the time. I told him later what it was. I was thinking “in numbers.” That’s what I told him, and I still don’t quite know how to explain my thought process. It wasn’t that I was like Rainman, and I had some moment of clarity where I could break down my overall time, divide it by miles traveled and come up with a pace. No, I was thinking, “3, 7, 415.” Just flat out random numbers! In hindsight I think that I spend most of my day in numbers, how many miles have I been, how many to go, how many until the next aid station, what time of day is it, how much time do I have left to go? So my mind was ultra tired and I was getting ultra nutty. I really did feel like I could stop and sleep at any moment, but especially at that point. For future pacers, if you ask me if I’m thinking in numbers, I believe that’ll be the code phrase for “are you out-of-your-mind tired?”

Snow Valley Peak (Mile 93! 9200 feet above sea level)

This time around the scouts had lost a bit of their pep. They were wonderful, but they didn’t quite bound out of their tent to come and grab my bottles like they had half a day earlier. It was cold on top of the mountain. The views were spectacular and I felt like the roles had changed 180 degrees from my first trip through the aid station. Trevor and I were the ones telling the scouts that THEY were awesome! We were saying that we don’t know how they were doing it! They were great. Trevor and I snapped a photo at the aid station. Borrowed a phone and texted Mandy, and my wife Wendy, who would now be waiting for us to come into the finish.

Trevor and me at the Snow Valley Peak Aid Station

I knew that the next 7 miles were extremely runnable. I was excited. I could “smell the barn.” Trevor was about to cross into his longest run territory but I think he was feeling just fine thanks to my rather pedestrian pace over the last 13 miles. We started on our decent and all I remember about the next 7 miles were that we were eagerly looking for bears. At this point it was just after 5 AM, it was a crisp, clear morning and we were running through the woods, it just felt like bear weather. I didn’t think until after the race that I wasn’t really suited for coming upon a bear. Normally the joke is that as long as you’re running with somebody slower than you you’re safe from bears. All you have to do is outrun the person you’re running with, but with 93 miles on my legs I knew Trevor could take me. So probably a bad move, but I shared my bear strategy with Trevor. I told him that, no offense, if I saw a bear, I was going to try a surprise attack…on Trevor, knock him down and start running. I figured that would give me a head start. For some reason I felt like since I told him about my plan it would be OK!
As I mentioned earlier, Trevor is the ultimate outdoorsman. I’m guessing he could spend weeks out in the wild eating bugs and bushes and catching fish with his hands. But at one point I asked him, “OK, Trevor, tell me again, if a bear attacks, do you make a bunch of noise, or do you play dead” We ran a bit more down the trail when he finally said, “I don’t know!?” 

Thank you Bear Grylls!

As for the running, I remember three things. First, my legs were shot, but in a gloriously fantastic I’ve-run-93-plus-miles-way. My quads were starting to give out, but we kept running the downs. The flats were a shuffle and I don’t care if there was a half a degree incline it felt like a mountain and I was brought to a power walk. I was also making grunting noises whenever I hit these half a degree inclines in an effort to give me a little steam to make it up these hills. Second, I did the old “Man I’m moving, let’s take a peek at the watch and see how fast” trick. I felt like I was seriously throwing down some 9 minute miles, until I would glance down and see the pace somewhere between 11 and 12 minute miles. I believe in looking back over the data on the Garmin later that we did put a couple of high 10 minute miles in during this stretch, and I’ll take them, but I felt like I was flying, and I wasn’t. Finally, I got passed with about 2 miles to go. I was surprised that this really didn’t take the wind out of my sails. I felt great about my entire day, about running with Mark and Trevor, about Mandy being a fantastic rookie crew chief and I couldn’t wait to see my wife an d kids in just a couple of miles. So they passed, we exchanged some nice words, atta boys, and I let them move on past me. 

Trevor and me coming into the finish.

Trevor and I made the final turn toward the finish, less than 2 miles to go and I felt like I was truly floating that last mile. We were back on the final fire road and there was that beautiful sign pointing to the finish, dropping down to the right off of the trail. As we left the fire road and got onto the trail we hit a meadow, the sun was shining and it felt wonderful. My youngest two, Jake and Sydney were yelling my name and Jake sprinted out to meet me. Trevor, Jake and I ran toward the finish. Wendy snapped pictures, I gave Syd a high five. Mandy was there cheering us on. I love finishing races, I’m absolutely addicted to the finish line. From the first marathon, to this 100 miler, all of the training and preparation that goes into a race just hits you all at once as you cross that line. 

Finished! Finally, I get to sit down...and the eyes immediately start to close.

I crossed and was immediately able to sit down inside the finisher’s tent. It felt wonderful. 26 hours and 39 minutes, good for 20th overall. Huge thanks go to the race directors George and David for a fantastic race. The volunteers were plenty, and wonderful. The course was the most breathtaking (ha! Both from a view standpoint and from the altitude standpoint) I had ever run. I’ll definitely keep this one on the list of races that I highly recommend. 

And a HUGE thanks go to my rookie crew and pacers. Mandy and Trevor, your enthusiasm made the day. Trevor, it’s time to start upping the miles, you were born for the trail running. And Mark, you are indeed a natural, I would imagine it won’t be long before I get to return the favor and pace you through one of these bad boys. And, as always, a huge amount of gratitude to my wife. She gets so excited about these races and for a couple of days leading up to a race, and for a few days afterward I feel like she thinks I’m pretty cool!

Epilogue

Recovery from this race wasn’t too bad. On the ride home I immediately fell asleep in the car. I made it to church and tried my best to keep my eyes open during the first hour (with some success). I went home after the first hour and immediately fell asleep for a few hours more, and slept just fine through the night. I officially retired from running upon crossing the finish line, and by the next day I had decided that after running the St. George Marathon in October, I would again sign up for the Quad Dipsea ultra in November.


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