Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Tahoe Rim Endurance Run 100-Part 1. The first 50 miles
I was stunned, down on all fours and afraid I was going to lose consciousness so I didn't move. Did I know who I was? Where I was? What I was doing? Yes to all three. There was no blood, teeth seemed to be ok and I could move my jaw and the cheekbone was still intact. I adjusted my glasses and slowly stood up and begin walking. My head was clearing quickly now so I resumed running down the mountain. I had friends and a buckle waiting for me just 6.5 miles away and time was wasting.
Excitement was in the air at Spooner Lake State Park as we stood in the darkness awaiting the start of an adventure of nearly a day and a half of running up and over the trails of the Sierra Nevada on the Eastern side of the Tahoe Basin. Jenn,The Ultra Angel and I were lined up together along with our friend Jim Plant, trying to stay warm. At 43F it was a lot cooler than we have been used to in NC so far this summer but it was a refreshing and welcome change.
Start to Hobart AS. 6miles
We began promptly at 5am and headed out into the darkness with about 111 others. The first mile was on a dirt road, mostly flat but we began very slowly and soon enough we were among the last few on the course. That was of no concern because I knew if I finished at least half of them would end up behind me or out of the race. A lot can happen in 100 miles.
After about a mile we entered the Marlette Lake trail as it became light enough to see where we were going. The next several miles were quite enjoyable as we warmed up to the task ahead. We had began at about 7,000 ft of elevation and would climbing steadily for the next several miles. This section was through a heavily forested area with an occasional meadow to cross and snow melt streams beside us. The trail climbed very gradually with lots of switchbacks and was runnable for most of the climb but we still choose to do a lot of walking. The three of us were just about alone already with just a few others in sight.
After about 3.5 miles we were at 8,200 ft and began a decent down to Marlette Lake, about 300 ft below. It was as beautiful sight as I had imagined and we all stopped to take photos before turning onto another dirt road and the final climb up to Hobart. It was very runnable to begin with but then became steeper and as we moved above 8,000 ft again all three of us could feel the strain of climbing in the rare air. I had not really notice it so much until now but for the rest of the day going uphill above 8,000 was very noticeably more difficult.
Although we had been taking it easy I felt we were moving along at a decent pace but there was no aid station in sight and we were getting much to close to the cut-off already. I began to pick up the pace and quickly put some distance on my friends. Jenn is usually a very strong climber and as I looked back and saw her falling behind I was worried that she wasn't keeping up with me. I knew it had to be the altitude. I hadn't planned on trying to stay together the whole race but had really been hoping to share as much of it as possible with her but I had to let her go and hope she could possibly catch up later. I finally reached the aid station just 5 minutes ahead of the cut-off, quickly refilled my bottle, grabbed some snacks and began the climb out.
Hobart to Tunnel Creek. Miles 6-11
Just beyond the aid station the trail crossed the first snow drift on the side of the mountain. I looked back and Jim was a minute behind me and Jenn was just leaving the aid station. I crossed the snow carefully and began the climb up Marlette Peak. I was really looking forward to the view from up there of the two lakes but a cloud was moving over us and as I rounded the turn I was disappointed that all I could see was fog. The wind was howling from the west and it was very chilly as we crossed the meadow.
The next several miles would be some of the most difficult terrain with numerous snow crossings over the next several miles. Some were just a few steps and over but a few went on for hundreds of yards. They were very slick and slow going so I just had to take my time and be careful. One in particular was quite deep, at least 12-15 ft and very difficult to get up. I was worrying about how we would get down that one coming back later. The race volunteers had worked very hard to try and mark the snow and cut some steps in it but there was no way they could do all of it. It was cold up here too, probably in the upper 30's and windy.
I was really surprised at how quickly the leaders of the 50k and 50 mile began to pass by considering we had an hour head start on them but by 7 miles I was getting passed. Amazing ! The course continued to climb for awhile and we ran through a lot of rocks before finally beginning the descent into Tunnel Creek. I was wearing my "Too Dumb to Quit" shirt and half the people passing me in the other races the remainder of the day would comment on my shirt as the went by.
Near 9 miles I was feeling great and running on a sweet section of trail and was about to pass a lady but a fast 50k runner was coming up behind me. I was trying to decide whether to pass then, let him go or wait until he passed us both and as I sneaked a peek over my shoulder to see how fast he was coming I snagged a stick and down I went. It was a soft landing, more like a head first slide into 2nd base and I jumped up quickly and took off running knowing nothing was hurt. Well nothing other than two scraped up legs, a bruised left arm and a chunk of skin torn off my right hand.
The next couple of miles were quite enjoyable, easy downhill running mostly and the pain in the hand was subsiding and soon enough I was coming into the aid station. I handed off my bottle to a volunteer , dropped off a couple of items in my drop bag and then walked into the medical tent to get some gauze on my hand. The Doctor said I was his first customer as he quickly taped it up and I was out there door and headed down the trail.
Tunnel Creek to Tunnel Creek via Red House Loop. Miles 11-17
Tunnel Creek sits at about 7,900 ft and from there we headed down the first real quad busting descent on a rocky, washed out dirt road on the way to the low point of the course around 6,800. I was really not enjoying the pounding and was glad to reach the bottom. Along the way we had one creek of ice cold snow melt to cross which was refreshing to my feet. This was followed by a steep climb ,still on a dirt road, before another little descent to the Red House which gives the loop it's name at about the 14.5 mile point. Just below the house was another cold rushing stream to cross. I was surprised to see an aid station here. We had been told there would not be one but some volunteers decided they wanted to set up and camp here anyway. I took advantage to refill again and headed out quickly to began the climb out.
After a short bit it became flat or gently rising for awhile on a nice trail, through a meadow bursting with wildflowers and some nice views. It had warmed up to the 60's down in this lower section and was a very pleasant day. This was a keyhole loop and soon I reached the convergence point and the very unpleasant steep climb back up to the aid station. Ever since I had seen how difficult some of the course was I had been worrying about my Marathon Princess Karla in the 50k. She had been slow in recovering from a foot injury and was not in her best shape yet. She also is not a very experienced trail runner and has never done anything even remotely as difficult as this. I worried for her safety and hoped she would speak to me again for getting her into this. with the out and back spur here I was hoping perhaps I would see her coming down the hill as this would be the only opportunity to see her until after the race, but by the time I was in and out of Tunnel Creek again I never saw her.
Tunnel creek to Bull Wheel Miles 17-20
By the time I left tunnel Creek I had an 1.5 hour cushion on the cut-off so I was quite relaxed now and settled in for the long haul. My mood was great and everywhere I looked I was awe struck by the beauty of the course. I feltso thankful for just the opportunity to be here having this amazing experience and to make it better everything was going great with my body. My legs felt good and the energy level was steady. It just doesn't get much better than this.
The next few miles were one of my favorite parts of the course on some very sweet single track climbing up the ridge through several really cool boulder gardens. At times there amazing views of Lake Tahoe and then on the other side we could look down into Carson City and Washoe Lake with Reno way off in the distance. The wind was whipping around pretty strong up hear and it felt much cooler again. I was in heaven and loving life as I came into the Bull Wheel at 8,000 ft.
Bull Wheel to Diamond Peak Lodge, Miles 20-30
I knew I needed to get some calories in so I grabbed some things and half of a peanut butter sandwich and hurried out of the wind and back onto the trail. Normally I walk and eat but the trail was climbing and with the 8,000 foot altitude I was breathing too hard to eat so I found a nice rock to sit down for a few minutes while I ate. Up quickly and back on the trail, more nice single-track which continued to mostly climb reaching about 8,800 feet at the race marathon mark.
I was was looking forward to the next descent and a chance for some sustained running. The course finally took a hard left turn and headed down the mountain. This section was AWESOME ! The Tahoe Rim Trail is very popular with mountain bikers but a lot of what I saw I would not care too much for trying to ride, but this 4 miles down to the valley was amazing. Gently weaving it's way with bermed turns and butter smooth. A few jumps had been built but were easily bypassed. The views were amazing too and I intentionally stopped to take some pictures to give my quads a break. It wasn't very steep most of the way but with 75 more miles to go I didn't want to trash them so early in the race.
All too soon I had reached the bottom and ran onto the only pavement in the race, 1/4 mile down to the Diamond Peak Ski Lodge in Incline Village by the lake and back down to the race low point of 6,800 ft. Once again it was feeling warmer, probably near 70 as i came into the aid station. I was weighed for the first time and was down just 2 pounds which was no problem. I had my bottles refilled grabbed some food and sat down for a few minutes to get in the calories and prepare for the ordeal ahead.
Diamond Peak Lodge to Bull Wheel- mile 30-32
Many races have legendary sections that sometimes seem to fail to live up to their reputations. This is not one of them. this was every bit as hard as I had heard it would be and maybe worse.
It doesn't look that bad as you head out of the aid station onto a dirt service road. A steady climb but not any steeper than say, powerline in Umstead but as it climbs it does get gradually steeper climbing 600ft in the 1st mile. But then the real fun begins as you go around a tight switchback and see what lies ahead.
It was at this moment that I heard Jim call out my name and saw he was just behind me. I was a little surprised to see him but he was obviously having a great day and it was nice to see him climbing so well. I asked if he had seen Jenn lately and I was relieved to here him say she was only about 10 minutes back at the last aid station. I was really hoping she would come on strong and finish this thing too.
But right now I hard a hard task ahead. As I looked at the tiny dots of the runners just up ahead and waaaaaayyyy up there on the ski slope words like ridiculous and insane were the only things I could think of to describe the scene. This was beyond steepand to make matters worse it was a loose sandy surface making it very hard to gain traction. I was quickly reduced to a near crawl as the hill at times climbed at a 35% grade. The higher I climbed the more I gasped and my heart rate was reaching max. Jim had moved past and found a shady spot to sit so I moved over and sat next to him to allow my heart rate to return to near normal before resuming the climb.
The sun was bearing down on us making it even more fun. The only way to keep moving was to switch from climbing on my toes to walking back wards for awhile to use different muscles. Then it was side step to the left and then to the right and then repeat the process. To make it even more cruel there was a false summit hiding another 1/4 mile of the steepest climbing. If there was any saving grace for this little bit of torture, it was the incredible view of the lake behind us.
As I was finally approaching the top a helicopter began circling overhead. when I reached the top there was a runner who was a firemen signalling to it to land in the clearing near the bull wheel. He said there was an injured runner and we needed to get out of the way so the helicopter could land. I was very happy to move on and head back into the aid station. That last mile covered 1,200 of climb and I was looking forward to running again. That 2 miles took me 1:14 !
Bull Wheel to Tunnel Creek = miles 32-35
What a relief to get back out of the sun and on to that nice section of trail heading back to Tunnel Creek. It would be even more fun this time because it was predominately downhill in this direction. I had recovered completely from the climb and overall I was feeling great and loving the day. I quickly passed by Jim in what would be repeated for most of the remainder of the day. He was climbing strong and would move ahead but then I would pass by running faster on the flats and downhills.
I was able to relax a bit and let my mind wander and my thoughts were going out to Karla and Jenn. Both of these ladies are very dear to me and would be in my thoughts all the way to the end of this long long day and night. I was hoping for a safe finish for Karla and that Jenn would be right behind me and on her way to a buckle finish. I was also thinking about my friends and family each time I went through a checkpoint knowing that many were tracking my progress online. I was having so much fun and overall I couldn't have felt better or enjoyed myself anymore than I was right now.
Tunnel Creek to Hobart- miles 35-40
I was weighed in again and was dead on my pre-race weight. That made the Doctor very happy and I was quickly on my way out once again. The first half mile wasn't too bad but the course would climb again to 8,600 feet over the next couple of miles and once again I could feel the effect of the altitude. I was way ahead of the cut-off so I was content to relax with many more miles to go so I just tried to enjoy the views.
Soon I was back up into the snow sections and was dreading the big drop off the tallest drift. When I got there it didn't look like there was any good way down and after a few tentative steps i just slid down on my butt. Apparently that is how most folks made it down too judging from the chutes going down each side.
I finally emerged from the forest and back onto the slopes of Marlette Peak. I was very happy that the clouds of the morning had passed and I finally got that gorgeous view of Marlette Lake with Lake Tahoe in the background. After many pictures I made my way down into Hobart once again.
Hobart to Snow Valley Peak- miles 40-43
Leaving Hobart I was looking forward to seeing another 10 miles of the trail that I had not seen yet. Snow Valley Peak is the high point of the course at just over 9,000ft but I couldn't help but think that didn't sound too bad after climbing 1,200 in just one mile earlier. Still it was nothing to sneeze at so I settled in for a hard three miles. Most of the climb was quite gentle and I was making good time. There was one place with two dead trees across the trail and I poked myself in the calf on a piece of a branch. I would learn that Jenn hit the same tree.
As we neared the top there were a few more snow fields to cross but these were not nearly as bad as the ones in the last section. Jim had pulled ahead on the climb and I could see him just ahead crossing the last snow as we reached the summit. I finally made it to the aid station which is "manned" by a boy Scout troop every year and they would send one scout running up the trail to greet each of us as we made our approach.
Snow Valley Peak to Spooner Lake- mile 43 to 50
I was quicker once again than Jim leaving the aid station, feeling great and looking forward to the next 7 miles of mostly downhill and flat running. The first few miles were above the trees along the side slope of the mountain on a narrow rocky single-track. Brush and weeds were grown up over the trail brushing up against my legs and irritating the scrape on the side of my left leg from the morning fall so I was really glad when the trail widened a bit as we entered the forest once again.
From this point on the running was sublime. Gently downhill on mostly smooth trail. It just really doesn't get any better than this. At the 48.3 mile mark we passed by Spooner Summit which was a checkpoint with just a water cooler for a quick refill and then beyond that it was basically flat over to Spooner Lake. We had to make about half a lap around the lake on a smooth flat trail to the halfway mark. I was feeling still feeling great and the only negative was that my time was slower than I had hoped for. I had hoped to come in at 14 hours or better but my time was 14:35. This was the slowest first half of any of my previous 100 milers by far. This had been a very hard day and it wasn't going to get any easier.