Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail 50m Race Report

En route to the mile 43 aid station
I was nervous about this race. I DNF'd the Highlands Sky 40 miler (illness) and the Pitztal Gletcher 95k (missed time cut-off ) and I was desperate to avoid going zero-for-three in three consecutive races.  This race was held on Saturday, July 19th but Lisa and I arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday the 12th to attend a hair styling awards ceremony my brother was a finalist for on the following day (he won!). On Monday, 7/14, we flew up to Reno then drove into north Tahoe where we'd stay until the day before the race. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a race at altitude --- 8,000 feet is the average elevation --- so I was thankful I was spending almost a week in north Lake Tahoe getting used to the elevation and running a couple of short runs on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The day & night before the race were uneventful: I picked up my race number, Lisa and her father kindly went to the grocery store to get me some Greek yogurt and a banana for the morning, I watched a couple of Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory reruns, and we had Thai for dinner. I woke at 4AM but unlike the Highlands Sky 40 miler, my throat wasn't dreadfully dry and I easily downed two cups of coffee, the yogurt, and the banana. We left for the start at 5AM and arrived in the parking staging area at approximately 5:30AM. In one of the email blasts sent by the race director, he strongly encouraged racers to deposit a drop bag at the Tunnel Creek aid station (miles 12, 18, & 33) with means for additional fluids because of a long, unaided stretch from mile 21 to mile 30. I heeded his advice and placed my hand held in a zip lock bag and sent it to Tunnel Creek. After wandering around for 10 minutes trying to find the drop-off point for drop bags, I made one last bathroom stop and arrived at the start line a few minutes before we set off.

The race director was quite proud of the aid stations and true to his word, each was memorable so I'll review my race by way of each aid station.

Hobart, mile 6: An uneventful, long, gentle ascent led the runners into this aid station although when the runners arrived, a man on a circus-like unicycle lashing a whip welcomed us into the station. This aid station had a circus theme, walk-up bar, and a nice spread of food. I was only six miles into the race so I quickly refilled my water bottle, had some watermelon, then continued on.

Tunnel Creek, mile 12: Runners came through this aid station three times so it was big, well-stocked, had timing pads, and a medical tent. The single track between Hobart and Tunnel Creek is wonderfully runnable but about a mile or so from Tunnel Creek, I tripped on a branch or rock and tumbled into the brush on the side of the trail. I immediately got up --- fortunately nothing serious happened --- then sat down for a few minutes to empty the sand and debris from my shoes and to brush myself off . Accumulation of sand and debris in my shoes and socks would be a near-constant annoyance during the race and something I may have avoided if I had gaiters but since I rarely have this problem running in and around DC, I didn't bother. I spent just enough time at Tunnel Creek to eat more fruit and refill my water bottles before the steep descent to Red House.

Red House, mile 15: My quads got pretty beat up during this race and I think my fast (for me) and aggressive run down into Red House was the beginning of the downward spiral. During the descent, I passed a 100 mile runner wearing sandals(!) and as I passed him, I asked him where we has from because a few days prior, Lisa and I were in a pub in Tahoe City and during conversation with the manager/hostess, she told us her friend from Colorado was running the 100 mile in sandals. I made a mental note to look for the guy and when I saw this sandal-wearing runner, I thought I'd found him. But, much to my surprise, this guy was not from Colorado and told me the guy I was looking for was six miles ahead of him.  I thought to myself, \what are the odds that two guys are running the 100 mile distance in sandals?!?"  Red House was a small aid station but the volunteers were, as expected, enthusiastic and helpful.

Tunnel Creek, mile 18: As the expression goes, what goes up must come down and, well, the enjoyable descent into Red House meant a slow, steep climb back to Tunnel Creek. I popped in my ear buds after leaving Red House and passed the time into Tunnel Creek with one of my brother's mixes. I retrieved my hand held from my drop bag, refilled all my bottles with ice water then set off for Bull Wheel.

Bull Wheel, mile 21: It was only three miles to this aid station but it became uncomfortably obvious during this stretch that my hip flexors were going to get pretty tight and remain as much for the remainder of the race. This was also a small aid station but they still had plenty of melon and water so I refilled my bottles, ate some watermelon, stretched my hip flexors, emptied my shoes, then set off for the longest unaided stretch of the race.

Diamond Peak, mile 30: My quads had already started to deteriorate so I didn't run this stretch as fast as I'd hoped but I did perk up when a trio of runners passed me and much to amazement, one of them was the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh, the first man to complete the Western States 100m Endurance Run and, thus, founder of the modern 100 mile race. I only recognized him because he was featured in the documentary, "Unbreakable", about the 2010 Western States. I must have sounded like a star-struck tween when I muttered, "Holy shit, you're the Western States guy. How cool is that?!?" His only response was that he can still bomb the downhills and, sure enough, he did. Ainsleigh is in his 70's, appears to eschew modern gadgetry and gear, and, insofar as I could tell, is a helluva runner (disclaimer: he crossed the finish line a few minutes before I did).

This aid station was at the base of a ski resort and the only place I would see Lisa and her father. They cheered me into the aid station and had several items on hand --- Tiger Tail massage stick, extra socks,and a Starbucks Frappuccino --- to get me back on track. Lisa helped me stretch out my hip flexors, I refilled my bottles (I left my hand held with her since I no longer needed it), ate some potatoes and fruit, soaked my head with cold water from a hose, then began the steep trudge --- 2,000+ feet in 2+ miles --- back up to Bull Wheel.

Bull Wheel, mile 32: What a relief it was to reach this aid station. The slog up the ski slope reminded me of the slope leading up to the summit of Kilimanjaro --- insanely steep and soft dirt --- but unlike the Kilimanjaro summit, this ascent was under the blazing sun and I was relieved to give my quads and hip flexors a break from the descents. I spent a few minutes at the aid station stretching then headed off to Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek, mile 35: It started to sprinkle while en route to this aid station but not so much as to indicate a torrential downpour was approaching. I was a little slow out of the aid station but was eager to reach mile 40 so I soldiered on.

Hobart, mile 40: This aid station featured a full spread, including a walk-up bar. When I sat down, I (again) removed my shoes and socks to clean out the sand and debris and then I sauntered over to the walk-up bar to ask if the Coke or Ginger Ale could be spiked with Jameson and, sure enough, the bartender poured a generous shot of Jameson into a cup of Ginger Ale. My stomach was holding up well so I doubt I needed the Ginger Ale but I figured it wouldn't hurt. Feeling rejuvenated and thankful to participate in a sport where drinking alcohol during the race is acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, I set off for the last major climb of the day.

Snow Valley Peak, mile 43: The lightning & thunder, then the rain, started as I neared the ridge top.  Getting struck by lightening crossed my mind but that didn't stop me from stopping to take a few pictures and admire the view.  The rain got heavier as I approached the aid station then turned into a downpour while I huddled in the aid station. Several runners were dawning jackets or trash bags but since I had neither I decided I'd be better off running in the rain and descending to lower ground rather than hanging out in the aid station trying not to shiver. As soon as I left, my legs perked up: I passed a few runners and bombed the semi-technical single track. I felt great. The final 3 or 4 miles, though, were much slower. My second-wind didn't sustain me to the end but I did manage to shuffle across the finish line in just under 13 hours.

Spooner Lake, mile 50: I finished in 12:59:44 and among 143 runners that toed the start line, I was 59th.  My goal was sub-12 hours but given the amount of elevation gain/loss (20,000 feet!), I can't complain.  In the emails leading up to this race, the race director sang the praises of his race and for good reason:  the TRT was well-organized, the location stellar, and the aid stations well-stocked (booze at mile 40!).

The TRT 50 miler is a difficult race but the scenery and festive atmosphere during the entire race make it definitely worth running and one I may return to some day.

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