For the third time, I entered the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 held in the mountains on the north-east side of beautiful blue Lake Tahoe.  This race is in its 4th year.  The course is laid out on state park and state forest land, climbing ridges overlooking beautiful Lake Tahoe and various reservoirs.  The surface is mostly very runnable, soft single track.  There is about 19,500 feet of climbs, aided by many switchbacks.  Most of the course runs between 7,000-9,000 feet elevation.   This race for some reason has a low finisher rate, but to me, this is an “easy” mountain 100 course.

 The only downside is that the 100-mile course does the 50-mile course twice.   But that is OK because for most of the runners, the second trip is mostly at night.  It is nice to see the entire course during the daylight and then see it from another perspective at night.  Another fun feature are the out and backs and being able to see the 50-milers and 50K runners on the course too.

Goals

Last year, in 2008, this was probably my best-performing 100-mile race.   I finished 17th out of 111 starters with a time of 25:54.   This year, with the injury and lack of training, I would be delighted with a time approaching that.  I was still smarting from the 33-hour thrashing I received at Bighorn 100 last month.  I doubted my fitness and was starting to think that old-age was finally catching up with me. Five days before the race, I bench-marked my fitness by running up and down Mount Timpanogos.  I discovered that I was in fine shape.  I was going to initially just treat the TRT100 as a training run, but then decided to go ahead and give it all I got, and race it.   I put together pacing split goals and with a near-perfect race felt that I could finish in 25 hours.

Pre-race

I traveled to the race with my wife Linda, and three of my kids (two college-age daughters, and my 12-year-old son.)   We arrived on Friday at noon, deposited the drop bags, and weighed in.   The scale said, 182.  It depressed me to see the woman next to me weigh in at 109.   That just didn’t seem fair!  They put wrist-bands on us with a weight scale to tell you what drops or gains in weight would be bad.  This race weighs you in at almost every aid station.  It has been a bother in past years, but this year I appreciated it.

It was 102 degrees at Carson City in the afternoon.  I decided to skip the pre-race briefing on the lawn at the capital.  It made no sense for me to spend time out in the heat, so instead I took the family up to cool ourselves on the Lake Tahoe beach.   We had a great time.

For the first time in over 50 ultras, the alarm clock woke me up from a sound sleep.  Usually I am wide awake much sooner.  I quietly got up at 2:30 a.m., prepared for the race, and tip-toed out the door without waking the family.  I took the shuttle from Carson City to the start at Spooner Lake.  From past experience, I knew they would drop us off over an hour before start, so I prepared for this.  Instead of just standing around talking, I decided this year to go into the dark campground, away from the loud generator noise, and lie down on a picnic table.   I used towels as a blanket and pillow, laid down on my back, and looked at the stars and crescent moon above.   I had a nice rest and focused on the huge task ahead of me.

Strategy

I could tell from the relatively warm morning air, that this would be the hottest of my three years here.  I had tossed out any need for warm clothes either in the morning or at night.  It would be short sleeves and shorts the entire time. Because we wanted to drive home right after I finished, I didn’t want to leave a bunch of stuff out in drop bags on the course – I wouldn’t get the stuff back in time if I finished with a good time.  So, instead I just put zip-locks of Ensure at each aid station and had one bag at Tunnel Creek with my flashlight and some clean socks.   At the start/finish, I had plenty of stuff and would see that bag at mile 50 once I completed the loop for the first time.
I also wanted to race without a waist pack, and only carry hand-helds.   During the day I would carry two hand-held bottles, and at night would carry just one, with my green flashlight in my other hand.   I would have to leave my second hand-held bottle at the start/finish, at mile 50.   I hoped I could make this work.  I would also always have 1-4 gels in my pockets at all times.

The race

The start

With ten minutes to spare, I wandered down to the start area, said a couple quick hellos, and then was off and running at 5:00 a.m.    One runner took off like a shot.   I started with a lead pack for the first mile.   I even pushed on ahead and was in second place for awhile.  But when we reached the single-track Marlette Trail, I stepped aside and let about 8 runners go ahead.  I had no desire to be the engine on this train.

Marlette Lake

All pictures by Craig Heinselman

The run up Marlette Trail was very enjoyable.  It is a nice soft trail and I was able to run nearly every step until we reached the lake.  From there it was dirt road running up to the Hobart aid station.   I arrived at Hobart (mile 6.8) at 1:15.   I just couldn’t understand how my pace could be four minutes slower than last year until it finally dawned on me that they had moved the aid station nearly a half mile further up the course.   I was doing just fine.

View of Lake Tahoe

From there, the trail climbs up along the slopes of Marlette Peak, giving us stunning views of the small lake below.  As we turned a corner, the enormous Lake Tahoe came into view for the first time.  For the next couple miles, I ran near the leading woman runner.   Once we reached the top of a ridge, I knew there would be great downhill running ahead, so I kicked up the speed a notch.  Right after that, I tripped and went down.   My hand-held bottles thankfully took the brunt of the force, but I wasn’t able to go into a shoulder roll.  I picked myself up, noticed a bloody elbow, torn shirt at the chest, and a scraped knee.   The woman runner stopped to see if I was OK, and I was, so I sent her on.  My arm was a cool bloody mess.  All day I would receive great funny compliments from other runners and serious concerns from aid station volunteers.

Climb up slopes of Marlette Peak

Back running, I soon recovered and within another mile caught back up with the leading woman.  She yelled out, “Good to see you recovered!”  She was running the downhill switch-backs very hard.  I was giving all I had to just keep up with her.  Finally I watched her run on toward the next aid station.   I arrived at Tunnel Creek (mile 11.4) at 2:06.   They had also moved this aid station!  That annoyed me because it messed up my planned splits.   I was four minutes behind my 2008 pace.   This station would be visited 6 times during the race.  I was bothered that by moving the aid station about a quarter mile up the hill, that they had changed the course distance.  But the more I thought about it (and I had plenty of time to think about it) I think the course was the same length.   The Red House loop was longer, but the out-and-back to Mount Rose was shorter.

Tunnel Creek aid station

At the Tunnel Creek aid station, the volunteers wanted me to stop so they could dress my wounds.  I refused the offer and instead just poured water over my arm, doing my best to scrape the dirt out of the blood.  No big deal.

Red House

From there we had to run down into the “Red House Loop.”  It is the only section of the course that does not make use of nice switch-backs, so there are some steep descents and climbs involved.   All of this 6.7-mile loop is dirt road and it descends to 6,800 feet.   On the return portion of the loop, I could see many of the 50K and 50-miler runners.  Their races started an hour after the 100-mile start.  I watched one of the 100-mile runners pass me like a bullet running non-stop up the steep climb.  Wow, what was up with that?  I returned to Tunnel Creek (mile 18.1) at 7:17, five minute behind my 2008 pace.  But taking into account the movement of the aid station, I was pretty much on the same pace.

View from Rim Trail

Next up was a long out and back to Mt. Rose totaling about 18 miles.  The entire way was along the Tahoe Rim Trail, a popular single-track trail.  Today, it was very popular among the mountain bikes.  They were out in force.  Most of them were very considerate.  They would stop and let you go by with words of encouragement.  But others apparently felt like they owned the trail and they would not stop for anyone.  A couple times I was bumped and nearly fell off the trail.  There was one group of eight bikers going in the same direction as me for nearly the entire 9-mile segment.  We kept leap-frogging each other and when they were going slow uphill, it would be tough to get by them.  But eventually they figured out the etiquette of being on the same trail as a race.

Lake Tahoe

Another challenge on these segments was the heat.   I tried my best to push the fluids but dehydration eventually resulted.  The temperature felt like it was pushing 80 degrees.  My weight dropped from 182 to 175 at the lowest point.   However, unlike Bighorn 100 a month ago, I was able to bounce back quickly, keep my weight around 179, and continue to push forward at a good pace.

Along this stretch I began leap-frogging with Monica Ochs from Washington.  I was very impressed with her strong, steady pace.  It was great motivation just trying to keep up with her.  I would see her on the trail for the next 50 miles.  One of her great strengths was her very fast aid station stops.  Mine were fast, only a couple minutes, but every time Monica was away faster and I spent the next mile or so trying to catch up.  

 

Trail down toward Mount Rose aid station

Before descending down into the valley beneath Mount Rose, I commented to Monica that the leading 50-mile runner should be catching up soon.  Sure enough, within a couple minutes the leader ran by very fast.  I was surprised because he was a pretty big guy with a heavy camelback flopping on his back.   I tried to keep up, but just didn’t have it in me at that point.
My split times on the out-and-back were: Mt. Rose (mile 26.9) 5:26, and back to Tunnel Creek (mile 35.7) at 7:17. 

Mt. Rose Aid Station

Because of the heat, I had slowed to as much as 12 minutes behind my 2008 pace.  That was discouraging but I became determined to catch up.  By the time I had finished the return trip, I was only five minutes behind that pace.   I really enjoyed the return trip because I was able to see all of the 100-mile runners behind me.   I was very surprised to discover that Jim Skaggs was just a little over a mile behind me.  He was going much faster than last year.

Climbing up the ridge

We again climbed up and over ridges back to Hobart, above Marlette Lake.  The switch-backs up always seemed never-ending, but I just put my head down and concentrated hard on keeping my pace strong.  I passed Monica again running down the fun descending trail into Hobart (mile 56.2) at 13:07.  Adjusting for the new aid station location, I was now right on my 2008 pace.  Along the way I would pass many back-of-the-packers in the 50K race.  I tried to encourage everyone I passed. It was interesting to think that I was 18 miles ahead of them, although I had an hour head start.

Looking up to Snow Valley from Marlette Peak

The aid stations were all fantastic.  The people at Hobart were always exceptionally nice.  Each station had plenty to choose from with pre-filled cups all ready for us.   There were also plenty of gels.  I made sure I downed a gel at each station and usually ate another one during the next segment.  I also kept one of my bottles filled with two Ensures to sip on.  Calories were never a problem for me during the race.  I do recall overhearing a conversation between volunteers at the Tunnel Creek aid station.  At one point they ran out of gels.  One volunteer was bothered that some runners had been taking up to four gels with them for the road.  The other volunteer said, “Great, that is what they need!”  That was a super attitude and I noticed by my next visit that more gels had arrived.

As far as my problems go, I had only minor difficulties.   My foot/ankle problem wasn’t slowing me down at all after the first 20 miles.  However, my right quad started to tighten.  I discovered that I had subconsciously been leading out with my right leg in an attempt to protect the left ankle.  Once I recognized this, I tried harder give my right leg a rest and let my left leg lead out on the uphills.  (A day after the race, I thought it was funny that the muscles in my right leg were sore, but not my left.)

After Hobart, the next challenge was a three-mile climb up to Snow Valley, the high point of the course at 9,214.  This station puts out silly signs during the last mile approaching it.  If you are in the mood, they are funny, if not, they are annoying.  I did like the “one-mile to go” sign that read, “Food, Fuel, Lodging, Exit 1 Mile.” 

 

Snow Valley aid station

I again passed Monica on the climb but we arrived with others to Snow Valley (mile 43.5) at 9:32.   I was only two minutes behind my 2008 pace.  One would think I was concentrating hard about staying on this pace, but not so.  I wasn’t checking things very often so didn’t realize how close I was progressing.

The trail down

Next up was a long seven-mile run back to Spooner Lake, descending over 2,200 feet.  I wanted to return by the 11-hour mark, but I knew that a 1:30 leg would be tough at this point with the heat.  Sure enough, Monica jumped back in the lead before I left the aid station, but I kicked in the downhill gear and passed her again on the descending traversing trail.   Very few runners had passed us during the past several hours which was surprising because I expected more 50-mile racers to catch up.  But finally a few 50-milers ran by as they were trying to break a 10-hour finish.  The trail winded back and forth and seemed to never approach the bottom.   There were a bunch of hikers sharing the trail with us.  Two teens got into the spirit of the event and tried their best to keep up with me with their day packs flopping on their backs.  They did very well and I hoped were inspired to take up trail running.

Monica finishing her first 50 miles

I arrived back to Spooner Lake (mile 50.6) at 11:07.  I knew I was seven minutes behind my 2008 pace, but I also knew that last year I spent way too much time at the aid station and also got lazy on the next leg, not running much.   I had arrived several minutes before Monica, but I noticed that while I was still putzing around with my stuff, that she went running by with her pacer.   I made some comment to a volunteer helping me, “Shoot, I need to get going and catch up.”   I did not have to take time cleaning my feet at this point.  I was delighted that I had solved the shoe problem that nearly killed my race at Bighorn last month.  My La Sportiva Wildcats were working out great!  I had a few hot spots that worried me at times, but I never had a single blister form.  My toes had plenty of room and were never jammed on the downhills. The bottoms of my feet were less sore than usual.  I was so pleased.

Now, all I had to do was run the same 50-mile loop again!  I looked forward to it, especially looking forward to cooler evening air.  I left behind a water bottle on purpose, knowing that I would have to carry a flashlight in that hand, in 12 miles.   I drank plenty before I left the station, hoping that I could do the next leg with only one bottle.  I tried to push the uphill run on the Marlette Trail.  But no matter how fast I went, there was no sign of Monica and her pacer.  They must have had a good pace going.  

Listen to audio clip on the Marlette Trail. 

I reflected that I had a nearly perfect race for me going.   No stomach problems, no feet problems, no bonking problems (low calories).  I knew that I had no excuses and became even more determined to keep my pace going strong. I did run low on fluids during this leg, so I had no choice but to fill up from a stream flowing into Marlette Lake.  Wow!  That cold water tasted great.

Tahoe before sunset

I arrived at Hobart (mile 57) at 13:07.  I had caught up to my 2008 pace (adjusting for the new aid station location).    At that point the course converged with the back-of-the-pack runners in both the 100-mile and 50-mile race, making their way back to Spooner Lake.  I saw several friends who continued to look determined to finish.   As I kicked in the downhill gear again on the switch-backs, descending into Tunnel Creek, I finally caught back up with Monica and her pacer.   I greeted them as I passed by and arrived back at Tunnel Creek (mile 61.6) at 14:23.  I was back in the game, three minutes ahead of2008!

I grabbed my flashlight for the Red House Loop because I knew darkness would come before I finished the six miles.   It was a little discouraging to see runners already completing this loop, 5-6 miles ahead of me.  I had been ahead of many of these runners 40 miles earlier.   I was glad that I was doing most of this loop in the daylight.   Three years ago I did it in the dark and it seemed very spooky and lonely.  I continued to leap-frog Monica and finally decided it was time to introduce myself. She was very friendly and in good spirits.  I did notice that her pace was slowing.  She no longer was trying to run the uphills, however she had a powerful fast power hike that I just could not match.  My uphill running gear was still working fine, so eventually I ran ahead, passing Monica for the last time.   She and her pacer cheered me as I ran up a hill.   Darkness did descend as I climbed up and out of that valley for the last time.   I turned on my flashlight and greeted other runners 5-6 miles behind me, starting their loop.  I arrived back at Tunnel Creek (mile 68.3) at 14:23.  I was about nine minutes AHEAD of my 2008 pace.

My stop was fast and for a change, I left before Monica.  Now it would be a light game.   Another runner with his pacer left the station shortly after me and I was very determined to cause their lights to disappear behind me by running hard.  It worked.  I did see lights approaching me.  These were the lights of the front-runners, about 17 miles ahead of me.  Wow, that is amazing and hard to understand how they can run that fast for so long.  The first one I met sounded tired and asked me how far it was to the aid station.  It was encouraging to think that even the fastest runners look forward to reaching those comforting stops.

Listen to audio clip on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

All night, no runners would catch and pass me.  In fact, the last runner to pass me was Monica at mile 63, but I passed her back.   I really enjoyed running in the cool air up on the ridges.  The lights of Carson City and Reno far away were amazing to see.  I kept attention to any lights behind me.  At one point the trail makes a sweeping turn around a drainage valley.  As I was completing the sweep, I could see Monica’s light about a half-mile behind.  Where were the runners ahead?   With the out-and-back, I finally realized that the next runner ahead of me had about a 3-mile lead.  Wow!  It would be very tough to catch anyone.   I arrived at Mt Rose (mile 77.1) at 18:51, 13 minutes ahead of 2008 pace. 

I could tell that the people at the station had not seen another runner for quite awhile.  They flocked around me and a friend took care of my every need.  I was a bit incoherent at first, but my wits came back quickly and I refused any offer to spend more time or wait for something special to be cooked for me.  Within six minutes I was back on the trail.  I heard a person from someone’s crew comment, “Wow, that was a fast turn-around!”   It need to be fast because within a couple minutes I greeted Monica and her pacer arriving.  I met other runners within a mile behind her, sized them up, and realized that none of them seemed to be running extremely fast at this point.  I realized that no one would probably be catching me for the rest of the race.  I even had a couple stops to adjust the tension in my shoe laces, but still looking back down into the valley, the lights weren’t gaining on me.

My stomach and taste buds were sick of the Ensure in my bottle, but I really needed more fluids.  For some reason they shut down a water station during the night at the half-way point on this long out-and-back, so instead I stopped at a creek at about mile 80.   As I was scooping water up with my hand, taking in some wonderful cool water, a light approached from the other direction.  It was Jim Skaggs!  

We stopped to talk for a minute.  He was about six miles behind me, but was doing great and assured me that he was determined to finish this year, confident that he would break 30 hours.  That news really perked my spirits.   I wished him luck and continued on back toward Tunnel Creek.   The further I went, the more of the back-of-the-pack I was able to greet.  They always gave me good compliments on my continued strong running.  At one point I stopped to talk to a runner that had a pacer in distress.  He was having altitude sickness symptoms.  I encouraged the runner to go on and have the pacer return to Tunnel Creek, only about a mile away.  It would be silly for that pacer to continue to slow down his runner for the next 8 miles to Mount Rose.   I hope he returned OK.

I returned to Tunnel Creek for the last time (mile 85.9) at 21:21, 14 minutes ahead of 2008.   I noticed other runners, including Catra Corbett, finishing their Red Rock loop.  They were now 18 miles behind me.  I took my sweet time at this aid station to clean my feet and put on clean socks.  Sand had built up in one of my shoes causing pain from it caking under the toes.  A volunteer realized that I only had 14 miles to go.  “Why are you cleaning your feet with the end so close?  You will finish before sunrise.”  I tried to explain that it was well worth the time investment at this point.   I wanted to continue to run, not do a painful death march.  But the urgency for time seemed to leave me until when I departed, I heard cheers for the arrival of another runner, probably Monica.

As I climbed up the switch-backs, out of the valley, I kept a close watch at the lights following me.  They were at least a mile behind and soon disappeared as I went over the top.   My pace was still good, but not urgent.   The runners behind weren’t pushing me and there were no lights ahead to chase.  What was the point in only chasing minutes on a clock?  I was content just to continue to push on at a steady pace and maintain my finishing position.

I returned to Hobart (mile 90.5) at 23:07 about 8 minutes ahead of 2008 pace.  The volunteers were very kind, making it hard to leave.  I sat down and they brought me a breakfast burrito and some bacon.  Unfortunately the bacon was dry.  At this point, nice greasy, chewy bacon is perfect.  I finally pulled myself out back on the trail, and as I left, I could see a runner’s lights descending toward the aid station.   I needed to kick it back into gear.

The climb up to Snow Valley went well.  I pushed the climb and still had that uphill running gear when I wanted to use it.   Up on top, it was still dark.  I looked behind me but couldn’t see any lights. I remembered that last year at this point, the dawn light had arrived.  I realized that I must be well ahead of my 2008 pace.   I was.  I arrived at Snow Valley (mile 93.7) at 24:15, 12 minutes ahead of last year.

My stop was brief.  I just ate a gel and topped off my water bottle.  I had been drinking straight water for the past three hours, but also taking S!-caps.   OK, how strong did I want to finish?  In both 2006 and 2008, I really blasted down the hill fast, in 1:26 both times.  Yesterday I did this final leg of the loop in 1:32.   How fast did I want to finish?  I would only be pleasing the timer.  It was very unlikely that I would pass anyone.  I decided to give a strong effort, maintain a steady run, and try not to walk any of the small hills.   My legs felt wonderful for running over 95 miles.  They didn’t complain when I pushed the pace up a notch at times.

The final leg went great.  My focus now was to just beat my 2008 time. Dawn arrived, but the sun never arose high enough to hit me.   I finished the final leg in 1:28 for a finishing time of 25:43, 11 minutes better than last year!  It was a strong victory for me.   I finished in 18th place among about 105 starters.  Again this year about 40 runners dropped out.   I also won the 50-59 age group!  This was the USATF 100-mile national champtionship, so I won a sweet blue ribbon.

Spooner Lake

I was very pleased and felt relatively good at the finish.  Unfortunately I arrived too fast for my family.  They had just dragged out of bed and arrived 20 minutes later.   I was a mess with my bloody arm and dirt caked up my legs.  

I left before any other runners behind me finished.  I took a quick shower at the motel and then we were on the road for home by about 8 a.m.  The first three hours cramped in the car were rough with sore feet and knees.  But I cooled the feet on the air conditioning vent and after a few hours I had recovered nicely and was even able to take a few short cat naps.   We returned home in Utah by the time the awards ceremony started back in Carson City.  What a whirlwind weekend!   After a good night’s sleep, I was back at work in the morning feeling fine.  I’m not quite sure what I did right, but by far this 25:43 finish was far easier on my body than the 33 hour death march last month at Bighorn 100.

Finisher belt buckle

This was my 25th 100-mile finish, one of my strongest performances to date.  Next up for me?  Nothing too tough until Wasatch 100, my hometown race.  That will be my focus for the year.  

Monica finished in 21st place, in 27:01.  Jim Skaggs finished in 30:46:37.   The results can be found here.