For the 4th time, I traveled to the Lake Tahoe area and ran in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. This race keeps drawing me back to it because of its beauty, challenge, and single track trails. The course runs up along the ridges on the east portion of the lake above Incline Village. This year they added a new challenging twist. The course needed to be altered because of a permit problem, so we were able to run on new trails for the race, including a brutal climb straight up a ski resort run.
I understood that the new section would involve some pretty intense heat during the afternoon as we descended down to the Diamond Peak ski lodge. To prepare, I concentrated on more heat training during the few weeks before the race. Instead of mostly early morning training, I spent more time training in the hot afternoon. As I drove out to California, I even drove long periods without air conditioning with the heat on.
I was greeted by near record temperatures at Carson City, Nevada where we did our check in. I weighed in and was pleased to see that in running clothes I was down to 174 pounds, much lighter than last year at this race. During the race at various check points I would be weighed again. This is helpful to monitor dehydration and water retention. Your goal is to try to keep close to your starting weight. If you go too high or too low, you are required to stop and could be pulled out of the race. In addition, this year they were doing a blood pressure test at the start, 50-mile point, and at the finish. I signed up for it because I was curious what effect this had on me during a race.
The race would start at 5 a.m. at Spooner Lake State Park. When I arrived at the park, I went off into a nearby dark campground to relax and do my last minute preparations. Off in the distance I could hear the excited voices of runners arriving. Usually it is quite chilly at this start, but not this day. I knew that was a sign of the heat to come, but I hoped that I was prepared. To run 100 miles, we would need to run the 50-mile loop twice. The 50-mile and 50K runners would start their race an hour after us.
At 5 a.m., we were off running, nearly 110 brave, crazy athletes. I quickly joined in with the front-runners. I was surprised to see two women pushing the pace out front. After a few minutes I was leading with a fast woman runner at my side. She didn’t have a light and I could see was having a little trouble, so I shined my light out in front for her to help.
After about a mile of dirt road running, we started climbing up the Marlette Lake Trail, a very nice smooth single-track trail that climbs up a valley to beautiful Marlette Lake. This trail climbs, but is runnable and this year I decided to run the entire length. Little by little our front-running pack created some distance on the mass of runners following us in the forest being lit by the early dawn. Two young male runners pushed on ahead of our pack and I stayed behind a couple runners who were chatting. They had a good uphill pace but as we reached any flats, their pace was too slow for me. Before we reached the downhill to the lake, I passed them and then blasted far ahead down to the lake.
So here I was, several miles into the race and running in 3rd place. What was I going to do now? Usually I fade and just let the speedsters behind me catch up and pass. But on this day I was feeling great in the still cool temperatures, so I decided to try running like a front-runner for awhile. In past years I would walk much of the steeper dirt roads ahead taking me up to the Hobart aid station. No so today, I ran hard, quite hard. As I was climbing up above the lake I could hear whoops of runners behind finally reaching the lake. On long straight stretches or hills, I would look behind and could not see anyone close behind. Ahead of me, I could only see two sets of foot prints. (Turns out that neither of these two would finish the race.) This was great fun! I arrived at the Hobart aid station (mile 6) at 1:11. A runner ahead of me had just left the station as I arrived. My stop was quick and I continued on ahead keeping that runner in my sights as we climbed up Marlette Peak. My uphill strength was great and I kept the run going strong as I ascended above the tree line exposing amazing views of Marlette Lake and soon also massive Lake Tahoe. Far down below I could see many other runners arriving to Hobart.
It felt rather odd at this point in the race to be so spread out from the others, but I thrived on the feeling. After climbing over a series of high ridges, the trail plunges through forest switch-backs toward the next aid station at Tunnel Creek. I really enjoy this section because it is fairly technical but you can really push the speed.
I arrived at Tunnel Creek (mile 11) alone at 1:58. There was no sign of any runners ahead or behind. It was pretty funny to get all that personal attention from all the kind volunteers waiting for the big crowds to arrive. The lady who seemed to be in charge gave me some help filling my bottles and grabbing some food. She could tell that I was in an awful hurry and said, “Chill out, it will be a long day.” I just smiled. For me, it was a race, not a run. Off I went.
The next section is dreaded by most. It is a loop that descends steeply without switch-backs and make a giant loop in a valley to a historic house called Red House. For those far behind, the temperatures at this lower elevation would be much hotter, but for me up front, it was still nice and cool. As I ran toward the steep hill, I could hear cheers behind me as other runners arrived to the station. I wanted to keep my 3rd place for awhile more. Perhaps I was going out too fast? My strategy seems sound, I would run fast while it was still cool, back of in the heat, and then pick it up again during the cooler night.
During the Red House loop I was astonished that I could run the uphill sections very strong and fast. Usually I would walk much of this. This was great. After reaching Red House, I could see across the narrow valley, a runner behind me. He was moving fast and gaining. The return trip from Red House is enjoyable because it follows a pipeline road that is very runnable with a steady incline. During that stretch the tall runner finally caught up and passed me. I decided to stay at a comfortable pace and watched him disappear ahead of me. During the tough, steep climb back out of the valley, several other runners caught up. Coming toward us were the front-running 50-mile and 50K runners blasting down the trail. They had started and hour after us.
Completing my Red House loop, I arrived back at Tunnel Creek (mile 17.3) in about 6th place at 3:12. I was at an amazing 18 minutes ahead of my last year’s pace. During the next section, it started to get warmer and I backed off somewhat, now through with my front-runner adventure. I knew there was a long race ahead so I needed to pull myself together and maintain. Other runners were already having a terrible time. Mike Place, a friend from Utah, saw his race end at Tunnel Creek because his weight was already down 12 pounds and he couldn’t stop throwing up. My weight was at about 173, only down a pound. I ran with two bottles, one with Ensure and one with water. I concentrated hard to keep drinking and cooling myself off with the water.
I was now back on the Tahoe Rim trail and climbed up on the high ridge that gave me views of Twin Lakes to the right and massive Lake Tahoe on the left. My pace slowed somewhat again and I was passed by the remaining front-running pack. The Bull Wheel aid station (mile 20.3) came much sooner than I expected at 3:56. The next several miles were rolling single-track on the high ridges where the temperatures remained cool.
As I arrived at the junction of the new part of the course, the leader of the 50-mile race caught up and passed me. He was flying. The next five miles or so were a blast as the downhill trail winded down a valley and eventually went along Incline Creek. I started to have some feet issues as my right heel again started to develop a blister. I tried to take precautions this race by building up the heel a little under my insole, but still the heel was shifting around too much. I made two stops to make adjustments. The stops seemed long, but only one runner passed me.
Finally at the bottom, I arrived at the Diamond Peak ski lodge (mile 30). This aid station was full of energy because there were many crews there cheering, waiting for their runners to arrive. I arrived at 5:39 and was in 14th place. This race probably has the best aid stations of any race I run. They have gels, Ensure, great food, good drink options, and very helpful volunteers. I didn’t stay long and soon faced the massive climb ahead of me. After enjoying the switch backs of the maintenance road, I soon found myself attacking the steep climb straight up the ski slope. The surface was sandy, so that even made it more challenging. Up above, I was very surprised to see that most of the front-running pack was in view, only about 10-15 minutes ahead of me. Behind me was a guy in a yellow shirt who was gaining on me the entire climb. It was a terrible grind, with many false summits. Just when you thought you were about through, there was another slope to climb ahead.
Finally I reached the top of the ski lift and then ran down the other side to rejoin the Tahoe Rim Trail. At first I turned left instead of right, but quickly determined I was going the wrong way. Just then, I ran into Mark Swanson who was running in the 50-mile race. He looked good, but moving slower than he hoped, about 12 miles behind me (I had an hour head start). I returned to Bull Wheel (mile 32) at 6:31. Next up was an enjoyable descent back to Tunnel Creek. The guy in the yellow shirt eventually caught up and passed. I was being slowed significantly with unusual bloating discomfort that wouldn’t go away. I returned to Tunnel Creek (mile 35.3) at 7:12 in 15th place. Along the way it was great fun to see so many of the back of the pack 50 and 100-milers. We always gave each other friendly greetings and words of encouragement.
On the climb out of Tunnel Creek, heading back to Hobart, I slowed significantly and was passed by a couple 100-milers, including a guy in my age group. I finally had to stop for 10-minutes to try to solve my gut pain. I got back on the road just in time to run with Brannon from California who would finish 5th in the 50-mile race. I felt better and was able to find the running gear again. Brannon stayed close behind me as we pushed a hard run up to the top of the ridge. I could tell that he was feeding off my pace. At the downhill toward Hobart (mile 40.3), I was able to push on ahead of him and arrived there at 8:38 in about 18th place.
Next up ahead was a tough climb up switch-backs to the highest point of the course, Snow Valley Peak. I again felt super and was surprised that I could run up the trail with good speed. Usually this section takes about an hour, but I finished it this time in 53 minutes. As I reached the top basin, I looked down and saw Brannon wave to me, trying to catch up.
I reached Snow Valley (mile 43.1), a station manned by a scout troop, at 9:31. Brannon had caught up, passed me, and was walking down the trail ahead when I caught up. I encouraged him to run, and he did. We kept up a steady pace and he ran closely behind me, using me as a pacer. I explained to him that he still had a chance to break 10 hours for his 50-mile finish if we ran the last 7.5 miles in 1:30. I told him that I had done it before. He was willing to try. Down and down we ran, losing more than 2,000 feet.
As we neared the bottom, the heat was intense, above 80 degrees. I just couldn’t keep the pace going. I told Brannon that if he wanted to break 10 hours, he better go run on ahead. He did. Somehow I managed to keep going pretty strong and stumbled into the start/finish area, finishing my 50 miles in 10:52, my fastest first loop here ever, in 20th place. I was down 3 pounds, somewhat dehydrated, and my blood pressure was significantly lower than the day before. That was interesting to find out that my blood pressure drops during the race. But it was still in a normal range.
It was good to sit down. I knew that I needed to solve my foot problem, so I took time to clean my problem foot, build up the heel some more and get ready for the next 50 miles. My stop was very long, 18 minutes.
On the road again up to Marlette Lake, it was peaceful and quiet. No more 50-mile or 50K runners and just a couple handful of runners ahead of me on the trail. I didn’t see another 100-mile runner going my direction for the next 10 miles. Usually it cools down during this section, but not so today. It was still a hot time in the forest. Up on the ridges I ran into many of the back-of-the-pack 50-milers and 100-milers making their way to Hobart. They still had a long way to go to reach 50 miles. I was about 18 miles ahead of the 100-milers.
As I was running along, it felt like I pulled a muscle in my back, and that at first concerned me. But then, I had a funny thought. (Shows the crazy things you think about during these races). This thought is only funny if you are a Utah Jazz fan. I thought, “Gee, if I was Carlos Boozer, I would pull out of the race right here and now.” (Boozer tweaked a chest muscle and used it as an excuse to sit out the last regular season game this year, the most important in Jazz history). Yes, Boozer could never run 100 miles, he would DNF at the first sign of pain. I laughed and told myself I was tougher than Boozer and was glad he now plays for Chicago. Within minutes, my back pain was gone.
Running down toward Tunnel Creek again, I passed my first 100-miler during the second loop, a woman runner moving pretty slowly. Running down toward Red House, I passed another woman runner with her pacer. We chatted for a minute. I was moving very well again because dusk was arriving and it was much cooler. I wished her luck and pushed on ahead. I returned to Tunnel Creek (mile 67.6) at 16:17. I was now in about 16th place. A couple runners ahead of me had dropped and I had passed a couple others. It was now after 9 p.m. and dark.
I had a new problem – chafing. A volunteer gave me some lubricant to take with me. At first it seemed to work, but I think it actually irritated my skin because eventually it would sting like crazy, very painful. For the rest of the race I would try everything, but the only thing that really worked was to just deal with the extreme pain and keep moving. At times things calmed down and I could move fast again.
A half moon was setting over Lake Tahoe. It was quite a sight! After it went down the stars exploded above our heads. I pushed on ahead. I really wanted to catch other runners. Finally I spotted a light on a ridge up ahead. I looked at my watch and then determined that the runner was about five minutes ahead. The chase was on! This was great fun. It didn’t take too long and I soon passed the runner and his pacer. He seemed to be struggling somewhat. He tried to keep up, but quickly fell behind. I would eventually have more than an hour lead over these runners I passed.
I arrived back at the ski lodge (mile 80.3) at 19:21. I knew that finishing by 24 hours would be unlikely, but I still had a great chance in breaking my race PR by a wide margin. It was now past midnight, but the volunteers at the lodge were very lively and helpful. I was the only runner there (which had been typical at every station during the night). They peppered me with questions, concerned that I was running without a pacer. Then they discovered that this would be my 33rd 100-mile finish and that I knew what I was doing. One lady remarked that I looked far better than I did during the late morning. I felt much better because of the cool temperatures now. The guy in charge there was still really concerned about me running alone. He explained there was a runner who had just left ahead of me also alone. He strongly encouraged me to catch up with him and team up with him. I promised to catch up with him, but then I would pass him. I could see that this concerned guy just couldn’t understand that this was a race and that I had thousands of hours experience running alone in the dark. I feel more comfortable running at night, then during the day.
Away I went, in a quest to catch and pass the next runner. But there was no sign of his light at all. The guy said he had only left a minute before me, but it must have been 15-20 minutes. I never caught him. The climb up the ski slope was brutal and slow. My chafing problem was horrible. I didn’t want to look up the slopes ahead, because I knew I would be discouraged seeing the long climb ahead, so I only watched my feet.
Finally I reached to top and it was pretty breezy. I returned to Bull Wheel (mile 82.3) at 20:25, at 1:25 a.m. I was only 20 minutes behind my planned schedule. However, things got worse as the skin pain continued. The next 11 miles were painfully slow. They took four hours. I arrived back at Snow Valley (mile 93.4) at dawn, at 24:28, just 13 miles slower than last year. For each of the last three years, I was able to witness spectacular sunrises from the top of the course. It was a beautiful morning. I kept looking behind me, fearing that someone was going to catch up with me, but my fears were unwarranted, the next runner was more than an hour behind.
With only 7.5 miles of downhill ahead, I put the pain out of my mind and ran nearly the entire way. It was time to finish. In the early dawn, the deer were out in force. At times I would stop to watch them watching me, perched on ridges nearby. It was so peaceful and beautiful. The sun finally shined on me for the first time near the bottom. Looking behind me one last time to see if I would have to sprint to stay ahead of someone, the finish line came into view. It was pretty quiet there since only a few runners had finished. I crossed the finish line in 26:05, a little slower time than the last couple years, but still very good on a much tougher course and in much hotter conditions. My weight was only down one pound and my blood pressure was fine. I finished in 15th place, second in my age group.
I had a great experience this year. I had extreme highs and a few painful lows, but I finished strong and felt pretty good. Within a half hour I was back at a motel in Carson City, soon showered and resting. Sleep never comes to me for hours after a 100-mile finish, so after a few hours I went back to the finish line and watched many runners finish in over 32 hours. I like to watch the expressions on their faces as they finish. Sometimes tears flow. I gave them loud cheers and congratulations. These runners were finishing in the heat of the afternoon. They had to endure two hot afternoons of running. I only had to endure one. I was in awe of them. They are the really tough ones.
So, my 4th Tahoe Rim Trail 100 finish is in the books. This may be my last. I would like to try other July races, hopefully Hardrock next year.