From the darkness I heard a voice and felt myself being shaken awake. “You passed out, can you sit up?” In a haze I opened my eyes to stare into the face of a mountain biker leaning over me. Covered in dirt and blood my 100 mile race would be defined by just eight short minutes.
The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run (TRT100) is run on two loops of a 50 mile dusty course in the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe between Carson City and Incline Village, Nevada. More than 80% of the miles are run higher than 8,000’ above sea level with a high point at Snow Valley Peak of 9,230’. Known for the spectacular views of nearby Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe TRT100 is expertly run by Race Directors George Ruiz and outgoing Race Director David Cotter along with their team of first class race organizers. Every detail was covered starting with the mandatory runner’s meeting on Friday afternoon prior to the race, down to the volunteer staffed wilderness aid stations, complete with a constant variety of warm food, blenders for Ensure smoothies and to my delight frozen sorbet on Sunday morning. Even though some of these aid stations required volunteer access via 2-4 mile hikes they rivaled the best I’ve experienced any where in my race experience. No description of TRT100 would be complete without mentioning the level of detail put into the handcrafted buckles awarded to all finishers. You would have to look far and wide to find a more impressively designed and made finishers buckle in ultra running.
On Sunday, July 21 at 4:00 p.m. the 2013 edition of TRT100 would close with just 118 finishers out of 200 starting ultra runners who braved record heat that found temperatures pushing 90° with single digit humidity at 8,000’. This was the lowest finishing percentage in the eight year history of TRT100.
My TRT100 Race ReportParking 1/2 mile from the start at Spooner Lake State Park my wife and I took a private shuttle ride (we were the only one’s in the van when the next one pulled up behind us so the driver decided to go on with just us) to the race start drop off point. Walking through the dark forest with flood lights in the distance was surreal. It felt like something out of a sci-fi movie. I don’t like to stand around getting nervous so I only had 25 minutes before the start when we arrived, as 5:00 a.m. got closer the excitement built throughout the crowd of runners. A few short minutes before the start last minute instructions and encouragement was given by RD George Ruiz followed by an emotional playing of our national anthem. It doesn’t matter in what setting I hear our national anthem it always chokes me up, on July 20th at 4:58 a.m. holding my wife in the flood lights deep in the forest might have been the most emotional I’ve ever been.
TRT100 starts with close to one mile of dirt road before turning into beautiful single track running on the way to Marlette Lake and the first aid station, Hobart, seven mile from the start. With 200 starters the single track forced mid pack runners into a fast uphill hike for the next three miles with no realistic chance or reason to try passing the line of runners ahead. Close to Marlette Lake things started to open up on a one mile downhill section of trail before joining into dirt road again. This was the last time it would be an issue with other runners on the trail blocking progress. Running along the shore of Marlette Lake was beautiful but just a very small taste of what we would see in the coming miles.Arriving at Hobart aid station I topped off my water and quickly moved on to immediately start the climb for my first look at Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe from above. Except for the spectacular views of both lakes things were uneventful through Tunnel Creek aid station where I weighed in 3 lbs. over my starting weight, the infamous Red House loop and on to Bull Wheel aid station at the top of Diamond Peak. From Bull Wheel aid station it’s over 8 miles to the next aid station at Diamond Peak ski resort. As the heat was setting in early I had 65 oz. of water when I left Bull Wheel, I’d need every last ounce of it. Continuing to climb I finally reached the turn off to Diamond Peak and a sign that read ” — 5.4 miles “. This stretch was all downhill, most of it steep enough to be jarring and made me aware it was too early to bomb down a grade this steep if I expected to finish the next 75 miles.
Knowing I had chicken soup waiting for me at Diamond Peak aid station I wanted to hold off taking another S!Caps in this stretch for fear of getting too much sodium at one time. But as the heat rose I decided around mile 28 not to wait. Trying to open the front pouch on my waist pack turned out to be too challenging as I bounced down this section of the trail. Just as I was about to give up I passed a mountain biker fixing a flat tire, 50′ further down the trail I pulled up fast when I spotted a couple 4′ high boulders that looked like a perfect place to sit down and grab an S!Caps. I remember climbing onto the middle boulder and looking down at my waist pack, the next thing I remember was the mountain biker shaking me awake. Before I was able to get to my feet several other runners with concerned faces stopped to help. As I slowly got my wits about me I realized I didn’t have my sunglasses on, I found them crumpled in the dirt next to a boulder (I sent them to the repair department at Maui Jim yesterday, we’ll see how good their 2 Year No Questions Asked Guarantee is). For the next 72 miles as I passed and got passed I heard over and over “You’re still running? I saw you passed out next to the trail this morning?!”. Having dealt with dehydration in most of my races I immediately assumed I was already suffering from dehydration and my weight was going to be way down when I had to weigh in at Diamond Peak aid station less than two miles away. Surprisingly I felt good when I stood up and started down the trail, covered in dirt and blood. Trying to brush the dirt off was pointless as it just smeared into my sweat and turned to mud. Less than a mile from Diamond Peak I crossed a creek where I took off my shirt, soaked it and attempted to clean myself up before my wife saw me in a few minutes.Running into Diamond Peak aid station shirtless I immediately dropped my water bottles and waist pack to reluctantly step up on the scale…163.8 I was told. “What did you start at”? Uh, “164”. “You’re good to go, let’s clean up your face, what happened”? I refused the facial and got ready to leave Diamond Peak when my daughter found me. With my wife looking for my white Zane Grey 50 shirt and knowing I don’t run shirtless I’d gone right past without her recognizing me. During the conversation with my wife she asked if I fell…”yes”…end of story. No way I was going to tell her what really happened, that could wait until I could prove somewhere later in the day it wasn’t a problem. After cleaning up more and reapplying sunscreen I changed from my handhelds into my Ultimate Direction SJ Vest and grabbed my Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles for the 1,800’ climb over the next 2.25 miles up Diamond Peak. This was the worst section of the race for me, from the point I passed out, had too long of an aid station layover, then climbed Diamond Peak in 90° heat it took over 2:30 to go barely over 3 miles. For the rest of the day I would press to make up time on my self imposed 30 hour cut off.
As the temperatures rose so did the trail. It now felt like the trail was uphill in both directions to and from Diamond Peak and the forest seemed to open up and expose the trail to the hot sun every chance it got. Conserving energy and trying to stay hydrated were my only thoughts as I made it back through Tunnel Creek still on my exact weight and moving through Hobart aid station before starting the climb up to Snow Valley Peak, the highest point on the course at 9,230’ and easily the most beautiful. At Snow Valley Peak the Boy Scouts manning this remote aid station greeted me with an enthusiastic “Hi John! Welcome to Snow Valley Peak”. At this point I was feeling the best I had all day and ran the entire way from Snow Valley Peak into the 50 mile aid station and start of the second loop at Spooner Lake.
The Second 50Waiting for me outside Spooner Lake aid station was my crew, consisting of my wife and children, as well as my safety runners for the rest of the way, Rich and Erin McKnight. When I reached the aid station I weighed in at 163.8 again. Completing the first 50 miles nearly two hours behind my desired schedule sucked but I still opted for a change into clean socks and different shoes. I also felt the best I had all day so felt I could make up the time down the trail somewhere.
As Rich and I left Diamond Peak I found it hard to get moving again. All that running coming into the Spooner Lake didn’t equate to running out of it and I found myself walking down the road before reaching the single track. For the next few miles we would hike, lay down (just me), get up hike some more, sit down (just me) and throughout the whole thing swatting mosquitoes and flies away from any exposed skin they could find.Thankfully by time we reached Marlette Lake a second time the mosquitoes seemed to have given up on us and we made our way into Hobart aid station close to an hour behind my first loop pace. As we entered Hobart Rich suggested it was time for me to switch from my favorite e-Gels to solid food as I had mentioned it was getting harder and harder to take a gel. Reluctantly at Hobart I had a small piece of melon and some chicken noodles. Then had a small bite of freshly grilled hamburger, before I would leave Hobart I had eaten the rest of the hamburger and drank three small glasses of Coke.
We barely made it past the high point after Hobart where Rich got his first and only view of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe from above before darkness set in. My original plan was for Rich to have close to four hours of light to run in and we would hopefully make it through A Taste of Hell on the infamous Red House loop while it was still light enough to run hard downhill. That plan was out the window when I passed out at mile 28, now it was all I could do to keep moving through the night and try finishing. After grabbing my Ultimate Direction SJ Vest and Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles I had left at Tunnel Creek aid station after climbing Diamond Peak on the first loop Rich and I made the two hour trek through the Red House loop. Just before reaching the Red House I lost my balance crossing water and soaked both my feet, I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time but quickly started feeling friction and knew I was going to have to change socks again when I got back to Tunnel Creek. This time in the dark Red House was decorated in Christmas Lights and the aid station volunteers were dressed in festive Christmas outfits. Ho, ho, ho..ly hell. This loop seemed to fly by earlier in the day when it took me less than 1.5 hours, this time the turn off to climb back out seemed to never get there.
Weighing back in at Tunnel Creek my weight was once again 163 so I was still at my starting weight, I switched socks while Rich got me an avocado wrap and we were down the trail toward Bull Wheel 3.5 miles away. Time kept moving but I seemed to be standing still as we made it through Bull Wheel and finally started downhill toward Diamond Peak. Passing a few other runners on the downhill I kept watching for the place where I passed out. A couple times I told Rich “there it is” only to change my mind, I never did recognize the area. We finally made our way into Diamond Peak as the sun rose. Still weighing in at 163 I refused once again to get my face cleaned up and a butterfly put on my eye. I’d had it cleaned three times already and it just kept breaking open so I would worry about it after the race since the swelling had already gone down and it wasn’t bothering me at all. My feet were really sore at this point so I took the time to sit back, eat three pancakes and drink a cup of coffee while medical attended to my blisters. It turned out later this was a big waste of time…except for the pancakes and coffee that fueled me for a few hours.It was now Erin’s turn to be my safety runner. Already apologizing to Erin for my slowness we passed a solo runner at the base of Diamond Peak and started our climb. The climb alone took me just over 1:40 on the first loop so I was expecting a 2 hour climb at least. Much to my surprise in the cooler early morning air we reached the top in just an hour on this second loop. As Erin and I made our way through Bull Wheel and onto Tunnel Creek the aid stations that seemed so far apart during the night were popping up unexpectedly fast now. With my weight still at 163.8 at Tunnel Creek we made our way as quickly as I could to Hobart aid station. By now I felt like I knew everyone there on a personal level and yelled “Hi Honey I’m home!”. Thinking we were running alone I was surprised to have two other runners enter the aid station less than 30 seconds behind me. Erin let me take a quick rest and ushered me out with the urgency that she didn’t want me to get passed. Honestly I didn’t care. I don’t run to pass other people or worry about what place I finish, my goal is to finish and be close to what I consider a respectable time for me. I told Erin it was ok to get passed but I felt she had other ideas as we made our way to the Snow Valley Peak turn off and my last big climb of the day. I mentioned earlier I think this is easily the most beautiful part of the course, and even though it climbs 1,800’ in three miles it doesn’t feel that hard because the views are so distracting. Entering Snow Valley Peak aid station once again we were greeted with an enthusiastic “Hi John!” by the local Boy Scout troop and given frozen raspberry sorbet as a special Sunday morning treat. Sitting in the aid station were the first two runners I’d seen since we left Hobart. Erin and I were out fairly quick and less than a mile later we were passing runners. First it was six different runners spread out over a hundred yards, Erin was so excited but I didn’t care, I was running hard and feeling great even though my feet were killing me and I’d already traveled over 93 miles. I complained about my feet most the way from Diamond Peak but honestly they hurt worse than I’ve ever felt. Every step was intensely painful and I remember telling Erin at one point they hurt so bad when I walked and just as much when I ran…so I might as well just run. After passing the first group of runners I was expecting more but we ran hard for what felt like a couple miles before seeing a lone couple trying to hike/jog quickly downhill as we passed them. Then there were more. With every runner we passed Erin gave me encouragement and her enthusiasm and competitiveness started to rub off on me. Passing runners was giving me even more energy and taking my mind off my painful feet. Before we reached Spooner Lake and started the long last 1.4 miles along the shoreline to the finish I was starting to get emotional about what I was about to accomplish. It always happens so I shouldn’t be surprised but I always find it hard to choke back the tears and wipe the smile off my face. Coming out of the trees to run along the shore I heard the cheers from my family and Rich from across Spooner Lake. Passing one last runner less than a 1/2 mile from the finish line I was met by my family and told my children to run in with me as I neared the finish line where I was greeted by Race Director George Ruiz who congratulated me as he shook my hand, 31 hrs, 33 min after I started.
The AftermathMissing my self imposed 30 hour cut off and not getting the silver buckle is a big disappointment to me. If we’d had the cooler mid 70’s temperatures I was expecting I don’t think it would’ve been a problem for me to be close to the 28 hours I had in mind before the start. But simply completing TRT100 under the circumstances, especially after passing out early in the race is very satisfying. Also, finishing as strong as I did is very satisfying and thanks to Erin McKnight I have a whole new perspective on running ultra races. I think I might look at them more in the future as “races” and not just “runs”.
From a medical standpoint three things jump out at me as I look back.
- My weight in the first aid station was + 3 lbs. after that I was between 163-163.8 the entire 100 miles. For me this is amazing because I often times lose 10-15 lbs in shorter races even in cooler temperatures. I ran the entire race on water, no electrolyte drinks ever. I attribute this to following the advice of Crank Sports, maker of e-Gel, President Mike Mathewson. I’ll be reviewing e-Gel soon in an upcoming article for Trail Running Club.
- I didn’t have any muscle soreness in my legs after Monday and what little I had on Monday was no worse than a normal leg workout with weights at my gym. As I poked around at my blisters they didn’t hurt on Monday either. But five days later I still have a lot of pain in the pads on the bottom of my forefeet directly behind my toes. It feels like this area is severely bruised but there is no discoloring at all. It feels like the nerves are on the outside of my skin. I might have recovered quicker in this area but we spent 2 1/2 days walking around Las Vegas on the way home, I’m sure several miles walking on concrete didn’t help.
- When I was getting my blisters worked on at mile 80 the medic asked me about the blood that had once again run down my face from my eye. When I told him what happened and it wasn’t dehydration he chuckled and said I probably just stopped too fast, my legs had been helping circulate the blood and suddenly weren’t. To top it off I’d looked down at my waist pack which could squeeze the arteries in my neck. All of these things combined just dropped the oxygen level going to my brain to fast and I blacked out. He laughed it off and didn’t seem too concerned. Of course I told him 50 miles after the fact so it was obvious the concern level would be a lot less than if he’d seen me less than a mile after it originally happened.
Right now my plan is to make Western States 100 my next 100 mile run…er, I mean race. I’ll enter the lottery in December for a normally less than 10% chance of getting my name drawn. If I get in I’ll train my butt off (and pray for cooler weather) to get that sub 24 hour buckle. If I don’t get in I’ll keep trying to qualify but I’ll do it via 50 mile races each year. I just don’t see any other 100 mile races that get me excited right now and I’m not a person who likes to run just to say I did it. Maybe that will change or maybe I’ll find a race I think is so neat I have to add it to my bucket list but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
ConclusionI loved my experience at TRT100 this year. I want to give a big shout out to my family for their support over the past six months of training and crewing for me during the race. Also a huge thank you to Rich and Erin McKnight for being my safety runners and getting me through the last 50 miles. Never was there a thought of stopping because I knew they were there to help me and I would not only be letting myself down but them as well. I’d also like to thank Race Directors George Ruiz and David Cotter along with their incredible staff of volunteer organizers and aid station volunteers for putting on a first class event. I can’t think of one single area that I’d change or they didn’t do an excellent job of planning and executing.
If you have any thoughts of running TRT100 in 2014 I’d encourage you to do it. But be ready on January 1, 2014 when registration opens at midnight PCT. This year’s 2013 edition sold out in less than 8 hours and I’ll guarantee 2014 sells out even faster.
Until the next time..be safe and have fun!
A Few Final Random Photos