“I really focus on just taking care of my body and mind. As soon as I start to struggle in a race, I immediately stop focusing on what everyone else is doing. I just keep eating well and keep hydrating. I try to keep my mind focused on the fact that my race isn’t going to improve at all if I can’t take care of my own body.” -Geoff Roes, 2010 Western States Champ, and undefeated after seven 100mi races.
My second attempt at the 100 mile distance went a whole lot better than ’09. The difference 12 months makes! After a great build this year, including the Annadel Half-Marathon, Sequoia 50k, Lake Sonoma 50miler, Miwok 100k, and some good 100mile-specific weeks in early June, I was also given the great gift of knowledge that came pouring out of the epic battle that was this year’s Western States 100, which went down at the end of June. Pouring over Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka‘s blogs in early July, I mined some valuable nuggets of wisdom, which I applied to my race this year in Lake Tahoe. Thanks fellas, it was a great ride!
In order to be competitive and possibly win this year, I knew I’d have to break 20hours. With a field of heavy hitters in the line-up this year, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me. So, I simply committed to concentrating on my own race, those things over which I had control, in hopes that I would see my peak potential.
The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 was my A-race for 2010. No stone was left unturned. I was as prepared as I could be. I’d arrived a week before the event to get my body acquainted with the elevation and was crazy fresh, physically and mentally. On the epic scale, TRT scores a 10, especially this year with the addition of the Diamond Peak climb from Incline Village up to the Rim trail. This adds about 4000′ to a course that already boasts 20,000’ of cumulative gain. Each time I’ve had the great pleasure of running this event I’ve been struck that, a.) how little flat running there is, and b.) that my knees don’t eventually explode from all the ups-n-downs!
I’ve told the athletes I coach time and time again that when you take care of the simple things (nutrition, hydration, pacing, etc.) then the results will take care of themselves. I was grateful that a lot these folks who have become friends over the months and years, were dishing up some of my own medicine, in the form of emails and texts, in the days leading up to TRT. This was much appreciated as it helped center me for the battle to come. “Give none of your precious energy to your competitors. Control what you can out there.”
A picture’s worth a 1000 words, right? Well, running into the half here, I was so happy to not be in the shape I was last year due to excessive dehydration. Over the first 50 miles, I’d conserved well. At 20 minute intervals, I’d take a gel and chase it with 4 gulps of water. That was my nutrition/hydration plan and it worked like a charm (thanks again Geoff Roes!). Unlike last year, where my weight continued to drop at each weigh-in, this year I hit 152 lbs from start to finish, with no more than a pound deviation. No falls and no wrong turns this year was so relievingly wonderful, since I fell twice last year and am known for getting off course on occasion.
The first 50 to 75 miles of a 100 “race” is all about pacing, and keeping up with your food and fluids. My perceived exertion over the first 30 miles was easy, for the most part. That was tough to maintain since, in addition to being really tapered, I’ve been conditioned as a marathoner and triathlete, so running 10:30 miles over the first 30mi required a fair amount of restraint. There were a lot of solid runners at TRT this year too, including Brett Rivers, who I was hoping would “help” push me to a sub-20 hour finish time. Brett has cultivated a reputation for his pacing and subsequent smoking-fast push to finish lines. We both raced Lake Sonoma and Miwok earlier this year and finished close to one another at each event. Brett beat me here at TRT last year, largely because of his exceptional pacing ability. So, this year, I knew I’d have to pace smart in order to be in the running at the end of the day.
Letting guys (and gals) go at the start, including Brett, wasn’t easy. All I thought I needed was to average 12 minute miles over 100 miles to win. Seems pretty easy, right? It’s that 24,000ft of climbing at elevation that gets in the way. The first time up the ski slope at Diamond Peak comes at about mile 30. When I arrived at the lodge, I spied Brett starting his ascent. By the end of the 2000′ climb, I caught up with him and inquired what was going on up on the front. Brett reported that Crawford was pretty far up and Olsen and another guy weren’t that far ahead of us. The pace and perceived exertion at this point was pretty conservative. Brett told me he wanted to keep it easy through 50, get his pacer, and turn it on from there. I pushed ahead, hit the top, found the Rim Trail, and ran south, mindful that I probably hadn’t seen the last of Brett. I wanted to open a good gap between us, yet I also wanted to continue conserving. When I caught Jon Olsen and he inquired who else was close behind, I told him I’d just passed Brett awhile back. He remarked, “Yeah, we’ll see him again.”
A big goal for me this year at TRT, besides breaking 20 hours, was to be able to run through both the half and the 70mile mark feeling happy and strong. Yeah well, in order to be happy and strong at the 50 and 70-mile mark, you gotta pace yourself. So, I felt like I had struck a balance and was running conservatively to the 50 mile and opening a gap on Brett. So, as I was getting ready to depart the 50mile aid-station and spied Brett coming in, a feeling of dread immediately preceded a shot of adrenalin. Time. To. Go!
From 50, I concentrated on what I could control, namely my nutrition and hydration. I ran the approximate 6.5 miles up to the next aid station at Hobart. No Brett. Another 5 up to Tunnel Creek. No Brett. I descended in the 6.5 mile Red House loop, where, after 3 or 4 miles, I caught my first glimpse of Brett and his pacer, Joel Lanz, another exceptional ultra-runner. Slowly and methodically, they caught and passed me.
You’re never happy to see competitors coming up from behind but, what the h*ll, this is a 100mi run in God’s country and it was pretty good to see those guys out there, killing it with me, and basically just having a blast, albeit, moving along a little better than me.
This section of the course chewed me up and spit me out last year, so Brett and Joel didn’t get any fight from me. Joel looked back once to see where I was and that was that. “Maybe see you later fellas,” I thought to myself. I was concentrating on getting my skinny rear-end back up to the ridge line, to the Tunnel Creek aid station, to that point that almost ended my race last year.
And just like that, I was there. Weight: 152 lbs (vs. my 143 lbs I’d suffered the year before at this same point). No stopping this time. With my deliberate shuffle jog, I left Tunnel Creek along the glorious Tahoe Rim Trail, moving north, traversing the 3.5 miles to the Bullwheel aid station, where my pacer was waiting patiently for my arrival. Eat and drink. Eat and drink. Joel and Brett were only four minutes ahead.
Twisting along the mountainside, you eventually spy the Diamond Peak mountainside and know that Bullwheel, which is at the top of that climb, is close. Michael Cook, my pacer again for this second attempt at the 100 mile distance and second attempt at this bear of an event known as TRT, was all smiles as I arrived at the Bullwheel aid station. I was excited to have my pacer and move over some fun terrain, which we had just run together the previous Sunday. This new section of the TRT is really dynamic: an 8-mile loop from Bullwheel, about 4 miles north toward Mt. Rose then hit a flume trail that runs diagonally along the mountainside, back down to the next aid station at Diamond Peak ski resort’s lodge.
The first time down this trail, earlier in the day, I’d run really conservatively, so I could spare my quads. This time was a bit different. This is a fast section and I love to run downhill fast. So, I opened my stride and bounded down the flume, in control, yet moving over ground at approaching 5-minute mile pace. Michael and I hit the pavement at Diamond Peak lodge with smiles. I was asking myself if that might have been a bit too fast but quickly dismissed it, since the next thing I saw, was Brett and Joel starting their ascent up Diamond Peak, which was total deja vu, since that was that exact sight I witnessed the first time I’d been here at mile 30, earlier in the day. Naturally, I expected to have the same result by the top of the climb: pass Brett.
It wasn’t long after this moment that we witnessed Brett’s assault on Diamond Peak. Brett and Joel were running the early switchbacks and were completely out of sight by the time Michael and I arrived at the base of the steepest section. Still, there was about 20miles of racing left, and both Brett and I were inspired to move as quickly and efficiently to Spooner Lake as possible.
I think at this point, my Garmin’s battery had just crapped out, but I saw that my average pace for the race was still around 11:30/mile, which would put me into the finish a little over 19 hours! Compared to my 22:45 last year, that seemed wicked fast. We put our lights on and set to the task at hand: run to Tunnel Creek, run to Hobart, run to Snow Valley Peak, descend the 5+ miles to Spooner Summit, and to the finish!
I probably made some bad fuel choices in this last third of the race. My stomach was protesting pretty much the whole way down to the finish though I only had to make one “pit-stop” and had some strong sections, where I was able to move along quite well. I was, however, losing time to Brett. I just couldn’t sustain a strong pace without my stomach throwing a tantrum.
In order to break 20 (my ultimate goal), I had to hit at those 12min/miles or less. At some point in my delirium I asked Michael what time it was. He replied that it was 11:40 PM. I then asked him if he thought we could make it to the finish in an hour and twenty minutes. He thought we could but I could sense his unspoken words, “if you keep running.” Yeah, that was becoming an increasingly arduous task. Still, in spite of the pain and discomfort of having ran 90 miles, there you are, running at midnight with one of your best friends, lighting up some pristine trails in Lake Tahoe. I was smiling on the inside, or trying to. I was, for sure, savoring the experience. Just run you fool!
I was happy to hit Snow Valley Peak since that milestone represents the beginning of the end; the start of a long switchback-riddled descent down to Spooner Summit at mile 98.5ish. The race isn’t over ’til it’s over and my nearest competitor was Brett, with the next runner, behind Michael and I, being some 2 hours back. So, we kept pressing forward. By Snow Valley, I was running fairly well again and being a good downhill runner, I was able to move quickly, though painstakingly, down and down and down the plush trails to Spooner.
Michael and I put together a series of pushes that, in my mind, were strong but just not fast enough to break 20 hours. At 36 years of age, this stuff has become much more about the experience and the process of racing than any heavy focus on performance goals such as places and times. I like to win and set PRs but I love to execute a perfect process-oriented race plan. Things had gone extremely well today. It was only my second attempt at the distance. I was just grateful to be alive and well, moving at a good clip toward the finish line.
One of the great things about the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 comes after you reach the Spooner Summit aid station and run the last mile and a half of the race, pretty much on flat single-track, under the cover of night, headlamp lighting the way. With about 3/4 of a mile to go you spy the lights of the finish across Spooner Lake. And when you hear the cheers from the finish line, a strong sense of pride, joy, and relief wells up in your heart. The final stretch is a victory dance that somehow seems effortless as you glide wistfully into the arms of the finish and loved ones who have waited and worried about your well-being (and location) all the live-long day.
As I sat there, marveling at the simple fact that I was done running, I heard a woman speak. I heard her say “19:57.” It sounded odd. Why were those numbers meaningful to me? Wait, I ran a lot slower than that. Was there another runner here in the dark she was talking to? I looked up at her. She said, “Congratulations. 19:57. That’s great.” Still trying to comprehend how she could be so cruel and try to convince me I’d done something I knew I had failed to do, I sat incredulous for a second or two before putting the words together in the form of a question, “Did I break 20?” Naturally, my pacer, Michael certainly knew what time it was and that we had indeed pulled it off. So that was some surprising news to absorb as I sat there at 1am, basking in my efforts of the day and year.
And then, that wonderful human machine, sensing the time for running was over, began to shut down on me. My body had decided to initiate its recovery process. And then I slipped out of that blissful, immortal state of full engagement with the 2010 Tahoe Rim Trail run and into a very human, very mortal, purging process of recovering from the ordeal. There were several stops on our long drive back to Michael’s cabin in Truckee, and for various reasons. The TRT slogan is A glimpse of heaven and a taste of hell. As I fell apart, post-race, I was only grateful that most of my day spent running was a heavenly experience full of all the stuff that makes life worth living. The moments of hell were but a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.
I woke on the floor at 10:30 in the morning, disoriented and confused. My shoes were off but I still had my running stuff on. This is what it must feel like to be 80 years old, I thought. I crawled into the bedroom and pealed my clothes off. I crawled to the bathroom and took a shower, which washed the evidence of battle, down the drain. I crawled into bed and let out a deep sigh, my vivid recollection of rhythmic running on the Tahoe Rim Trail lulling me to sleep. That sweet singletrack…
Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Complete Results [Click >>> HERE]
17 hours (about 90miles) of GARMIN Data [Click >>>, >>> HERE]
My next big event is… my wedding on October 17th! My next A-Race will be the 2011 Ironman Triathlon in Coeur d’Alene next June, where I’ll attempt to earn a slot back to Kona in October. I do have to see the doc and see if I can’t get an MRI of my right hip. It’s only been giving me problems since 2008! Funny thing is, ultra-running makes it feels better; it’s when I rest that it gives me trouble! When I get a clean bill of health, I hope to sign up for an late ultra this fall. My plan is to integrate ultra-running into my triathlon schedule, which basically means I’ll hit some ultras in the spring and fall next year. I won’t do a 100miler in 2011 though. It is, however, my great hope that I can get into Western States 2012, or someday!!! I want to close with this oft-repeated (by me) but powerfully accurate quote from that great thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson,
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”
>>> Point Positive! <<<