Running in Johannesburg, South Africa: Sandton, Braamfontein Spruit Trail, Botanic Garden - I just landed this morning after 20 hours on a plane and 29 hours door to door. Plus 2 hours to wait for an available room as arrived at the hotel in the m...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
TAHOE RIM TRAIL 100 MILE RACE - A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN A TASTE OF HELL
This weekend I ran my first 100 mile race. It was the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler. Wow!!!! That is one tough race. The course is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Nevada. It has 20,000 feet of climbing (and because it is loops, that means 20,000 feet of quad-crushing descents too). Held at altitudes averaging around 7500 feet (with the high point nearly 10,000 feet) and temperatures ranging from highs in the '90s (degrees F) to night time colds in the sub-40's it was certainly a challenge.
Pre-Race: I went for a morning jog on Friday and happened to come by the pre-race booths. I stopped by and they actually checked me in about 15 minutes early - the first official participant! Then, after the run, I met Rajeev Patel and Anil Rao at the race hotel. These two guys basically grab my empty drop bags, start affixing names, numbers and aid-station names. Then, they start filling them for me. Wow! What service! Without their help (or the help of our fantastic crew members), I would have reached certain aid stations completely under-prepared.
We then all went down to the pre-race meeting spot. There we weighed in and I came in at 169.7 pounds. We all dropped off our drop bags. I purchased a small belt case for my camera and then we took off to go pick up Chihping who was just arriving at South Shore.
After that, we all met at the pre-race mandatory meeting. There I saw Eric Clifton and his wife Noni (see my notes about Eric mentioned in my first Ultra post below). The directors gave a lot of information and suggestions. Overall, it was a perfect race organization - there was literally no question left unanswered when they finished. Afterwards, we b.s.'ed with Eric for awhile and then - off to dinner. There was a simple but good pasta feed across the street at a restaurant called B'Sghetti's.
That night, I put on Running On The Sun to get motivated and fell asleep by 10:00pm.
The race started at 5:00 am. We all met in the parking lot and Anil's wife drove us to the start. There we picked up our race numbers and walked down the hill to the start line. I had my headlamp on as it was quite dark still. I was dressed in my sleeveless race top, with another top over that and arm warmers. I had a head cover on too as it was still a bit chilly. The race starts at Spooner Lake (Elevation: 7000 feet).
The minutes seemed to drag on but finally we were all ready to go. There was a few last minute race instruction reminders and then "Go!".
THE RACE: The first segment is a 6 mile run (mostly uphill) to Hobart Aid Station. I decided to heed the words of advice that Don (ZombieRunner) had given to Rajeev. That was to walk the first climb. I walked all inclines for that climb, and jogged the flats and downhill sections. For the most part I was with Chihping, but near the top we got separated. The dust was very thick - with all the runners it was like running in a fog. After the top (Elevation 8500 feet), we descended to the shore of Lake Marlette. There we ran around the shore and then up towards Hobart Station. The climb up challenging but offered the first impressive views. By the time I was approaching the aid station it had gotten light enough for me to turn off my head lamp. I actually put it around one of my water bottles but when I got to Hobart A.S. (Elev. 8200), I noticed that it had fallen off somewhere. Damn! I would need that later in the evening.
I checked in and out of Hobart, peeled off my cold weather gear and outer shirt, and headed towards the next aid station. As we climbed out of Hobart we reached a crest that offered a fantastic view of Marlette and Lake Tahoe. There I met this guy from Vancouver who was a member of the Fat Ass Club by the name of Glenn. We chatted a bit and ran down (and I mean DOWN) the peak to the next aid station at Tunnel. Glenn was super nice and we had a great time talking (that is him in the photo climbing out of Hobart).
At Tunnel, we did a quick check and then headed down to Red House A.S. The downhill to Red House was almost as steep as the wall in your house (at least it felt that way). On the way down we met another runner named Keith who had finished Western States 100 a month earlier in sub-24 hours. The three of us ran together b.s.'ing for awhile. Then we got to the Red House station (after a bit a climb back up from 6800 feet). Then it was a tough climb to Tunnel Station. There we got weighed for the first time and I was at 170.5.
We then exited and took off towards Mt. Rose. Here, I got separated from Glenn and Keith. The trail was a steep climb averaging around 8200 feet elevation. About halfway on this 9 mile route there was an aid station at Diamond Peak. The views were, again, fantastic. I started to get a second wind and picked up my pace. I ended up catching a female runner (who I would later learn was named Sharon and she was from Norway). She was running a strong race and we were trading back and forth spots. I stopped momentarily to stretch out my legs and she disappeared. I rounded a corner and was momentarily lost, but found the path again. There it was a downhill and I started down it when this guy comes blazing towards me. It was Jasper in first place (I was still about 2 miles from the turn-around, meaning that he had an easy 4 mile lead over me!). A few minutes later, I saw a flash of bright colors as Eric Clifton turned a granite boulder-covered corner and headed towards me in second place. I shouted words of encouragement and he did the same.
This part of the course took me around a few bends, and then downhill through the tress. As we exited the forest, to my right I saw yet another climb (Yippeeee!!!!) uphill to the Mt. Rose aid station at mile 25 (elevation: 8500 feet). Once I got to the station, I took my time a bit and this was one of my longer rest stops (12 minutes). I had to weigh-in again: 169.5. There I grabbed some more boiled potato (dipped in salt), some gu and some Ensure (this was recommended to me by Rajeev and Anil. I had never tried it before, but it did seem to help). Eric Clifton's wife Noni was there and she filled my water bottles. As I was putting some balm on my feet she jokingly said "Get out of here." :) So off I went.
I went down the hill feeling pretty good. I then re-entered the woods and started running up the path. There, about a mile later I ran across Chihping. He was looking good but complained that his legs were tired. I echoed the statement. I then started running again. Soon, I got another burst of energy and I was really flying - probably one of my fastest times of the day that took me all the way back to Tunnel Aid Station after passing at least 10 people. Along the way, I came across Rajeev and Anil who were running together. We snapped photos of each other and exchanged high-5's.
Anil running towards me:
Rajeev taking a photo of some ugly guy.
Once at Tunnel I was re-weighed again. This time was 170 on the nose. I grabbed another Ensure and headed off to Hobart. Here, I wasn't flying. I remember that coming down that peak was a bunch of fun switch-backs, but going back up that climb seemed to go on and on and on and on and on. It was also fairly hot and I was feeling pretty low. Yet, I still passed a few people on the way up. Once I got to the crest, I snapped a few photos of the view and proceeded to run down to Hobart station.
At Hobart I weighed in (170.1) and grabbed some more fuel. Hobart was offering free smoothies for the runners, but as I never tried a smoothie before during a race I decided not to risk it. I left Hobart and headed on a different route than the morning route that initially brought runners to Hobart A.S. This route went 2.7 miles (2 miles straight up) to Snow Valley Peak (a tad below 9214 feet elevation). On the way up, I passed a few more runners and it was here that I (finally) re-caught up with Sharon from Norway. We ran to the top (wow!!!! What unbelievable views) and then to the Snow Valley A.S. at mile 43.3 Weigh-in: 169.5. I only stayed a few minutes and then headed off.
The descent from Snow Valley was fun. At first it was a bit gradual but a lot of granite rocks and boulders to run through. Then it turned down and entered the woods. Here, Sharon and I decided to run to the 50 mile point together. We really started taking off and was keeping a nice clip through the trees. At one point I stopped and stretched but caught back up with Sharon a few minutes later. Then we rounded a corner and a guy standing there yelled: "One mile to the next aid station and then only 1.7 after that to the start/finish." We really started running then and passed a few people en route to the Spooner Lake Trailhead a.s.
We checked in grabbed some water and took off. We went through some woods (where my right foot caught a stump and I almost went flying on my face but managed to stay up) and then we saw the start/finish line. We crossed a small bridge on Spooner and jogged together to the 50 mile checkpoint. Time: 10 hours 44 minutes. I weighed in (169.4) and sat down for a breather. Next to me was Eric and Noni - Eric had decided to call it a day at 50 miles. He told me I could "easily jog in a 13 hour second half to break 24 hours." I stared at him like a dazed-zombie and said: "YOU can jog that 13 hour half, not me." :)
I decided then and there that while I was mathmatically still in a sub-24 hour range, physically it was not possible. So I opted to take on the sub-30 hour mark, meaning I had created a nice time cushion for my second half. I told Eric that I was interested in finishing and would "enjoy" the second half with more jogging and walking. I would concentrate on a time goal in some future 100 mile race.
Then - it was off again to do this a second time. Uggghhhh!
As I left the start/finish aid station I headed back to the initial climb. About 10 minutes into the climb I remembered something: I had forgotten to eat anything at the start/finish. Hmmm....would that matter? 5 minutes later I received my answer. I lost almost all energy. I needed to stop and stretch at least 10 times during that 5 miles and 2 people passed me. I saw Sharon disappear in the distance and settled in for a loooong night.
Soon I dropped back down to the lake shore. I wasn't feeling that much better but I caught one of the two guys who had passed me - his name was Ray. He and I started up the incline to Hobart. Holy shi!!!! I think the Corps of Engineers sneaked out there between loops and added 1500 feet to that climb! It sure hadn't felt that long, steep or hot during the first climb. Ray and I couldn't believe that no one was catching us as we felt like we were moving backwards. Finally, we crested that climb and jogged toward the Hobart a.s. at Mile 56. There I looked into my drop bag and low and behold - my headlamp that I had dropped earlier in the day. Turns out a very friendly and honest ultrarunner by the very name of Chihping had picked it up and turned it in! The a.s. knew I had dropped it so they put it back into my bag! That was a good sign. I grabbed it and slipped it into my back pocket.
In the a.s. I was weighed (I thought I probably dropped a few pounds) but I was at 170.8. They offered me some chicken soup, but being the vegetarian I declined. Instead I grabbed a cup of water and poured in a bag of miso soup mix. That tasted good! I also downed some pretzels, potatoes and some Hammergel. Then I was off to see if I could catch Ray who had left 2 minutes earlier.
I came out of the aid station and this guy comes running towards me. He was the other runner who had passed me on the incline to Hobart but he took a wrong turn. So we joined together and ran on. His name was Paul and he was from Virginia. We spoke a bit but then he had to stop and told me to go on and try to run the downhills. So off I went.
All the sudden the food was kicking in and I got another burst of energy. I passed a few runners and booked down the hill. As I was running down the switchbacks, despite the screaming from my quads, I was smiling. Soon I caught Ray and passed him. About another mile further he caught me and passed me. Eventually we strolled into Tunnel almost together (I was a few seconds behind him). At Tunnel we were again weighed - I had no weight change. I decided that I had just enough time to run down to Red House and return before dark so I didn't grab any night gear.
I exited the a.s. just in time to see Ray disappear down the hill - he was really moving. I started to go after him but my quads said: "Wait just a minute! What the hell do you think you're doing? Not on my watch lady." So instead, I slowly walked down the hill, occasionally even going backwards to rest my quads. The downhill plunge was littered with hundreds of pinecones and there were two "stream crossings" that could be crossed with a short leap to avoid getting wet.
I was almost at the bottom when Paul caught me again. We ran together and got to Red House. There we came to the table All volunteers had left but there was a pen that we had been told we were to use to mark our bib numbers. There was another runner nursing his knees there. We chatted a bit and he joined us. But as Paul and I started jogging again, he told us to go ahead. (The next day I met him outside the hotel and he indicated that he had to drop. He was fresh off another 100 miler and had just not recovered).
Paul and I jogged back to the steep incline. There we marched up the hill with Paul pulling away a bit near the top. We entered the aid station and Paul was real fast and ready to leave - I wished him luck as I started to gather my night time gear. I pulled on some tights, my arm warmers, long sleeve t-shirt, my head cover (with Marco Pantani's image on it) and my headlamp. I also gathered the Torch flashlight that Rajeev had loaned me....but it wasn't working. I switched batteries with fresh Lithium ones....still no go. Oh well, I had a spare at Mt. Rose. I then saw that Chihping had entered the tent. He was putting on his night gear for the descent to Red House. He still had sub-30 hours in his sites. We wished each other luck and went on. So off I went leaving mile 64 behind.
At this stage it all the sudden struck me - I had run further than I ever had before. Up until this point, my longest run had been 55 miles. I hadn't even completed a 100km race. Cool!
So I took off in the night. The race management had marked the course with this awesome reflective tape - so bright it almost looked like flashlight beams. As I ran I heard the occasional noise and assumed it was a hungry bear, cougar or the kiler bunny from Monty Python's Holy Grail. Unfortunately I was not consumed so I was forced to suffer the rest of the run.
After awhile I came to the next aid station (actually an abandoned table with some water dispensers on it). I passed through as I had enough water and continued up the hill. After awhile, I crested it. Wow!! The view was unbelievable. Lake Tahoe at night was gorgeous. The moon, although only half-full, was bright as a search light. As I continued running, each time the moon peaked through the trees I thought it was a runner's headlamp coming at me. Then, one time it actually was. The lead runner passed me - he was flying.
I continued running & walking and finally started down the hill through the forest back towards Mt. Rose. As I was passing these people on the side of the trail one said "Hi Alan." I looked and it was Peter Lubbers of our Ultraholics group. He and I had pretty similar splits and we both had very tired legs. A couple of his friends had met him there. Peter decided to join me and we walked/jogged towards Mt. Rose.
Again, I swear some cruel gremlins added about 1000 feet to the climb leading up to the aid station. But eventually we made it. Mile 75. Weight: 169.8.
Peter decided to have some chicken soup. I grabbed my spare flashlight and stuffed some food in my mouth. I also switched my long sleeve t-shirt for my jacket. Awesome support!
Then Peter and I took off again. we went down the hill and back into the woods. The climb out of the woods took some time but finally we made it out. After a while we met up with Chihping who was now heading towards Mt. Rose. We were at around Mile 78 for us (meaning he was around mile 72). We wished each other luck and headed off. At this point, the brand new batteries in my flashlight gave out.
I had led the climb and march out of Mt. Rose. but my legs were getting pretty tired and Peter had the stronger headlamp, so he took over the lead. I was basically just following his footsteps trying to stay awake. Finally, we reached the Diamond Peak "aid station". We stopped just for a minute and then headed off again.
Now we were descending the peak down towards Tunnel a.s. Despite it being a downhill, neither of us felt like running. We just kept plodding on. Then, we exited the trail and came to the aid station. Mile 84. Weight: 170. I grabbed a small cup of coffee and some Ensure. I also stuffed some potatoes and pretzels in my mouth. Then Peter and I took off, both of us dreading the climb back up to Hobart.
As we climbed the switchbacks, they did seem to go on forever. But maybe because the fear was worse than the reality, or maybe because the cool night air had replaced the afternoon sun, it wasn't as bad as I remembered. Finally we crested the peak and was overlooking a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe and Lake Marlette. The sun was just beginning to rise casting an orange hue along the horizon. Wow - despite the pain and exhaustion, it sure beats the hell out of my office desk.
Then we began our descent down to Hobart. For a while, it seemed to me like we must have passed the a.s. as I thought it was closer to the base of the peak, but finally we came upon it. Mile 90! Weight: 170.1
Wow! Only 10 more miles to go. At that stage the a.s. workers told us we were in 18 and 19 place overall! Peter and I knew that we only had one climb (granted a real bitch of a climb, but just one). We stayed at Hobart no longer than 5 minutes and took off up the hill. Again, those damn mountain gremlins were really busy. The higher we went, we kept saying that the peak was right around the corner - but it never was. He and I both had our cold weather gear on as we expected snow peak to be windy and freezing (we heard reports of mid-30's temps). But instead the morning air was surprisingly still and warm and we kept having to stop to peel off layers.
Finally, we reached that peak. To reward us was one of the greatest views around.....if only we could stay awake to enjoy it. We then ran to Snow Peak a.s. The workers there (as with every other aid station) were cheerful, helpful and simply the best! Final a.s. weigh-in: 169.8.
We grabbed some fuel and then started off down the hill. We walked almost all of this. The fatigue combined with the granite boulders/rocks made any faster attempt a bit risky. Plus, we were still pretty sure we had a sub-28 hour finish.
As the path dipped into the woods I began to experience my first Ultra hallucinations. The trees and rocks at first appeared to be animals or people or houses. On second glance they'd disappeared and become trees and rocks. Wow - was there blended shrooms in that energy gel? :)
We kept plodding down the hill, mindful of our sub-28 hour goal but neither us willing to run. After awhile runners here and there would pass us. I saw some of the guys I had run with earlier. But we didn't care. We had one goal: finish under 28 hours. We had stopped caring about our final standings.
The distance between Snow Valley and Sponner Lake Trailhead a.s. is suppossed to be around 6 miles. However, due to some cruel trick of nature, physics, and exhaustion (OK mostly exhaustion) it seemed like 60 miles. However, finally we rounded a bend and saw a white tent ahead. The a.s. workers started whooping and yelling and we strolled into the station shouting our numbers. When I said mine, a worker said: "Hey!" I turned and it was Lon Monroe (see my post below about Quicksilver). I ran over to him and we shook hands and then hugged. He congratulated me and asked how I felt. "Tired" I believe was my response. It was really great to see him - he helped me finish Quicksilver which I know helped me finish TRT 100. I will swear that some of the nicest people I have ever met are ultramarathoners. I will go to my grave believing that.
While I was having my reunion, Peter was off again - mindful of our sub-28 hour goal. So I started...yes, drum roll please, I started RUNNING to catch him. When I did we both continued running down the hill. Then we entered the forest area. Here, Peter had more juice left in his engine and was willing to run - I tried and would go 30 seconds to 3 minutes but would have to stop every now and then.
We heard voices of other runners behind us and we picked up the pace - this time I was mindful of hidden stumps. Finally we came to the bridge. We crossed it and headed towards the finish line now in plain view. As we approached we tossed aside our jackets and night gear. Then we came towards the line and counted "One Two Three" and in unison put a foot over the line.
We did it!!!! 100 f'n miles (technically, 100.4) behind us. 27 hours 50 minutes 45 second. Peter and I finished tied (as planned) in 26th place. There were 99 starters, 69 finishers. My friend Chris Mason from Texas had promised to get me a great Ranger belt for my finishers' buckle - now I had the buckle!
What an experience! Views that one would pay for - pain that one would pay to avoid. Memories that could never be bought.
We were handed our finishers bottle opener and bottle of special TRT100 label lager. Then we left. I really needed a shower and a nap. While I was doing both, Chihping finished his 100 miler in 29 plus hours - smashing his sub-30 hour goal!
Later that day we returned and we were lucky enough to see Anil and Rajeev (and their pacer Vinod) cross the finish line hand in hand.
It was almost as great as when I finished....almost :)
Later that day we all reunited at the awards dinner (great burritos). There we picked up our belt buckles.
Rajeev and Anil being awarded their finshers belt buckles: