Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile

Feeling good at around mile 40.
(Photo copyright Facchino Photography. Used with permission.)
Short Version
I finished this tough but beautiful 50 mile race in 9 hours 43 minutes, and 12th place overall, out of 177 starters. It was a beautiful day with great weather and gorgeous scenery. The trails were very steep in places, including a 2 mile stretch with 1700' of climb underneath a ski lift. I had some tough spots, but am happy and uninjured.

Long Version
I had signed up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile race long in advance, based on the good things I had heard about it from friends and also because I was looking for a 50 mile race that would keep me qualified to enter Western States 100.

I came into this race with some trepidation for various reasons. Training-wise, I just wasn't getting in as many long runs or as many miles as I thought I should. For example, I didn't manage to run more than a marathon since my fantastic 50K at the end of February, whereas normally I would do at least a couple 30 mile training runs. Also, I train at sea level, but this race goes from about 7,000 feet up to 9,200 feet, and so altitude is a real factor. Finally, it's a relatively tough course with 8,600' of elevation gain (according to Garmin's maps) and all kinds of exceptionally steep and rocky terrain. So, I was bit nervous about this race!

To help acclimate, our little family went camping in Lake Tahoe's Sugar Pine Point State Park for four days, getting back home 8 days before the race. And I came out again, by myself this time, on Wednesday afternoon before the Saturday morning race. All-in-all, these days spent there seemed to help. The weather and scenery were beautiful. Fortunately, I was able to work at the hotel for two days in a dingy room at the Tahoe City Inn. (It's cheap, but I would not recommend staying there unless you're desperate.)

I got in a last 4.5 mile training run the day before the race. My Inov8 trail running shoes were worn out, but it was too late to replace them. And I wish I had gotten new gaiters (a kind of sleeve that goes over the shoe to keep debris out). But otherwise, I was in good health and injury-free and all systems were go!

A couple weeks before the race my friend Prudence L'Heureux contacted me and asked if I wanted a pacer to run the last 20 miles with me. I didn't even realize that was allowed! (All or most of the important information is on the race website somewhere, but it can be difficult to find.) Yes! Excellent! Prudence was one of the top American ultrarunners for a few years and she had asked me to pace her at Miwok 100K one year. A pacer can't provide any direct assistance, and this race calls them "safety runners", but the main benefit is just to have someone there with you for the morale boost and to help with problem solving and to not get lost and to simply give the runner some companionship. These races can get very difficult and very lonely, too. And if a serious problem happens, then it's great to have someone with you because we will be miles and hours away from medical services.

On Saturday, July 21, I got up at 3:30am, ate my breakfast (Grape Nuts cereal, banana, and Diet Coke) and got to the starting area shortly before the 5am start of the 100 mile race.

 I got to see my friends Bryan Bodas...
 and Mike Weston.
(Both members of my running club.)

And I got myself ready and dawn had arrived... which was good because my new $10 flashlight had toppled out of my jacket pocket and into the porta-potty. Doh. (I did not fetch it!)

I had been warned by a friend to be careful about being trapped behind lots of slower hikers and runners because it can be hard to pass people on the single track trail, so I had positioned myself in about the top 20% of the pack at the start line.

6am came around and we were off! The 50 mile and 50K races started together at Spooner Lake and headed towards the Hobart aid station about 6 miles away. I took it easy and monitored my heart rate and started off in the low 140 beats per minute. When we soon got to the uphills and I started feeling the effort, I walked, along with everyone else around me. The weather was perfect, nice and cool, and the scenery was beautiful.

The trails were superbly well-marked. In addition to many multi-colored ribbons, there were arrow-shaped signs and chalk at intersections. I've been on some well-marked race courses, like Western States and Dick Collins Firetrails 50, and the markings on this course were even better. Getting lost is a very real and demoralizing hazard, so I always appreciate a well-marked race!

We runners started spreading out and I got to chat with a few people. I met a young guy, Zach Mapes, who was running the 50K, his first 50K, without a water bottle, which I thought was brave, given the ~6 mile distances between aid stations for his race. It turns out he had forgotten it! Fortunately, I saw in the results that he did manage to finish. At some point in the first 10 miles, I thought I could push the pace a bit more and I passed Zach.

At about this same time, I also ran with a woman for a while who was also doing the 50K. Turns out she is a real speedster with a 3 hour 15 minute personal best for the marathon. This was her first 50K. She asked me my name and I asked her hers (hi, Annie Rutledge!) and after I stopped and peed, I didn't catch up to her again until about mile 17. She finished the 50K in 8th place, out of about 160!

I was steadily passing the slowest 100 milers now (they had had an hour's head start on me) along with plenty of 50K and 50 mile runners.

At the second aid station, Tunnel Creek, we get directed down a super-steep hill, to do the Red House loop. The loop is only about 6 miles long, but it was quite tough at times. The website said that the Red House aid station would not be open this year, but it was. I cruised through, thanked the volunteers, but didn't stop. Somewhere around here, at about mile 15, I noticed that my feet felt a bit sore. Oh oh! I've still got a long ways to go! But the feeling passed.

I saw some of the 100 mile front runners finishing the loop, including an acquaintance, Bree Lambert (who is good friends with my pacer Prudence). I caught up to my friends Bryan Bodas and Mike Weston, said "hi" and passed them.

After arriving at Tunnel Creek again, I headed north towards Bull Wheel. I checked my time and I was about 13 minutes behind my goal pace (which was just a guess and that I applied evenly to the whole course regardless of the elevation gain or loss). Considering the climbs I had done, I felt good about my performance and how I felt.

After more climbing and more beautiful forests, I arrived at Bull Wheel. 20+ miles down. Feeling pretty good. I chatted with another runner or two from here. We remarked that we both felt like we had had a good workout but still had plenty of gas left in the tank. This leg from Bull Wheel to Diamond Peak Lodge is remarkable because it's about 8.1 miles. (Based on the website's elevation profile, I thought it was 9.5, but the aid station volunteer said it was 8 miles and my Garmin data says 8.1.) This leg was the sole reason why I wanted to carry a 64oz hydration pack and I'm glad I did. I ran out of water after about 7 miles. Somewhere along here I took my first ibuprofen, too, as a precaution to reduce swelling in my ankles and feet and knees.

On a long 5 mile downhill, I started pushing the pace a bit. I was feeling pretty good and occasionally I thought I heard a runner catching up to me and I didn't want to be passed. But then I felt my first borderline cramp, in one of my calves. Oh oh! I took more salt and I drank more. Water tasted really good, so I was probably getting dehydrated. And then I ran out of water with about a mile to go.

I got into Diamond Peak Lodge and there were lots of volunteers and a dozen or so spectators. Yay! And my friend Prudence! Yay! It was funny, but I had made up all the time "lost" on the climbs earlier and was within a minute of my goal time (a 9 hour finishing time). I quickly refilled my hydration pack, got some food, and headed out. We didn't run far before we got to the ski slope. Wow. It was hard to believe, looking up the mountain, that we were expected to "run" up that. There was no running to be done, of course. It quickly became a challenge to just walk up underneath a ski lift. One of the course markers had a sense of humor and had written "WTF" and an arrow pointing up the slope. Funny! And true! This climb of just 2 miles, but in mostly soft dirt and loose rock, and with nearly 1700' of elevation gain, took me 45 minutes. Ouch! So much for my goal time now!

Finally we got to Bull Wheel. Then the course retraces its steps back to Tunnel Creek and then to Hobart. About 1.5 miles from Hobart I ran out of water again, even though I had carried about 52 oz. That was bad. I also hadn't peed since about mile 20. That's bad. I started feeling fatigued and having borderline cramps. The race was getting tougher. It seemed to take more and more mental energy just to keep moving. The terrain is quite rocky and you really have to pay attention when running over it. I kicked a couple of rocks but I caught myself and didn't fall. But these stumbles wracked my body and I had to walk for a few seconds to recover, because I was having borderline cramps.

We passed some of the slowest 50K runners. That's a long day for them! I took my second ibuprofen somewhere along here.

Shortly after Hobart, the route changed and we are off onto new territory. The climb to Snow Valley aid station got difficult because it was often steep and at altitude, topping off at about 9200'. A safety patrol on a mountain bike passed us, but then we passed her on the steeper parts. (There were many safety patrol bicyclists with first aid and radios.) I think these were the most gorgeous views, with green meadows and blue skies. Just amazing. This aid station was staffed by a Boy Scout troop. Thanks guys! There were lots of choices of drinks and I grabbed a pitcher labeled Gatorade without really thinking about it. Gatorade sports drink is actually not all that great for endurance events like this because it has a lot of sugar but not the best kind (the long-chain maltodextrin is better, if I recall correctly). So, it didn't take too long before my stomach started getting a bit upset.

Finally, we were on the downhill, all the way to the finish! I basically barely held on and tried not to fall apart. I wasn't a very good conversationalist with Prudence, but I really appreciated her being there. (Thanks again, P!) At some point a guy in the 50 mile race zoomed past me. Bummer! I kept at it.

We passed a woman walking who then called out to us. Bree! She had been so far ahead of us. What happened? She had blood in her urine. I think that means that her kidneys are clogged up with the proteins and waste products from muscle breakdown. Or she could be severely dehydrated. I needed a short walking break (my heart rate had climbed up to the low 150s again) but then Prudence motioned me to keep on running and we all agreed that she should stay with Bree. We were only about 2 miles from the finish.

I had run out of water again, shortly before reaching the Spooner Lake aid station. I confirmed that I had just about 1.6 miles to go. Yay! I saw a glimpse of the guy who had zoomed past me earlier! I quickly drank a cup of water and a cup of sports drink and I tried to hold it together and give one last big push. Prudence had almost caught up to me.

I was cruising along pretty well and quickly put some distance in front of Prudence as I was chasing down these last miles. I was feeling desperate but I thought if I could just hang on for another 10 or 15 minutes, then I would be done. I zoomed past the guy who had passed me earlier. I passed other 50K runners and 100 mile runners. I was moving well on the flats and gentle downhills, but I just didn't have the energy to sprint up the short uphills.

I heard a familiar voice far up ahead calling my name. Franz?! Sweet! I knew he was likely to be at the finish but we were still about a half mile away. He asked how I was doing. "Seconds away from fainting," I said, which I'm embarrassed to say was an exaggeration. I was feeling quite desperate and was feeling twinges of cramps, but I don't think I was going to faint. Franz took this picture. Prudence is chasing me down a ways behind me.

Last half mile dash, with Prudence chasing me. (Photo credit: Franz Dill.)
I've got my finisher's plaque. (Photo credit: Franz)

Franz Dill

Prudence and me, recovering.
Whew! 9 hours 43 minutes. I learned that I came in 12th place out of 177 starters. That sounds good! I basically had a great race, even though it got difficult. I enjoyed the challenge and the scenery and the race as a whole very much. I enjoyed the camaraderie and meeting old friends and making new ones.

I had to drive for 5 hours after the race, to get home, which sucked since I was tired and sore. I finally peed again, with a vengeance! But that's bad that I went from around mile 20 until more than 2 hours after the race before needing to urinate again. I'm not quite sure what happened there with my hydration. I'm guessing I fell a bit behind. Also, my fingers started to feel swollen at one point, which prompted me to take more salt.

What went right:
  • I didn't fall or get injured.
  • I didn't get lost.
  • I'll probably lose one toenail, but otherwise, I didn't have any chafing.
  • My pace and effort were probably pretty good. I got right up to the edge but didn't fall off.
  • Wearing a 64oz Ultimate Direction hydration pack was a big win, versus two hand held 20oz bottles.
  • I had practiced filling my hydration pack in the hotel room beforehand and I learned that I could seal the bag with two folds rather than the more time-consuming way of rolling it up.
  • My calorie intake was probably good. I was able to keep all the food down.
  • The heart rate monitor was very useful, so that I could stay in the mid-140s for the most part.

Things to improve upon:
  • I don't quite understand why I stopped urinating. I don't think I was very dehydrated given the volume of pee I eventually produced hours after the race!
  • Wearing gaiters over my shoes would have been nice. I got some sand in them, but I never had to take them off.
  • I should have worn somewhat newer shoes.
  • I probably should have taken more Salt Stick capsules a little earlier, especially since I was drinking only water until about mile 33. I took about 1 per hour for maybe the first four hours.
  • I should have filled up to 64oz between Tunnel Creek (~mile 34) and Hobart (~mile 40).
  • Train more on uphills?

Other data:
  • Weighed around 166.6 lbs before heading to Lake Tahoe.
  • Weighed 162.4 lbs the day after.
  • The results are here or here.
  • Garmin data.
  • Photos from the race organizers can be found here.
As usual, I owe a huge thanks to Jennifer for letting me take the time to do this.