Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 -- 26:53:20

Snow Valley aid station at mile 93
This was the most difficult race that I have ever done and I still have a lot to learn about this distance. I battled dehydration, diarrhea, and some dizziness. With the support of family and friends, and especially my awesome "safety runner", Amanda, I'm very happy and proud to have completed this difficult and beautiful race. It took me 26 hours 53 minutes to cover 100 miles, with 18,000' of elevation gain, at an average elevation of 8,000'.

I don't want to sugar-coat this experience. Yes, the scenery was frequently gorgeous, with expansive views of Lake Tahoe and surrounding snow-capped mountains. Yes, crossing the finish line after almost 27 hours of running and hiking, accompanied by my pacer and friend Amanda, was a precious tear-jerking emotional moment -- a combination of intense joy and relief and sense of accomplishment. Yes, the belt buckle is beautiful and is a wonderful memento of this challenge. Yes, seeing friends and being part of this wonderfully supportive ultrarunning community is very uplifting and enriching. But still, I want to remember that this race was incredibly difficult and that I spent many hours suffering and cursing to myself. So, would I do it again? Writing this the day after the race, I would have to say, "Maybe... probably... but 50 miles is still plenty challenging!"

Why Tahoe Rim Trail 100?
I had a lot more to learn about this distance versus the shorter distances and I felt ready to be challenged again. 100 miles is much different and much more difficult (to me) than 50 miles or even 100 km (62 miles). Even the 69 mile race across England last year would be easy by comparison. I had run nine 50 milers, two 100Ks, and two 100 milers (out of four attempts) up to this point.

This is a seriously beautiful course that consists of two identical 50 mile loops. I've done the 50 mile race (one loop) twice before, most recently two years ago, so I was familiar with the course.

The race organization and course markings and aid station support are all top-notch. I have volunteered twice for this race, both times overnight at the Diamond Peak aid station.

  1. Don't get permanently injured; my health and safety come first.
  2. Finish! I didn't want another DNF ("Did Not Finish") like at Javelina Jundred last year.
  3. Don't run the first half faster than a 22 hour finish pace. I thought that 22 hours was the fastest possible time I could do this race. I calculated this two different ways -- 1) estimating my speeds on various terrain and adding in time for all the breaks and 2) taking some top runners' times, and calculating the factor to go from 50 miles to 100 miles (it came to about 2.2). Both estimates gave a best-case finish time of 22 hours.
My peak training week was 100 miles, which is great, but once again, I didn't have a lot of other long weeks or long runs. My longest two training runs were 35 miles and 31 miles. Still, this was about as good as I could do, given my obligations and even interest in running. (You can have too much of a good thing!)
Mor and I, at the Big Basin 50K on 6/4. This was a key training run for me.
I tried to do more leg strengthening exercises, like lunges, one-legged sit-to-stands, and one-legged hopping up and down stairs. I wanted to avoid the progressive soreness that I experienced at Mountain Lakes 100 last September.

My key races in the previous 12 months:

My weekly mileage:
  • 4/30 66.1
  • 5/7 58.7
  • 5/14 76.2
  • 5/21 65.2 My right heel started hurting in the mornings. Plantar fasciitis?
  • 5/28 82.2
  • 6/4 51.3 ran Big Basin 50K -- half as a training run, half as a race
  • 6/11 46.1 had some recovery days
  • 6/18 100.2
  • 6/25 37.6 volunteered at Western States and had a lot of discomfort in my heel.
  • 7/2 68.4
  • 7/9 46.5 ran Rocket Run on 7/4 -- 5.0 miles in 30:10, with no pain in my heel.
  • 7/16 106 I only ran 6 miles in the 5 days leading up to the race! But my right heel was hurting more than ever.
So, I was basically in top physical condition with the worrisome exception of possible plantar fasciitis. I did one-legged heel dips and raises every morning, at the edge of a step, 20 on each heel. This would nearly immediately clear up the pain. And when running, my heel almost always loosened up and felt fine.

Week Before
I rented a house in South Lake Tahoe, in order to acclimate to the altitude, and arrived 7 days before the race start. I invited friends and family, but it was just me and my sister Jessica until Thursday when everyone else arrived.

Jessica and I did a bit of decorating...

Day Before
It was my daughter's 15th birthday and I wanted it to be special, even though this conflicted with my race preparations and goals. I enjoyed going to the nearby beautiful Angora Lake with her and my family and my friend Paula, too. The weather was quite warm and I did one long swim across the lake. Jennifer said that I looked dehydrated because my eyes looked sunken. Oh oh.
Claire and Jennifer

Paula and me
I ate mostly carbs and protein (nuts) and very little fiber, in the hopes of not having to defecate during the race. (Foreshadowing: that did *not* work out!).

Paula and I went to Carson City to pick up our bibs and for me to attend the mandatory 100 mile check-in. The information was actually useful for all runners for all three races. The race director reported that the trails were 97% dirt because so much snow had melted in the past week. That was good news! The downside was that our feet were going to get wet in the river crossings of the Red House Loop.

I met up with Pete Briggs and Gary Lindberg. I tried to drink extra water, but it was difficult in the 95 (?) degree weather to drink enough, plus there were no public drinking fountains there.
Pete and me. My eyes show my dehydration.
For the mandatory weigh-in, I was expecting to weigh about 170 lbs because I was wearing my shoes and clothes. At first the reported 164.6 lbs sounded good -- "I've lost weight!". But then the reality sunk in that I was very likely dehydrated already. Oh oh. The medical professional rounded my weight down and wrote "164" on my wristband that I was required to wear for the whole race.

That night, I had a difficult time sleeping, due to nervous energy plus the warm nights in the house plus my sister and the kids were busy talking in the hot tub near my open sliding glass door. (I had an upstairs room, which got really warm.) I wanted my daughter's birthday to be special and to not interrupt them, so I closed the sliding glass door, but then the heat made for a hard time sleeping. I had taken two anti-histamine pills (diphenhydramine) but that didn't really knock me out. On top of all of that, my right heel was hurting and I took an ibuprofen, too. I tried not to get too worried and to relax.

Race Day!!!
My alarm went off at 2:30am, to give me time to eat (two bagels, toasted with peanut butter) and drink a bit of water. Jennifer was kind enough to drive me to the start. I think I confided in her that I was very uncertain about how the day would go. Privately, I wasn't sure I could go even one mile. I mean, if my heel hurt from the beginning, I might need to turn-around right away.

I saw my friends Pete, Gary, Paula, and Veronica. I dropped off my finish-line bag and did my final preparations. There was excitement in the air!

Veronica was a pacer for this race and is an accomplished ultrarunner. I run with her occasionally along the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

Paula! Getting ready for the 50 miler.
At 5am, after some brief announcements by the race director plus a stirring playing of the national anthem, we were off! Woo hoo!

On the way to Hobart, my heel felt perfect. Yay! I tried to take it nice and easy, and to not exceed the pace (taking into account hills) for an 11 hour 17 minute first loop (50 miles). I got into Hobart 5 or 6 minute ahead of schedule, but I was OK with that. Soon, my headlamp wasn't needed. The temperature was comfortable and short sleeves were fine.

Somewhere along the way, I heard someone behind me say, "I shouldn't be passing Ron Little". I laughed. "Pete!" I pulled aside and let him pass.

Tunnel Creek, mile 12 -- This is the only place I had a drop-bag and I would visit here 6 times. I quickly stashed my headlamp and grabbed my bandanna and hat. I was pretty much on track for my optimistic finish time. I filled up with ice, even though it was only about 7:40am. The day was warming up quickly!

Red House, mile 15 -- a couple of very fast runners (55K? 50 mile?) passed me. These races started one hour later than the hundred miler. I think one of them was Rory Bosio who crushed the 50 mile race, winning overall and setting the women's record, too. I had met Rory while running Firetrails 50 Mile in 2009 where she had asked me if I knew any jokes and then she pulled away and beat me by 15 minutes in that race. Way to go, Rory!

I was getting warm but the ice around my neck felt good. "Slow and easy, slow and easy," I kept telling myself. I kept on imagining being here again 50 miles later, and still having a long ways to go. My feet got thoroughly soaked in three stream crossings, coming up to my knees in one spot, but I wasn't worried; my feet would soon dry out in the heat. I felt my right heel a bit, but I was still comfortable.

Somewhere along here my urine was a solid dark yellow. Damn. I was probably dehydrated from the beginning.

Tunnel Creek, mile 18.5 -- still on track for my optimistic time. I grabbed an extra 20 oz water bottle for my vest because I had the longest leg coming up in the heat of the day. I re-applied sunscreen, but then made a possible critical error. I forgot to refill on ice. It was a long slow climb to Bull Wheel.

Bull Wheel, mile 21.5 -- This aid station is very difficult to access (supplies have to be delivered by a ski lift) and as expected, they didn't have ice. I couldn't refill my bandanna. I filled up all three water bottles, for a total of 60 oz. Onward to the longest leg, of 8.5 miles!

Somewhere on the long descent to Diamond Peak, I kicked a rock hard with my right foot and all the force seemed to be delivered to my big toenail. Ouch! I stumbled but didn't fall. I would feel my big toenail pretty much for the remainder of the race. But the good news was that my heel had stabilized and wasn't a problem at all.

I stopped to soak my bandanna in a stream -- nice!

Diamond Peak, mile 30 -- Coming into the aid station, I had the slight hope of seeing Jennifer or Claire, but they weren't there; it was too difficult with Claire's friends for Claire to spend a lot of time waiting around at an aid station. I think I was still on track for my optimistic time. I still had a bit of water and sports drink left and I was glad I had carried three bottles.

Pete! Gary! I got through the aid station quickly and was on to the most difficult climb of the race -- 2 miles straight up the mountain, underneath a ski lift. About halfway up, I looked back at the gorgeous scenery and there was Gary! Wow, what a machine. He power-hiked right by me. I don't think I could go any faster if I wanted. Gary reported that Pete was having "digestive issues". Bummer. I estimate that Gary did the climb 10 minutes faster than me.

I kept telling myself to take it easy and to not worry about being too slow. I kept thinking back to Mountain Lakes 100 and to Headlands 100, where my leg muscles became significantly sore and I was forced to slow down.

Tunnel Creek (35), Hobart (40), Snow Valley (43) -- these go by, slow and steady, but I was slowing down. There were some snow fields that needed to be crossed, which slowed us all down also. I grabbed a chunk of snow and smashed it on my head and put my hat on it, to help keep me cool. I was getting tired and was still probably dehydrated (dark yellow urine). All of the climbing to Snow Valley decisively set me back time-wise. Oh, well. Keep moving.

Coming into mile 50, I felt the urge to defecate. This would become a reoccurring theme. On top of dehydration, I had developed mild diarrhea. I had to make an emergency pitstop in the woods. Bummer.

Spooner Lake, mile 50 -- I was about 30 minutes behind my optimistic schedule, but I didn't care. I wanted to "hold it together" and not degrade. In hindsight, I wish I had made more of an effort to re-hydrate, but I just couldn't quite catch up.

I was feeling quite tired and sleepy in the late afternoon now, so I tried closing my eyes for five strides at a time, on parts of the fire road that were smooth and straight. I only did this a few times, but I think it helped a bit. I was wondering to myself why I was here and why I was doing this. I wasn't happy.

One area had thousands of white moths fluttering about the aspen (?) trees. The whole scene was beautiful. I was grateful to not have the clouds of gnats that come out in the late afternoon at lower elevations near Lake Tahoe.

I chatted for a long while with a guy from Bishop (must have been Todd Vogel, based on the results). I asked about pacing and our estimated finish times and he pointed out that all the top finishers run slower in the second half, because of being sore and tired and the darkness. "You're going to slow down, so you might as well plan on it." I think he's right, and I need to learn better about how to estimate my finish time in a hundred miler.

Hobart, mile 56.9 -- the shadows were getting long. I needed to get to Tunnel Creek where my headlamps were before nightfall. I had about a two hour cushion, so I wasn't too worried, but if I degraded significantly, I could be caught in the dark.

Paula!!! She was coming into Hobart (mile 40 for her), finishing up her 50 miler. She was running well! Good job, Paula!

Tunnel Creek, mile 62 -- I was tired and mentally in a bit of a fog. A volunteer offered to get my drop-bag and said "hi, Ron Little, I'm Annie and we met in the 50 mile race a while back". "Annie Rutledge!" I exclaimed. I remembered meeting her (plus re-reading my blog a couple of times over the years refreshed my memory). Cool! "I remember you were a really fast marathon runner doing your first 50K." Looking through my blog, I had last met her in 2012. Wow, time flies. She got me food and drink and was very patient with me even though I accidentally dropped my grilled cheese sandwich in the dirt. After a porta-pottie visit I was on my way again. Thank you, Annie! Just as I was leaving, there was Gary!!! He said he had been throwing up earlier which is how I passed him without seeing him. I wanted to wait for him, but I was really eager to get going and get to Amanda at mile 80 and get this race done with.

Red House, mile 66 -- the steep descent and stream crossings were slower now, in the night. I realized I was going to be super late to Amanda. I had predicted an arrival time as early as 10:45pm, but it was going to be hours later. I hoped that my race progress at various aid stations was going out to the website.

I kicked a branch hard, again with my right foot, and again with my big toe. My poor toenail. On the positive side, I hadn't fallen. I tried to stay positive -- my stomach was sort of unsettled, but I was still eating frequently and was consuming about 350 calories an hour.

Tunnel Creek, mile 68.5 -- the steep climb up again was slow. I was getting passed by some faster runners now. I got refueled and was on my way. I saw the lead hundred milers coming back the other way. Wow, they were 16 to 17 miles ahead of me. Depressing.

Bull Wheel, mile 71.5 -- slow, slow, slow. I fuelled up with three 20 oz bottles again, just in case.

Descending into Diamond Peak, I couldn't last until the aid station, and I had more psuedo-diarhea. I also stopped to shake small rocks out of one shoe. Athough I wore gaiters over my shoes, all of the water from the stream crossings delivered grit and dirt into my shoes.

Diamond Peak, mile 80 -- Jessica! Amanda! I was so grateful that they had waited so long. I think it was around 1:30am now. I was suddenly in much better spirits. We took some photos, I got some food, I used the restroom yet again, and I handed my extra water bottle to Jess because I wouldn't need it again, and we were off!

Unfortunately, it didn't take long before I got into my worst slump. I just couldn't catch my breath. I was still dehydrated (dark yellow urine) and having four rounds of near-diarhea hadn't helped either. My pace slowed to literally a crawl, meaning I couldn't walk any faster than I could crawl. I stared at the ground underneath my headlamp and focused on where I would place my foot next. I finally walked over to the side of the road and sat down. Amanda was patient and encouraging. "Think of the belt buckle" she said at one point, which was helpful. I got up and started trudging forward again. And when I had to stop, I felt dizzy. I moved forward. Stopped. Dizzy. I was miserable and getting worried about my condition. I thought of dropping. "I'm getting dizzy when I stop," I told her. She asked, "Are you dizzy when you're moving?" "No." "Well, then don't stop." Makes sense. I imagined that I would humor her and then drop at the top of the slope, at Bull Wheel, which would mean I would have to hike back down this incredibly steep slope. I started hiking in a diagonal pattern, so that it would be less steep. I continued drinking lots of sports drink. I probably ate an energy gel. Finally, finally, after one hour and 11 minutes, I had covered the two miles and we were nearly at the next aid station.

Bull Wheel, mile 82 -- I resuplied and warned Amanda that we had mostly uphill to go until nearly the end of the race and that this was going to be a slog. Well, I had forgotten that most of the way from Tunnel Creek to Bull Wheel was uphill, so we actually had a pretty sweet downhill. I was in a better mood and was running pretty well.

I finally put on my arm sleeves at some point, since it was getting colder.

Tunnel Creek, mile 85 -- Another porta-potty visit. This would be my last one of the race, thankfully. I ran into Veronica and her runner Jessi. I foolishly talked out loud about how grateful I was to be done with Diamond Peak. Poor Jessi was having a hard day and she was on her way north, about 17 miles behind me, just like I had earlier been 17 miles behind the leaders. Sorry, Jessi! (She did end up finishing still.)

But good news, my urine was getting clear! The cool night air, plus my incredibly slow pace, plus having drinking a lot was paying off. I finally had overcome dehydration!

The sky was no longer pitch black. It promised to be a beautiful morning in beautiful countryside, but I was tired.

I ran my fastest section of the race so far, on the descent to Hobart. But that was offset by the snow sections.

Hobart, mile 90 -- I tried to be quick about it, and got walking out of the aid station, telling Amanda she'll catch me soon.

Snow Valley, mile 93 -- this was the final climb!!! The scenery was stunning.

On the long descent, I was starting to feel desperate for the finish. Less than 7 miles to go! I was running sort-of well much of the time. I was not experiencing the painful muscle soreness of the other two hundred milers that I've done. Still, there were lots of rocks and tripping hazards, and I wasn't exactly fast.

Amanda kicked a rock and went down hard in front of me. I held my breath, hoping she was OK. She had done a super-woman dive but had managed to turn her head to avoid a face plant. It looked like she had mostly landed in dirt and she announced she was OK. Breathe. She shook herself off, examined her new scrapes, and we were soon off again. "I like to take a fall for all my runners," she joked.

As the morning dragged on, I noticed I was having minor hallucinations. Out of the corner of my eye, my first impressions of various objects were kind of crazy, but when I looked directly at them, the reality became clear. So, I don't know if I would call this an actual hallucinations, but more of a "crazy first impression". For example, I would think that I saw a person squatting inside a wood-stick hut with their arms sticking out in a weird way, but it was really just a big jagged tree stump.

A fast runner and his pacer passed us. I didn't care.

I was getting impatient and frustrated at how long it was taking to get to the next and last aid station, which was just a self-help table. I knew I wasn't lost, but I just didn't recognize now how much farther we had. Finally, finally, I heard the sounds of cars that meant we were near the road next to Spooner Lake. So close. There it is!

Spooner Summit, mile 98.3 -- with so short a distance left, I didn't stop and I didn't care if I ran out of water. I picked up the pace and led the way in front of Amanda. I passed a runner who was walking, whom I recognized from earlier in the day. I congratulated him and picked up the pace some more, since I imagined I heard him start running fast behind me. This final section was mostly fast and I was running faster than I had run the whole race. It felt like about 7.5 minutes per mile.

So close....   the path widened and Amanda was by my side. She started to tear-up with emotion. I wasn't quite there with her yet; I was depleted and running hard to finish this thing. I made a right turn towards the finish line. The final turn. I may have mumbled something about being careful not to trip in the last couple hundred meters. I was running fast. I was home. Tears of relief and joy started flowing. There were scattered cheers. (Thank you, Annie, for being at the finish line, I found out later). I thanked Amanda for saving the race for me. A week later, I think there was about a 50% chance I would have walked back down that hill and dropped at mile 80 without her.
I felt unsettled and deeply tired. I wasn't hungry at all. I thanked the volunteers profusely and chatted with a photographer who had run the 55K and was waiting for his girlfriend to finish the hundred miler.

Wow, what an adventure and what a challenge.

I couldn't wait until the 4pm ceremony before getting my belt buckle, but the race director mailed it to me. It's beautiful.

What worked well
  • I finished my third 100 mile race and am uninjured.
  • My leg muscles held up and never became incredibly sore, unlike at Mountain Lakes 100 or Headlands 100.
  • I never fell or got lost. (The course was marked incredibly well, but still, going off course is always a danger.)
  • Mostly, my stomach held up and I had gotten on top of my hydration.
  • Having three 20 oz water bottles for the 8.5 mile leg worked well. I have a hydration pack with a bladder that indicates 64 oz, but I measured it before the race and it actually was carrying only 52 oz. This allowed me to feel safe in going with handheld water bottles and a running vest.
  • Carrying a small sample-size Squirrel Nut Butter in an easy-to-access pocket helped save my nipples.
  • Putting on big strips of moleskin where my running vest rubs my neck worked great. The strips stayed on the whole time.
  • My shoes, Hoka One One ATR 3s, worked well.
  • My Garmin watch lasted about 18 hours, which was expected and which was fine.
Things to improve
  • Be well-hydrated before the race!!! I should have drank a lot more water in the couple of days leading up to the race. Maybe I should have stayed in an air-conditioned house or hotel.
  • When planning my pace chart, take into account the inevitable slowing down at night, due to the darkness and just being tired and sore.
  • My main headlight, Petzl Tikka R+, ran out of power, as expected, after about 6 hours. This time, I was sure that it was in "max autonomy" mode which is supposed to last 13 hours, but that's not true. My 2nd headlamp was much weaker, but it at least provided sufficient light all night. I wish I had one bright and reliable headlamp that can go all night.
Random data
  • I consumed 6 S-cap salt pills and 2 regular strength Tylenol.
  • Weight (approximately) a week before: 166.2 lbs
  • Weight on the afternoon of the day before, fully clothed: 164.6 lbs (might have been equivalent to 162.6 for a morning naked weight)
  • Weight the morning after: 160.2 lbs
  • Results. I was 38 out of 150 finishers. 61 runners did not finish.
  • Pete and Gary also finished the 100 miler. Yay! Paula, Mike, and Stanley all finished the 50 miler. I was proud that our little Coastside Running Club has so many accomplished runners.
  • Pete's race report
  • Paula's race report


Unknown said...

That's a hell of push against some kinks to 2nd loop, more mind over matter. On PF: try rolling tennis ball on bottom of foot. Comparing both feet. If one felt more sensitive than the other, then it's PF. PF is a SOB not to be joked with. Congrats and be well. - Speedy Gonzales.

Ron Little said...

Thanks, Speedy!

Alan R said...

Ron - good job grinding through those low points! I've seen you cross the line after 100 in sub-24, so I get that TRT is serious business. Awesome job by you and all the CRCers in that race, and the 50!!

I know everyone has advice to give, but seriously - if a medical professional ever tells you to wear that horrible Frankenstein-boot shoe cast at night, beware! The pain in the middle of the night from immobilizing your foot at 90 degrees for hours is almost worse than the PF!
- Alan R

Ron Little said...

Thanks, Alan!

I'll keep on doing my heel lifts to (hopefully) get over this plantar fasciitis. I didn't run for 5 days after the race and my heel improved a lot, but now that I'm running almost every day again, it's starting to hurt more. I might need to take two or three weeks off and stick with a bicycle or something. :-(

Juls said...

Dear Ron,
You always inspire me! I am very proud of you!