Monday, August 8, 2016

Race report: Tahoe Rim Trail 100

The Shadows of Doubt

There is never a great time to train for a 100-miler. It takes time, a commitment to early mornings and a huge sacrifice by your family. Well, what happens when you/they don't have that time to give?

You honestly just do the best you can.

The final 6 weeks heading into my training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 would be spent traveling and floating through this quasi-vacation-drinking-beer-eating-ice-cream-mode while visiting family and friends in North and South Dakota. Don't get me wrong, I had been running consistently (shorter distances) and focusing on leg workouts during the week, but the prospect of getting out for long-runs was a sad combination of laziness, humidity and the previous nights beer consumption.

I felt strong but a little rusty given that my last ultra-distance was almost 4 months prior on a very flat course.

As I lined up to start my hundred mile TRT journey, I couldn't help think of the many things working against me that day:

  • A new, unproven nutrition "strategy"
  • A single 20-mile long run over that 6 weeks
  • A forgotten Garmin (yes, I left it at the hotel)
  • A shit-ton of climbing and descending (18,000'+)
  • Being above 9,000' (with no elevation training)
I'm not the kind of person that freaks out about this stuff though. I go with the flow...and that's exactly what I planned to do.

The First 50

The start of every race is an exciting rush of the unknown. Yea you watch the videos and read everyone's race report but there's nothing ever quite like putting your feet on the trail and feeling the air thin as you ascend into the mountains. I was just excited to be there and taking in the experience.

A blessing and a curse. Great for mileage and aid, bad for seeing what lies ahead!

My strategy was simple - hold a conservative pace (i.e., hike a ton), eat often and don't take any risks.

Well, you know how strategies go sometimes...

As expected, I hiked most of the ups but didn't realize the rest of the course would be in such great condition and a perfect grade for running. There are a couple steep sections (Red House loop is the only mental scar I have) but for the most part you can expect to confidently run quite a bit of this course.

I would have loved to stop more often to take pictures - the altitude, landscapes, blooming flowers and the Lake Tahoe-filled-horizon were indeed breathtaking - it's one of the many reasons I love being able to power my adventures with my own two feet.

It turns out that my pace estimates and crew guidance were complete shit. Despite not having my Garmin and experiencing a bit of nausea above 9,000' I was fueling well and making good time. How good? I arrived at the 50K mark (Diamond Peak) almost 3 hours ahead of my projections. [Strava link]

The shitty part about that was I had no crew waiting for me. I wouldn't see them again until mile 50 and they had my Garmin...

Without wasting much time or energy at Diamond Peak I psyched myself up for this supposed-son-of-a-bitch-climb out of the aid station. I overheard someone tell their runner as I was leaving, "Don't worry, it will be easier the second time". As I slogged up those 2 miles I kept thinking to myself, how the fuck is this going to be easier with 80 miles on my legs?!

After climbing that ski slope and turning around to enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe, I realized that I had a pretty good shot about being half-way done in just over 13 hours. This was a bit more aggressive than I expected but I was more excited that it would leave me 21-22 hours to do the loop again.

Somewhere before Diamond Peak
Leaving the Snow Peak aid station however, it was clear to me that the downhill portion of this race was taking its toll on my knees. There aren't enough lunges in the world you can do during training to help your knees from the constant downhill pounding. Good thing the last 5.5 miles are all downhill [sarcasm]!

I would arrive at the 50-mile mark just about 7 pm. The aid station was a huge party with runners and crew all over the place...

The Last 50

I took a chair in the medical area to have a couple blisters on my left foot attended to. After what seemed like an eternity, a medic finally came over and started cleaning, lancing and taping my toes. The funny part is that I changed my left sock and kept my right one on (if it ain't broke, don't fix it!).

Soda, grilled cheese, Ramen soup, jacket, headlamp, more soda, cold quesadillas and a change of clothes topped the priority list as darkness began to fall at Spooner Lake. GG and I would take off for the final 50 miles and disappear into the night.

I was able to ice my knees at the aid station too. It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but turns out it literally crippled me leaving that 50-mile aid station.

GG: "Let's try and run this flat section"
Trevor's knees: "Screw off."

GG: "Can we run now?"
Trevor's knees: "No. Screw off."

GG: "Are we going to walk all night?"
Trevor's knees: "Yes. So screw off."

30 miles. All night. Through the dust. Through the windy ridge-lines. Power-hiking the ups and gingerly walking all the downs.

It's funny looking back and thinking about all the excuses I was trying to make to drop out of the race...
"...my knees hurt"
"...I don't want to walk another 50 miles"
"...I don't want to chase cut-offs"
"...I don't want to eat any more gels"
"...I'm choking on all the dust"

After voicing a few of these to GG over the course of a couple hours, he finally shut me down with some simple math.

"Look" he said. "You have 21 hours to go 50 miles. Even if you walked at 3 miles an hour, you'll be done in about 17 hours."

It was basically his way of saying, "Shut up. Quit whining and do the work." That's what pacers and crew are for I guess. (I still called him a dick under my breath...)

There's always a point in these races where the mind shifts though - what seems impossible, becomes possible. Where improbable becomes probable. "I can't" changes to "I WILL". I needed reasons to get through the dark and dreary times...

I knew GG needed this training run.
I knew LP and MK were waiting at Diamond Peak.
I was missing my son's birthday.
I added up how much I spent to get here.

Dawn would break about the same time I got back into the Diamond Peak aid station for the second time. Cold, tired and already dreading that long climb up the ski slope, I would pick up a new pacer (LP), some delicious pancakes and hot chocolate.

I threw out a few hints that dropping at 80 miles wouldn't be the worse thing in the world but the funny thing about experienced crew and pacers is that they just laugh and ignore you. My friends are assholes :-)

Who drops after 80 miles though?!

Want to hear something funny?! That climb up the ski slope WAS easier the second time. Granted, it was earlier in the day but LP and I completely crushed that 2 miles and were well on our way to the finish. Now, the only thing left to face was the downhills...

[side bar]
If you have the chance to have a woman pace you at the end of a race, I highly recommend it! I love lady pacers...but probably not for the reasons you think.
As a dude, that pride kicks in. You don't want to look wimpy or like a total d-bag. So you suck it up. Ladies also have a wonderful way of nurturing and ass-kicking at the same time so that you feel good about being in pain. Having a strong woman in your corner is just the best.
[end side bar]

LP took such great care of me - checking in, creating some chit-chat and even taking pictures/video during our 20 miles together. Her energy and newness to the event was really infectious and kept me power-hiking those hills and starting to run the final 10 miles. We cumulatively spent maybe 10 minutes in the last 4-5 aid stations. Grabbing gels, water and enough of the excitement to propel us forward.

Leaving the final aid station felt glorious. Partly because I pounded 5 Ensure fruit smoothies, but I knew it was in the bag at that point. I just had to make it another 7-ish miles down the hill and along the lake into the finish.

Of course my attitude improved despite the pain in my knees getting worse...I ignored it all. I shut my brain down and ran as best I could...

Blisters on top of blisters.
Short liner rubbing.
Reactivated sunburn.
More. Stinger. Chews.

Those are probably the longest 5 miles I've ever run. But we did it. With plenty of time to spare. We arrived to cheering kids at the Spooner Summit water station...it was awesome to have such energy at the end.

We would walk in the final 1.5 miles to the finish (yes, I ran/hobbled the final 0.2 into the chute) to find GG, MK and the rest of the crew cheering me to the finish. [Strava link]

It was glorious to finally sit down, take off my shoes and pound some real calories.


This race was always a bucket list race for me. The prestige, scenery and pure challenge made it a destination that I'm so-so happy to have experienced and finished. I'm forever in debt to GG, LP, MK, my family and wife for allowing me to traipse across the wilderness for 33 hours.

I would highly recommend that any ultra-runner put this destination on their list. Whether for the 55k, the 50-miler or the 100-miler it truly is one of THE best races I've done. The volunteers, organization and amenities are truly the best.

I'm sad (and relieved) however to say that don't have any more 100-milers in me. Like a fighter gracefully accepting retirement after the main event or a quarterback stepping down after an illustrious career, I know that it's time to be done with this distance.

It's part physical but it's also priorities and money. Time away from family and the money it takes to earn a buckle is incredibly selfish. I have new friends, great memories and love the idea of helping others achieve these same goals but I need to make room for other things.

By no means am I done running or participating in this amazing community...I just don't need to do any more 100-milers. They hurt.


In case you're wondering what got me through this race:

  • Shoes: Altra Olympus 3.0 (first 50 mi), HOKA Sinson 3 (second 50 mi)
  • Shorts: Brooks
  • Shirts: INKnBURN, Brooks, Nike Pro Combat compression
  • Socks: Injinji mid-weight trail
  • Nutrition: 4,000 Stinger chews, Humu/Stinger/Clif gels, Bonk Breakers
  • Other stuff: Glide, Base Performance electrolytes and Garmin Fenix 3 watch.
#TRT100 crew, pacers and friends

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