The second major milestone was on January 1st as registration opened at midnight on New Year's Eve. We were at our friends in Incline Village actually and went to bed before midnight. By chance, I woke up at 4 am and checked the website, just in time to grab one of the last slots. That says a lot about how famous this event became in a decade, the 100-mile distance having been added to the original 50K and 50-mile event in 2006. As the Race Director, George Ruiz, reminded us during the briefing, TRT has been named one of the top 10 bucket list races, worldwide, by Outside magazine.
That being said, you could think that I had done my homework, or outdoorwork for the matter, and came to train on the course. Unfortunately, between work, international travels and a lot of (good) racing this year, I wasn't able to squeeze anything. I only had the website instructions plus some tips from fellow Quicksilver teammates to try visualizing the terrain, quite a virtual and theoretical exercise... Not to mention that the weather conditions vary significantly from one year to another, from cold and snow on the course to super dry and hot as this year.
running vertically...). The two days leading to the race, my muscles were still so painful that I didn't know if I was even going to toe the start line. The 4-mile test run was conclusive, the faulty muscles being sufficiently on the side not to alter my stride. However, I was amazed as how thirsty I became for just 4 easy miles in this thin, hot and dry air. For those who don't know the area, the TRT course elevation spans from 6,500 to 9,000 feet, that is 2,000 and 2,750 meters, quite high elevation. And humidity gets as low as 10%, a dryness I only experienced before in Saudi Arabia.
I got at the first aid station, Hobart, in 1:03. That would have been an ok pace if the station was indeed at mile 6.2, but my GPS gave 7.3 instead which I believe is right as it had all the other distances correct. In other words, the cumulative distances before the Diamond Peak lodge were off 1 mile with Diamond Peak indeed at mile 30. I changed GPS at the turnaround and had the same 7.3-mile distance for Hobart, so I'm quite positive. Anyway, thanks to the early start and good pace, we ran most of the first 12 miles up to Tunnel Creek #1 (the 100-mile course goes through the Tunnel Creek aid station 6 times!). Agnès was there already, after a 1-hour hike (3.5 miles, 2,000 feet elevation gain) carrying my drop bag. She had enjoyed great views of the sunrise over Lake Tahoe on the way up.
the San Francisco Running Company):
I hiked the crazy hill focusing on my footing to avoid sliding in the lose sand at each step. And sipping water while trying to keep my breath in this strenuous effort. An extreme challenge both physically and mentally, especially when that was your first time on the course and you realized that you had to hike such a wall at mile 80 again... I was glad to see Brett Rivers taking picture at the top of the hill, a sure indication we were almost at the aid station. With 200 participants on the 100-mile and the same on the 50-mile, the tiny aid station was way more busy than when I first got through. Due to the remoteness of the station, although I don't understand why it isn't possible for a 4x4 to haul something up there from the lodge when you see the access road to Tunnel Creek and Red House, the station is only meant to be a water stop. Yet, there was some limited food thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, but no ice. The 3 miles to return to Tunnel Creek #3 were not too difficult except for the rocks of course and the hundred of runners we had to cross on the single track. I can't thank them enough for stepping on the side to let the front runners go in addition to giving us encouragement. With the elevation and the effort, I was barely able to whisper a "sorry," "thank you, "keep it up" or "good luck" I hope I didn't offend anyone (the same for Tunnel Creek #3 to the finish/turnaround and my 2nd Hobart-Tunnel Creek).
Agnès and Greg were there to assist me but I had hard time focusing as I experienced something which never happened to me in my 85 previous ultra races, over-volunteering...! I wasn't feeling so good, having missed water twice in the first loop, and I know I was dehydrated for the simple fact that I had peed only twice in 9 hours. The scale was indicating 126 pounds, just off the 130 pounds at the check-in, 130 at Tunnel Creek #2 and 128 at Diamond Peak, so not too bad but still something to work on.
It took me about 1:50 to cover the 7 miles to Hobart and I was out of water at least 2 miles before getting to the aid station. There, I caught up with John again. I believe 1 other runner had passed us during our stop at the turn around. I was still climbing (or crawling) faster than John but he was a much better descender, plus he had a pacer. He wasn't feeling good at Hobart and I left first after drinking some soup and Coke. John and his pacer passed me again a couple of miles later. At that time, we were crossing many runners heading back to either the finish (50-milers) or turn-around. Again, despite being all tired, they were cheering up, what a nice sport ultra running is! Half a mile before Tunnel Creek #4 I met teammate Jim Magill who told me he was feeling slightly better after a tough morning when he couldn't hold fluid especially in the climb up to Bull Wheel. He also told me that another of our teammates, Jeremy Johnson, had just dropped at his Tunnel Creek #3, leaving our team captain, Marc Laveson without his runner to pace. It was Jeremy's first attempt of the distance, he had surely picked a very tough one. I saw him as I entered the aid station and he quickly left after, seizing the opportunity of a rare shuttle down to Incline Village.
I entered the aid station with 3 things in mind: hoping to see Agnès with my Gu2O pouches, almost ready to drop as even walking became painful, but decided to give a try to a 30-minute rest on a cot, something I never took the time to experiment before but that I heard was working eventually. Unfortunately, Agnès was nowhere to be found, and therefore not my drop bag either. Noe Castanon was very helpful and offered to give a call to Agnès who was on her second power hike to the station today. With other great views on the lake.
In 86 ultra races since 2006, this is my 4th DNF.I'm disappointed of course of not having finished but, given that I had no plan and a very limited knowledge of the event and course, I don't regret my decision at all. My only frustration is that it has quite a few similarities with what happened to me at Rio del Lago 100-mile last year: first part of the race in the lead and not carrying extra water between aid stations in the heat. As Einstein once said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results... Oh well, isn't ultra running a bit about insanity...? ;-) Besides, no two ultras are really the same.
A glimpse of heaven,,, a taste of hell is the Tahoe Rim Trail tag line. This is great advertising, not false at all! For me, discovering the course on the first way out up to Diamond Peak #1 was the glimpse of heaven. Great running, I enjoyed every bit of it. But the taste of hell started rather too soon in the day with the Bull Wheel climb. And, with the subsequent dehydration, that taste became sourer and sourer, to the point that Agnès's mantra took over, as she often reminds me that I'm doing ultra for the fun of it, not to spend too much time on the hell side... ;-)
One of the Tunnel Creek volunteers, Jennifer, from Reno, gave Agnès and I a ride back down to Incline Village. If this is a long climb for the crews, that's also a tricky and long one in a 4-wheel drive and I can't imagine how it must be with a trailer to haul all the aid station supplies! Upon our return to our friends' in Incline Village, I soaked my legs in the Lake and felt a bit ashamed to enjoy a comfortable bed by 9 pm when a few of my teammates were still battling on the course. Amy Burton finished 5th woman in 27:38. Mark Tanaka in 29:35 and Yujun Wang in 31:47. 3 finishers our of our 7 starters. The sad part of the story is about Jim: he reached the turnaround at 9:45 pm and was first told that he had missed the cut-off time by 5 minutes. 30 minutes later the Race Director came to him saying that the cut-off was actually 10:30 pm so he had 15 minutes to keep going. But the psychological damage was made by that time and Jim dropped. It's hard to keep track of everything when everybody is getting tired (runners and volunteers)... 3 out of 7, slightly below the 57% finisher rate (118 finishers/207 starters). As a statistic, I'd be interested to know who made it to the finish without a pacer (or safety runner as the race website calls them), as I believe this makes a huge difference on such a course.
A special thank to Agnès for all the driving, hiking or Nordic walking, waiting, sweating, worrying, photographing, cheering up, refilling, carrying (moving drop bag), waking up at 3:30 am and driving back to the Bay Area so I could write this post in the car before returning to work this Sunday evening... What a life crew you are! :-)