A Little Intro
Leading up to the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 I was having doubts as to whether I wanted to do the race. I've never felt this kind of resistance before a race, or at least I have never felt it so strongly. I think I'd trained really well, acclimated to altitude in Colorado, and I was as fit as I have ever been, but I was afraid I wouldn't succeed and that I would be disappointed.
I've always had grand plans of how well I want to do and how fast I want to run, and in the past this has been somewhat limited by my training. I've learned what my weaknesses are and what kinds of workouts help me succeed. I've put in a solid base of 2 years of consistent running and my body can finally handle 80-100 mile weeks with 50-100 miles of road biking thrown in. In the past, I would do high mileage weeks and feel low energy and get various aches and pains. Not this year.
I worked my way up to 70+ mile weeks in April and felt great. I maintained my training, surprised myself by winning the Lost Lake 50k and getting 9th overall in May. The surprising part? Not so much that I could win, I've won races before and winning depends on large part on who shows up, but how I could feel better and better during a race. That I could speed up for the second half. I clocked a 15 minute negative split at Lost Lake that left me wondering if I should have tried for a 5:30, not a sub-6hr. I ended up finishing in 5:53. Tahoe Rim Trail.
A big part of my success this year has been hill repeats. Big, nasty, long, and steep hills. The kind I really hated. The strange thing is that I love them now. I guess love and hate are just a degree apart as the saying goes. Those hills toughed up my mind and body. I repeated a 2 mile, 1,700 foot climb and 2 mile 1,700 foot descent countless times between April and mid-June. If I only had a little time I'd do 1-2 repeats. If it was the hill workout for the week I'd do 4-6 repeats. That's up to 24 miles and 10,200 feet of climbing (and descending). I can't say how much I feel that that has helped my running. And adding in Road Cycling has really helped too, beginning in June.
I won't mention any names, but I had a few, "Wow, only a handful of runners get under 24 hours there" responses when I expressed my desire to run a sub 24 at Tahoe. It felt like my abilities were being doubted, which was really just an extension of my fear and past experience. I had a death-march-to-the-finishline sort of 100 mile race last year at Cascade Crest despite my desire to go sub 24 there. Probably due to a bad day, unexpected 90 + temps, inexperience, mental weakness, and training that was not specific to the race.
There was a big unknown looming for my race at Tahoe and I really wanted a good race. I felt confident I could run a 10 hr first half and use that momentum to power through the second half. If I met my time goal at Tahoe, I would be hard to beat. If.
The day before the race my drink mix gave me a stomachache during a trial run and my taper-tantrums had me telling James I wasn't going to do the race while we sat at the beach, me clutching my tummy and him saying, "Umm-hmmm" while staring at his iPhone. Damn, I knew I was going to do it. We packed up our beach towels and headed to the drop bag/packet pickup in Carson city and mandatory pre race talk.
I briefly considered starving myself before the mandatory weight in just in case I had trouble maintaining my weight race day, but managed to eat anyway. We ran into our friends Kelly Bird and Rob Bonderant who were also running the race, and they cheered me up over lunch. Try the Irish Nachos at The Firkin and Fox. They are actually waffle potato fries with toppings.
The night before the race I slept a mere 3 hrs. 10pm: Gee I should get to bed, I have to get up at, let's see what time does that race start again? 5 o'f@&*ing clock!!! What ever for? That meant I had to get up at 3:15 to be at the race start at 4:30. I went to bed thinking if I don't fall asleep right away I won't get enough sleep. By 3 am, after lying in bed awake for hours, I got my frustrated sleep deprived body out of bed and submitted to the inevitable lack of sleep: coffee!
At the start line, I spotted the top ladies from the previous year and lined up behind them. Yep, I did my homework. The race started with 30 minutes of dark and as soon as the clock started, my dark mood lifted and I was free. Free for the next 20-some hours. Free to do what I love: run, eat, run, hike, run! I felt great moving up the gradual first climb. My splits were written for a 11 hour and 12 hour first half (thanks James). I easily broke away from those and ran 10 hour splits. It just felt right and I had to go with it To reach my goal, I would have to run without fear and running by feel would get me where I wanted to be. All my months of training were by far harder than this race. I knew it.
Time passed, Aid Stations passed. People fell away. I came into mile 30, first crew access, hoping James would be there---I was more than an hour earlier than our splits called for. It was possible he would miss me. I jogged in, smile on my face, in 5hr42min. That would be a pretty reasonable 50k time I thought...
James was there, and he was upset! "You are too early, you need to slow down" Those are a few of the things I heard. I tried to reassure him. I'm okay really. I feel great! Oh, and I almost sprained my ankle back there. Shit. My weight held steady at the weigh in and the aid station told me I was hydrating really well. Good news. See you at mile 50 James! James: slow down!
I'd forgotten to trade out my broken iPod for my iPhone (music). Music would just have to wait until mile 50 or after the race. Back at mile 7 my iPod had frozen all of a sudden, despite the fact that I spent many hours getting playlists ready for the race. I let it go reluctantly, but there was nothing I could do. And running is about meditation and flowing for me. Maybe I'd stay more focused without music.
After mile 30, runners ascend the steepest climb, 2 miles and 2,000 feet, a ski hill above the aid station. This is where my training came in. I embraced the hill with what I can only imagine was revolting enthusiasm to my fellow runners. This is real, the sun is energy, the lake emanates. I loved the heat and the way the sweat ran down my bent elbows like a river. The first mile was like, yeah whatever, then, the hill shot up into the sky like I have rarely seen. I hiked up it fast in the sand. The sand would roll my foot back a little, but with each step I continued to move up~. I used my arms and hands on my thighs and pressed my legs into the ground, like hiking poles. And after the steepest mile I may have ever done, I was at the top!
The run back to mile 50 was full of 50 mile and 50k runners (there are tow other races that start an hour after the 100 mile). There were a lot of runners heading out while I was already heading back. They were very supportive and it energized me. I was at the front of the pack. Some 50 mile runners caught up with me and we traded back and forth almost all the way to the finish pushing each other. I had to rein myself in because I wanted to race it. I wanted to break 10 hours. But I told myself to wait, there would be plenty of time later.
By mile 50 I was in 3rd place for women and somewhere around top 10 overall. James met me at the 50 mile, he was ready to pace with me for the rest of the race. I came through in 10:08 and I think he was happy to see that I still felt great. I saw my friends Dan Sears and Luke Michener. They helped us out and Dan took my picture. They were there to crew and pace Sara Malcolm, who ended up getting 4th place in 25-some hours. Ok, let's hit it!
I was so excited to run with James I chattered for the next 10 miles. He kept saying, "let's walk this" as I jogged up the hills. He was still afraid I was running ahead of myself. But I was feeling more confident, and eventually he gave up. Aren't pacers supposed to make you go faster? Then those dreaded and exciting words came from someone on the course, "the 2nd place girl is just minutes ahead of you". Time to race. After a short descent, I saw her and quickly moved up to her, said hi, chatted briefly and then I attempted to show her how great I felt as I jogged off ahead. I didn't want her to think she could catch me again. Thanks for the advice James.
We never did see her again, but her ghost chased me throughout the course. I worked so hard for 2nd place, I didn't want to give it up. Later, after I'd worked up to 7th overall, I didn't want to give that up either. Most of all, I wanted o break 24 hours. At the pace I was going, we would be done in 21-23 hours. At every aid station we were told we were 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes behind the first place girl. It sounded like she and I were going about the same pace. Just before mile 80, James and I saw a headlamp below us on the Tahoe Rim Trail and we thought it might be the girl. We schemed that we'd power hike behind her up the 2,000 foot ski hill then blast past her for the last 18 miles. Turns out it was a guy, and we were 15-30 minutes behind her at that point.
I loaded up on coke and gel at the mile 80 aid and James and I headed up the monster hill. Just 400 meters up, nausea hit me. I was overwhelmed. I felt weak. My pace faltered for the first time all day. The nausea abated slightly and I reached the base of the elevator shaft (steepest part of the climb). I was again hit with intense stomach pain and nausea. I had trouble walking. I couldn't walk in a straight line. I fell. And I fell again. Despair overtook me. I was done. I should just go back to mile 80 and drop. But I couldn't, I wanted this too bad. I trudged up the hill. I weaved all over the hill. I could not for the life of me walk in a straight line. I was worried that there was something wrong with me. James calmly told me I'd be fine once I got to the top. I believed him. I don't know why, but it turns out he was right.
At the aid station at the top, I felt like a shell of myself. I knew I needed calories, but I had to be very careful not to take any until my tummy was ready. This is where experience helps. We jogged down the Tahoe Rim Trail through a rocky jungle and I kicked my share of rocks along the way (one of my specialties). Note to self: work on night running. I felt blind. The only way to be done was to get through it. The faster the better. We were moving good now. We continued to run flats and downhills and powerhike the hills. Our final journey took us through endless gradual uphills, rocky jungles, and sand, sand, sand! I could feel a few blisters on my right foot, mostly from kicking the rocks I figured.
A funny thing happens when you keep moving forward, you actually get to your destination. We were on the last climb and I asked James to keep an eye behind him. I would not be passed. At this point, I knew I was unlikely to catch #1 girl, I think I gave up on that nauseous climb at mile 80, but I wasn't giving up #2 or #7 without a fight. No lights to be seen. Last Aid station. No lights. Kicked some more rocks. And some more rocks.
Last descent! Oh, but I had to go, you know, in the bushes. 5 minutes of gut wrenching later (thanks GUs). James says, I see a light. I was an animal. We hit the Tahoe Rim Trail running at what felt like 8 minute miles. On sore legs it was really 10-12 minute miles. We ran scared all the way to the finish. I did not walk a single step, well maybe a few steps. I dug deeper than I ever would have. That light would not catch us. There was no way. And it didn't. In fact, it was a good 30-40 minutes behind us by the finish, and I crossed the line not sub-24, but sub 23! In 22:50:47, a good hour faster than I hoped. It felt amazing. I can't contain or fully express the feeling that is achieving a goal that is better than you expected when you worked as hard as I did this year.