Saturday, July 23, 2011

Supreme awesomeness – Tahoe Rim Trail 100

Words cannot even begin to explain how immensely proud I am.

I actually get goose bumps when I think about it.
I finished the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile endurance run.
At an average elevation of 8,300 ft. Approximately 20,000' of elevation gain (yep, about 4 miles of vertical). 20,000' of quad busting descent. As if this wasn't enough there were snow fields to climb, slide down, fall off, navigate. Quite a departure from my comfort zone – so far from normal one might say. Oh, not forgetting bear, and mountain lion to worry about. (More about mountain lions later – yeah, really).
This year, fellow MTC members, Jenn and Joey joined me in the 100 miler, it was good to have some people to talk to and hang out with early in the run, and of course it was fabulous to see my friend Frankie who kept me in check early with a gently worded email when I was going too fast, and helped me out at the half way point and Diamond Peak and also kept me company for the last 7 miles.
This race was incredibly hard. The difficulty factor dwarfs the other 100's I have done – not that those were easy, by any stretch. This was the biggest challenge and the most difficult thing I have ever attempted in my life. Having done 50 last year, I knew it would be, so I only have myself to blame.
But the scenery……
Let's talk about mountain lions.
They have been known to eat people.
The race briefing warned us that they were out there. Frankie and I had even talked about them as I left the 50 mile aid station. "Make yourself big and make a lot of noise". No more than an hour after that conversation, my headlamp caught two eyes staring at me right on the trail, not a 100' in front of me. Here's the conversation in my head:

"They can't be eyes; they must be the trail markings. Fear not Jimbo"

"Shit, they are moving. They are eyes"

"Oh crap"

"Run. No wait. Don't run – that makes me bait. Remember what my cats do to bugs and toy mice"

"Make yourself big and make a lot of noise"

I contemplated picking up some rocks and throwing them, but then that would have involved making myself small, and taking my eyes off of the eyes. As long as I could see the eyes, I felt safe(ish).

So, I stood tall, stuck my hands in the air and made a loud growling noise. Really loud. But them eyes, they just stood their ground. Ok then, LOUDER! "RAHHHHHHHH!! GRRRRRRRR!!!!!!" The hope was also that someone else would hear me and come to my rescue (or at least be slower than me so I could run……) – of course, this late into the race, people were incredibly well spread out.
Then the eyes turned, and I caught a silhouette of the creature. It was a small deer, a fawn probably. What a dumb ass. Talk about nerve wracking though – a reminder that this is real wilderness, the adrenaline was well and truly pumping, and to be honest, I didn't calm down until I got to the next aid station and actually talked to and saw some human beings.
One other thing that bothered me, much earlier into the race, and actually totally threw me off of my stride was that a runner had to be rescued by a med vac helicopter – altitude sickness. It was a very harsh reminder that this shit is real, and it is serious stuff, and it actually upset me a little -- he was just two miles (and 2000') from Diamond Peak and civilization, but there was not an easier way to get help to him. I have heard since that he is OK.

Med Vac Helicopter -- at one point it was actually flying lower than me, which was weird
 Talking of Diamond Peak. Now that is a hill. We get to it at mile 30 and mile 80. It is insane. I have never seen a picture that does the incredible steepness any justice. Basically, it is an 1800' climb in 2 miles. If it was just that, it wouldn't be too bad. It is actually 600' in the first mile, and 1200' in the second mile. There are three false summits. It took me over an hour to make the climb the first time, and about 10 minutes longer the second time around. Once I got to the top of it the second time around, I knew that I was going to beat all of the cut-offs, and that I was actually going to finish the race. I believe that at some points, the slope is 35 degrees.

The race consists of two 50 mile loops; here is a basic description of the course.
  • Start to Hobart A/S – A steady climb, some single track and some jeep roads to the aid station at mile 6
  • Hobart to Tunnel Creek – Stunning views as you cross Marlette peak. Meadows, wild flowers, boulder fields, views of Marlette lake and Tahoe. This was the first of the snow fields. Some nice climbs, and finally a nice drop into the A/S at mile 11
  • Red House Loop. A three mile descent to the lowest point of the loop, an aid station (next to a red house). Mainly jeep roads. After the aid station, is pretty much a 3 mile climb back out. This climb gets pretty tough towards the end, and I have heard it described as "running in 2" deep kitty litter trying to avoid tripping over football sized pine cones". Not too far from the truth. Back at Tunnel Creek at mile 18.
  • Tunnel Creek to Bull Wheel. Wonderful single track with some great views of Lake Tahoe, nothing drastic in the way of elevation change. About mile 21.
  • Bull Wheel to Diamond Peak. The longest stretch without aid. In two parts – the first part is a steady climb to just under 9000', some ridge running, boulder fields and more snow. The second part is a 4 mile drop of about 2000' to Diamond Peak aid station. The descent is probably my least favorite part of the course. The aid station is at mile 30.
  • Diamond Peak to Bull Wheel. A shorter way back to Bull Wheel involving the brutal climb up the ski slope. Wonderful views of the lake every time I turned around. This brings you to mile 32.
  • Bull Wheel to Tunnel Creek to Hobart. Reverse of what was run earlier (without the Red House Loop) Tunnel Creek is at mile 35, Hobart mile 40. Have I mentioned the scenery on this part of the course yet?
  • Hobart to Snow Valley Peak. 3 mile climb of about 1000' bringing us to the highest point of the course. More snow fields, and some stunning views of Spooner Lake and Lake Tahoe. Mile 43.
  • Snow Valley Peak to the finish. Practically all downhill. The first 1.5 miles is a glorious part of the course. Nice single track, and wonderful views. The drop continues the next few miles on more wooded trails. If you wanted, you could really pick up some speed here. I took my time both times around – first lap because I wanted to save my quads, second time, because my quads weren't saved. About 48.3 miles, there is a water stop, which leads to the longest 2 mile stretch ever to the finish. You can see the finish line several times across the lake, however, it just doesn't seem to get any closer.
A random thought about the buckle – first, the buckle is awesome, extremely well crafted, and I love its awesomeness, and I am extremely proud of it. But…….. I also got a pair of free flip-flops, on those, it says, "It's all about the finish". For the first 82 miles, the thought of that buckle was what motivated me. After 82 miles (the point at which I was practically certain I would finish), the thought of a buckle didn't enter my head -- it was all about the finish, the achievement, the accomplishment. Shiny stuff is all well and good, but getting the finish, achieving the impossible or 'highly unlikely' is what it is about.


I love my bling, (shiny stuff -- good), but I cherish the accomplishment way more. The flip flops have it right -- it really is "All about the finish"
Fairly early on -- this is Marlette Lake. We would soon get some wonderful views of the lake from  the ridge

Joey and Jenn

Joey -- I think this is fairly close to Hobart A/S

The first snow field.

First time around, fog hid the wonderful views of Marlette Lake

More snow. WTF?

They really did a super job of marking up the course

Yay for wet feet -- this is Jenn approaching The Red House

Tunnel Creek to Bull Wheel -- wonderful running

The ponderosa pines are just huge

Beautiful views of Lake Tahoe

Playing with the Zoom feature -- the western shore of Tahoe. More snow there.

Looking up the insane climb out of Diamond Peak

Doesn't look so bad here

Looking down. The angle of the trees give an indication of the steepness

Every time I stopped to catch my breath, I would turn around and just soak in the stunning views  of  Tahoe.

See how steep it is?

The summit. The. Slowest. Mile. Ever.

Lake Washoe in the distance I think.

Snow in July. So far from normal. WTF? LOL.

Climbing to Snow Valley Peak. The next few photos capture the breath taking views of  Spooner and Tahoe.

Beautiful single track to begin the drop to the start finish area

Yay -- back to the finish. Of lap 1. 50 miles to go

Diamond Peak. Second time around, this time as the sun is coming up.

Looking down on Tahoe

The view from Marlette Peak

I didn't. Oh yes I did! Mile 90. Any carb is a good carb!

On the way to Snow Valley Peak. Mile 92

1/4 mile to go. Picture by Kim!

Frankie and I with just 100' to go. Picture by Jenn.

This is me finishing a 100 mile foot race. Thanks to Jenn for capturing one of the truly great moments of my life.

And finished!

And one buckle!

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 is a fabulously well organized race – the volunteers are superb and did everything possible to make my race a success. I love everything about it – from the brutal climb up Diamond Peak to the Irish Whiskey at Hobart. TRT 2012 is a distinct possibility.