It’s funny that when a race goes really well, it doesn’t always make for entertaining stories (or blog posts), but I’ll happily take it every time.
My first experience with the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler in 2014 was not ideal. I was relatively new to trail and ultra running. The weather made it quite difficult too. This experience soured my perception on the race.
When a couple of friends suggested doing the 100 miler in 2017, I balked. I wasn’t enthusiastic. The 100 mile course is doing the 50 mile course twice. However, I listened to my friend Doug talk about the race and he loved it so much. He had already registered for the 100 miler. His experience was vastly different from my own. He mentioned how cool the finishers’ buckles are too. They even have a video on their website showing how it is made. I decided I would go ahead and register for the lottery to get into the race. Besides, I figured I might not get in anyways, haha. If did get in, this would also give me an opportunity to redeem myself from the poor experience on the 50 miler and also it would be a step up in difficulty for me doing a mountain 100 miler versus the flatter two 100 milers I had done previously.
I ended up getting into the race, as you can tell. I had Ian Torrence create another training plan for me specifically for this race. I had to recover properly from the Miwok 100k and then ramp up training again to prepare for Tahoe. I hoped the efforts from the Miwok training & race would carry forward and really help me. My training includes a lot of mountain runs to help mimic the conditions in Tahoe. Near Las Vegas, where I live, I would drive to the Mt Charleston area to do summit runs. I love that area so much. It gives me an opportunity to escape the Vegas heat and enjoy the beauty of the mountains. On those runs, I can get a lot of miles, climbing, and altitude (the Mt Charleston summit is at about 11,900 ft).
Of course, training doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan. I had to be flexible. I missed some days when I got really frustrated with my quad strain but then it was magically fine again, haha. Probably the worst part was while I had that quad strain, I felt like I didn’t even want to run. That was the most concerning thing. Injuries can do that. They can take the joy out of the activity. Fortunately, some days off with yoga really helped me feel better and get in the right mindset. Then, I got back into training for the peak weeks.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say I’m “ready” for a 100 miler right before the race. I felt good but it’s such a difficult undertaking and there are so many variables; things that could potentially go wrong that I think it’ll be tough to ever say I’m truly ready. Still, I received some positive encouragement from local friends and Ian. Ian told me that I’m more fit than I think I am. That comment really helped. I always wonder about goals heading into a race. I knew that a sub 24 would be very difficult and few runners achieve it in this race. I talked to my friend, Ron Hammett, who is an amazing ultrarunner – far better than myself. I asked him what a reasonable goal time might be and he simply replied, “finishing.” That just made me realize I shouldn’t even attempt to fixate on any goal for this race. The problem with that is if I select an unrealistic goal arbitrarily and then I can’t achieve it. What does that do? It only puts me in a negative place mentally because I didn’t reach some goal that wasn’t realistic to begin with.
I went up to the race the day before because it’s required to check in, get my bib, leave my dropbags, have a medical check done (they weighed me), and listen to a briefing. All of the pre-race stuff is located at the Nevada Capitol building, which was fun to see. I met up with friends and some of us ate together. I also checked out the local running store in Reno. I even picked up some absurdly short shorts with the NV flag on them (#TeamShortyShorts), Haha! I had been on an early flight to Reno so I crashed early that night, which worked out really well because I got some decent rest the night before the race (a rarity), even though Doug and I had to be at the starting line by 5am for the 100 miler.
I wasn’t super nervous at the starting line. I think it’s because 100 miles is such a daunting task that I can’t wrap my mind around it. All I can do is start running when it begins and take the race a bit at a time as it unfolds before me.
After the race began, Doug and I ran along in the dark. We didn’t have headlamps but there was enough pre-sunrise light and light from other runners’ headlamps that we were fine. We only ran together for a few miles before I drifted ahead at a comfortable pace. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea since Doug is so much more experienced than me. Still, I did my best to keep my effort easy and stay within my own ability.
It was a solid climb to the first aid station, Hobart, at 7 miles. I moved through the aid station fast. I was using the GU Roctane Energy Mix in my bottles to get a base amount of calories. I just had to get to my drop bag, put the mix in the bottle, fill with water, maybe grab some small food items, and I was on my way. I’m usually good about getting enough fluid. I knew that if I could at least drink a bottle per hour, it would help make sure I got in at least a base amount of calories and it would help maintain my energy level. Plus, I could supplement with gels, food, and such without getting fuel fatigue.
The next 5 miles to Tunnel Creek had such beautiful views on the lake as we ran along smooth singletrack. After Tunnel Creek was the Red House loop, which included some steep and technical (at times) downhill. The bottom of this loop is the lowest portion of the race altitude-wise. There were a few streams to cross near the bottom. The last time I ran this course, doing the 50 miler, I could simply jump over these streams. This year, there was so much snow melt that the streams were much larger. I couldn’t jump all the way over them. I had to ford through them with the water above my knees at times. My feet, shoes, and socks were completely soaked. Fortunately, I packed extra socks at my Tunnel Creek dropbag. However, by the time I returned to Tunnel Creek my shoes and socks were nearly completely dry so opted to not change them at that time.
Next, I did quite a bit more climbing up to the Bull Wheel aid station and then some fun downhill into the Diamond Peak aid station at mile 30. I saw my friends Kris and Shannon at the aid station. They’re both ultrarunners themselves and they helped me get my stuff, refuel, and take care of things quickly. Kris asked some really good, direct questions about how I was doing.
After leaving that aid station, I began a 1,700 ft climb in under 2 miles. It’s a sandy dirt road. I grabbed my trekking poles at the Diamond Peak aid station for this climb. I just dug in, put one foot in front of another, and got it done. It was funny when I looked back at the runners going up it and nobody looked happy, haha.
I should say that the weather was perfect for this race. It was warm during the day and it wasn’t too cold at night. It felt so good at night. It didn’t rain and there was even a nice breeze at times.
The run back to Tunnel Creek and Hobart went well. I enjoyed the views coming the other way. There were also quite a few snow fields to cross near Hobart and near Diamond Peak. The snow was tough to run on because this isn’t something I have much experience with in Las Vegas. I did slip and fall on one of the snow fields and hurt my knee a bit. On the way back, the poles helped with crossing the snow fields. Still, there was one part where it was steep and the footing was poor, so I had to slide down the snow on my booty, haha.
After Hobart, I headed toward Snow Valley Peak. It was a tough (but not too bad) climb up to the next aid station. The views up there were spectacular. I loved it. It was cool because the Boy Scouts were running the aid station. They used binoculars to spy my bib # and when I got there, one of them called me by name saying, “Stephen, what do you need?”
The descent from the peak was nice and speedy except for the part where I tripped and somersaulted to the side of the trail. It was a steep descent off the side of the trail, but fortunately not a sheer cliff. I’m also happy that when I tripped, I chose to roll on some wildflowers as I rolled down the hill a bit. After I got up and ran again, I noticed there were some sections with big rocks that would have been much worse places to fall (whew).
After getting to the 50 mile aid station, I could hear the 50 mile runners finishing their races at the finish line nearby. I actually found out that my friend, Maia, finished her 50 miler as I was leaving that aid station. It was tough mentally to think about doing that whole 50 mile course a second time. At the 30 mile, 80 mile, and here at the 50 mile aid station, I had reception on my phone. So, I would check messages, read Facebook for words of encouragement, and let friends and family know where I was at and how I was doing. My friends Kris and Rob teased me about checking my phone mid-race. Still, doing this as I walked out of the 50 mile aid station helped me space out a bit to avoid thinking about embarking on the next 50 miles. Before I knew it, I was well on my way into the second half of the race.
As night fell, some mosquitoes came out. After I saw some, of course, every itch I felt was a mosquito in my mind, haha. I’m even itching while writing/thinking about this. When I got to the next aid station, I asked for some bug spray. I told the volunteer, “The mosquitoes love my calves, but can you blame them, knowmsayin?” She didn’t think that was funny but I did. Haha! That’s okay. Most of the time I’m laughing at my own jokes anyway.
Speaking of jokes, the 50 mile runners I would see heading towards the finish as I was out on the second 50 mile “lap” would say things like, “Have a good night!” They knew full well I would be out there running all night. I remembered what Emily Harrison Torrence wrote on her blog about when she was having a tough time at Western States. Her crew member said they had nothing else to do tonight. So, I replied to the 50 miler runners saying, “It’s not like I have any other plans tonight.”
At the Tunnel Creek aid station, I met with a super volunteer named EJ. He knew exactly how to help me. I would see him again at Tunnel Creek, Diamond Peak, and even at the finish line. He knew my gear and how to help with my bottles and energy mix. I really appreciate volunteers like that who are so helpful and so encouraging and are really putting in extra effort to help you succeed. I know he saved me a lot of time out there. He even gave me a hug during the race and at the finish! I may not be able to specifically help him as a volunteer at a future race but I hope I’m able to pay that forward to other runners. That’s how the trail and ultra running community works.
As I headed down the Redhouse loop again, I was chatting with another runner named Jason. As we talked, we were losing sunlight, and I noticed what looked like a photographer on the side of the trail holding their camera sideways. As I got closer, I realized it was just a couple of logs and shadows. As I got even closer, I thought it actually was a photographer! Then, when I got right up next to it, I realized it definitely was a log. Then, Jason suddenly says, “Did that log look a lot like a photographer to you?” Holy crap! It was like he read my mind. I was so glad he said something, haha. Did we just have a group hallucination?!
Speaking of my mind playing tricks on me, when it got really late and I was alone, I imagined every sound I heard to be a bear. I knew there were bears in the area. I didn’t think it’d be a major threat, but I didn’t want to run right up on one. Even a pine cone that fell behind me while I was running at night startled me. A week after the race, I saw a friend of mine post online that they came across a bear up a tree in the area. I didn’t end up seeing any bears myself, but maybe it was the bear up in the tree that threw a pinecone at me. 😉
I cruised along through the night. Sure, I slowed down but I kept moving. I did my best not to spend long in aid stations. One thing that helped me a lot is that I kept a good attitude throughout the race. I laughed and joked with people I met. I feel like I was able to pass quite a few runners through the night simply because I kept making consistent progress. Even when I came to the big climb at Diamond Peak aid station for the second time, I just dug in again and got it done. At night, I couldn’t see how far I had left to go on the climb so I just put my head down and kept climbing… until I was finally done. Even when someone asked me how it was, I replied, “Even better the second time.”
My attitude was upbeat, my forward progress was consistent, I wasn’t having any major issues, and my nutrition was on point. The GU Roctane Energy Mix in my bottles with additional things like gels, Honey Stinger chews, waffles, and aid station fare like fruit, smoothies (yum), PB&J, Coke, and Mt. Dew was working well. This system also helped stave off the fuel fatigue I get sometimes at ultras from trying to consume so many calories so often. I didn’t get sick and maintained good energy throughout the race.
Still, the race wasn’t without minor issues. I mentioned my graceful falls earlier. I also had an issue with my headlamp running out of battery during the night. I think I had it on too bright of a setting and it drained the battery too quickly. My backup battery didn’t work either! Still, I had a portable fuel cell that I used earlier to charge my Garmin 935 on the run (I really like having the race all in one dataset. It’s so nice to see triple digit miles on the watch face). I used the fuel cell to charge my headlamp while I used my phone as a light. It wasn’t bad because I did this while going uphill, so I wasn’t moving too quickly. Another thing, I felt a hot spot on my big toe during the race. After the race, when I took my shoes & socks off, I had a huge blister covering my entire big toe. It was like another big toe was growing on my big toe.
I may not be great at many things when it comes to running ultras, but I’m pretty good at staying awake. Fortunately, I was able to run through at the night and not get sleepy. It helped because this was my longest (time-wise) race yet.
As I neared the finish line after the sun had already risen a second time during the race, my body was beginning to hurt quite a bit. Still, I kept moving forward. I was excited to nearly be finished. From across the lake where the finish is located, runners can see the finish line long before they get there. On one hand, I was happy to see it. On the other hand, I wished I was on the other side of that lake, haha.
I cruised in at 26:09 (33rd overall) to the cheering of friends, race officials, and volunteers. I was so happy to get to sit in a chair! I got my finisher’s cup and stumbled around to get some food and drink at the finisher’s “ultra lounge,” while chatting with friends and other runners. What an experience.
Later that day, I hobbled back to the finisher’s area to pick up my buckle. Boy, it is beauty! They engrave the year and finish time on the back. As a proud Nevadan, I love how the buckle is made with the silver coin (since we’re the Silver State) minted in the oldest mint in Carson City. The craftsmanship is just so special to hold in your hands after earning it in a race like that. I’m not usually too big on finisher’s medals or other things like that but I really like buckles, especially this one. I immediately put it on!
I’m happy I went back to this race and had a great 100 mile experience. It is a beautiful location. The race is so well organized with fantastic volunteers.
I was also interviewed by Rebecca Thomas about this race and ultrarunning in general on her podcast (Episode 11), Trail Tales. Check it out!
Altra Olympus shoes, Altra shirt, Desert Dash Trail Junkie hat, Pearl Izumi shorts, Injinji/Drymax socks, Columbia arm sleeves, NV Battle Born hoorag, Black Diamond Z Trekking Poles, Garmin Forerunner 935.
GU Roctane Energy Mix, GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles and chews, applesauce, smoothie, PB&J, Coke, and Mt Dew.
Thanks for reading!