Tahoe Rim Trail Run 50 Mile – 2014 Race Report

[WARNING: This race report has no pictures!]

Scratch that title. This really is more of a “Run Report” than a “Race Report.” I didn’t plan on racing or getting caught up in the nervous energy that all too often finds me running beyond my means during these types of organized events. During this particular event, I was able to focus on the process more than the outcome, and in doing so I had a much more enjoyable day than I did in 2012.

Pre-Race:

The day started pretty well, although I was a little bit slow in getting dressed in my hotel room. Still, I had plenty of time to walk over to the Plaza Hotel and catch the shuttle bus to the start. How awesome the shuttle was! No stressing about driving or parking, or having to get the family up at 4:00 a.m. just to drive me to Spooner Lake.

Start to Hobart 1:

My plan was to not have a plan. I wasn’t wearing a watch, I didn’t know my split times from 2012, I wasn’t trying to beat any other person who was racing that day, and I had no time goals for reaching any particular aid station in any particular split time. I know from personal experience that, whenever I print out little pace charts or try to plan out what I’ll eat at each aid station, and how often I’ll take salt tabs, and how I’ll manage each aspect of the run….. it generally goes to hell at some point, and then I’m left without the security and predictability of that plan. And whenever I try to visualize executing on a racing plan, and then something external (weather, trail conditions, etc.) or internal (why is this gel making me nauseous? why am I so thirsty today?, etc.) comes along to derail that plan, I feel a little bit lost.

Plenty of other runners can make those things work for themselves; I haven’t been able to do so.

Instead, I wanted to have an approach for my run. Specifically, I wanted to stay within myself and not destroy my legs in the first 30 miles. I would see if I could have a better day just trying to stick to the basics: keeping myself hydrated and fueled (based on how I’m feeling at each aid station, and after checking in with myself occasionally between stations), keeping my feet blister free, and trying not to focus on what’s coming up later in the course. Just run aid station to aid station.

So on the way to Hobart I told myself I was simply out for a little jog with some other runners I had just met. Pithy and predictable conversation (favorite shoes, past races, etc.) made it easy to set aside thoughts of the miles ahead.

Hobart 1 to Tunnel Creek 1:

This section has perhaps the best views of the entire course. The sun was now up, the skies were still clear, and it was great to see the view of Marlette Lake perched above Lake Tahoe.

I had already been using one of my two bottles to spray water on my hat and bandana to keep them wet. I knew that I had to stay on the right side of my overheating threshold, and a continuous replenishing of cold water on the head and neck was a great help.

Tunnel Creek 1 to Red House:

This was where I made my first significant “duh… stupid Jake” mistake in 2012. I ran the downhill portion of the Red House loop pretty fast that year, and the minutes I “gained” by doing so required repayment, with a great deal of interest, later in the race. So this year I took this downhill very conservatively. Once we started heading back up, I knew that it was the right thing for me to do. I was mixing in running and walking, and felt like I was able to do it all at a slow burn. I wasn’t moving quickly, but neither was I emptying my reserves.

Red House to Tunnel Creek 2:

In my mind, climbing back out to Tunnel Creek seemed to pass by faster than I thought it would.

The numbers tell a slightly different story — I went back this morning to look at the splits I had on my GPS watch from 2012, and compared them to the Lapio data. When I started the Red House Loop this year I was more than 20 minutes slower than my time to that point two years ago. By the time I got back to Tunnel Creek again, I was somewhere around 45 minutes behind where I was in 2012! Thankfully, since I wasn’t wearing a watch, I didn’t know that I had been moving slower; I only knew that I felt a lot better.

Leaving Tunnel Creek 2, I picked up a handheld bottle from my drop bag (in addition to the two I carried throughout the race), and filled it with ice and water. It was going to be warm getting all the way down to the Diamond Peak aid station, and I wanted to make sure I could douse myself as much as possible, and not try to conserve on any fluid intake.

Tunnel Creek 2 to Bull Wheel 1:

I stopped at Bull Wheel to put a blister pad on each foot, near the big toe (where the first metatarsal meets its proximal phalanx). This is sometimes a blister prone spot for me during longer runs, and I could feel that issues might be starting. I know it was costing time, but keeping my feet happy was more important.

Bull Wheel 1 to Diamond Peak:

This certainly isn’t a bad stretch of trail (I mean… just take look around!), but I do think it’s a bit less interesting than the rest of the course. To me this portion of the race is just a chance to get some work done and put some miles behind me as I transition from the first half of the course to the second. (It’s also a chance to experience firsthand how the notion of “trail flow” is really different depending on whether you’re on foot or riding a mountain bike.)

According to Lapio, by the time I left Diamond Peak I had gained back some of the time I had “lost” over my 2012 pace, and was now just a little over 25 minutes back.

Diamond Peak to Bull Wheel 2:

I suppose every good trail ultra needs to a portion of the course that makes you say — out loud — “this truly sucks,” then laugh at yourself for having said it. Despite the relatively cool temps on the rest of the course, this section (particularly those of us in the back half of the 50M field) was hot. Plenty of runners were strategically working themselves from shade patch to shade patch, in an effort to rest a bit and keep from overheating. But in the steepest sections (someone said at a 40% grade?), which were near the top of the climb (which sucks) and had very sandy footing (which truly sucks), the shade was harder to come by.

Bull Wheel 2 to Tunnel Creek 3:

In 2012, this is where I finally admitted to myself that I had absolutely screwed up my plan for that race. Back then I thought that perhaps I had been running too hard when I got to Diamond Peak. But when I left Bull Wheel 2 that year, and couldn’t seem to transition from walking back into running, I was sure of it.

This year, after downing some calories, I was back to my jog pretty much immediately after leaving Bull Wheel 2. I was feeling no ill effects or deep fatigue from the Diamond Peak climb. (For a moment, I almost thought to myself “oh, I guess that climb wasn’t so bad after all.”)

At Tunnel Creek 3, I checked my feet again. The blister pads on both feet had worked themselves back to the medial edges of my heels, so I took them off and got some Vaseline from the first aid tent. I also switched from the Altras I had been wearing to an old pair of Hokas in which I had strategically cut some of the upper to relieve the pressure on the sides of my forefoot. I generally love the toebox and shape of Altras, but prefer the feel of the Hoka cushioning… I’m still waiting for that “perfect” shoe…

My data comparison today revealed that as I left Tunnel Creek for the last time I was less than 10 minutes behind where I was in 2012. And this year, I was still running when I left Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek 3 to Hobart 2:

I remembered from my last TRT 50 that the climb from Tunnel Creek back to Hobart was more challenging than I expected, so I made sure I was ready for some more climbing. I had the energy to move a little faster than I actually was, but I didn’t want to risk an implosion. I just worked to keep myself eating and drinking, in order to maintain the pleasant and even-headed feeling I had.

Hobart 2 to Snow Valley Peak:

I anticipated that this was going to be where things would get a little more interesting. The clouds had been building, and it was apparent that the Race Director’s pre-start warning about possible storms and the closure of Snow Valley Peak Aid Station was spot on. So as I was leaving Hobart 2, I asked if the next aid station was open. The volunteer said they hadn’t received any closure notification yet. A quarter mile later, at the left turn to head up to Snow Valley Peak, I asked the course marshals if it was still open, and he said “go on up.”

Then, around a half mile before where the trail spits out of the trees and onto the exposed ridge, a patrol MTB’er comes blasting up the trail to tell us that they had just pulled the volunteers out of the next aid station. He described the situation; basically that there were currently lightning strikes happening very close to the peak, that there would be no one in the tent to check us through, but that there would still be food and water at the station. He didn’t say “you’re not allowed to continue on,” but he seemed to be intimating that heading onto the exposed terrain probably wasn’t a good idea.

Smart man.

By the time four or five us had chosen to stop at the edge of the treeline, the rain became pretty heavy. A few more runners came up the trail to join us… and it started to hail. A runner came back down to us from the ridge, saying she had been with a small group that had just split up – some deciding to press on, while she chose to head back to the trees. She had given her arm warmers to one of the runners who was going forward, and she was now quite wet and cold. A few more runners came up from below to join our growing group.

And just as I started to consider how cold I needed to get before I chose to head back down to Hobart (I wasn’t cold yet, but sitting is never good for staying warm), the weather seemed to change. There was still a cloudy ominous sky above, and there was still the sound of thunder, but the overall feel was noticeably different. It was like the air itself had a different taste.

A few minutes later, one brave woman said aloud what I was (and probably most of the others were) thinking — that maybe it was time to get up and go. She turned around and quickly scanned the faces in the group, seeing if others were ready to join. I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Within a few moments, most of the rest of the group had made the decision to continue on as well, and we were on our way.

It was a little tentative for the first quarter mile, but once we were uncomfortably far away from the safety of the trees, I figured the best approach was just to get this section over with quickly, even if it meant running faster than I otherwise wanted to. Fortunately, by the time I got to the aid station the volunteers had returned, so I got a quick bottle refill and began the final section of the run.

At this point I had caught up to my pace from 2012 (and was actually a minute or two faster), even though I had probably spent 10-15 minutes sitting in the trees, waiting out the storm.

Snow Valley Peak to Finish:

This section was so much more enjoyable this year compared to two years ago. In 2012, I had long been running walking on empty by the time I left Snow Valley peak. This year, I still had plenty of energy left. In fact, the biggest challenge I had was containing myself and not completely opening it up on the cruiser downhill. I figured that I had gotten to this point by not overextending myself, so why not just enjoy the ride back down to the finish? I even pulled myself back a bit and walked all the little uphills on this last section, deciding that I’d rather be ready to go for a run again in a day or two back home than try to shave a few minutes off my time and potentially have a much longer recovery.

Two years ago I was really unhappy with myself, at the betrayal of my blistered feet, my seized-up hips, my lack of energy…. so much so that (according to my wife) I finished the TRT with a scowl on my face.

This year, I finished with a smile.

The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 is Almost Here

The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler is almost here. And I feel really different going into it this year.

My running throughout the spring and early summer has been inconsistent, to say the least. I lost a lot of time dealing with foot pain, and really didn’t do any long runs. (And I suspect that if there’s one thing a person really SHOULD be doing before an ultra, it’s long runs). Instead, I was limited to runs up to around 10-12 miles, with those runs spread out a bit over the calendar. I did get in a nice training run at the Run Through Time Marathon, but it seems like that was forever ago.

It’s interesting comparing my current mindset to the mindset I had just before the 2012 event. Two years ago I had a bigger build up in terms of physical training, I did a lot more planning in terms of splits and pacing and other race day scenarios, and I had a much greater mental and emotional focus on the event. And despite all that — or perhaps because of it) — I burnt myself out in the first half of the race and had a pretty rough struggle through to the finish.

This year, I know I’m probably not entirely “ready” for the 50 mile run, although I’m not entirely sure what it means to be ready. And perhaps I still don’t know myself well enough to make any reliable determination of “readiness,” however it’s defined. I certainly thought I was ready in 2012, but that turned out not to be the case.

So this year I’m embracing the notion of just going with the flow. I’m hoping to have an enjoyable and inspirational time out on the trail, and if it takes me all day then that just means that I’ve had more time to experience the beauty of the surroundings.

In order to try to keep myself wound down a bit, here’s my approach:

  • I’m definitely not wearing my GPS watch. It’s too much of a distraction to me, as well as a constant and unwanted reminder of how slow I’m moving.
  • I’m probably not even going to wear a non-GPS watch. But I am tempted to wear a heart rate monitor (a simple Soleus Flash that I got cheap on the Clymb) so that I can have an objective way to keep myself in check over the couple hours. I’d just be sure to keep the display set on “Heart Rate” and never switch it to the “Time” display.
  • I have no target splits or pace goals. I’m just going to try to keep the first half of the run easy and relaxed, so that I have enough left in the tank to keep moving forward during the second half (at a pace faster than walking).
  • I’m probably going to freestyle it when it comes to fueling. I’ll make sure I keep a few hundred calories in my pack to get me to the next aid station, but I’m not going to plan out what and how much and when I eat throughout the day. My past nutrition plans have always been forgotten or rejected at prior races, so why spend the mental energy to try to figure it out beforehand? Instead my approach will simply be to eat at every aid station, eat whatever sounds good at that moment, and eat a little more than I think I should.
  • I’m simplifying my drop bags. I’ll put a headlamp and clean socks in my Tunnel Creek bag, and probably also a pair of shoes just in case my Altra Olympus aren’t quite up for the full 50 miles (something about the feel of them has given me doubts recently). But I’m not going to go crazy by adding tons of extra gear and supplies and gels and drinks and other stuff. The more I have in my bag, the more I have to spend time sorting through it whenever I stop, and the more mental energy I spend trying to decide whether I need something, or why I packed it in the first place.
  • I’m foregoing the crew. Even though my wife met me at Incline Village in 2012 (and it was great to see her then), I’ve never really liked the idea of crews, particularly on a race course that’s as well supported as this one. I’d rather she be out doing something besides just waiting for or worrying about me (even if she’ll still be worried about me while she’s out doing that other thing). This year, she’s going to be spending the day at Sand Harbor with our daughter, and I’m much happier knowing that. Even better, there’s shuttle service from Carson City to the start line on race morning, so she doesn’t have to hassle with the parking inconveniences and the time suck of getting me off and running.

I suppose the common thread throughout all of those bullet points is trying to simplify so that I’m just running. I know the event is a race,  but I think I’ll have a much more enjoyable day by taking the race-i-ness out of it.

It Gets Boring Looking in the Mirror

 

“Should the trail-running community do more to encourage diversity among its participants?”

 

Why do we choose to run on trails? Sure, we all love nature, we enjoy getting away from the auto exhaust and noise, and we cherish the time we have on the trails with our thoughts.

But I think the biggest reason some of us choose trail running over the roads (and the track and the treadmill) is that the trails give us more of the unknown. There’s a lot more unpredictability when we head off road, and that makes the running more interesting.

For example, when I do a 10 mile run in town, I pretty much always know what’s in store. I know when and where the traffic is going to be the heaviest, I know the timing of the stop lights, and if I check the weather forecast before I head out then I know how to dress and whether to bring along a water bottle.

But if I drive 20 minutes to my favorite trailhead and do a 10 mile run in the foothills, I can never be sure of what my experience will be. What wildlife am I going to see? How are my legs going to feel on some of the longer climbs? What condition will the trail be in? How much colder or windier is it going to be once I climb to  the high point of the trail loop? What do I need to do to keep myself prepared for those uncertainties?

Trail running is really all about the unknown; about potentially being faced with something you’ve never considered before. Day to day life seems to be lacking in unpredictability, so running on trails give us the rare opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how we respond to the unknowns.

That’s why encouraging diversity among trail runners is important.

When we run with different people, we’re giving ourselves more opportunities to experience something new and something unknown. Everyone brings something unique about themselves to the trail.

Different ages, genders and ethnicities are certainly elements of diversity that the sport probably lacks a bit of right now. But those aren’t the only types of diversity that we’re lacking. What trail running also seems to be missing is diversity in terms of attitude and outlook.

Check out the people standing next to you on your next group trail run or at your next trail race. Aren’t we all kind of the same? Sure, there might be a range of ages, ethnicities, and body types in the group….. but don’t we all kind of seem pretty similar?

The vast majority of us are wearing expensive shoes, hi-tech clothing, and triple-polarized sunglasses. If it’s a long run then most of us are carrying a fancy hydration solution. (Heck…. even if it’s a short run a lot of folks are probably still using that fancy back.) And that chorus of “beeps” when we all start our running watches with the step down the path demonstrates that we’re all following the same basic script and taking the same view of the run.

I suppose there’s comfort to be found in that near uniformity, because it makes us feel like we’re with people who understand us, and can relate to the reasons we love to run. It’s a nice change from the confused looks we often get from family members, co-workers, and even spouses (basically most of the rest of the world) when we talk about trail running.

But what about trail runners who have little interest in racing, or who aren’t “training” for anything at all? What about folks who just want to be outside, and maybe power hike or jog up the trail without regard to their foot strike or their average pace? I can’t help but feel like we could use more of these attitudes to help balance things out a bit.

For that matter, what about people who have no interest in running with a watch? There are still runners out there who don’t keep a training log, or who otherwise don’t really know what their weekly or monthly mileage is, right? What about folks for whom the names Kilian or Anton don’t ring a bell? What about folks who bought their running shoes at a big box sporting goods store, or simply have a single pair of shoes they use to run regardless of terrain? What about the runners who’ll leave the hydration pack at home and just drink from a stream? What about folks who haven’t yet formed an idea of what trail running means to them?

Shouldn’t we be doing more to welcome these runners? I think spending time with other types of runners open us up to the possibility of getting more out of our own experience than just being able to comparing race histories and PRs with someone who’s closer to our own temperament.

And maybe sharing the trails with different types of runners might help reduce our growing obsession with times and numbers and course records and FKTs and Strava segments — all of which seem to be taking a bit of the mystery and a bit of the “crazy” out of trail running. I think we could benefit from seeing a wider variety of people, and a wider variety of attitudes and viewpoints, on the trails. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

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