Tahoe Rim Trail 50M - Carson City, Nevada 4,3

Elevation Gain: 9984' - High Point: 9000' - Low Point: 6500' - RESULTS

Scrolling Trail Photographs of the Tahoe Rim course

July 20, 2013 - With temperatures approaching triple digits the entire week of
my California visit, even approaching 90 degrees in the mountains, I knew
racing the Tahoe Rim Trail at elevations between 6500 and 9000 feet was
going to be a hot time since a lot of the course is exposed to sunlight, especially
the extreme vertical route up the ski slopes from Incline Village in the heat of
the afternoon.  With the thermometer still at 97 degrees at 7 p.m. the evening
before the race in Carson City, I opted not to bivouac as I usually do and 
checked myself into an air conditioned hotel, grabbing the last available room in
the nick of time.  At least I would sleep in comfort and enter the fray in the
morning fully rested.

The opportunity clock roused me at 0340 to enable me to catch a bus to the start
from the host Plaza Hotel in Carson City.  Parking was extremely limited at the
race venue at Spooner Lake State Park, so I took the advice of the race
organizers and rode the bus, which worked well.

Temperatures were somewhere in the low 50's at the starting area along
Spooner Lake, so it was good to be wearing a fleece for the hour before the
start at 0600.  After milling around and doing the last-minute things that runners
do, like finding a tree in the woods one more time before the start (I hate
Porta-Stinking-Johns), several hundred of us in the 50K and 50M events sorted
ourselves out in the first mile on a dusty road that would lead to single track.
The dust on the trail was powdery and thick and rose in generous clouds, giving
this race an immediate gritty flavor that I hadn't foreseen.  The Sierra Mountains
had been extremely dry for a long time after a winter with less than normal
snowfall; there was little wonder that the trails were covered with a thick layer
of pulverized powder with the heavy hiking and mountain biking traffic.  The 
trail was like this nearly the entire way.  Even a single runner ahead of you would
kick up a perceptible amount of dust.  This would be the first event of the year
where I would not get my feet wet - not at all!

The dusty North Canyon Road would channel us into the gradually climbing
Marlette Trail which would deliver us to the first aid station at Hobart after
climbing 1500 feet in 6 miles, taking us past a pristine Marlette Lake early in
the morning.  With a larger field than I have been used to I decided to commit
a bit more effort than usual for the first few miles to stay out of traffic.  As it
turned out I still found myself in queue, forced to walk up gradients I normally
would have easily negotiated at a running pace, patiently biding my time until
things opened up.  Sharing the trail with many of the more enthusiastic 50K
runners, I resisted the natural temptation to follow every set of pretty legs that
breezed past me.

The climb to Hobart seemed to take forever - taking an hour and 25 minutes to
cover just the first six miles of 50.  It would be a long day if this was any kind
of indicator.  In retrospect, walking so much early on, while in queue, kept me in 
check and saved me for the balance of the effort.  After Hobart there were no
further traffic hold ups.  Aligning with those of comparable skill and expectation
the event quickly became more social with the exchange of names and stories.
I brought along my camera to capture images of the beautiful landscape, so
attempted to be alert to photo ops from the start and took the time to stop to 
capture memories.  Using a camera forces you to pause from a total racing focus 
and appreciate the finer reasons for why you really do this.  It reminds you that
the event is just as much a valuable life experience as it is a race over a set distance.

From Hobart the subsequent 5.5 mile section to the big aid station at Tunnel
Creek was much more enjoyable, rolling comfortably through mostly shady
fir and pine alpine forests along the eastern ridge above Lake Tahoe, with
classic weathered Sierra outcroppings, affording competitors some of the first
views of the extensive lake below.  

From Tunnel Creek we would drop precipitously into a loop route to the aid 
station at Red House at the bottom.  The day was heating up and beginning to
take its toll on many of the runners.  It was at this point in the event I began to
catch up to some of the 100M participants that had started their journey an
hour before the rest of us.  With good quads and downhill skills and confidence
in my knees I started moving on the field ahead of me.  Surprisingly, my uphill
skills complemented those for going downhill as I continued to readily reel in 
people hiking back up the long slug out of the bottom at Red House.  No one 
even came close to passing me either going down or up as I visited the Tunnel
Creek aid station for the second time in a cumulative time of under four hour
for 17+ miles - in very good form.

The next three miles climbed back to an exposed ridge with fantastic views of
Lake Tahoe to the west and the Washoe Valley to the east before arriving at the
Bull Wheel aid station.  From here it would be nearly ten miles of undulating
Tahoe Ridge Trail before gradually following a long descending watershed to
Incline Village where the aid station at mile 30 at Diamond Peak Lodge would be
attended by hundreds of spectators, family, and crew, enthusiastically cheering
for all contestants.  I was beginning to gain an appreciation for just how the
excessive heat of the day was affecting those around me when I started 
receiving unexpected complements from bystanders about how good I looked,
which could only mean that many others were beginning the break down and
show it.  I felt good - in control - managing the heat with no problems after 
6 hours and 20 minutes at 30 miles.

 Before leaving the aid station at Diamond Peak I helped a volunteer named
Tom tap a keg of beer to drink a couple quick cups of brown ale from the Carson
City Brewery before continuing on.  I had to hang on at the aid station longer than
I would have liked to wait for him to overcome some problem with tapping the
keg.  It surprised me that I was probably the first runner to have asked for a
beer, and willing to wait for it.  This would be the third consecutive ultra where I
would enjoy a cold one at an aid station mid race.  I am getting spoiled and 
coming to expect a beer, and really enjoying it.  A cold ale just cleans out your 
mouth from all that sugery gunk from gels and sports drinks, and then it gets 
converted to energy immediately.  I like it.  My liver likes it.  Does it work???  I'm 
beginning to think it is a superior sports drink, certainly more refreshing, that all 
the fancy scientifically-formulated yucky bland electrolyte drinks.  That's my 
opinion and I'm sticking to it!  

As substantiation that my assertion is valid, I headed out of Diamond Peak amid 
much appreciated fanfare to climb the crux of the event - a 1700-foot climb 
straight up, first on a cat walk and then up steep ski slopes to the Bull Wheel aid 
station at the top of the ridge - a mere two miles in distance - but directly in the 
hot afternoon sun.  

the climb up to Bull Wheel aid station


It took me 45 minutes to cover the vertical ascent, a mix of 
mostly walking and some running, passing by perhaps 30 of my fellow 
competitors, many of whom were debilitated to the point of stopping to lay down
in rare shade with cramps or exhaustion, all soon after leaving the aid station at
the bottom. I climbed with power and momentum as I had done on Mount 
Whitney three days previously.  Approaching the top at Bull Wheel I felt confident
in my preparedness and execution under such challenging circumstances.

   Bull Wheel aid station

After eating more than my share of watermelon slices and drinking some warm
Coke I handily rolled back the next three miles along the ridge for my third 
visit to Tunnel Creek at 35 miles, enjoying the broad afternoon views across
the lake and the Sierras.  Despite keeping control of my running effort and 
continuing to pull back runner after runner, mostly hundred milers at this point,
I could feel the heat beginning to take its toll on me as well.  I lingered a long
five minutes at Tunnel Creek, filling both bottles with ice, rehydrating and 
eating lots of watermelon (my favorite ultra food at aid stations).  I asked the
volunteers if they knew what the temperature was; it was extremely stiffling
without any breeze from the ridge in the woods.  One said 96 degrees; another
said 102, matter of factly!  It felt like high 90's to me, and this measure was
confirmed after the race.

With 15 miles to go I carried on at my usual shuffle down the trail, walking
more up hills than previously, especially when there was shade.  And I drank,
drank, and drank, knocking off both 22-ounce bottles in the 5.5 miles back to
Hobart Station.  My body was obviously combatting heat stress, but it seemed
I was approaching barely holding my own.  My form was still holding well and I was
not yet bonking; my legs were good but I could tell I was failing as I continued.

It took focus and discipline to go the next three miles with about a thousand-foot
climb to the aid station at Snow Valley Peak, the highest elevation of the
course - managed by a troup of enthusiastic Boy Scouts from Carson City.  I
continued to pull back hundred mile competitors and was beginning to catch 
some 50K runners, who started at the same time as me, still on the course.
God love 'em.  Sensing I really needed a break I went into the aid station tent
and found a seat and sat down.  I ate some watermelon and drank sports
drink, but my stomach was no good from the heat.  It didn't take long to bring
everything back up, followed by dry heaves.  A volunteer EMT gave me the once
over and said I looked pale.  Feeling less than wonderful and really in no hurry
to finish I just stayed a half hour - comfortably relaxing in the shade - inviting
several people I had recently passed to join me and sit a spell.  The half hour
social break served to settle my stomach and restore my sense of humor and
perspective on the ordeal.

The final seven miles of the course is a gradual downhill run.  I started out with
one of my break-mates, a hundred-miler named Kent.  Despite enjoying his
company my first priority was keeping my stomach down while continuing to
take in fluids.  There was never a question about persevering.  My legs were
not tired in the least.  Gradually I regained my sense of rhythm after Kent pulled
away from me, enabling me to pull back, one by one, those who had gone past
me during my break at Snow Valley.  Despite eating no food or shot bloks,
consuming only water during the last 15 miles, I rolled on, eventually pulling back
Kent after regaining strength, composure, and good form.
When I crossed the finish in 12 hours and 38 minutes and 56 seconds for 47th
place, first geezer by a wide margin, of 146 finishers.  I must have looked good 
enough that the time keeper asked me if I was sure I did the whole race.  I'm
sure many people finishing looked destroyed.  There was an exceptionally
high number of dnf's in all categories.  Many of the hundred milers would not 
continue on to do the second loop of the course.  Kent finished the hundred
in a tad under 31 hours.

After hosing off my legs and putting on a clean shirt, my first priority was to have
another beer.  Beer seems to settle my stomach better than anything after a
long, hot race.  A couple young women I had run back and forth with through 
the day, Jennifer and Kami from Mammoth Lakes, joined me for a beer and
some tacos with their families when all was said and done.  It was nice to be
stopped, cleaned up a bit, indulging in fresh memories with new friends.  I
ended the day by catching a shuttle back to Carson City where I collected my
rental car and headed out to bivouac up on Donner Pass.

Tahoe Rim Trail was not the hardest 50-miler I've accomplished by any stretch.
I have done several tougher fifty milers this year alone, as well as other tough
fifties in previous years.  It was scenically remarkable and socially quite
enjoyable.  Exceptional organization and volunteers. Super people all around.
The extreme heat posed the most significant challenge, followed by the climb
back to the ridge from Diamond Peak.  I can empathize with those less prepared
than I, for those that faced suffering beyond my experience this day.  I could
not help but think of the folks that just completed Badwater the weekend before
and what they must have faced with considerably greater challenges of heat and 
climbing.  I kept reminding myself that any misery or discomfort I was suffering 
paled in comparison to those I had witnessed firsthand at Badwater this year.

I am satisfied, if not surprised, to have finished in 12 hours and something.  I 
fully anticipated a more labored effort and slower finish.  The difference can 
probably be attributed to the climbing acumen I have improved upon in recent
years.  I will continue to look for more and tougher climbs ahead and I look 
forward to next weekend's speedy run on the Pacific Crest Trail at the 
Siskiyou Out Back to round out my 2013 Dream Vacation.