Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile-- My Special 1st Anniversary Report, Including How I Almost Lost My Bottle and My Glass

To commemorate this year's Tahoe Rim Trail runs (50K/50M/100M), I thought I'd finally finish my report from last year's race. I know what you're thinking. But this is probably the first TRT report to come out this year. I'm fricking early.

This year (or I guess last year) is a family get-together, with my parents and siblings flying into hang out in a rental house together on the west side of Lake Tahoe. I was able to schedule our reunion the week following the Tahoe Rim Trail races on Saturday, July 19, 2008.

As often happens, kid noise wakes me up Friday morning after working a late night shift. But since luggage and bikes still need to be loaded, I don’t try to go back to bed.

We are fortunate to be able to drive up from the Bay Area without any meltdowns. I should’ve put on Ice Age, instead of the Leapfrog Math Circus DVD, because my dreams are interrupted every 30 minutes by my son demanding a new DVD.

I sleep a solid 6 hours in the hotel, not bad for the night before a race. Luckily the room is a suite with a divider, so I can do some preparations without waking the rest of my family. 5:20 is still too early, so my then 10-month old cries all the way down to the car. I never printed the directions to the start, figuring I’d know since this is my 3rd straight TRT run, but of course we miss the turn and head up to Spooner Summit, before I stop and look at the road map. As a result, I barely have enough time to lube my crotch, get and pin on my race number and head down a short steep hill to the start as one of several others cutting it close.

big smiles cuz my crotch is LUUUBED!

I get photograph with my Sportiva teammate, Thomas Reiss, who won last year, as Race Director Tom Bigley or David Connor gives the pre-race talk. Even our shoes (Sportiva Crosslites) match. Thomas gets a bit more speed out of them than I do, though.

I also say hi to Ron Gutierrez above. Usually we run a similar pace, but I know that altitude affects me disproportionately. He would finish in 2nd, I not even close.

As always, I start too fast. I talk briefly with Bree Lambert on the fairly flat fireroad before the turn to the single track beginning the steeper ascent, but quickly get out of breath. Later I remember that I am supposed to get a ride somewhere closer to the rental house in Meeks Bay which is on the opposite side of Lake Tahoe as the race. Fortunately I see Peter Lubbers, who says his target time about 10 hours. He says he can drive me to Tahoe City. I tell him if he’s waiting around too long for me, he should go ahead since there’s sure to be someone else you can give me a ride. But having the ride secured, I’m more relaxed. I am free now to run the race and have fun. And take a lot of photos.

Marlette Lake from above

and lakeside

I take this photo shortly before reaching the first aid station, Hobart (mile 6). On my second time out during the 100 mile run 2 years earlier (2006), I came across a black bear standing in the middle of the trail. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do in this situation, but didn’t feel I could take on an angry bear in my exhausted state (the first 50 miles took 11 hours, the 2nd 50 miles would take 24 ½ hours). So I went back to get a stick or something, and eventually was caught up by Andy Kumeda, who must’ve thought I was the biggest flake. By the time we got back to the spot, the bear was gone.

From Hobart to Tunnel Creek, you go up Marlette Peak. This year I notice there was no snow on the trail, unlike the last 2 years. For the first time, I know the course well enough to anticipate a few more smaller peaks before the final switchback-filled descent.

an official race photographer


As I come into the 2nd aid station, Tunnel Creek (mile 11), a volunteer asks me what I need. “Heed, no ice please” I request as I hand him my water bottle lid I’d already screwed off. I proceed to throw away my Hammer gel wrappers, eat a potato dipped in salt, drink a half-cup of cola since I’m still feeling a bit sleepy, refill it with some Heed because I know I’m dehydrated and chug that, and then stash a couple of electrolyte tabs. Smooth and efficient, now ready to head out. But I see neither the older man who took my bottle nor my filled bottle on any table. “Does anyone know where my bottle is?” No one does. Finally I spot the volunteer, more than 10 yards away, still holding my empty bottle in one hand and the lid in the other!
“Oh, you haven’t filled it yet?”

He tells me, “This isn’t your bottle, I’m still waiting for the girl.”

Huh? I recognize the white slip of paper with my split times from last year in the large black mesh pocket of my Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Plus. What’s he talking about? It’s mine.
“Uh, no, actually that’s my bottle.”

He persists. “A girl handed it to me. It’s hers. I’m waiting for her to come back.” He still won’t hand me the bottle.

I remind myself of race etiquette rule #1: ALWAYS be nice and polite and appreciative to volunteers.

I’ve done my best to follow this, even when they screw up, like fill up my bottle with the wrong beverage, or point me in the wrong direction from aid stations at which several paths converge. But this is ridiculous. And I still don’t have my bottle.

“I’m really sure it’s my bottle. Positive. Can I please have it?” I guess since “the girl” hasn’t claimed it yet, he reluctantly shrugs and sort of hands me the bottle and lid, but the latter falls onto the ground and is now caked with dirt.

So now I go back to the tables and ask if there are is any water with which to wash off my lid (I have to use drinking water from a pitcher) before pouring the Heed in.

As I screw on my lid, restart my Garmin Forerunner, and finally set out towards the Red House Loop, I remind myself that I don’t really care about my time. But I’m perplexed at how he got so confused.


I have this on film, one of several photos I took during the first 11 miles. Here it is, 4 women running ahead of me. I don't get to appreciate this view normally in races, much less this early, and testifies to my claim that altitude really disproportionately slows me down.

So my theory is, as all these svelte athletically sexy female runners were coming into the aid station, my volunteer, while seemingly asking me what I needed, had his eyes and mind completely elsewhere. He took my bottle, but was really hoping, or maybe even believing that some hottie had given him her bottle and wanted him to, um, fill up her cup.

If my theory is correct, what a huge disappointment for him. Screw me and my lost 2 minutes. You gotta feel for the guy….

Red House Loop can be really hot, being the low point on the course, much of it in this sort of humid marshy lowland area. The woman ahead of me in the photo figured she had to run through it, but it was actually easy to job along the side without getting my feet soaked.

But still, she ran the race faster than I.

This year neither wet nor hot. On the out and back section to the actually loop, I saw some of the faster 100-milers, who had an hour head start. We begin ascending again before reaching the aid station at the red houses after which the trail is named.

The problem with this split is that you go downhill first, but then have to go back up. And it’s all up.

Returning to Tunnel Creek, I make it a point to avoid a certain volunteer, who may still be waiting for HER….


While the 50km runners head back to Hobart, the 50 and 100 mile races head to the Mount Rose aid station 9 miles to the north along the Tahoe Rim Trail which basically flips several times between the east and west sides of the ridge before descending to Tahoe Meadows. During the daytime, there is an aid station about halfway to Mt. Rose, near the top of a lift at the Diamond Peak ski area.

the north end of Lake Tahoe

I’m surprised to see the first 100 milers heading back without reaching the midway aid station, since I remember last year not seeing Jasper Halekas until after filling my bottle. I barely get this blurry shot of Jon Olsen, who tells me there was no mid-stretch aid station. Ugh, I’d emptied my bottle more than 30 minutes ago. If I could use taking pictures to distract me, I can’t get my camera out quickly enough to catch the other leaders in hot pursuit, along with the lead women, Nikki Kimball with Beverly Anderson-Abbs close behind. The link to the list of registered runners was unavailable the last time I checked on Thursday. I later found out that the National Forest Service gave the race directors last-minute permission for another 40 runners, which would include a lot of elite runners who were going to run Western States last month.

Alan Abbs. His wife Bev was too fast to photograph.

I finish taking some scenic shot when my sometime carpool buddy Joe Swenson catches up with me. We snap photos of each other. He offers me some water from his Camelback, but since the descent the meadow is near, I save him the hassle. He tells me that the force to suck fluid out the bladder sometime makes him dizzy. I also see Rick Gaston coming up the hill, doing the 100 mile. Neither of us knew the other was running the race, so we're mutually surprised, but not like running into a bear.

The stream crossing is easy and as dry as my parched tongue. I spend a lot of time at Mt. Rose (mile 26). Not counting on the aid station on the return to Tunnel Creek, I decide to overhydrate and take my time. I take pictures of dogs. WTF am I thinking?

at Mt. Rose

On the way back up the hill, I manage to miss a turn. Which I notice only when I stop seeing ribbons-- the course is well marked. I ask a family of 3 hiking if I’m on the course, and they tell me I’m probably not. I turn my Garmin back on and wait for it to locate the satellites, to figure out exactly how much distance I’ve added, more evidence that I'm not trying to be competitive. To give myself credit, I see some blue ribbons hanging from a tree on the trail I mistakenly took, close to the turnoff, making me wonder if some vandal placed them there. I learn I added 0.2 miles each way, and then turn the Garmin back off.

The half-way aid station is set up on the way back. It turns out the volunteers got lost trying to find the lift to get up (and they still have to carry the coolers quite a bit to the trail). They feel really bad, so I along with everyone tell them not to feel bad and thank them for being there. It’s not like they weren’t there because they slept in late after partying too late last night. And no lecherous guy stealing my water bottle...

the no longer missing aid station

view shortly after

I spend a fair amount of the return from Mt. Rose chatting with Kelly Ridgway which makes the time go by fast and Tunnel Creek (mile 35) appears before I start to wonder how much longer.

Kelly Ridgway: 50 is the new 30...

Unfortunately I can’t keep up with Kelly or any of the other several runners that pass me during the last 15 miles to the finish. But no worries— lots of photos to take. Despite my pre-race plan to run slowly enough to avoid a headache and nausea, and indeed running more slowly than the last 2 years, I still feel like, well, shit. But I took lots of pictures.

3rd time arriving at Tunnel Creek

volunteer bicycle safety patrol. 2 years ago one of these sweeps followed last-place me down the final descent from Snow Valley

Jon Olsen leading the 100 mile race. He told me he wasn't feeling very good (probably feeling the altitude like myself) and would eventually drop.

eventual co-winner Eric Skaden a few minutes behind.

At Hobart aid station (mile 40), the strawberry Ensure smoothies are in the blender and I happily chug a half-cupful.

my young smoothie waitress

Adam Blum, 100-miler, sitting on his ass because he might as well, since he’ll miss his crew otherwise, gives me more crap about running so slowly and asks me to bring him a smoothie. Maybe I give him the finger, give him my altitude excuse, and then do the unthinkable—I decide to sit in the chair. I rarely do this. In 100-milers, only to change shoes or take care of blisters. I wait for more smoothies to get blended, this cute girl helps too, and then finally leave not-so-cute Adam.

Uh, I dunno, what taaam izit? We in a hurry?

Clair Abrams with whom I finished the Fremont Fat-Ass 50km back in January, passes me on the way up to the high point of the course, Snow Valley. The 2.8 mile trail starts out normally and gradually enough, but then gets steep. I remember some interesting rock shaped like a dinosaur (what they used to call brontosaurus, even before Pluto stopped being a planet), and am happy to be able to photograph it today.

My batteries having lasted this long, I get snap happy with the great views near the top.

A view on the ascent to Snow Valley

The past years the last half mile to the aid station featured several sets of signs that formed a 4-line poem. This year, I was disappointed not to see them, since I was going to photograph them without having to concentrate to try to memorize them. (At 9000 feet altitude after 43 miles, I can’t concentrate too well.) Aid station chief Joe, apologizes, telling me he never got any feedback on them. Joe, I’m sure everyone reads them and finds them amusing. It’s just that after 24, 43, and 93 miles (and at 9000 feet) people aren’t going to engage in this long conversation about them. I mean, I wouldn’t even know you were the aid station chief had I not asked. Bring them back. It’s your aid station trademark!

Finally back at lake level, though not sea level, the air is a little thicker. But it's good to be almost finished.

finally back at Spooner Lake

From the finish area, you have to hike up this short but steep hill to get back to the burritos and drop bags and shuttles to the parking and hotels. I manage to make it up with Peter Lubbers unassisted, but promptly drop and shatter the schwag drinking glass I was given. “I’m sure they’ll give you another” I’m told, but my face must have betrayed the dismay I felt at the thought of having to hike back down and up the hill, as the buddy of some finishers quickly offers to get it for me, and I guiltily but gladly accept.

Rick Jeever brings me another glass. Thanks again, big time, Rick!

Rick Cheever, Jamil Coury, Jon Roig, Nick Coury. I later figure out that Jamil is the RD for Javelina Jundred.

Peter Lubbers, ultrarunner and my 2008 chauffer-hero

I had asked Peter just to drive me to Tahoe City and I’d ask someone in my family to pick me up there, but he insists on driving me down to our rental house on Meeks Bay, so I invite him in to eat something (unfortunately there wasn’t much food left as my family had just arrived a few hours earlier) before he leaves for his home. Before I can finish washing off my grimy feet, my wife asks me to give our infant a bath since he’s losing it. Having left her with both kids while I WAS UP TO NO GOOD all day, I can’t protest. No sooner than I finish this task (which is normally fun, except he’s tired and cries the whole time), I have to put my toddler down. By the time I’m finally done, showered Peter has to take off. Thanks again Peter! (He also chauffeured me from Auburn to Foresthill for the start of Rucky Chucky back in March.)


I hope you all enjoyed the photos, because we’re not doing this gazillion photo thing again anytime soon. Well, maybe if I can get a better carrying method than the ad-hoc method of carrying it in my free hand and putting the case either in my bottled hand or in the strap of my shorts and the bottle in my armpit when I need to take it out….you get the picture. After dropping it and spraying Heed on it about 5 times each, the cover no longer flips completely open when I turn the camera on, so I have to manually finish the task. Probably it’s sugar from sports drink making it stick. It already started to do this during the race, as evidenced by this otherwise perfectly framed shot.

Kelly Ridgway
Catherine Sullivan (volunteered)

Time 11:19:10; place 36th overall; age-group not top 3 so who really cares
Chicked: 15 (my all-time 3rd highest in an ultra)
Photos taken: 200 gazillion
Major ankle twists: 0
Burritos eaten post-race: 2
Number-2 pit stops: 0 (yay! I’m on a roll here)
Estimated number-1 pit stops: 5, but I don’t stop, hee hee
Number of time I woke up during the following night thirsty but sick to my stomach: 4
Years this report gestated: 1

1st published Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 1:53 a.m., while hundreds of runners are running the 2009 100 mile race, and which is the only time I could get this report finally finished