Friday, July 30, 2010

My Return to the 100 Mile Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run: Huge PR and New DFL

Veni, Vidi, Vici.  The quick summary of my race, though I didn't kill or subjugate anyone.  Also at times it was dark or I had sweat all over my glasses, so I couldn't see that well.

So maybe it is better to use a more recent historical event.  The Philippines had to wait 2 1/2 years for Macarthur to return and give his famous speech on the beach.

Tahoe had to wait even longer-- a full four years for me to come back and do the real 100 mile deal, rather than the watered-down half distance.  The best thing though is that my wife, sort of representing the Filipino community, only had to wait three days and two nights for me to come back home (thanks, Honey!


My lodging and driving plans weren't finalized until the last minute, but in the end decided to go with Joe Swenson and his wife.  Our last real road trip was Rio del Lago 100 Mile in 2008.

I tend to fall asleep rather quickly when I'm not driving, especially when the road is curvy, such as the southern route via 88.  Though it was interrupted sleep, it probably helped rectify recent sleep deficits.

At registration, I quickly ran into John Ostezan, the Carson City resident I got hooked up with when I asked Assistant Race Director George Ruiz on facebook if there were any available safety runners. I wasn't planning on using a pacer, but two days before the race, thought I'd check.  If there were a race for which I might need a "safety runner," it was probably this, entailing a higher risk of becoming sick, sleepy and unsteady.  Plus the no headphone rule meant I couldn't rely on my tunes to keep me awake at night (the only time I feel I need music when I run).

John, who came from work with me looking like his adopted poster child.

I tried to make clear to John that I might get sick and delayed.  Since he was looking to run from Diamond Peak (mile 80) to the finish, I was a little apprehensive that I might tank during the 3rd quarter like I did in 2006.  I told him that if I didn't show up after he was waiting a few hours, he should go ahead and hook up with someone else who wanted a pacer.  John seemed to think I was overly paranoid, and told me he'd plan on showing up around 11 pm, though would adjust his arrival based on how I was doing.

Fast ultrarunner Zach Landman, and his fiancée Geri Ottaviano were measuring baseline blood pressures at registration for a research study they were doing as medical students at UCSF (where I got my degree, but where I didn't discover ultrarunning).

Jon Olsen getting his blood pressure measured, as Joe talks with Geri

Preparing drop bags had been so easy without my kids rummaging through things like they did before the last two races.  I actually did most of it in the backseat during the drive up (when I wasn't asleep).

Though personally the race's headphone ban is stupid, it was one less gadget and drop-bag detail I had to worry about.

The pre-race meeting was in some Nevada State legislature building, which made for comfortable seating, though some of us still had to stand.

I listened carefully since the race website hadn't been updated well and so lacked essential information.

RD George Ruiz talks as RD David Cotter looks on

No pre-race dinner, which I didn't mind because our Italian meal was better than typical pre-race fare.

As always, woke up too early (3ish, race started at 5), but got enough sleep.


Here's a map of the 50-mile course, repeated by the 100-milers.  Joe was able to get a complete loop on his Garmin Forerunner 205.  Start at bottom, do small clockwise Red House Loop halfway up on the outbound.  Counter-clockwise loop at top replaces the out-and-back to Mount Rose.

Some of us at the start.  Not as cold as previous years.

photo by Ysa Myers

For the first time running a TRT race, I started at a controlled pace, trying to avoid the pounding headache I get with exertion at altitude.  I walked a lot more of the uphills early.

The first aid station, Hobart, wasn't where I had remembered it from years past. The mileage on my Garmin approached 7 miles for what was supposed to be a 6.0 mile split.  Turns out they had moved the station last year, but like many things on the website, this was not reflected there.

I caught up with Joe Swenson heading up there.  Several times during the first 63 miles we would pass each other and run short stretches together, which was nice.  My pre-race fear was that he would finish way earlier than I, so when I was done they would be long gone.  I had packed a camping pad and asked Debbie to drop it off at the start if he and Joe left to go sleep in the morning.

I caught up with Gretchen Brugman leaving for Marlette Peak, and we enjoyed some good trail time on the five mile stretch to Tunnel Creek (an accurate distance on the website, but only because moving Hobart shortened it-- before it was probably six miles).  She later wrote in her blog that she maybe was going too fast running with me, but I somehow remember thinking it was I who was running too fast and having the trouble breathing and conversing.

pre-race with Gretchen and Brian Myers, photo by Ysa Myers

After the 6 1/2 mile Red House Loop (descent to the lowest point on the course and ascent back to Tunnel Creek (mile 19)-- a "taste of hell" but not the toughest part of the course), I picked up an extra water bottle for the stretch of post-Bull Wheel (mile 22) mysterious mileage (we guessed between 8 and 10 miles, it ended up being a little over 8).  Joe and I ran some of this together until he left me behind.

Gradual ascent continued a couple more miles until the new sharp turnoff to the left.  The descent, which assistant RD Ruiz had described as being technical, actually wasn't.  I had a blast descending the twisting downhill, and like most of the TRT course trail surface, it was not too hard on the knees.  I caught up with Joe by the bottom and we ran the short pavement stretch to Diamond Peak together.

flashback to 2007, leaving the discontinued Mt. Rose aid station

Snow Valley aid station caption Tim Gallagher.  His shirt still says Mount Rose.
Thanks, Tim and all the other volunteers at all the stations!
Joe had an elaborate ritual planned with his crewing wife, so I ended up heading out earlier, my Moeben sleeves soaked with water to keep cool.

photos by Debbie Swenson

At first, but ascent wasn't too bad, and there were runnable stretches where it flattened out.  But then we hit this 3/4 mile wall, with a slightly sandy surface to prevent sure footing, several false summits.  Though it was a blue (intermediate) ski run going down, several of us commented that it felt like black diamonds going up.

The notorious ascent is mile 30-32 on the map.  elevation profile thanks to Joe Swenson.

Brutal, but no complaints.  The fun and fast downhill was worth the brutal ascent up; besides, it makes the course more distinctively interesting.  Near the top, Ron Gutierrez passed me, running very well for 2nd place, only behind Peter Fain, who had won the 50k three times and holds that course record.  The pace was so slow climbing that the exertional equivalent of him flying past me still allowed for a brief conversation.

Ron earlier, photo by Scott Dunlap

Running up to the switchbacks ascending Marlette Peak between Tunnel Creek and Hobart, I saw a couple of Gu wrappers-- I generally assume these are dropped by accident.  Since I wasn't feeling in a huge hurry, I stopped to pick them up.  Soon after, I passed several slower 50k runners, walking, and wondered why they couldn't pick these up-- especially since it wouldn't have involved any sudden deceleration.  But maybe it's a privilege to pick up litter-- to purify the soul as I was taught by a martial arts instructor.

returning back over Marlette Peak, photo by Gretchen Brugman

I had started drinking small Ensure bottles at some of the aid stations, but knew there would be freshly made Ensure smoothies at Hobart Peak.  I knew that I needed to start upping my calories, and they tasted so good, so I took the time to get three refills of the small cups.  I did have to dilute the last couple, since I was getting that freeze headache.

approaching Snow Valley aid station, photo by Gretchen Brugman

Climbing up to Snow Valley, I started running with Eric Toschi and Matt Talbott, and ended up leading the way. For partly this reason, I mixed up a conversation I had with Matt about sleeping in a Gamow bag (which I've considered purchasing but have never tried) and a different one with Eric getting sick with some febrile illness and being hospitalized for several days.  I thought the two were the same person, and thought that he thought he got sick from using the Gamow bag.

Eric (not Matt, I am sure), with buckle.

I faded a bit on the short run along Spooner Lake after the downhill.

At the start/finish/halfway point at Spooner, Geri Ottaviano measured my blood pressure for their blood pressure medical study-- 79/50-- luckily the official medical volunteers were going by my more stable weight, so I wasn't pulled from the course.  I wasn't feeling particularly dizzy; I figured my low BP was due to pooling of blood in the legs from waiting in line standing.

I had more good conversation with Trevor Hostetler from Oregon heading mostly uphill to Hobart, which predictably was much harder and slower the 2nd time around.  Trevor and I were in the same "married with two preschoolers" race demographic category.

Trevor coming through Spooner at the halfway point.

A couple of runners and their pacers passed us during the final ascent.  I started to worry-- this is where I started to really decelerate the first time I ran the race in 2006.  Was I about to get really sick again?  Or maybe I overchatted with Trevor?  I was dying coming into Hobart (mile 57), so I decided to take time to fuel up, including drinking two large cups of smoothie, loosening my shoe, relubing, the works.  I spent almost 10 minutes at the aid station, after which Joe Swenson and his pacer Marty Hoffman cruised past me uphill, Joe chatting away as I could barely keep my breath.  Was I about to hit some altitude induced wall?

The answer became apparent once I summited Marlette Peak and started down the switchbacks to Tunnel Creek (mile 62)-- I started to recover.  I felt good and relaxed-- and relatively fast.  The downhill continued into the Red House Loop, where I quickly passed both Joe and Trevor.  The 2nd Red House Loop took me three hellacious hours in 2006-- I was fairly confident I wouldn't need that much time this year.  I was able to keep jogging on the uphills and without trying to lose the two I'd passed (I actually had hoped they'd keep up so we could talk), I put about 15 minutes on them.

At Tunnel Creek (mile 69), I put on my light, but didn't turn it on until two miles past Bull Wheel (mile 72).  The downhill was a little trickier in the dark, but except at the end nothing that slowed me down too much.  I realized I was going to come into Diamond Peak (mile 80) shortly before 11 pm, the time my safety runner John Osteazan had yesterday told me he'd be there. (He actually arrived earlier.)

There were several things I wanted to take care of regarding gear and clothing and food at Diamond Peak.  The time I ate doing this may have slightly frustrated John, who was eager to start running.

Apparently in my task-oriented trance I hadn't noticed Debbie, who asking me for several minutes if I needed anything.  Finally I looked up and said "Oh, hi Deb!"  Again, before the race I hadn't planned on relying on her for anything since I didn't assume or even expect to be running around the same pace as Joe.

What the leaders might have seen looking back.  (photo of Linda McFadden by Catra Corbett)

Though the temperature cooler than the first time, climbing that wall was tougher, due to 50 more miles of fatigue and maybe because I couldn't see our progress.  Luckily John was comfortable doing most of the talking.

I thought I saw the ski lift signalling the top, but apparently it was a minor hallucination.

top of the lift before dark (photo by Catra Corbett)

I was finally able to talk to John more than a few words at a time on the summit.  Still, I found that trying to talk on any uphill would get me out of breath and even a little nauseated.

Race rules stated that safety runners were to run behind the registered runner (and so technically not setting the pace).  However, after numerous near falls, I wondered what was safe about that?  Shouldn't the safety runner be the one out front?  But the prescribed manner worked out for us anyways, since my headlamp was brighter than John's.  (If the lamp in back is brighter, tends to cause a shadow, but then again, don't have a lot of experience with this.)

I did some calculating and figured out I would be close to 24 hours-- it would have helped to memorize the distances I recorded between aid stations the first loop, but I don't think I even looked at them.  Thus I was in the dark about how much longer I had.  I told John that I should probably run all the flats and downhills if I were to finish under 24 hours.  John did a good job keeping me to that standard.

He also figured correctly that I was at times talking too much and would try to silence me, with variable results.

I thought they gave me too many chicken pieces with the avocado and tortilla at Tunnel Creek (mile 85), but he encouraged me to eat it, getting it down on the uphill.  Process would be repeated with a pulled pork sandwich at Hobart.

On one climb I started swerving on the trail.  He quickly told me, "Focus!"  It worked.  My pacer was a true godsend.

Climbing Marlette Peak to Hobart, I was surprised to see and pass Jon Olsen with his safety runner.  He was not feeling well-- the only way I can run close to him.  His later description of what he was feeling resembled the  the malaise I was feeling four years ago.  Jon was still able to finish under 24 hours.

At Hobart, I thought I had to take a dump, so tried the blue Portalet I'd photographed pre-race.  However, it must have been jitters, since no fruits resulted from my two minutes laboring in the booth.

We buzzed through Diamond Peak pretty fast and I started pushing the pace on the descent.

Since Debbie missed a promised wake up call as she napped in her car, there are no photos of Joe and I coming into the finish.  So we staged our finish later that day, shortening the 35 minutes between us to 0.35 seconds.

Although he didn't finish under 24 hours, Joe won his age division even set the 50-and-over course record (ironically previously held by his pacer Marty Hoffman).

I think John had fun too.  I'm glad I gave him a better workout than I gave Jonathan Gunderson at last year's Headlands.

What I really looked like, with my pacer who kept me safe--\
thanks, John, it was much appreciated help!

I finished in 23 hours, 39 minutes and 49 seconds, almost 11 hours faster than 2006, for 7th place overall and more importantly, earning me the coveted 24-hour buckle, specially minted in Carson City with 0.999 silver and gold plating.


John was able to get a ride back to Diamond Peak where he left his car, so we went back to the hotel in South Lake Tahoe.  Joe's pacer Marty Hoffman also drove down so he could shower there before returning home.  Smelling and feeling nasty I decided I should just wait in the car, sitting on my towel.  I texted my wife, took this self-portrait, put the phone aside, then promptly fell asleep.

Debbie came down to wake me up.  I grabbed my two small bags and walked across the parking lot and up the stairs to the room to shower.  Only after I was scrubbed clean and more awake did I realize that I didn't have my cell phone in either bag and suspected correctly it had fallen off one of them earlier.  I looked all around the parking lot, hotel grounds, and even asked the cleaning ladies.  Only did I then realize what  pain in the ass life becomes when you lose your cell.

I also thought I'd left my pocket camera at the finish area, but decided to just go to sleep-- I'm sure it would still be there when we returned this afternoon.

Luckily the camera was in one of my bags, and my phone turned up in someone's room after they checked out and one of the housemaids brought it to the office.  Thanks stranger for finding my phone (sort of / not really).

Before the awards ceremony, we got to see Jose San Gabriel finish "DFL" as the race directors phrased it.

As the inaugural TRT 100 Mile Race DFL Finisher, I thought I should get a photo with him.

Jose told me later he's comped for next year's race.  I'd ask the RDs why I didn't get comped in 2007 for finishing DFL in 2006, but since the money goes to a good cause, figured I should let it go.  I am still feeling VERY fortunate and VERY happy with how things turned out.  New meaning of DFL:  (Dead >> Darn, F stays the same, Last >> Lucky.)

results with splits
official course website (needed a lot of work)
my Picasa photo album   (51 photos, sorry, no action shots)

Garmin Forerunner 305 recorded maps with my aid station splits
#1, miles 0-30
#2, miles 30-62
#3, miles 62-93
#4, miles 93-100

RD David Cotter, with piles of finisher's buckles.

David Cotter in his pre-race directing days with ZZ Top, with rhinestone rings


Paige said...

A most excellent RR, Mark! Congrats on shaving off those pesky 11 hours :-)

Gretchen said...

Hey I didn't know John was your pacer! Cool, he's a super nice guy!

Congrats again on your awesome race, and on taking less than a year to post this report. ;) I just saw the official race photos, and mine are sweet because you're right behind me so it looks like I'm kicking your butt. Until I remember that it's really a reminderr of how I was running too fast at that point and you actually went on to finish waaaaaaayyy faster than me! :) Oh well.
Awesome running with you dude! Take care and good luck on the rest of your season.

zbsports said...

Excellent run...looking forward for more great run of yours...update us always..:D

John Nguyen said...

Nice PR! I've been following your blogs for a while now, and really want to grow up just like you (except for the ER doctor part). I don't know if I'll ever catch up to your speeds, but maybe you'll slow down in your 60's and I'll catch up to you then! Of course I'll then be in my 50's... Congrats again!

John (AKA Scofflaw Runner)

Anonymous said...

Mark, Don't feel bad about comped deal. I was DFL in 2007 and I did not get it, either. Anyway, congratulations for both this and HH. Joe Pham.

Roger said...

Good times!

Was just looking for Brian Myers in the interwebs. He came here to Australia on the weekend and ran in the Great North Walk 100s - simultaneous 100km and 100mi. Brutal days out. 93+ fahrenheit. Steep steeps. Hot heat. Awesome dude with mega-cojones. Please say hi to him and his crew and his excellent English buddy from Roger if you're in touch at all. And run on! : )

Anonymous said...

Wow-just stumbled upon your blog as possibly thinking of Tahoe in the future. 2011 is already booked. Would have to be 2012!!! Funny how we can so easily project that far ahead with races, but anything else is out of the question;)
Job well done!!! Congrats!