Monday, July 23, 2012

A Glimpse of Heaven, a Taste of Hell, and a Journey back from the Dead.

The Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run motto is "A Glimpse of Heaven, a Taste of Hell."

The trails are tough, starting at Spooner Summit, running up to the top of Incline Peak with a small detour through the Red House Loop (the Taste of Hell), down into Incline Village, then back up to the top of Diamond Peak, then back to Spooner via Marlette Peak, and Snow Peak (The Glimpse of Heaven - at Snow Peak you can see Reno, Tahoe, Washoe Valley, Carson City, and probably Fallon..).

I caught many glimpses of Heaven, more than several tastes of Hell, and almost gave up at the 31 mile mark of this 50 mile race.

We arrived that morning with a few minutes to spare, and were able to see the 100 milers start. Talk about energy! We would see many of the 100 mile runners as they looped back while we were on out to Diamond Peak, and then again as we approached Spooner to finish. In what seemed like the quickest 60 minutes ever, we were soon toeing the line and starting out on our 50 mile adventure run.

The 100 Milers start.

Waiting patiently.

Into the unknown.
The trail was a gradual rolling uphill for the first 3 miles or so, and Patrick and I spent time shooting the breeze, and taking in the views. We caught up with some friends, and continued on to the top of Marlette Peak.
Jill and Marj looking great!

Marlette Lake
It's too early to start hallucinating...

An angel steers us away from the Devil and towards Hobart.


We soon hit Hobart Aid Station, making good progress, and feeling great. After a quick bite, and a fillup, it was time to climb some more, on our way to Tunnel Creek and the Red House Loop Beyond.
A Water Angel

On the second pass, they had Beer!

Onward and upward.
Trail continued on, through meadows and woods, and between and over boulders. It seemed to be a never ending uphill grind, but never too dispiriting. We got to see Dalius Kumpa as he was coming out of Tunnel Creek, 16th amongst the 100 milers! We rolled into Tunnel Creek, and back out towards the Red House Loop, which got really warm, and had a fairly steep descent. Downhills are great, except when you realize that it's the same trail back up again...
Just a minor step up.

Tahoe Behind me, as well as some nice uphill.

Patrick enjoys the descent.

More scrambling.

Into Tunnel Creek Aid Station.

We see Andy coming back from Red House. Go Andy!


An action shot for Patrick.
The Red House loop was hot, but there were a couple of creek crossings, and the water was both cold enough and deep enough that I could dip my feet, and soak my bandana to get a decent cool down. Oh, and did I mention I forgot that there was an aid station at the Red House:


UltraRunning. Serious Business.
After a few smiles, some water, and a bite to eat (the strawberry chocolate banana sticks were particularly delicious!) it was time to begin the arduous climb back to Tunnel Creek, then onward to the top of Incline Peak. Once we got to the summit, at 8800 feet or so, it was time for some well earned cruising back down to Diamond Peak. After all the climbing we'd done, I was glad to be able to cruise a bit, open it up, and even do a little rock hopping. That was fun.

Yep. More uphill.

4 miles or so of descent. Just what I needed.

The trail goes downward!

26 miles and still photogenic.
The run back down and into Diamond Peak was uneventful, but long. Once we hit the road at the bottom of the trail, it was a nice surprise to see Brandon and run with him to the Aid Station. I checked in with my crew Laura, met up with Michael who was going to be pacing Patrick and I for the rest of the run, and with Brandon along for the for of the 2 mile climb to the top of Diamond Peak, we were off.

Brandon waits to run up with us. He's already done this 3.5 times before. Little did he know that in a mile or so he would become my lifesaver.

I think water goes in this one.

Got Ice?
Up the hill we went. It's about 1700' vertical feet in a 2 mile climb, with several false summits. Arduous, but not impossible. We'd done the same hill during a training run a month earlier, and ran another 21 miles after the ascent, so I figured it would be challenging, and suck, but it would be over in about an hour and 15 minutes or so. My friend Tod, who'd done that training run with me, said "After 30 miles, you're going to get to Diamond Peak and just laugh."

Tod Lied.

The first mile went about as well as can be expected, but soon after it turned from steep fire road, to just steep.


At the one mile mark, I started getting nauseous. I pulled over into some shade, and Brandon, who was just going to run us to the top, advised me to stop and just try and recover for a few minutes.
Assessing the situation.

 It didn't work. I started feeling even worse. I told Michael and Patrick to keep going. After a few more minutes Brandon knew that I was going to need more time. He kept making me drink water bottle after water bottle, and gave me his water when mine was depleted. He ran to catch up to Michael and Patrick to tell them to keep going; he was going to stay with me. He returned and we stayed there for about 1/2 an hour. The whole time, he kept telling me it was ok that we had stopped, he kept assessing my situation, and made sure I was getting better. After a while, I felt ok enough to try and slog some more. About 20 feet from where we started, I couldn't move. My quads cramped so hard, my legs were like two planks. I could not bend my knees at all. This had *never* happened to me before. I've had cramps, stiffness, etc, but never nearly this debilitating. It was at this point I was ready to give up. But how do you do that when you are literally halfway up from and easy ride home, but an incredibly difficult descent, or halfway down from the top, and being more than halfway finished from the race? Another factor was that as nearly impossible as it seemed to be able to even consider being able to walk back down without serious injury, getting to the top and quitting meant waiting several hours, and probably having to hike anyway - that aid station was inaccessible by car... All of this flashed through my mind for several seconds, and when I told Brandon what was going on, he directed me to the next shady patch about 50 feet up the hill, had me sit down again, and drink lots more water. We waited about 20 more minutes, while Brandon formulated a plan: Get me to the top, have me sit and drink as much fluids as I could, and then get me to the finish in survival mode. If he hadn't have been there, I don't know what I would have done. He became my brain, and I let him do all the thinking for me. He told me to climb to the next shade patch, and I did. He told me to sit and drink, and I did. He told me to take as much time to get to the top as I wanted, and I did. Step by step, I got to the top, then walked into the aid station.
In the background you can see Brandon talking me into getting to the next patch of shade. They were few and far between.
 Two bottles of water and electrolyte in me, I started feeling better. We left the aid station and started the 18 mile shuffle back to the start. Every aid station became an exercise in hydration, as I drank as much water and electrolyte as I could. Did I mention that I hadn't peed since mile 25 or so?... Brandon set a great cadence, and kept reassuring me that I'd finish below 16 hours, and everything was good. He told me stories. He gave me advice. He was incredible. We also saw Dalius at some point out of Tunnel Creek, and he was looking as fresh as he did when we saw him the first time!

I think this is around Marlette Peak.

Snow Valley.

Brandon leads us to Snow peak, 9200' elevation.



Sometimes Brandon let me lead. :-)
As we continued, sometimes running, sometimes walking, I started passing people who'd passed me on the Diamond Peak ascent. I have to tell you, that felt good. Really good. We got into Hobart where I had water, food, a strawberry boost smoothie (delicious and COLD), and a snort of beer (Don't Judge me). Brandon stayed behind a few minutes and had a burger. (They smelled awesome, but he regretted that decision later). We went up and over Snow Peak, down into Snow Peak aid station, where I had some soup and learned that the grit that I thought was in my shoes were actually two very large blisters on the bottoms of my feet. No Bueno. But we had a little more than a 10k to go (7 miles, but who's counting?). On we went.

The descent took forever. My Garmin had died at mile 38 or so, and Brandon wasn't calling out the miles (probably a good thing anyway), so we just kept on keeping on. At two miles to go, I knew that I was going to finish after the sun set. Brandon had said "You're going to lead the last stretch in, and you can suffer if you want, or walk if you want, it's up to you." I felt ok, and could keep up a decent jog, so I tried to run it in. Until, the sun finally descended and it truly got dark. At about that same time I'd ended up behind a girl who was run/walking a similar pace, and who didn't have a light source. I shined my flashlight ahead of her and asked "Is this helpful or annoying?" She stated that it was helpful, so I stuck with her for the last mile or so, and split near the finish where she met up with her pacer, and I took off towards the finish. To my surprise, Patrick and Michael were still waiting for me! I got my plaque, reunited with Laura, shook hands, patted backs, and hugged all around. And then ate the best tasting chicken burrito I've ever had.

No Cholula?!?!

Time to dine.


Done.

The next day, I celebrated by having a taste of my new HomeBrew in my shiny Pint Glass.
Best Beer Ever.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tahoe Triple Marathon, 23-25 September, 2011

The Tahoe Triple - 3 marathons. 3 days. Are you @#$%! kidding me?

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

That quote had been running through my mind several times during the course of the event. 3 marathons in 3 days. I'd never have conceived of actually being able to do such a thing. But then it happened. I ran a marathon. Then the next day I ran a second one, faster than the first. And on the third day, marathon 3 was complete.

Backstory:

I started running with intention in February of 2010, training for a 10k in May. My end goal was a half marathon in September. I was running to lose weight. I've been heavy all my life, and this was another in a long series of attempts to get healthy. I joined Reno Running and Fitness, and during the "kickoff" party for the training session, I heard one of the co-founders of the group, Michael, talk about running the "McLoop" - a 23.5 mile run around McCarran Blvd, a street that circumnavigates Reno and Sparks. "That's nuts", I thought to myself. The 10k training started with a 1.75 mile run at a local park. I'd done 3 miles on the treadmill just the summer before, but I couldn't even run for 3/4 of a mile before I had to walk.

I stuck with it, and ran my 10k, then my half, then the loop, and at the end of 2010, I ran a trail marathon. This year started with stepping it up even more - 2 50k's, a marathon, more Mcloops, and a couple of halfs thrown in there. I'd become part of a great circle of runners, and one day in May, a year after I'd run my first 10k, Michael told me about the Tahoe Triple. I told him I didn't think I could do it. He told me otherwise. I was in.

The Buildup:

Another friend, and 50 miler veteran Becky was in as well. During the ensuing months there were various races, and runs, and instead of invoking a very specific and rigorous training plan, I adopted Becky's plan of "just to run a whole bunch". I'd do a faster shorter run on Teusdays, a longer trail run on Thurs and/or Fri, a long run on Sat, and a Sunday run that was 50-75% of Sat's run. The different distances and venues during the week, and the always great company when I was fortunate enough to have it made the training go by quickly.

I did have one very low point in August, during the Steven's Creek 50k. The race was in the Saratoga/Los Gatos area. It was a hot, hilly, and quite unshaded trail; the last 10 miles was a 5 mile out-n-back. At mile 22 I gave up. I didn't want 8 more miles of those hot climbs. I'd turned my foot. I was tired, in pain, and dehydrated. But Michael brought me back from the edge, and the encouragement and support I'd received from my friends and family during prior runs and other times, kept me putting one foot in front of the other. On the way back from the mile 25 aid station I'd voiced my concern (that I'd had for the last several miles) that I was going to rescind my commitment to the Tahoe Triple, because if I couldn't handle this race, there was no way I could handle the triple. Michael again talked me out of quitting, emphasizing that the Triple was a very different race than the 50k, and it would be a completely different experience, and to not base my feelings about the 50k influence the Triple. I acceded, but not without a head full of doubts.

The next few weeks passed with several great runs, and ready or not, I felt I had a good chance of at least giving the Triple my true all, regardless of the outcome. Before I new it, it was raceday eve.


The Triple:

Day 1 - Inspiration Point to Spooner Summit. Nervous anticipation.

The night before, I'd had a decent meal while listening to the various speakers and route discussions at the Tahoe events dinner. Juan, Michael, and I had a good night's sleep, and I'd eaten my normal pre-run breakfast of a super-cookie. We rode the bus up to Inspiration point chatting with a young lady we met at the waiting area, Katy, who was running her first half marathon ever, on her birthday. During the ride up, I surveyed the downhill & switchbacks we'd be hitting soon after the start. Last year that downhill killed my quads when we did the Tahoe 20-Miler. I should have just looked out at the lake.

We arrived, disembarked, and looked for our remaining runner, Becky. She and her husband were meeting us at the start, and her husband Jason was going to be our crew and mobile aid station for the next 2 days.I saw their car, with the trunk open, and gear being placed in it. "Shit just got real." went through my mind. We chatted with other runners, such as Endorphin Dude who was also running the triple, and posed for a group picture.
(all images are clickable)

(l-r - Juan, Becky, Myself, Michael)


(At the start)
Before I knew it, the pre-race briefing was over, and bang! We were off.

The first few miles passed easily enough. The downhills were steep, but not nearly as brutal as I'd remembered them. Or maybe I'd become better acclimated. Maybe both. As we started down the switchbacks, we could see Juan pulling an early lead, way down at the bottom.As we hit flats, I'd wondered to myself, and then aloud, what was happening with our "Run 4min, walk 1 min" strategy that we'd practiced on earlier long runs? Becky told me about a last minute strategy she had with Lynn, the other co-founder of reno Running and Fitness, and how she advised basically "Walk up, Run down, and take a walk break every now and then on the flats." Our pace felt great, my running felt good, so I settled in and the next few miles into Tahoe City passed quickly.









We paused along the way for fuel, for fun, and then got to the finish. Well, the 1/2 marathon finish at Stateline, which we dubbed the "Faux Finish".


(Only 13 more miles to go.)
After Stateline, it was only a few more miles until the beast of a hill leading up to Spooner Summit, and the finish. We passed a few runners on our ascent - some looked like they had no or very limited crew. One runner remarked that we looked like a well oiled machine. It goes to show you what training, support, and friends can do. We were also very fortunate that we had "Crewchief Evans" supporting and encouraging us every 4 miles or so. Before I knew it, the summit of the "big goddamn hill" was behind us, and we descended to the finish. We had finished almost a full hour and a half sooner than I planned to. I was going to play it super cautious with a 7 hour time, and we completed it in 5 hours, 37 min. I was amazed.

Soon after, we took a dunk in the cold water of Lake Tahoe. Along with a delicious beer. Thanks again Crewchief Evans! That was my favorite part, I think; I love swimming in the lake and having beer.










We'd also foam rolled, and I was introduced to the technique of applying a softball to the piriformis. Apparently I was doing wrong because it didn't cause much agony. A little later we followed the cold soak with a dip into the jacuzzi at Montbleu. I know it's supposed to be all about decreasing inflammation, and heat doesn't do that so well, but damn it felt so good. Then it was dinner at the Unbuffet (not the best, but the pizza was ok), followed by a great leg massage and application of voltarin from my very tolerant wife, and a surprisingly sound sleep.



Day 2 - Spooner Summit to Tahoe City. Trepidation.

The bus ride to to Spooner was a bit more sedate. I was nervous. Genuinely nervous. I kept it to myself, but I was nervous to the point of mild nausea. I was sore, but not overly so. I was a bit tired, but again, not overly so. Why then, was I so nervous? I'd done a half-marathon followed by a whole, and a 20 miler followed by a 16, but 26.2 followed by 26.2 was in an entirely different strata. Oh well, here goes nothing... We were off for day two.

We fell into our regular pace and rythym. The rule was, if one of us 3 determined we were ascending a hill, we walked. We could also call a walk break any time on a flat. Today's course was a net downhill, and was supposed to be faster. The first 7 miles were definately that, covering an overall descent of about 800 vertical feet. There was a slight hill at about mile 15, and during its ascent I commented that Becky had lied to me - stating the course was downhill at the outset of today's race, but it was all in good fun.

Towards the ascent to Cave Rock, we stopped for a quick pic with Jenny We ran through Cave Rock, which was interesting - I've driven through that tunnel hundreds of times, and had seen the beaches and grounds there through automobile glass. Being that close to the water; looking through it to the bottom near the shore; it was very difficult to not jump in and splash around... but that would cut into my time.

After we'd passed the Faux Finish, I felt like I was going to be able to finish today's race, *and* tomorrow's. I commented that "The shit's in the bag." Everyone agreed. We'd made it past the halfway point, and had less than 40 more miles to run, total.



We also did some running with a guy named David, who was doing the Super Triple - a marathon on Fri, a marathon on Sat, then on Sat night, starting a 72 mile run all the way around the lake. David was having some difficulties though, and was going to drop down to doing just the triple. Jeez, "just" the triple? Any way you look at it, all of us out there, no matter the distance, no matter the speed, were out there, Doing Epic Shit.

The 23rd mile sucked though, with another big goddamn hill, spanning 250 vertical feet in less than a mile. At least the scenery was pretty. We passed Endorphin Dude on the downside of that hill. He was having blister issues but was going to be on his way to the finish soon enough.



We made it to the finish in about 6 minutes *less* than the previous day's time! Wow.

Soon after, we went for another soak in the lake, at a different beach - this one being much more rocky. I think that worked to my advantage - the smooth beach stones massaged all the hot spots out of the soles of my feet.

I also learned how to use the priformis softball correctly. That *was* painful. Another regimen of the jacuzzi and a good meal, and it was soon time for day 3, after another leg massage and more voltarin.





(Yup - doing it right. Ouch!)


Day 3 - Tahoe City to Pope Beach. Victory.

Feeling just about as tired and sore as I did on day two, I really wasn't worried about today's run. My two compatriots were still with me, and almost immediately after the start we fell into the "Mile 18" mindset, and I knew that it was going to be a great day. The first few miles we ran with Todd, one of the race coordinators and a helluva nice guy. We met up with Endorphin Dude! and paused for a quick pic and a chat. We'd also been joined by a couple of Triple'r named Hector and Hugo, and had some good miles with great conversation. Several miles later, maybe halfway through the run, Michael had put a slight distance between Becky and myself, the three of us having left Hector and a couple of other runners well behind us. With Michael so far ahead,  I kidded with Becky at some point that we'd driven Michael away with all our chattering - oh the irony. :-) She commented that between family and job (middle school teacher), it was probably the most quiet time he'd been able to have in a while. ;-)


Soon enough we were at mile 15, and the ascent of Hell Hill. 600 vertical feet in 1 and a half miles, but by then we were experts at this. Becky and I had run the Lake Tahoe Relay in June, and this hill was part of my leg. A week prior I'd also done the Reno Tahoe Oddysey Relay, and had done basically the same leg. This would be my 4th time on Hell Hill in a year, and I was loving it.


At the top, we began the descent into Emerald Bay, one of my favorite places in Lake Tahoe. We paused for a quick picture then started down quad killer hill again (which wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated), then the longest 3 miles of my life to the finish.



I was starting to get tired, and I was definately sore, but I was starting to smell the hay, as Becky and Michael put it. As we were making our way on the hellishly long bike path to pope beach, we met a runner named Kyra who lamented that she had wanted to finish in 5 hours and 30 minutes, but probably wouldn't make it. That was the time we were shooting for! Michael slipped into Coach/Teacher mode, and started encouraging her to stick with us, and we'd get her to the finish. We let her get ahead of us, and she kept looking at her Garmin. We had less than a mile and a half to go. Michael kept telling her "STOP LOOKING AT YOUR GARMIN." I told Kyra that Michael was a teacher, and he'd break out his ruler if she didn't listen. We made the second to last turn, which went on forever. Kyra fell a bit behind, but wasn't too far back. Becky, Michael and I were focused, we rounded the last to the finish. We saw it up ahead in the distance, and then, all of a sudden, we'd crossed it, the three of us side by side. We finished! Our friends and loved ones joined us for lots of congratulatory hugs and high fives, and then, yes, you guessed it, a soak in the lake, a beer or two, and have some food.

From the training runs, each day of the actual event, and completing it, I have been almost overwhelmed with the support and encouragement I've recieved from my family, my friends, and my fellow runners. When we started out on Day one, Michael had told Becky and myself how greatful he was that we were on this adventure with him; We echoed that same sentiment. And after it was over, I couldn't have been more greatful to both Becky and Michael for having gone through it with me. We've done something amazing. Some Truly Epic Shit. This event will stay with me for a long, long time.

Thanks also to Jason for crewing us for for 2 days and being at the finish with beer and trigger point therapies, to Monika and Brandon for visiting us out on the course, to Todd, Hector, Endorphin Dude, Stephanie, Katy, Kyra, Jenny, and all the other awesome runners that were out there on the course. And certainly by no means least, my wife Laura and my daughters Rachel and Maya, for your support and encouragement.



















This is Juan. He won the super triple, and I just found out that he set the course record - beating the previous record by almost 20 minutes!
Complete picture sets:
Flickr Set
Facebook Set



Ok, now what's next?


#doepicshit