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.


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