Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Glimpse of Heaven, Taste of Gel -- Running the TRT 100

Sorry this has taken a while, but due to some electrical converter problems I was not able to use my laptop in Italy during my three-week vacation…

On July 20th, my good friends Grant and Marie (and their dog Artie) offered me a ride to Carson City, where the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M/50M/50K race check-in and briefing would take place. I was leaving on vacation the Monday after the race, so the plan was that my wife and kids would meet me at the awards ceremony on Sunday and then take me to a hotel close to SFO from where we would take the plane on Monday.

It was fun to see a lot of familiar faces, like Scott, Rajeev, Chihping, Anil, and Sean Meissner, at the pre-race briefing. I also got to meet Alan Geraldi for the first time in person. I knew him from the "Ultraholics" Yahoo! group (a group of Bay Area ultrarunners), but had never met him. Little did I know that by the end of this very tough race I would know Alan very, very well.

Some of the Ultraholics at the briefing

After the briefing, I hung out with Rajeev and Anil and then we had dinner at B’shgetti’s with Alan. After that, I went to bed early. I felt ready to tackle the course. I had trained on the course several times with a new "speedmarch" run/walk technique (2 minutes running alternated with 1 minute walking) and I had also trained to use a gel every half an hour, to keep fueling consistently. I was really hoping to break 24 hours, but that proved to be a little ambitious for this first 100-miler.

On race day, I got up and took the bus to the start. My friends Grant and Marie were camping on the Rim Trail and they said they would try to meet me at Mount Rose. I had given them a copy of my proposed splits, which had me arriving there at 10:35.

I had my pockets full of gel and electrolyte tablets as well as two 20-oz Ultimate Direction hand bottles (with bottle lights for the first stretch in the dark). The 100-milers took off at 5 a.m. and the 50m and 50K runners would leave at 6 a.m.

I immediately started my speedmarch 2-1 technique and it worked well. I effortlessly hit the first split at Hobart (6:15) and then went on to Tunnel Creek. During my running sessions, I would pass Kathy D’Onofrio, only to be passed again by her during my walk breaks. This continued until she pulled away for good after the Tunnel Creek aid station. I would see her again later in the evening, but under different circumstances.

The first Red House loop went well and I ended back at the AS a few minutes ahead of schedule. I grabbed my new Nike sunglasses and was off to Mount Rose. This section climbs gradually for about nine miles and I figured it would take me two hours to get there and 1.5 hours to return to Tunnel Creek again. I reached Mount Rose about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and spent less than a minute at the aid station. I briefly met Grant and Marie there, who told me they would come to meet me at the Start Finish, per my proposed schedule. It was a great to have this unexpected crew support.

On the way down to Tunnel Creek, the first 50-miler passed me. It was super fast Tahoe Triple winner Thomas Reiss. I think it was his first 50-miler and he was on course record pace or close to it – way to go, Thomas!

On the way back from Tunnel Creek to the start, I passed a few back-of-the-pack 50K runners and I walked most of the steep uphills. The climb out of Red House is known as the “taste of hell,” but it is actually only about a mile of serious climbing. To me, the harder climbs are the climb out of Tunnel Creek to Hobart (up the endless switchbacks) as well as the climb to Snow Valley (highest elevation of the course).

I kept taking a gel every half hour. I used Power gel this time, after reading Karl Meltzer’s blog (can’t argue with his results!). He noted that Power gels have more sodium than other gels and it was going to be fairly hot. In training, I had run a 25-mile training session from Mount Rose to Red House and back using the speedmarch technique and Power gel every half an hour. It took me a little more than 5 hours to cover the distance and that was with a backpack full of water. During that run, I tried all the different flavors of Power Gel to see which ones I liked best. Green Apple and Plain turned out to be my favorites. Green Apple brought back some memories, because my oldest son, Sean, gave me one of those to use during my first marathon (Big Sur)! The Power gels worked well in training, as did Hammer gel.

My stack of gels before the start
By the time I got to the top of Snow Valley Peak, however, the gels started to taste less good, and it would take me some time to swallow the whole package. The descent to the start finish was fast, but I held back, continuing my walk/run strategy.
I had learned this speedmarch strategy during my time in the Dutch army. It was designed to march small units across long distances in the most efficient way. On fairly level terrain you’re supposed to cover 6 miles per hour this way. Here I was going about 5, which was great for me, considering the elevation change of the course (19,000+ over 100 miles). I noticed that it worked surprisingly well in various training runs, so I had decided to run and walk right from the start.

I reached the start finish in 10:20, which would have been good enough for about 16th place in the 50-mile race. I weighed in and my weight was right on target at 179 lbs. It had been within a half pound of my target weight all day. Never having been weighed during a running event, I had been a bit worried about losing too much weight during the hot part of the day, but that did not turn out to be an issue.
I took a 10-minute break at the AS. Grant and Marie were there and they helped me put on a new pair of shoes. I ate some soup and put on some new sunscreen. The volunteers at the AS were great. Grant and Marie had set up camp alongside the trail at Mount Rose, so they would meet me around mile 74. They asked me if there was anything I might want at that point and I immediately answered “Coffee!”

I took off again (still exactly on schedule) and started running and walking the initial flat section out of the AS. I ran for about a mile and grabbed my next gel and that’s where the "success story" ended. As soon as I put the gel in my mouth, I had to throw up. I just could not get another gel down and my stomach felt upset.

I reached the single-track trail that would lead to Marlette Lake. In the morning I had run and walked this effortlessly, but it seemed as though the grade of the trail had changed. I was forced to walk the entire section. It was quiet now, since there were no more 50K or 50M runners on the trail. I power-walked all the way to Hobart, and then marched on to Tunnel Creek.
It took hours to cover those 11 miles. I did not pass anyone, but nobody passed me either. I could walk pretty well, but every time I started to run, I would stop again after about 20 seconds. I had my watch count down the two and one minute intervals, but since I was no longer running and walking, that got a little bit irritating, so I decided to turn it off. My 24-hour goal was shot; there was no way to make up the time that was lost. I was convinced that I would at least finish this race, so I decided to just let go of this somewhat artificial time goal that had been keeping me occupied for most of the day. Instead, I was going to try to enjoy myself -- at least a little bit.

At the Tunnel Creek AS, Norm and Helen Klein gave me some ginger to ease my upset stomach. I still could not take any gels, so I switched to potatoes and chicken broth, which helped a lot. Since it would be dark by the time I would be back from Red House, I wrapped a long-sleeve shirt around my waist and put on my Black Diamond headlamp. I ran some sections of the downhill to Red House and felt pretty good again. I still could not run any uphill sections though.

At Red House, you were supposed to mark their bibs with a marker to prove that you had really made it there. This had caused a lot of anxiety after the pre-race meeting. What if there was no marker? What if you simply forgot? Anyway, I quickly marked my bib with the red marker and then I saw Kathy D’Onofrio again. She was sitting down on the ground shivering, yet still determined to tough this out. I quickly gave her my long sleeve t-shirt and asked her what she wanted to do. She wanted to rest a bit and then push on, although it was clear that she was almost hypothermic. We decided that I would let the AS know that she was not feeling well and that if she was not back by a certain time, they would send a vehicle down for her.

At that point, Ray Sanchez passed by and we talked a little bit more about what we could do for Kathy. Either way, we had to walk about 3 miles back to the AS, so we’d better get going. I walked with Ray for a little bit, but got nauseous again and had to throw up. Ray went on running and walking while I just kept walking. On the final ascent, I saw the first-aid truck make its way down to rescue Kathy. Ray had told the AS captain and he had dispatched the truck right away, which was probably a good thing.

By the time I got to Tunnel Creek I was feeling pretty cold myself. Fortunately I had extra clothes and I quickly put on another shirt and wrapped a wind jacket around my waist. I had some soup and potatoes and I was off again. I left the AS at the same time as Andy Black, who was paced by the infamous Errol Jones (a.k.a. The Rocket). I followed them for a few entertaining miles, until their pace became too fast.

It was a long hike up to Mount Rose. In the dark it was hard to tell exactly how many miles were left (My Forerunner GPS watch had (also) run out of juice at mile 52). I met many of the runners who were on their way back from Mount Rose. I saw Scott, who was running an excellent race and he told me he had seen my “fan club” just a mile ahead. This was music to my ears, I was finally going to have some coffee!

I reached Grant and Marie’s campsite (right next to the trail). They had rigged up a chair and the coffee was ready (the taste of Heaven!) I thought it would be a good idea to take a 10 or 15-minute break here, although I was also worried about getting too comfortable. My aim had been to minimize the time at aid stations, and it is easy to waste a lot of time sitting around.
Ultraholics to the rescue! I had not been sitting down for more than a minute before the next runner passed by. When he said hello, I realized it was Alan Geraldi. Alan, a fast and accomplished triathlete, was also running his first 100-miler and he was also doing more walking than running at this point. I really wanted to stay and rest, but that way I would never get there! We both had some coffee and we were off to the Mount Rose AS, which was just a mile ahead.

We alternated the lead every so often, and although Alan complained that his legs were shot, I could barely keep up when he was in the lead. We spent a few minutes at the Mount Rose AS. Rajeev had given me a pair of gloves and Anil's wife, Rashmi, had kindly put those in my drop bag. It was very cold in the meadow, so these came in very handy.
We headed back to Tunnel Creek. We kept a steady pace and came across a lot of runners on their way up, including Chihping, who had actually spent the night prior to the race in a sleeping bag close to the start of the race!

Walking together was much more fun! We talked about all kinds of things (ultras, triathlons, diets, and so on, but we also just walked long stretches quietly. Every once in a while we would stop to rest or stretch a few seconds, but we mostly just kept moving forward.

We reached the Tunnel Creek AS and took a little break there. I had some more soup and some potatoes. There were quite a few people dropping out and many of them were sitting in the tent waiting for a ride. It was time to move on to the toughest part of the course, the climb back up to Hobart. Alan and I had both dreaded this long climb. In the end it was not quite as bad as we thought it would be, but it was definitely hard. We made our descent to the AS, and for a little bit it felt like we might have taken a wrong turn. In general, things looked a lot different on the second loop (read: farther and steeper).

Since we left Mount Rose we had been making guesses at possible finish times. The big unknown had been how long it would take us to get from Tunnel Creek to Hobart. Only after reaching Hobart, we felt that we could realistically shoot for breaking 28 hours.

We left the Hobart AS quickly. It was light now and we still had ten miles to go. If we were going to break 28, we would not break it by much. We climbed to Snow Valley, and then started our long descent. Walking those last ten miles was one of the hardest things I have ever done. You know you’ve made it, but it just takes forever and ever to cover the distance.

Everything looked unfamiliar on this section, too. Every time we thought we were around the corner from the Aid station, the trail would make an unexpected turn. Rocks looked like water coolers and trees looked like houses. I kept looking at my watch as we were getting closer to 27:30. The last section is 1.7 miles and at a 4-mile pace, that would take about 25 minutes. We could not really avoid getting to the AS much later than 27:35.

Finally we reached the last AS. Alan stopped briefly to see a friend and then joined me again. We had decided to cross the finish line together, and did not care too much about our overall place anymore. A few people had passed us in the last few miles. On one of our final turns on the trail we heard some more voices behind us and we regained our competitive drive. We would not be be passed anymore! We ran to the finish line and with a “1,2,3-Go” Alan and I finished the race tied for 26th place in 27:50:45. After all, we had easily broken the 28-hour mark.

I rested a bit and watched Chihping finish in 29+ hours. We got a ride to Carson City and had some lunch there with Keith Blom and his wife. Keith had just finished WS a month earlier in just under 24 hours and he was one of the runners that passed us at the very end.
Chihping at the awards ceremony
Vicky and the kids showed up and stayed for the awards ceremony. Jasper Halekas won the race in a new course record of 18:16! Mark Gilligan came in second and also broke 20 hours.
The winner, Jasper Halekas

The plane ride to Italy was interesting to say the least, but after a few days things were almost back to normal again. In Italy, we had a great time, ate lots of pizza, and saw lots of great places. Believe it or not, I even ran a 7K race there (report to be posted soon).

The coveted belt buckle, at last!


Rajeev said...


You are one tough dude. Most people would have dropped out after all those stomach issues. You gutted this one out. Congratulations to you!


Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Congrats again to your first 100 miler finish!

Thanks for sharing your story. While reading it, I felt like I was back to running TRT. Running a 100 miler has more than the time goal. It's an experience of life, high and low, all in one day (and change) of sunrise and sunset, or day and night. That's why it's so distinct from other shorter distances. Glad to feel these in your endeavor.

Btw, heard that you still had stomach issues at Cool 12hr. Hopefully you find the cause and fix it soon. No doubt you'll break 24hr in near future.



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