Monday, August 18, 2008

Running the Rim Trail

"Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others."
--Winston Churchill (quote from the card that Vicky and the kids gave me before the run)

What an adventure! I certainly had my day and it was almost 58 hours long! Years of preparation finally culminated in the run of my life.

The Course Profile--30,000' Up and 30,000'Down

The full story is almost as long as the run itself, but here are some quick facts:

TRT 165 Quick Facts

  • Start time: 4 p.m. on Friday, August 15th
  • Finish Time: 1:54 a.m. on Monday, August 18th
  • Overall Time: 57:54:00
  • Number of Sections: 8
  • Number of Sections Run with Pacers: 7
  • Shortest Section: Section 8--13 miles
  • Longest Section: Section 3--32 Miles
  • Total Miles Run: 168 (even though the trail is listed as a 165-mile trail, in reality it is 168 miles long)
  • Minutes Slept (actual horizontal): 27 (15 minutes between Tahoe City and Brockway and 12 minutes at Brockway Summit)
  • Minutes slept (walking): quite a few!
  • Blisters: zero
  • Times Fallen: zero (Close calls: 3)
  • Wildlife Seen on the Trail: 1 Porcupine (ready-to-attack), 10 freaky spiders, a falcon, and a deer
  • Best Sections: Flying down the switchbacks between Tahoe City from Barker Pass with pacer Rory Fuerst, and, of course, the last 1.8 miles downhill to the finish line
  • Worst Sections: Nausea and altitude sickness between Big Meadows and Echo Summit
  • Weirdest Moment: an encounter with a drunk bystander just minutes before the start
  • Quote of the day (Day 1): "You're on the wrong side of the lake"
  • Quote of the day (Day 2): "Oh, you really meant Kingsbury, not Kings Beach"
And here's the 168-mile version of the report:

I believe the first time I mentioned my plan to run the entire Tahoe Rim Trail in one go was in a conversation with ultrarunner Chihping Fu in July 2005. We were at the start of the TRT 50K race. That race was my first 50K race and I finished it in 9:24; my slowest 50K ever. At the end I was still determined to run the entire trail, but I knew I had some work to do. The speed record was 66 hours then. Tim Twietmeyer blew that away about a month later by running the trail in 45:58, but I did not find out about that until much later.

The next year, I knocked almost 2 hours of my TRT 50K time and I figured it was time to step it up. If I was going to run 165 miles, I should at least be able to run 100 on similar terrain in about 24 hours. One year later (July 2007) I ran TRT100 (my first 100-miler) and had a great first half (10:20), but a rough second half, mostly walking and crossing the finish line in 27:50.

I blamed the "bad" performance (if you can call finishing your first 100-miler bad) in part on competing in lots of short-course races (I ran a series of 5 and 10K races that were part of the Gold Country Grand Prix) and not getting enough serious mileage in. I won my age group and second overall in the Gold Country Grand Prix series, but at a cost.

I learnt the hard way that "time-on-the-feet" is important for any long run. During the final miles of TRT100 in 2007, I had some serious doubts about running an extra 68 miles, but soon all the pain was forgotten again and I kept training towards my goal to run the entire trail in one go.

2008 was completely dedicated to TRT-165 training and all the races I ran this year were ultimately just preparation for the big event. I cut down on the short races and practiced lots of power-walking (including a very successful 200K in 4 days in Holland) and substituted flat races like Pony Express 100K with mountainous races like Silver State 50M. I also increased my training mileage slowly and I trained primarily on big hills. My legs felt super strong coming into the race and I felt I had really done as much as I could. Time would tell whether it would be enough, because everything beyond 100 miles would be unknown territory. One thing was for sure, pacing myself would definitely be the name of the game.

Before Heading to South Lake Tahoe

In June I locked down the final date and itinerary--if there were no fires or smoke, it would be a go. A final 12-hour night run proved that my light setup was in perfect shape and I felt ready to go. The week before the run I tapered significantly and did not run more than a few miles a day; there was no need to push it any further, I just wanted to try and stay healthy.

My goals coming into the run were as follows:
1. Finish the entire Tahoe Rim Trail in one go
2. Break 66 Hours
3. Break 48 Hours
4. Break 45:58 Hours

Not having run every single section of the trail yet (it is not that easy to scout it out, because the trail is covered in snow for more than half of the year), some of my estimates were based on other people's times and of course it was hard to adjust those times with some sort of tiredness factor.

All Packed Up

One thing I did not want to repeat from TRT100, however, was disappointment over a great achievement. This time I was not going to let the time bother me too much. The aim was to keep moving steadily, pacing and fueling well, right from the beginning (rather than desperately trying to hit the splits) and I would let the time take care of itself. As Rebecca said, "Pace yourself, so you can finish and your time will be fine." For sure this race would not be to the swift!

With pacers Troy, Rory, and Gretchen

Getting Ready
On Thursday, Vicky prepared 10 pounds of whipped potatoes to eat during the run, as well as my favorite pre-race meal of Spaghetti with buffalo meatballs. I prepared about 40 PB&J sandwiches, plus several thermoses full of tea, coffee, and hot water. When everything was piled in front of my Nissan XTerra, the magnitude of the whole operation started to sink in.

Maybe I Should Have Rented a U-Haul Truck!

On Friday morning, I picked up Chris and Rebecca -- my super (triple) crew-- and we headed to South Lake Tahoe. Of course we made a lunch stop at Grass Valley's FudenJuce. A Greek Wrap and a Green Monster drink sounded like the perfect pre-race meal. After that, I kept hydrating all the way to the 4 o'clock start with bottles of water and Orange Recharge.

Lunch at FudenJuce

Grant and Marie (my second crew!) met us at the corner of North Benjamin and Kingsbury Grade. They had already stashed water for me at Armstrong Pass and Tunnel Creek earlier. We arrived with about 30 minutes to spare and I had already changed into my running clothes at a Starbucks on the way. The aim was to calmly go over some last minute items, relax, and take off exactly at 4. Things did not work out exactly as planned though...

Heading Towards South Lake Tahoe

With about 15 minutes to go, we found out that the replacement timer was not going to make it in time, so we were going to do a count-down over the phone. Right at that time, a drunk woman showed up out of nowhere, asking for a coke to calm her upset stomach down. She came to the right place, since we had a whole six-pack on board for that exact purpose. I gave her a coke and wanted to move on with our final preparations, but then she wanted to pay us...with $20! Rather than quickly turning an oil-company-like profit, we declined the money, which prompted her to find different ways to repay us. It was clear she was having a bad day and we were all sympathetic, but at the same time I absolutely wanted to start at exactly 4 p.m. With a few minutes to spare, Sean called me to wish me good luck, which was great.

At Kingsbury Grade

Finally, the drunk lady offered to take a group picture of us, since she so desperately wanted to repay is in some way. We agreed. It was 3:58. "Smile!" "Great," I thought, "We can go now" "Another one!" the lady exclaimed. I looked on my watch and grabbed my cell phone to call our virtual starter. A forced smile. I started turning around, but was interrupted again. "One more final shot before you go!" she shouted. "I really have to leave at 4" I replied, and I started dialing the starter's number while she took the third and final picture.

One of the Pictures Taken By the Drunk Lady

Chris grabbed the phone from me as we hurried across the road to the exact corner of North Benjamin and Kingsbury Grade with 10 seconds to spare. A quick countdown, "3, 2, 1, go." I was off at exactly 4 o'clock! It was a strange feeling to finally be running, to finally be doing what I had been thinking about for so long. But it was real now.

I cruised up the hill and realized that I had left my iPod. I also found out I had not started my Garmin 205 yet in all the commotion. Fortunately, the crew was going to meet me at the Kingsbury South trailhead just a mile and a half up the road. That is where I was going to grab my pre-loaded CamelBak Rim Runner and disappear into the woods for the next 23 miles.

It was hot, but I felt fresh and ready for the challenging section that was coming up. Chris, Rebecca, Marie, and Grant met me at the trailhead and wished me good luck. I grabbed the iPod and power-walked up the steep ski slopes behind Heavenly. I felt engulfed in a very fine energy -- it felt like all the positive vibes from my family and friends were flowing directly to me. It was a very powerful and positive feeling. "Pace yourself" was my mantra for this section. It was easy to go out to fast when you're feeling so good. However, the aim was to finish a 168 mile run; not to get the fastest time from Kingsbury to Big Meadow.

Stand for Peace at 4. Well, How About I Run for a Few Minutes!

You have to respect the mountains. To view this as a man-against-the-mountain challenge would be stupid. I had been humbled enough by these powerful mountains (in previous races) to know better. I thought about how Nepalese mountaineers would bring sacrifices and peace offerings to the mountain and tried to see what I could do and then it hit me--I could simply pick up any litter that I come across. Sure, this would sacrifice a few seconds here and there, but it would be my way to ask for a peaceful journey in these majestic mountains. And so I took off on my epic 168-mile run.

168 Miles to Go! (Photo Courtesy of Marie Ramey)

Section 1--"Finally Running" (Kingsbury Grade to Big Meadow, Miles 0-24.2)

I had not yet been able to run this complete first section before my TRT run. This challenging section has some pretty good elevation (a lot of it over 9,000') and some tough climbs (Monument Pass, Freel Peak, Armstrong Pass, and so on). The reward is a series of stunning views views. The trail was marked well, but it would be a very tricky section to run at night, especially in the Heavenly area. In fact Tim Twietmeyer had warned me about that and it was one of the reasons I started at Kingsbury Grade in the afternoon.

Marie, Chris, and Dog Raydar at the Kingsbury South Trailhead

At mile 15 I reached Armstrong Pass, and I resupplied with the water that Grant and Marie had stashed for me (by hiking in three miles from the Pioneer Trail). They had wrapped the water bottles in posters with details about my TRT run so that other hikers would not grab the bottles or throw them away. It was really nice to break this section into two pieces this way; it saved me from carrying water for the full 24 miles.


I ran on effortlessly and the temperature had dropped by now and darkness set in very quickly. I pulled out my headlamp and had another 45 minutes or so left to run in the dark. Suddenly a huge truck pulled up behind me. Wait, actually that was the Moon! The reason I had planned the thru-run precisely on August 15th was that it was going to be a full Moon on Saturday the 16th and the extra light would come in handy.

I arrived at the Big Meadow trailhead and met Chris and Rebecca there. My first pacer, Rory Fuerst from Tahoe City who knows the TRT like the back of his hand, was ready to go. I weighed in at 183 pounds; not bad. I weighed 185 pounds at the start (fully clothed) and wanted to stay pretty close to that weight during the race. I sat down to eat, drink, and put on my night-running gear.

Section 2--"Altitude Sickness" (Big Meadow to Echo Lakes, Mile 24.2-41.7)

The break took a little longer than the scheduled 10 minutes, but we were not worried about that. Rory and I left and started walking uphill at a fast pace. Even though we had only met Rory for the first time the week before, it felt like we were old friends.

With Rory

The section took us to the PCT-TRT junction, after which the TRT follows the PCT for about 50 miles. It's not a particularly hard section if you come from Big Meadow, but it reaches some high elevation and has some long climbs in it.


We started out with a brisk walk and after about an hour, I tried to fuel with a PB&J, but I just could not quite get the sandwich down. I had no trouble eating a few sandwiches on the first section. In fact, I had been alternating between eating a sandwich and a bag of delicious Powerbar Gel Blasts every hour, but I just could not get myself to eat anything anymore. I put the sandwich away, but soon felt like throwing up, but did not really have anything to throw up.


I slowed the pace down and made some stops along the way in an effort to get over the nausea. It was dark, but it seemed like this would be a beautiful section to hike in the daytime. I was not enjoying myself too much though and could just manage a very pedestiran pace. When we finally reached the lower elevation around Echo Summit I started feeling a bit better.

That is where my next pacer, Nevada City's Frank Plucker, came to meet us on the trail and he joined us on the run through Echo Summit to Echo Lakes. We had decided not to stop at Echo Summit, but to have a break at Echo Lakes (2 miles further) instead. I went to the bathroom at Echo Lakes, but my appetite had not returned yet. I sat in my chair and all I could do was drink some tea. Nothing looked appetizing and I started getting worried when I saw the 7 PB&J sandwiches that were scheduled to go into my CamelBak for the next section (and eventually into my stomach). There was no way I could stick to the planned fueling regiment in the shape I was in, yet I needed fuel to make it to the finish line. I had to do something, because, as they say in the movie Training Day, I was still "A long way from Starbucks."

Taking a Break

And that is when I realized that I had to do nothing, instead. First of all, this was pretty early in the race. If I could not get a handle on fueling, this run would be over soon. It became obvious that resting and allowing the stomach to start working again was a critical part of a race of this distance. You might get away with not fueling properly in a 50 miler or even the later stages of a 100, but with well over 120 miles to go, that would be a recipe for disaster.

Sure enough, within about 10 or 15 minutes of sipping on tea, my appetite came back and I was able to eat mashed potatoes again. Soon enough, the sandwiches started looking pretty good again and Frank and I put on our packs, dropped off the wilderness permit (for Desolation Wilderness) at the trailhead and headed out.

Section 3--"Longer than Advertised" (Echo Lakes to Barker Pass, Miles 41.7-74.2)

The TRT book says "although many sections can easily be covered in one day, we recommend two or even three days for this section." Right! I guess it was a good thing that Frank did not read the book until he came out--he might not have comitted to pacing this section otherwise!

Frank started running ultras about two years ago at the Sunsweet Tehama Wildflowers 50K run where he came in 10th overall, and he has since run quite a few ultras since, including the 12-hour night-run at Cool recently. I already knew Frank from the local running scene, because he and his family also competed in quite a few of the Gold Country Grand Prix races over the past few years, but the ultras really seem to suit Frank very well, because he is very calm and steady.

We figured it might take us about 9 hours to cover the entire 32-mile section, but it was a long and rocky 13 miles to Dick's Pass. You just don't think it might take around 7 hours to cover this rocky uphill section when you're planning your race itenerary, but it did.

Of course it did not help that I was spacing out in the early morning hours and zig-zagging across (and, sometimes almost off) the trail in my sleep-deprived state. It was a good thing Frank woke me up a few times, otherwise I might have ended up at the bottom of the pass again and we had a few good laughs about it.

The trail actually descended quite a bit before actually heading up the pass and all the while you can see the final destination (way up there) while you're heading down, which takes part of the fun out of the otherwise great downhill running. On this section, I had to take frequent breaks to just lean against a rock for a few seconds. I also saw lots of tents that turned out to be rock formations instead (I swear, they really looked like tents!). It was just a little taste of what was to come in the second night!

One mistake we had made was that we had not yet adjusted the overall schedule and we were not anticipating that most of this section would be run in the daytime now, thus requiring some sunscreen (and we could have brought a camera, too!). If Frank would not have had his little package of ZombieRunner sunscreen (the kind you find in some of your race goodie bags) with him, we would have been pretty sunburned by the time we would reach Barker Pass. Fortunately, the sunscreen helped the two of us survive an extremely hot day without any issues.

This was the segment of the run where Zombierunner played another important role. Instead of bringing a 12-hour supply of water with us for this section, we planned on filtering water from the many lakes on this section using my new super-light SteriPen Adventurer. However, in talking this strategy over with Aaron Sorenson, it became clear that it would be even easier to just use what most adventure racers use: KlearWater. 1 mililiter of this stuff is enough to treat a liter of water in 30 minutes. Simply scoop water out of a lake or stream, add KlearWater, and wait for 30 minutes. It made sense and it beats stirring the SteriPen in the water for 90 seconds (per liter) and having to rely on a device that works on batteries.

In retrospect, I should have brought both water purifying solutions, because sometimes you really need the water "now" (for example, if you arrive at a lake (Richardson's Lake after 8.5 miles) when you're already low, or out of water), but in the end it all worked out fine for us with just KlearWater.

I ordered KlearWater from Zombierunner on the Monday before the run, and when I told them I needed it no later than Thursday before the run, they expedited the shipment for free to make absolutely sure I would get it in time. Thanks Zombies--you're the best!

In my interview with Tim Twietmeyer, Tim mentioned that this section seemed "longer than advertised" and I swear this section is longer than the 32 miles it claims to be. My Garmin ran out of batteries towards the end though, so I could not measure it exactly. The section between Dick's pass and Barker Pass just seemed to take forever, and it did--it took us 12 hours to cover the entire 32-mile section, but oddly, it felt like we were moving pretty good out there.

On this section we met quite a few campers and day-hikers. On one occasion, when asked, I told them we were heading to Kingsbury Grade. One hiker told me "But, you're on the wrong side of the lake..." Yep, I guess you could say that.

Towards the end of this section, we met a lot of hikers that knew us by name. It turned out, Marie had talked to all the hikers that were leaving Barker Pass in our direction, telling them food and drinks were waiting for us at the trailhead.

Frank Coming Into Barker Pass (Photo Courtesy of Marie Ramey)

We almost made a wrong turn on a jeep road just 4 miles before the end and it took us a little while to verify we were on the right track. It took a long time to get to the trailhead, but we eventually made it. At this point we were more than 24 hours into the run, but it felt like the most difficult section was behind us. From here, the sections would be shorter, which meant we could travel lighter, because we would meet the truck more often. Even though we were technically still about 11 miles from the half way point (Ward Creek would be closest to the half way point), it felt like we were past it now.

At Barker Pass (Photo Courtesy of Marie Ramey)

Chris, Rebecca, and Rory were at the trailhead and Grant and Marie were also there with their camper. I sat down to eat and to my surprise, Rory had brought a plate of my favorite nachos from Sprouts, which made my day--it's amazing how simple things can give you such immense pleasure during these events! Thanks again, Rory!

After dinner, I took a quick hot shower in Grant and Marie's camper and within ten minutes, I emerged as a completetely fresh and changed runner. Everything felt great and my legs did not feel tired at all yet.
My feet were in great shape and continued to be fine and blister-free throughout the entire run. At every rest stop I would clean my feet up a bit, lather them in a thick layer of Bag balm, and then I would change into a brand-new pair of Balega socks (I used 8 pairs of the Balega Enduros during the run). I had lots of extra shoes with me, but ended up running the entire run in just one new pair of Nike Air Zoom Vomeros and of course I shielded my socks from dust and debris by wearing a pair of Dirty Girl gaiters.

Frank, Me, Grant, Rory, and Chris (Photo Courtesy of Marie Ramey)

After my quick shower and change, Rory and I drank a cup of Peet''s coffee that Grant had brewed and we were ready to tackle the next section. Rory offered to pace me on this section, which was great. Originally I had planned to run the next one alone, with Rory pacing from Tahoe City to Brockway. Rory ended up pacing me for more than 50 miles spread out over two days.

Section 4--"Flying High" (Barker Pass to Tahoe City, Miles 74.2-91.2)
The extended break proved to be well worth it. After an initial climb, Rory and I were zooming down the switchbacks. This section of the TRT is one of my favorite sections and running it in the early evening was really magical. I felt no pain whatsoever and we hit the switchbacks hard. Not having a pack on in this section (the crew would meet us on an intersection at Ward Creek Road in 11 miles), made it seem very easy compared to the previous section.
Another steep uphill and we made it to Twin Peaks, where the PCT continues north and the TRT takes a right turn. Over the next five miles, the trail drops over 2000' feet and has some of the steepest downhills (or uphills if you're coming from Tahoe City) of the entire trail. This was trailrunning at its finest! We quietly sped down the trail--just focusing on our footing and our breathing. It was pure exctasy. Who needs drugs if you can just run down these mountain trails!

We crossed Ward Creek Road (not one of the 8 major trailheads, but very easy to drive to with a regular car, because the trail crosses the road here) and the crew was waiting there. For the first time, we were actually significantly ahead of the predicted section time (by 45 minutes). That felt good, even though it was clear it would be impossible to make up enough time to get back on record pace. I felt wonderfully at ease with that, though. Something really changed in me (it seems, at the time of this writing, perhaps even permanently) to where I was out there running for the pure joy of running and testing my own limits--not someone else's, letting the numbers take care of themselves. Hats off to Tim Twietmeyer, by the way, for his incredibly fast TRT-165 time, but also for all for his encouragement and the tips he was willing to share! Best of luck at your upcoming Capitol to Capitol race, Tim!

Ward Creek is where we planned to slowly start fueling for the climb up to the 10,300' Relay peak (Mile 110), so I grabbed some more food and hit the trail to meet the crew again at Tahoe City trailhead (at the trailhead where the Lake of the Sky race starts).

Section 5--"Hallucinations" (Tahoe City to Brockway Summit, Miles 91.2-110.4)

Tim Twietmeyer had wished me good luck before the race and he recommended grabbing a milkshake at Echo Lakes. That had really been a boost for him during his race. At first I did not feel like a milkshake, but as the hot day wore on, it started to sound really good and I had told the crew. At the Tahoe City trailhead, Chris and Rebecca were waiting with a nice strawberry milkshake-yum!

The next section is by far the most accesible section of the entire TRT. Over the next 19 miles, the crew could get right next to the trail 6 times. You don't realize it when you're running on the TRT, but is really close to a beautifully paved forest service road, nicknamed the Fiberboard Freeway. Meeting the crew many times allowed us to, once again, go super light, with just a hand bottle or two. We called a few people (Gretchen, and Aaron Sorenson) to give them an update on our estimated time of arrival at the next trailheads and since we had fallen behind by quite a few hours, it looked like Aaron and Michael Popov could no longer pace me, due to work obligations (Thanks so much for making the effort to come out, guys!).

Darkness had fallen by the time we hit the trail. and it started with the big climb to Cinder Cone. I was very fortunate to have Rory pace me this section (practically his backyard), because in the dark, the section is extremely confusing and it looked like we were just running around in circles with very little trail marking. Even though I had run this section before, it was hard to get a sense of where we were. I was getting pretty tired at this point, too, and slowly I started seeing things.

Rocks turned into backpacks, fallen trees into guard rails, and all kinds of other things. I could see it happen, but I could not stop it. It just went on and on. The minute you actually stopped and looked closely, those foreign objects would quickly morph back into the natural objects they really were, but I kept seeing a constant stream of odd things out there in the woods, just outside the direct light from our headlamps. As I said, no need for drugs if you're on these trails long enough.

I started falling asleep on my feet as well. Every once in a while I would wake up by hitting a rock or a root with my feet. It seemed like my body was trying to use as little energy as it could to just keep walking and looking at the trail in front of my feet, shutting down everything else. I had experienced sleep-walking in the army, where we actually went for miles and miles while hanging on to a buddy's backpack. That worked really well then, but walking completely asleep on the rocky trail without having something to hang on to would surely result in face-planting on the trail, so at the next crew stop, I decided to lay down for 15 minutes.

We had discussed the procedure for sleeping beforehand and it worked beautifully. I would arrive and eat something (so I could digest while sleeping), instruct the crew how many minutes I wanted to sleep (a number between 0 and 20) and lay down in a soft and warm sleeping bag on the side of the road. Not having to worry that the crew would forget or, worse, feel bad for me and let me sleep longer (this is why it is good that my wife does not actually crew for me!), I could completely relax and get some deep sleep instantly.

I woke up, had some coffee, and soon Rory and I were charging down the trail again. It was amazing how much of a difference those 15 minutes made. I also think it is better to take a few short breaks instead of sleeping for several hours. In the short (15 minute or so) breaks, your body does not have a chance to get too stiff and it is not so hard to get moving again.

On this section, we saw the most wildlife, too. We had to jump out of the way of a charging porcupine and we had to make some detours to get out of the way for some very freaky-looking spiders that had woven a web right across the trail. I had never seen spiders like that before--it felt like they came right out of the Shelob's Lair!

Even though we were moving well on this section, it took forever to make it to Brockway Summit. It started getting light by the time we got there, which helped a lot. Gretchen was waiting patiently at the trailhead for me, ready to pace me to Tahoe Meadows (Mount Rose). I decided to take another 12-minute nap before heading up to the dreaded Relay Peak.

Section 6--"Top of the World" (Brockway Summit to Tahoe Meadows, Miles 110.4-139.4)

The first 14 of the next 19 miles would all be uphill to get to the summit of the highest peak around Lake Tahoe--Relay Peak. Would I get more altitude sickness or would I have been acclimatized on-the-go? The last few major passes did not pose any problems, but this one would be the ultimate test.

Fortunately, Gretchen had offered to pace me on this section. Gretchen is a school teacher and a local (Truckee-area) ultra runner with an impressive running and hiking resume: A PCT thru-hike, a win at the Tahoe Triple, A third place overall in the 2007 series, and most recently a great (6th place female) finish in the TRT 100-miler. One thing was for certain: at least she was going to make it to the next Trailhead!

With Gretchen close to Martis Peak Road

The crew could access the trail in two more spots right off of Martis Peak Road--one at 2.2 miles and one at 4.4 miles from the trailhead. A four-wheel drive vehicle is definitely recommended for these access points. I felt a little nauseous again just before we got to the 4.4 mile stop and sat down there for just a little bit. I ate some papaya enzyme tablets and drank some water with fennel drops and that worked really well to get the stomach under control again.

That was the last time we would see the crew for 15 miles, so I grabbed my CamelBak again, because we would need quite a bit of water to make it through the next 15 miles. It started getting hot again, but this time we were prepared with sunscreen.

Gretchen and I chatted about upcoming running plans as we kept hiking up towards Relay Peak. The only problem was that we could not actually see Relay Peak. We kept winding around mountain after mountain and in the end we almost started to wonder if Relay Peak really existed!

We passed a hiker and when he asked, I told him we had come from Kingsbury Grade. He passed us again later and we talked a little more until it dawned on him that we had come from Kingsbury Grade and not Kings Beach, which he had just assumed earlier! and then, out of all possible questions, he asked Gretchen "So, where did you park you car?" Classic!

Finally we came around a corner and the elusive Relay Peak came into sight. The last switchbacks seemed to take forever, and it seemed like it was taking a half mile to climb just thirty or forty feet. It was sure tempting to just cut the switchbacks, but then again, I did not want to have an asterisk next to my name in the official TRT associaton's archives as follows:

Lubbers -- 57:54:00*

* became impatient and cut a switchback close to Relay Peak

So, we walked all the switchbacks and had fun doing it. We took some pictures at the top and then headed down. Hey, it was all downhill from here! As soon as we crested the mountain peak, the long downhill came into view. What a beauty! The downhill was a long, steep gravel road. We could make up some serious time here. We ran down fast and only walked a few small uphill sections and within an hour we had the trailhead in sight.

Thunder Clouds Start Forming Above Mount Rose

We had estimated our fastest possible time for this section to be 6.5 hours, but we ran the five-mile downhill in just over an hour and we pulled into the Tahoe Meadows trailhead in exactly 6 hours. The crew had not even arrived yet, but by the time I sat down and had a sandwich, they showed up. I was a little under my ideal weight (179 pounds), so I ate and drank while we were making preparations for the next section.

Since Michael Popov could not pace me on this section anymore, Troy had decided to step it up and pace me for this section as well as the last one, totaling roughly 40 miles of pacing in one go! Thanks a lot, Troy! Troy's wife made some great iced Hibiscus tea that really hit the spot. I drank two large cups of that, which also helped increse my weight again.

Thanks, Gretchen!

Section 7--"Memories" (Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit, Miles 139.4-152.5)

Taking Off with Troy--40 miles to Go

The weather was changing as we were heading out, with storm clouds gathering over the top of Snow Valley Peak (the peak we just happened to be heading towards). Someone suggested taking some rain jackets and that was another golden tip, because it was still very warm at the time. Boy, were we glad we had the wind-breakers when we needed them a few hours later! We also grabbed a few headlamps, for the end of the section, which we estimated to be in the dark, around 10 p.m.

Tahoe Meadows

This was, of course, the section of the trail I knew best, from all the TRT Endurance Runs I had run here over the last 4 years. In a way that was great, but in another way, knowing exactly what lay ahead (the climb to Snow Valley Peak, for example) was a bit daunting. Certainly the course brought back a lot of memories of the time I ran and walked the TRT 100-miler here.

We left light, with some water bottles and an empty backpack, because we were counting on refilling our water supply at Tunnel Creek (mile 9), with the water that Grant and Marie had dropped off there. As planned, we reached Tunnel Creek in exactly two hours, because it was mostly downhill and we found the 2 gallons of water behind the rock we had agreed upon

With Troy at the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead

Troy and I took a short break, almost went down the Red House Loop, and started heading up the familiar switchbacks. They still had that taste of hell, but I remember walking this section at the end of the 100-miler with Alan Geraldi, and it sure felt a lot harder then. I am not sure why. In fact, I am still sort of amazed that were able to really powerwalk the uphills and fly down the downhills all the way to the end. Certainly the 100-miler on this course felt harder than this 168-miler. Probably a combination of an extra year's worth of training and all the support I had.

Troy really pushed it on the uphills and I could hardly speak more than a few words at a time as we headed for Snow Valley peak. We finally reached the top of the hill and started our long descent to Spooner Summit. It was during this section, that I started figuring out possible finish times and after about 20 minutes of slow calculations that must have driven Troy mad, I figured that a sub-58 time was a possibilty if we kept pushing hard and did not take a very long break at Spooner Summit.

We estimated that we could run the section from Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit in 6.5 hours, and once again we beat our best estimate by half an hour, despite a very confusing last 30 minutes in which I was sure we were going around in circles. Troy knew better though, but that did not stop me from stacking some big rocks on top of eachother, just in case we would be coming through the same spot later again.

This time the crew was already waiting for us at the trailhead. And they had brought sushi! The California rolls really tasted great and I'll be bringing some of those to future endurance runs!

Section 8--"Bringing it Home" (Spooner Summit to Kingsbury Grade, Miles 152.5-168)

As planned, we did not wait very long at this rest stop, and left at 9:42. Over the last few hours we had started discussing possible end times and based on our estimate, we might be able to break 58 hours if we pushed hard and finished the next section in roughly 4 hours and then finish the final 1.8-mile downhill section to Kingsbury Grade in less than 20 minutes.

Troy and Zimfira

I had picked out the finish at Kingsbury Grade with the specific idea of a long downhill finish in mind. In case a record, or as it turned out in this case, a certain desired finish time, would be close, I would have a downhill course to actually make it a reality.

This section featured a steep climb and then a mostly downhill second half. The uphill was definitely a long and steady climb, but the downhill seemed to consist of more uphill than I remembered from when I ran it last year, probably, because it was dark. We kept moving forward steadily and eventually made it to the peak. It was dark, but you could see lots of lights along the Tahoe Shore. We did not sit down to enjoy the beautiful vistas, because it was freezing cold and we could not wait to get below the treeline again.

Once we got off the wind-swept peak, we sat down for a quick drink. Troy had brought some Starbucks doubleshot iced espresso drinks for the last miles. Troy asked me some questions about the time and I started talking incoherently about what some of Rocky's friends were saying about soccer. Realizing I was not making any sense, I woke up and finished off the coffee. Time to get moving again!

Troy and I were winding our way through the forest in the dark and once it was past 1:30 a.m., my hope of making it under 58 hours started dwindling. We kept pushing though, because I knew I could really hammer out those last two miles. There were no landmarks that would indicate that we were close though, so we just kept winding around corner after corner, jumping over rocks and going up and down endlessly. The end was in sight though (although not literally), so we would not let up. And then, finally, we reached the trailhead.

As we emerged from the woods, Chris told me it was exactly 1.8 miles to the finish. It was 1:42, so there was still hope. A surge of energy rushed through my body, I felt strong and unstoppable. I charged down the road. No doubt I could have run another 100 miles if needed (don't get me wrong, I was happy to be finished!). All I could hear was my breathing and my footsteps on the quiet asphalt road, I was running as if I was running a 10K.

Rory drove up from behind and I handed him my jacket, one of my lights, and my water bottle and continued to run. I took a right at North Benjamin Drive, but it turned out to be the wrong turn or maybe the sign was turned around. I quickly doubled back and followed the road that I had been on earlier. Fortunately that was the correct one.

NO, North Benjamin!

Troy ran right behind me and we hit the last uphill section. Any sort of uphill had slowed me down to a walk for the last 100 miles, but not this one. felt like I was flying and continued to look at my own body in amazement--I had found another range of gears and I was running on auto-pilot. It was an amazing experience! It felt beyond limits, like I was directly tapping into a huge reservoir of energy that is hidden deep inside all of us.

The Finish!

I arrived at the corner where I had left on Friday afternoon at exactly 1:54:00, good for an overall time of 57:54:00. We easily broke 58 hours in the end, but it felt great to have to work hard towards that goal for the last 6 hours of the run.

Rory had brought a bottle of Champagne and we all passed it around. A few cars passed by and they must have wondered what we were doing there. The crew had brought some pizzas, too, and they disappeared very quickly.


Rebecca handed me an "official" Rim Trail Certificate, complete with the signatures from all the pacers and crew members that were present. A very nice touch! And, I am now finally an official member of the TRT 165-mile club as well.

Instead of staying overnight, Chris decided to drive us home. Rebecca had made a makeshift bed out of blankets and sleeping bags in the back of the XTerra and after saying goodbye to everyone, I quickly fell asleep on the way home.

The Start and Finish

What a great run! It was a life-changing, magical 57 hours and 54 minutes; truly something I'll never forget. Thanks for everyone that helped out!

Special Thanks!
I want to thank the following people for all their help making this dream become a reality:

  • Chris and Rebecca--for tirelessly waiting and getting me back on the road in the fastest possible time!
  • Rory Fuerst--for pacing me numerous times through some of the darkest sections, for the surprise plate of nachos, the champagne at the finish, and all the help you gave to the crew as well!
  • Frank Plucker--for pacing me through the toughest section that normally takes people 2 or 3 days, in just 12 hours!
  • Gretchen Brugman--For readjusting her schedule constantly to come out and pace me over the highest mountain around the lake--Relay Peak!
  • Troy McNeall--For pacing and pushing me the last 40 miles to the finish!
  • Michael Kanning--for the live blogcast on race weekend!
  • Vicky, Sean, and Rocky--My support crew at home--coming back home to you guys after this event was the best! And thanks so much for the iPod Shuffle, even though I did not break the record!
  • Aaron Sorenson and Michael Popov--for coming out and being ready to pace me. Sorry I did not make it in time guys!
  • You--(you know who you are) for sending positive vibes my way during the race

Trash Update
As I mentioned before, my plan was to pick up any litter I would come across. I am happy to day that it was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated! In the entire run, I only found the following seven pieces of litter:

  • 2 Gu packet tops (vanilla bean)
  • 1 Powergel packet top (vanilla)
  • 2 reflectors
  • 1 piece of metal
  • 1 piece of paper
  • a leaf that looked like a piece of paper

One thing to take away from this is that gel packets should be redesigned in a similar way that soda cans were reengineered years ago to not produce any trash. Cliff gel packets are using the greener "litter leash" system, but I still find myself ripping the entire top off of those gels as well, so there is room for improvement.

Trash Count (168 miles worth!)

Next Up: A little recovery first. Actually, I already ran the Ghidotti Phoenix 5K Run on Saturday and placed fourth overall! In a week or so, it's time to start training for the Tahoe Super Triple at the end of September. A lap around the lake on the road almost looks almost too easy now ;-)


Rajeev said...

Oh my gosh!! What a fantastic report of the most wonderful journey ever.

You are so right - your new found joy in running for the sake of running comes through so clearly in the report. Good for you.

What an achievement. I am so proud of you.


ultrastevep said...

Great job, Peter! Congratulations!

WSG Steve

kelly said...

Congrats Peter on joining the TRT 168 mile club! I loved your report and enjoyed all the pics. It sounds like quite an adventure. Great job at keeping fueled. I know how hard that can be. You must feel really good about your accomplishment. You will never forget this journey. Isn't it nice to have a blog to log everything? Rest up, my friend!

Sean Lang said...

Congrats Peter! That is a huge accomplishment!


Norma Bastidas said...

WOW. I loved your report. You made me feel like it was me that run it! What an amazing and inspiring adventure... I bow before you

Cheers and rest up, you deserve it


Anonymous said...

Great job!

"I was out there running for the pure joy of running and testing my own limits--not someone else's, letting the numbers take care of themselves."

I need to get that tattooed on my forehead... Thanks for the great reminder!

WSG Chris

Anonymous said...

Nice report and pics Peter......I'm so happy that you finished, that alone is significant for a trail of that distance.

Did you track total elevation on the trail?

Dave Jr. (the jackel)

Catherine said...

Great job Peter! It was a lot of fun reading about your incredible adventure. What a great way to finish up the run: middle of the night, racing to the finish and friends on a runners "high". Congratulations.

joan carter said...

great story, pete! congratulations on an amazing accomplishment!

Will said...

Dude. You're nuts. Congratulations are in order. Rock it!

olga said...

Peter, holy cow, 57 hrs!!! That's a whole different world of adventure! People are the greatest, ain't they? And so little trash? And you rock!!! Not to mention, it took me 57 hrs to read the report:)

Gretchen said...

Awesome write-up Peter--I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. :) Congrats again on an amazing accomplishment! I was so excited to get to be a part of it. It was great to get to do a section of the TRT I had never done before, and do it with a friend!
Hope recovery went well, and good luck at the super triple!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I thought I'd go through this again (could only read it in snippets last year) for inspiration and to make sure I don't wuss out, since this blows away what I'm about to do (although maybe it's easier to run with every changing scenery). Amazing job again! (And how the hell did you crank this report out so fast?)

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