The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler was my first crack at a fifty-miler, and while I had done some all-day wilderness runs in the last year, I was a little gripped about stretching it out to fifty miles in a race setting. I had gotten a solid block of training in after The Canyons 50K, was feeling strong going into my taper, and had discussed my race plan in detail with my coach. I felt ready to rock on race day, but wasn’t it Confucius who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ?
My coach, Stephanie, had stressed two main things: take it “easy” the first twenty miles, and focus on nailing my fueling and hydration to set myself up for success on the second half of the race. I’ve been wearing a heart rate monitor the last two seasons and this makes it a lot easier for me to fine tune my effort. I’m a conservative starter by nature, and knew I just needed to respect this or I would get into trouble. For fueling and hydration, I set my watch to fifteen minute intervals. Salt on the 15 and 45, a gel at the top and bottom of the hour, and 10 oz of water every half hour.
I got to the starting line and saw Gretchen and J.P. The weather was overcast, cool, and rain looked like a reasonable possibility at some point that day. We exchanged high fives and soon enough we were off. I tried to note where I was place-wise early on, and I guessed I was in 25th combined place among both the 55K and 50 milers. J.P., Gretchen and I soon ended up in a loose pack and we ran together for the first five or so miles. The pace was comfortable at this point, but we were also still passing people occasionally. I went through Hobart AS quickly and on to Tunnel Creek AS, only grabbing new gels and water. It was pretty humid on the Red House Loop (for the Sierra, at least) and one of my calves started to feel a little grabby. Doh! Kinda early for that. I throttled back just a touch and took an extra salt and it resolved itself. I knew I needed to feel fresh the second time through Tunnel Creek, and I felt like I was starting to settle into a groove. Another quick refill for water and gels, and I was out.
I moved across the TRT and eventually arrived at The Bull Wheel AS, where I quickly resupplied and also saw Jenelle who sounded great and looked like she was moving well. Across to the Tyrolean Downhill and down to the Diamond Peak AS. I had never been to Diamond Peak during the race and was kind of surprised by what a zoo it was. My wife, Sarah, and Pete B. had my drop bag and got me in and out super quickly. You guys rock! I was feeling really good at this point and somewhat surprised that I had already run thirty miles. Pete told me the DP Climb would be the hardest part of my day so I packed some ice in my Buffs and began the grunt up the hill. It was time to start pushing. I generally like this climb but it’s a different animal on tired legs. I put in a honest effort up this climb and French stepped quite a bit of it in an effort to save my calves. The carnage on this climb was quite a spectacle. Lots of puking and people mumbling to themselves in what shade they could find.
I made it back to The Bull Wheel, did a quick resupply and kept moving back towards Tunnel Creek. When I left Tunnel Creek, I noticed a pack of three guys a minute or so behind me. Two had white wristbands and one guy who was wearing a camo shirt didn’t. From what I had observed that day, white wrist band meant 100 miler. No wrist band meant 55K or 50 Miler. This guy looked to be moving too quickly to be a 55K racer. Our glances met and I knew it was on like Donkey Kong. No one likes being hunted but in hindsight I’m glad Cameron was back there trying to chase me down. I had been moving at an honest pace, but having him back there made me push a little harder. I widened the gap between us a little on the rolling terrain from Tunnel to Hobart but knew I needed to punch it the last ten miles or so. The steep climb up to Snow Valley Peak suits me well, and the fact that it was covered with acres and acres of purple lupine put a huge smile on my face.
I rolled into Snow Valley AS, got a caffeine gel down my throat, refilled water and did my best to absolutely haul ass to the finish line. I knew Cameron was back there somewhere but I also wanted to be done. I was feeling really good. Almost too good. This race was unfolding smooth as silk for me and I felt like it was only a matter of time before Mike Tyson popped out of the brush, landed a devastating jab/upper cut combo which would knock all the teeth out of my head and KO me for the day. So I took off for the finish line like my hair was on fire.
I was looking for fifty milers on the descent but also looking over my shoulder for Cameron. I forgot how runnable this section of the course is, and it was nice to fly and not have to worry about too much techy terrain. In the lead up to the race, I had somewhat secretly set goals for myself of 9h 30m and top ten overall. I knew I was on track for close to 9h 30m but didn’t have any idea what place I was in all day. I crossed the line in 9h 33m which was good enough for eighth overall. My split from Snow Valley AS to the Finish Line was either the fastest or second fastest in the fifty mile field. (Winner, Bob Shebest, doesn’t have a split listed for this section.)
Grateful is the first word that comes to mind a few days after this race. Sure, I put in my work, had a good plan, executed on it, etc. etc. etc. But I think it was just one of those days, too. One of those days when everything just falls into place. The best way I can think of to describe the experience is that running on those trails in that race on that day was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Call it “in the zone”, or a “flow state”, whatever you want, but it was pretty special and an experience I won’t ever forget.