Okay I admit it. I made a huge mistake. I told complete strangers that I was running a 200 mile race…
It all started a few months earlier when I went to our bimonthly community orchestra practice. Our lead cellist had just been diagnosed with probable terminal cancer. He was still in shock and told each of us separately as we were entering the room. Orchestra practice was very melancholy that evening. I had so many thoughts, mostly of my mother, swimming around my head, I just couldn’t focus. Later that night when I got home I took the plunge and entered the Tahoe 200.
It seemed to serve many purposes: to challenge myself to enjoy a race, to decompress from Burning Man and to finally find the meaning of life. It all made so much sense.
So I sought out advice, although much of it was conflicting:
“Have a big crew” “Have lots of pacers” “Run solo” “Sleep only when tired” “Sleep every night” “Sleep during the day” “Sit down and enjoy your meals” “Beware the chair” “Eat only on the uphills” “Run barefoot” “Run in Altras” “Run with the other runners” “Run your own race” “ Swim in all the lakes” “Use trekking poles” “Don’t use trekking poles because you need your hands” “Have a shot of pickle juice at every aid station” “Have a shot of whiskey at every aid station” “Dance at every opportunity” “Never turn down an offer for bacon”, etc.
The most exciting part was that this would be a whole new experience for me. It would be like running my first 100 all over again, every mile past 100 uncharted territory. But how to train for this thing? Why not adapt my 100 mile training (which was adapted from my previous life of road marathons). So it should be simple: once a week progressively longer tempo runs; once a week progressively longer long-runs. Everything else would be very short, slow, easy recovery runs. I also forced myself to use trekking poles and got my long runs up to 15 hours. By the way, I never count miles (unless I’m in a race). I go by hours, and I only use a regular stopwatch, a Casio, nothing fancy. My tempo runs are a perceived effort.
The 15 hour runs gave me huge confidence, and I needed it. Then, for some unknown reason, I started telling people about the race. The more people I told about the race the more I believed it. But there was always that one nagging question: “When do you sleep?” Every single time I told someone about the race they would ask the same thing- “So when do you sleep?” And I would respond the same- “I’ll sleep when I get tired.”
Some of Race Director Candice Burt’s best qualities are that she is thorough, practical, organized and calm. All runners had tracking devices, the aid stations were well stocked with both fresh-cooked comfort food and easy-to-grab prepackaged food. There were water drops just when you needed them and well trained medical staff seemingly everywhere. The course was well marked and the whole route could be uploaded to your phone in case of course vandalism. You could have drop bags at most aid stations which also doubled as sleep stations. And my favorite part: the race started at a leisurely 9am!
So, because this is not a race report, I don’t want to bore you with how my race went. It was 205.5 miles after all. Maybe I can break it down another way.
Goal #1 was to enjoy my race. So I went out easy. I actually talked to people. I ate cooked food at all but 2 aid stations. I was paced by my daughter Ruby for 25 miles and by Christian Stockle (whom I’d only met 2 weeks prior) for 17 miles. At one point I actually took off my shoes and socks and sat in a creek. On the second night I even took a well deserved 2 hour nap.
Goal #2 was to decompress from Burning Man. Burning Man is my most stressful event of the year, mainly because I create installation art for an uncontrollable outdoor environment. There is very little precedent for the art I make- only what I’ve done before and what I’ve seen others do. Most other artists use a more permanent medium but I use paper mache and I allow the sun, wind and dust to help me create and dictate the style. A year’s worth of work could easily be blown to bits into the trash fence. So running 205 miles in the mountains around my favorite lake is my idea of taking control and seeing what I’m really made of.
Goal #3, find the meaning of life. Well, that’s a goal for every ultra. Every hour, every mile, I get closer and closer.