This was my third “longer” race this season. To recap my plan for 2018 was to run some races longer than around the 50k (31mi) distance. I started the year at the Black Canyon 100k with a “test” of this longer distance and then gave it my all in the Silver State 50mi, only to lead until mile 45 and then ending in 3rd place. The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 was to be my final “A” race of the season.
Last year I ran the TRT 55k and got the win in what was probably my best executed race up to that date. I love the course and the entire venue is top notch. It really is a great race in a great location. After that race I felt pretty confident in my ability to manage hydration and nutrition and finish pretty strong. This is what led me to want to run further and test my hydration/nutrition equation at longer distances.
Leading up to this race I was not to strict with my training since I knew I had all the racing and long runs from earlier in the season under my belt. I mostly wanted to feel healthy going into it. I ran the Ruby Crest Trail in an FKT attempt in June and got a few big mountain long runs in after that. In my opinion this was the best type of training. It was high altitude with long climbs for a long period of time. I felt pretty good and focused on moving quickly up terrain that was borderline hike/run. I learned that for me, if I can still “run” the really steep climbs that I was faster over a long climb and my legs were less fatigued than if I hiked. I know this sounds crazy but hiking very steep trails seem to really stress and tire my hamstrings and calves. With this idea of continuing to push these long steep sections I was ready for TRT.
Anyways back to TRT. Friday was packet pickup Carson City. I got out of work early, jumped in the camper van and headed to Nevada’s capital city as my family left to go to the grandparent’s cabin. I wasn’t excited about heading to the race at Tahoe without my family but knew I would get much needed sleep before the race the following day. I picked up my packet and headed to the lake. George Ruiz the Race Director let me know about a dirt lot in the forest about 1 mile from the race start. It turned out to be a nice quiet place to camp. There were a few other groups of racers there but it was really nice. I even snuck out for a hike up to one of the nearby peaks and watched the sunset over Tahoe. I ate my usual brocoli, pasta and chicken breast before going to sleep.
The following morning I woke up at breakfast and drank my coffee while writing Bob Shebest’s 2015 50 mi splits on my forearm. He had the second fastest time on the course and I wanted to run close to his splits. I could tell he went out super fast in the first half so I wasn’t going to hit those splits but wanted to see where I was later on in the race in comparison.
I rolled up the start with less than 10 minutes to get checked in and get back to the start line. The place was packed and This land is Our Land was blasting over the speakers. I didn’t feel nervous at all as I rarely do anymore at race starts. I always know I will be out there for a very long time and the first half is alway super fun. So I was actually pretty excited to run and race.
After greeting several friends the race started and off we went climbing toward Marlette Lake. Up front was my friend Jeff Limpert and I with Bob Shebest right behind us. I was feeling really good early on and was probably chatting Bob and Jeff’s ears off. Right from the beginning I went straight to drinking. In my mind the most important factor I focus on is now eating and drinking. I once heard someone say that ultra races are simply eating contests that take place over long distances. I’ve seen some of the most fit runners ruin their races like Thelma and Louis driving their cars off a climb. On paper they should be the fastest but if you don’t eat and drink properly your race will not end well.
As we hit the first aid station I was the only one I saw to fill my water bottles and the volunteers looked at me and said “We can see who the 50mi runner is” Jeff and Bob were both running the 50k. As we climbed up to Marlette peak fellow 50 miler Joe Toth surprisingly came up behind me in a rainbow tutu and sleeveless flannel. I figured he must have been pushing pretty hard as I hadn’t seen him earlier when I looked back. Kudos for Joe and the great outfit.
We hit the Tunnel Creek aid station all together still. I was really trying to hold back and told myself not to bomb the downhills too hard. I wanted to save my legs and this strategy seemed to work well. Bob was a bit ahead now as Jeff and I crossed the stagnant water on the Red House loop. This would be the last time I saw Jeff as he would eventually take a left at Tunnel Creek for the 55k and I head towards Diamond Peak for the 50mi. There are two fairly steep yet short climbs at the middle and end of the Red House Loop. Most people would hike these but I felt really comfortable doing a quick cadence short stride run up them.
Heading out to Diamond Peak is about 10 miles of a gradual uphill on the Rim trail which is quite enjoyable to run and then a long dusty and windy descent to Diamond Peak aid station. I was well in the lead at this point but I could feel the temperatures creeping up and I knew it was going to be hot soon. I had already pulled my shirt off and was doing what I could to keep cool. Running shirtless has been another strategy I’ve learned to embrace. For me it really helps me stay cool as I can feel sweat evaporating the entire time. Now running with a shirt in hot conditions feel stuffy and unnecessary. As a side note I was not wearing a vest or carrying handhelds in this race. This is the first time I ran with a Naked running band with soft flasks and I absolutely loved it. With my shirt off and nothing in my hands I felt free and cool throughout the race.
On the descent to the Diamond Peak aid station I continued to try to move quickly and light as descended without pounding my legs too much. I continued to pass 100 mile racers who had started earlier than us 50 milers and I could tell I was starting to get to the faster group of runners. They would look startled and almost competitive as I rolled up behind them but the first thing I let them know was that I was a 50 miler and not a 100 miler and that seemed to brighten their spirits. I was surprised how many seemed like they were already “racing” and they were only 30 miles into their 100 mile race.
At the Diamond Peak aid station I picked up my drop bag. In it was only 7 gels. I usually don’t have drop bags but I didn’t like the gels being offered at the aid stations so I brought my own VFUEL gels. After restocking my running belt and declined the kids hosing runners down I started the climb out of Diamond Peak. This climb is infamous and for good reason. It is straight up. I ran as much as I possibly could but eventually gave way to the dreaded ultra hike. I tried to keep the pace quick out of this climb despite the now directly overhead sun and no breeze. I eventually crested the rim trail. I refilled my water bottles, took a deep breath and pushed on. I knew the next section was slightly downhill to the next aid station and I wanted to reset mentally and physically after that steep hot climb.
To me, this is where the race started, mile 30. This is where fatigue starts to really set in, where stomachs begin to turn and where the temperature was the hottest. I felt good and was ready to fight. As I ran back to Tunnel Creek aid station for the third and final time I felt great and was moving quick. I saw a lot of familiar faces on this section who were heading out on the 50 miler. Everyone was super energetic. People were cheering, clapping, high fiving, etc. This was really uplifting and confirmed to me what an awesome group of people ultra runners are. No one was so competitive or into themselves that they couldn’t cheer on fellow runners. I tried to do the same to every person I saw and make a positive impression on each runner as most were doing for me.
As I came into Tunnel Creek I knew some friends would be there but there was a large crowd all helping me get what I needed and out the other side as quickly as possible. I saw Brian and his son, Luis, Jess, Heidy, Andy, and many others. I shot out of there pumped for the two final climbs to Snow Valley Peak. On the climb out of Tunnel Creek I had blown up bad the first time I ran the 55k several years ago. I put a lid on the flashbacks from haunting me in this section and tried to run the whole climb with as little hiking as possible. As I crested the top of the first of the last two climbs I could feel my lungs aching. I have had exercise induced asthma in the past during hard efforts and I hoped it wouldn’t hit me again despite the smokey haze in the air. I even had to drop from Castle Peak 100k in similar conditions.
In the Hobart aid station I refilled my water bottles again and a volunteer offered to spray me down with sunscreen. I first denied them and then on second thought I probably should take it. I had sunscreened myself before the race but who knows how good of a job I did, lol!
The last climb up to Snow Valley peak was hard and my lungs were aching. I continued to run almost all of it except for the very steep sections. I knew the final 6 mile descent was coming up and that my climbing would be done shortly so I pushed on. Throughout the race I had been trying to look at my splits compared to Bob’s 2015 run. It was hard as the ink on my forearm was fading from sweat but I could tell was ahead of Bob’s time. I had started to look at the course record and trying to calculate if that was in reach. My goal was never to go for the course record but now I kind of wish I had thought about it earlier on.
As I came into Snow Valley peak aid station my time was about 6:59 with over six miles to go and the course record was 7:52. These are rough estimates but I think I would have had to run under 8min mile pace to get the course record. Normally this would be pretty easy but after 45 miles and it being really hot now I knew it would be hard. My main goal was to get the win. I wasn’t going to push too hard because even though it was only six miles and I didn’t know where 2nd place was I didn’t want to blow up and ruin my race. I simply proceed trying to move quickly and efficiently.
The descent to the finish went smooth. I felt as good as one could but wasn’t anywhere near my time for this section in last year’s 55k. I was feeling happy and confident that no-one would catch me at this point and I simply tried to seize the moment and acknowledge how good I feel at the end of my first 50 mile win. I looked back on some long stretches of the race but I somehow knew no-one would be around.
As I rounded the last corner still in the trees I stopped to put my shirt on before proceeding through the finish. None of my friends were there and George the race director was just arriving. I sat and caught my breath as everyone offered drinks, etc. George presented me with the awesome custom awards. We took some photos and chatted a bit before I staggered out the back of the tent for a tasty burrito and beer. My time was 7:58:04 making me the only other person besides Thomas Reiss to run under 8 hours. I was six minutes off the course record.
I think my take away is a reconfirmation that hydration and nutrition are paramount variables in the race equation. I’ve learned this over the years and it continually gets reaffirmed with each race. My strategy that I tell everyone is to drink 16-32oz of water in between each aid station and eat a gel every 30-40min. This has worked perfectly for me and I’m convinced it can for most everyone. I personally try to avoid electrolyte drinks like tailwind, etc. as I think it is harder to manage hydration and nutrition independently. By breaking up drinking by aid station the only thing you have to think about is to empty your bottles before the next aid station. By eating a gel every 1/2+ hour you just look at your watch and add 30 minutes to know when to take the next. All this frees up your thinking which can become quite confused in the middle of race. This makes your plan easy to execute. Also, getting a lot of sleep the night before and leading up to the race has turned out to be crucial for me.
Here is the race on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1719069209