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July 19th, 2003 – Tahoe Rim Trail

June 5, 2009

So, first, the quick points:  A) I survived and B) I completed the 50K (31.X miles).

Starting last Friday (July 11th), I headed out to the airport for a fairly easy trip home on American Airlines, with a stopover in St. Louis.  Well, Murphy made his presence known early – a problem with the engine and (according to the first mate) an unwillingness to call up a replacement aircraft caused a delay of about three hours getting out of Chicago.  Well, the fine folks at American (and I will stand by them throughout this!) managed to get me a seat on a direct flight to Springfield, Missouri on United – only, United didn’t see it at the gate, and so I’d have to wait through customer service – impossible since, wouldn’t ya know, United had just cancelled two flights and there were a buttload of people waiting ahead of me.  (I measured, it was exactly one buttload, like 1.00 buttloads).  So I ran back to my American gate (it’s a great thing that I’m fleet of foot) and eventually tracked the delayed flight down (after they changed gates to make way for some aircraft that, novelly, worked.)  So I get into St. Louis and head to the Howard Johnson’s, and get ready to take the 7:25 AM flight into Springfield the next morning.  Which was rather uneventful, ad there were MAYBE 13 people on the flight.

Yes, this is a running update – I’m just prefacing.  The GF and I eventually meet up in Dallas/Fort Worth and get so busy chatting we don’t hear them announce that our plane was boarding.  Fortunately, we noticed and hopped onto the plane, which managed to leave more or less on time.  We arrive in Reno, I grab my car (Mitsubishi Lancer, a pretty nice ride, though I’d definitely have preferred a bit more power in the mountains!), and we’re off to Tahoe.

For those of you who haven’t visited Tahoe, I have but one thing to say: Why not?  Seriously, this is about as beautiful a place as there is in North America, and it always amazes you, driving over the high passes you have to negotiate to see this huge, cold blue body of water at 6,600 feet above sea level, surrounded by 9000 to 10000 foot peaks in all directions. 22 miles tall by 14 miles wide, it is the largest subalpine lake in the continental United States.

OK, so, there are a lot of tourists and the traffic can be relatively brutal, especially when they’re doing road construction (which we ran into plenty of! However, the area is a haven for mountain bikers, extreme sports enthusiasts and, of course, ultra runners and trail runners.

Of course, any ultra isn’t complete without a little bit of foreshadowing, and this ultra was no different. Tuesday night, while playing Peek-a-boo (to no real discernible effect) with our dog Curly, I hopped on the stairs and actually twisted my right ankle.  Youch!  It was tender on Wednesday and Thursday, and I brought extra wrap with me – just in case my ankle went out. Fortunately, I had already done my middle of the week long run on the undulating backroads behind my grandparents’ house north of Branson (which had some truly brutal uphills!)

So we hit a nice little place in Zephyr Cove on the east side of the lake to have dinner and watch the sun set over the western peaks and feel pretty good about making it out here intact (and finding that Francis Ford Coppola’s merlot is WONDERFUL, btw).  We make our way to California, get checked in a block away from the Harrah’s at the state line.  The next morning finds us breakfasting in Heidi’s, a small chain of alpine-themed restaurants in Nevada and South Lake Tahoe, which has good coffee, great eggs and an alpine waffle that might make your eyes roll back in your head in delight.  We toodle around Tahoe, working our way around the lake, taking in some incredibly scenic vistas, and even climb up to Squaw Valley, where a very nice guy points us to where the Western States 100 Mile Run begins.  Of course I pose for an ob shot at the start of this run, and even run the first 100 yards or so.  Someday.  We then keep meandering, hitting Ponderosa (one word:  DON’T! This is a be-musement park (not an a-musement park) where they phone everything in.  Nevada knows more about tourism than pushing THIS tripe off as entertainment!) and eventually meeting the fine folks who are putting on the race and pick up my race packet.  I am delighted to duplicate a race number (309, same as Carl Touchstone) and a GREAT piece of ultrarunning schwag:  a fleece vest with the Tahoe Rim Trail insignia along with the race logo.  It’s a testament to the hard work of the Tahoe Mountain Milers (the club that hosts this event) and all of the other volunteers that they don’t only raise money for The Tahoe Rim Trail and the Nevada Parks Department, but also provide some solid running gear!

So, we go grab dinner at a pizza place (that had a non-functional cash drawer, for some reason – and, despite many employees beating on it, it refused to open.  “If the only tool you have is a hammer…”)  We then head off to get an early night’s sleep, for an early morning start. 4:45 AM, July 19th. 

Most people sleep in during vacation, but I drag the GF awake at this ungodly hour and we both quickly dress and get ready for our respective days.  We drive up and park – I had assumed the GF would head off for her respective hike, but she sticks by and decides to see me off.  It’s nearly dark when I arrive near the start for the race announcements, but it’s plenty light when they push us off to the start.  A couple hundred of us are gathered and we’re off just a hair past 6:00 AM by my watch.

Starts of ultras are always interesting, as most people who know each other stay together and chat for the first couple of miles.  I’m just minding my own pace and eventually start chatting with two people, Randy Johnson (possibly Johnston?) and Heidi Nielsson.  We chat for a few miles, and Randy falls off the pace.  Heidi and I continue to push, and pretty soon we find ourselves at Marlette Lake, then heading up further to the first aid station and, a mile later, our first truly outstanding views of the day – the view from the south side of Marlette Peak, right after sunrise, shows Tahoe at its finest – pristine blue water, snowcapped mountains on the southwest side of the lake in the Desolation wilderness, the inlet of Emerald Bay facing us, some 18 or so miles away.  On the top of the ridge, we see the Washoe basin and, with a view towards the south, can see the volcanic top of 10800 foot Job’s Sister and Freel Peak, the tallest peak around Tahoe’s rim.

We reach the second aid station at Tunnel Creek (after I do my normal fall – I swear, it’s a wonder I haven’t launched myself over a cliff yet!) and we are feeling pretty good.  I take the lead for a bit as a foot fracture has hampered Heidi’s downhill running – and what a downhill it is! Dropping from Tunnel Creek aid station at about 7900 feet, the 6.3 mile Red House Loop back to Tunnel Creek is called “a taste of hell” by the organizers – and it truly earns it.  Dropping to 6800 feet very quickly, the loop makes a somewhat level and uphill return before starting a leg-burning, oxygen-deprived ascent that I found more difficult than any peak I’ve ever bagged.  The heat of the day (somewhere in the 90s, even at the higher elevations) and the un-shadowed exposure of this mile uphill were way too much for my system – I started spewing my cookies, and my stomach shut down.

For the record, this is the first time my stomach has ever shut down on a run, and I contribute it to altitude and heat.  In retrospect, I should have came out a few days earlier and became acclimated before attempting this.  Oh well, live and learn!

I felt better after throwing up, of course, but I got back to the aid station and could just tell my stomach wasn’t going to allow me to actually digest anything.  What happens when your stomach shuts down?  Well, obviously, it means you’re not going to be able to replenish energy levels as you go, and you put yourself at severe risk of dehydration, especially if you’ve been throwing up.  It also means that anything you put in your stomach just stays there, so jogging at even a moderate pace just makes you nauseous, becaus you feel all the food sloshing around.

Heidi had ran ahead of me going up out of Red House, so I was a bit alarmed to find her at the aid station, looking very glassy eyed and spaced.  Like most people (I found out later), she too had had problems coming out of Red Rock – she became extremely dizzy and dropped to her knees (she reasoned, hey, if I’m gonna faint, I may as well be close to the ground!)  I drop from the 50 mile to the 50K (no way I’m putting myself on 19 miles of exposed ridge in this condition!) and we agree to keep each other company until the finish.

Going back from Tunnel Creek towards the finish was long and fairly nightmarish, at least for me.  Heidi was a bit spaced initially, but recovered from the dizziness only to start getting severe cramps in her muscles – walking became our mode of transportation, and we just started going from aid station to aid station.  The first one back was probably the worst – 5.0 miles with about 900 feet of elevation gain; followed by a climb up to about 9000 feet near the top of Snow Valley Peak; then the steady five mile, 1800 foot descent to Spooner Summit, and the 1.7 miles down to Spooner Lake. 

We both finish, and cross the line together, in like 9:25 – easily my slowest 50k, and slower than my best fifty miler!)  I totally miss the GF at the finish line – not because she’s not there, but because I just don’t see her.  I begin apologizing (man, I was feeling bad – and I just kept apologizing).  We walk back up to the top, I decide that the all you can eat burrito bar really won’t help much, and we get ready to head to the shuttle.  On the positive side, my ankle held out!

Well, after keeping my stomach together by sheer willpower for six hours, I lose control and start vomiting, again.  I get everything plus out of my system, and we hop in a shuttle and are transported by a very nice volunteer who had been taking pictures earlier.  Top notch, nifty person, like everyone else involved! We get back to the car and the GF drives, telling me about her day as we head back.  I manage to only vomit once in the rental car (umm, oops, my bad) and I can sense the GF is not only concerned, she’s also scared, as I’m also pretty glassy eyed at this point.  She gets me back to the hotel and, after even more vomiting and some SEVERE leg cramping, I start to get some rest.  (You all know my legs, so the cramps were pretty impressive – my right calf kept cramping VERy strangely – it looked like my calf muscle was concave!) The GF goes to the store for some food (including Black Butte Porter, my second favorite beer in the world!) but. more importantly: saltines, chicken/ramen noodles, and even chips and salsa.  Oh, MAN, the chips and salsa tasted great, but they hurt, what with all of the vomiting. I manage to keep the saltines and broth down and, after laying down for a half hour, even manage a few sips of beer.  Mmm.

A difficult evening of toe and other muscle cramps eventually sees morning (and me finishing my beloved Black Butte Porter!) I’m feeling a bit better and, despite a bit of nausea, manage to eat most of my breakfast at Heidi’s (the restaurant, not the runner’s).  Oddly enough, my legs are entirely fine!  I’m near one hundred percent by the time I reach the airport. Realizing I’ve been in Nevada (m/l) for four days without pulling a single slot, I throw a quarter in a one-armed bandit at the airport that has the word “Elvis” emblazoned on it for some reason.  I start to walk away and the GF points out that I won something. I quickly cash out all six quarters, and feel somehow relieved by the experience.

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