Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What it's like, runnin' 200.

Ah, Vanilla Ice.
Not mine


Anyway, after running sixteen 100-mile or 24-hour races, I ran my first 200-mile race. I hadn't planned on it for very long--it came about because Plain was canceled due to fire. The RD Candice Burt offered everyone who was registered for Plain a 50% discount into Tahoe 200, which is significant. I had to sign up by Sep. 1, and I was busy with a work trip to Kenya, but I decided on the Tahoe 200 over a solo trip up to Washington to run the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. I'm sure that would have been awesome too, and now that I have had my misperception corrected I definitely need to go do that someday. (For some reason I thought that the PCT covered some of the Wonderland, meaning I had already done some of it, but that's not the case.)

But not this week. This week I ran around Lake Tahoe. If you take the pavement, it's only 72 miles. (Meaning I have to bike that some weekend as a leisurely ride. Amy, you are on notice.) If you take the Tahoe Rim Trail, it's 165 miles. But since commercial events are not allowed in designated wilderness areas, the race must avoid Desolation and Mt. Rose wilderness areas. It goes west (outside) of Desolation, and west (inside) of Mt. Rose. With that, the race is over 200 miles. In the end, my watch read 208.

I arrived at the race start (Homewood, on the west shore) just in time for the 3PM race meeting. I sorted my drop bags, ate dinner on the shore, and got to sleep early, camping in the truck in the Homewood lot. The race started at 9AM Friday. I like that the start is not early, so you can definitely get enough sleep. Starting off on poor sleep would be a very unwise decision.

We started with a steep climb up the ski slopes that lasts for 3-4 miles. I hiked at my regular if slightly amped pace, and that put me in 4th position. I immediately started talking to people, and as I would find during the entirety of the race, people were really cool. Even more so than your average ultra, I've found my people at the crazier events (Euchre Bar, Me-Ow, etc.), half of whom seem to be living in their trucks, so George and I fit right in on a road trip in Alice. The first guy I talked to was a fellow Ex-Mo who had run at least two other 200s, and we talked about sleep during the race--he said he did catnaps along the trail, and had a hard time getting back into the habit of normal long sleeps after races. (Is it true that most animals take naps like cats and dogs, and humans are rare in their habit of one uninterrupted block? Did humans evolve napping, or did we go in caves and get a completely blacked out block?)

The first aid station was at Barker Pass at 7 miles. We got on the PCT southbound, but shortly got off it and onto the Rubicon jeep trail. This famous and well-traveled jeep route is pretty terrible for running. It's a pretty insane collection of granite boulders, which, thanks to the lack of rain, are surrounded by 4-6 inches of light, silty dirt that goes right into both your shoes and your lungs. The boulders make keeping a rhythm difficult, and we had to stop for a couple dozen 4-wheelers driving the route. Some were impressively built from scratch, and you don't see a rock crawling County Sheriff Jeep every day. Thanks to a member of the local 4-wheeler club who crawled out with a trailer, there was an aid station at 18 miles, right along the Rubicon. (Aside: my truck Alice has an immodest lift, so she is maybe capable of driving the trail, and I briefly considered driving the trail to volunteer at this aid station last year, but I would never want to put her through that. Breaking something is the norm when rock crawling.)

After the Rubicon, we circled around Loon Lake. It was the heat of the day, but I kept pace with Betsy Nye, who I knew by reputation. If I could hang with her the entire time, I would be doing awesome. I was trying to keep an average 4 mph pace, and didn't feel I was pushing myself too hard too early to achieve that. I had my first drop bag at Tell's Creek, mile 30.5. The socks I was wearing were too tight, so I made the mistake of switching into alternates, which ended up being too thin.


There was another burly 4-wheeler trail before the next aid station at Wright's Lake, mile 44. The awkward landings on boulders really started to make the arch of my left foot hurt. I started talking to Joel Gat, who has done 1500+ miles of multi-day adventure racing this summer, has multiple advanced degrees, and is about to open a brewpub in Flagstaff, so obviously he can tell a decent story.  Joel, Betsy, and I came into Wright's Lake just after dark.

Friday Night

Apparently I didn't stay at Wright's long. It felt long to me, since I ate a full veggie burger plus a couple cups of soup, but people tend to stay at aid stations in 200s for a really long time compared to 100s, even if they're not sleeping. I wasn't used to that, so I just did what I needed to do and left. At this point I was in 4th or 5th place. There was a long downhill paved section out of Wright's Lake, and I hate pavement so I wasn't planning on running, but I was caught by Suzanna Bon, who I'd met at Euchre Bar last year (and is apparently world class in 24-hour events and finishes first or second female in most races she runs, but certainly doesn't brag about it) and we started talking, so I ran to keep pace with her. She got a text message from her husband saying "Slow the fuck down!" and I agreed that we were probably going too fast, but it really didn't feel like I was pushing.

Skyler (a younger racer who had never even done a 100 before), Suzanna, and I descended from Wright's Lake, paralleled Highway 50 on the Pony Express trail, crossed the highway, and climbed to the Sierra-at-Tahoe aid station at 62.9. The pavement in this stretch was killing my feet, both the arch from the boxy fit of my Altra Lone Peaks, and the thin sock pushing the grit into my foot. Sierra-at-Tahoe was the first sleep aid station, with cots available for napping. I didn't avail myself of them; just ate a double veggie burger, bummed a pair of nice Darn Tough socks off Skyler, and took off in fourth place.

I had my second drop bag at mile 70, Housewife Hill. I changed into an older pair of Altra Olympus here, and that helped my feet a lot. This aid station was smaller--I had thought I might take a nap, but it wasn't equipped for it, so I kept going. Skyler and I played cat and mouse for the next few aid stations--I would spend less time at the aid station and leave first, they would pass me en route, and I'd catch them at the next one. The climb out of Housewife was huge (4,000'+), the largest climbing stretch between aid of the entire race. Skyler dropped me as the sky was getting light, and I sat down to rest a bit.

The sun was up, we connected with the TRT, and there were no other racers around me. It started getting really hot, and the miles to Armstrong Pass felt very long. By GPS I was at least 2 miles over the stated measurement before I actually got there (there may have been an e-mail about this in the day or two before the race; GPS is always off a bit, so I didn't commit it to memory, which was probably foolish.) All I remember is that it was really hot, and I finally pulled out my iPod and listened to the recent RadioLab about the hunting of exotic species (a colleague has said this episode was amazing and totally challenged her preconceptions after Cecil the lion. Definitely worth a listen, though I didn't find the argument entirely convincing--the main hunter seemed to think his way was the only way, but a lot of people are willing to pay money to just look at animals--seems like that could be just as effective a way to raise money for conservation as auctioning off rights to shoot them. But then, sure, if old male rhinos who can't breed anymore kill younger males, let people pay $350K to the park service in order to shoot them, and use that $350K to pay guards and protect the species. Seems OK by me, though I have no desire whatsoever to participate.)

Anyway, that section was hot. Did I mention that? Eric from Ultrarunnerpodcast was there at the aid station with his mist fan which felt amazing. It was a long climb back out of Armstrong Pass and smoke from a nearby fire (which one?) came in and hazed everything up pretty badly. We crossed over to the east side of the range looking down into Nevada, and I listened to a couple WTFpods before getting into Heavenly at mile 103.

My first 100 took me 32.5 hours, which is the slowest I've ever done a hundred. I don't think I had deliberately took it easy, so this was a little bit of a bummer. I had slowed down significantly after mile 70. I was vaguely shooting for 72 hours, and when I mentioned that to Joel, he said he was too, and hoping for roughly a 30-hour first hundred and a 40-hour second. I considered sleeping at Heavenly, but it was still light out, and I wanted to get to mile 120 because my friends Eric & Ginny were volunteering there and had George with them. So I trudged on.

Saturday Night

The climb out of Heavenly felt never-ending, and I was worried I was walking in circles. I took maybe 3 dirt naps, lying down just off the trail and sleeping until my body temperature fell and I woke up. It was always very easy to fall asleep like this, but I didn't sleep for more than 15-20 minutes. I got to Spooner Summit (mile 123.5) in the middle of the night, and was happy to see George. Eric & Ginny hooked me up and let me take a nap in their very comfortably decked out van, where I slept for one hour. I thought that Betsy Nye has passed me in this section, but like me, she took a nap off the trail, so I passed her back. In my nap at this station she pulled ahead for good. Being able to hang with her for 120 miles seems pretty good.

It was fun having George with me, but he wasn't any inappropriate advantage because I let him off leash and he went off on his own chasing stuff. The sun rose as I was  near Snow Valley Peak, with great views of Marlette Lake. I was lucky to not get thrown by some course markings that were vandalized--I ran into the volunteer who was fixing them, but I had already navigated the portion correctly, it seems. There was a long descent on the flume trail/Tunnel Creek Road, but I certainly wasn't running it fast, if at all. I ate yet another veggie burger at the Tunnel Creek aid station (mile 140.5), and then tackled the long, painful Lakeshore Boulevard bike path. (Holy cow, the mansions!) Walking on pavement at this point was killing me. We left pavement for an incredibly steep climb underneath a set of power lines, and then climbed most of the way up Martis Peak to reconnect with the Tahoe Rim Trail. I took one nap just shy of the peak of the climb, which felt good, but was a little regrettable when I realized I was so close to the summit.

On the descent I was caught by Joel, who was hanging on to Tamara and her pacer. I didn't want to let them pass me, so I sped up and kept pace without much problem, and we got to Brockway Summit together (mile 155.5). I'm sure George had another 20 miles in him, but I decided to leave him here with Ginny and Eric. I took my very first caffeine of the race at Brockway, Sunday evening. As usual, I left the aid station fairly quickly, but knew Joel and Tamara would eventually catch me, so I told them to blow the conductor's whistle when the train was passing so I could hop on. I took off pretty fast thanks to the caffeine, and got maybe 6 or 7 miles before they caught up, but then we formed a train that expanded to six briefly, and thanks to Tamara's pacer at the front, we managed to go all the way to the Tahoe City aid station (mile 175) without taking a break. Joel and I swapped hitch-hiking stories, but the extremely rocky last two miles of descent into Tahoe City was murderous on the feet. (I was not looking forward to this section, having done it in 2009 and ending my hike in Tahoe City instead of continuing to Truckee because it put me in such a foul mood.)

Sunday Night

I slept for one hour in the aid station at Tahoe City. When I woke up I didn't know if Tamara and Joel had left already, and the aid station volunteers didn't seem amazingly well-informed, so I head out by myself. I was barely out of Tahoe City itself before I had to take another dirt nap, but I took a caffeine pill before lying down hoping that in a few minutes when I woke up I'd be amped. That maybe worked a little, but it had rained a bit during the stretch from Brockway to Tahoe City, and the air now had a lot of moisture in it and was very cold. I had been carrying warm clothes all the way from mile 30, but I had to put them on now for the first time. I called Amy as I was climbing out of Ward Creek; I was passed by one person with his pacer right by the pass.

I was bummed that I had to descend and ascend one more time, because I know for a fact the TRT will connect you with the PCT, which could take you along the crest to Barker Pass, but it goes through Granite Chief Wilderness, so we have to avoid that as well. I got into the final aid station at Rideout Community Center in the morning sometime, had a burrito and some soup, and took off in good spirits. I finally had time to recharge my iPod a bit, so I danced to Taylor Swift on this next section of paved bike path along the lake shore.  The final climb along Blackwood Creek is nice for a while, but then you get on another 4-wheeler road and it's really obnoxious. Miles felt forever, and when I got to a sign that said 11-something miles left to the finish, I was cursing Candice because it was only supposed to be 14.9 from Rideout to the finish, and I was sure I'd covered more than 3 since then. On ~3 hours of sleep I wasn't one to talk, really. One runner passed me on this final section, and I had no chance to keep up. (Apparently he's a pretty strong runner, it's a question why he was ever behind me.) The final climb over, I had passed 200 miles and still had 7 miles of rolling and descent left. I went to the last podcast I had (WTF) and eventually got a little speed going, but the miles still felt terribly long. I charged down the ski slopes, grimacing as I could feel the blisters expand with specific steps. I finished in 13th place in 78:33 and gladly sat down.

So what do I think?
I feel OK. No serious muscle or tendon issues, though my legs are obviously dead. I'm still headed to Idaho to try and "run" the IMTUF 100.

200 was a new set of challenges. My stomach was fine, unlike in some faster 100s. Sleep and the mental game is the major challenge. I took two one-hour real sleeps, plus maybe half a dozen dirt naps. I obviously wasn't feeling good, but everyone who beat me slept even less, so it really seems like suffering without is the name of the game. Only three minutes after I finished, Joel came charging down the hill at a sub 6-minute pace. Apparently he and Tamara had slept for 4 hours at Tahoe City. So sleep can sometimes be worth it, or almost worth it.

I couldn't really control my thoughts--maybe like a bad high I was getting a little paranoid and my thoughts were looping back repeatedly and nonsensically. I was also hallucinating constantly, if mildly. Every tree was the wall of a cabin, rocks were tents, and tree stumps were bears, large thrones, cars, or Darth Vader. But the images didn't last long, it was just a brief impulse: "Oh is that a ... No. It's a tree." It happens to me (and I assume most people) normally when you see something out of the corner of your eye, just much less frequently. During the run it was pretty much constant.

The people running were extremely cool. As I've said before about Euchre Bar, Me-Ow, etc., even more so than a regular ultra, these are my people.

Photos I'm too tired to organize:

Armstrong to Heavenly

Star Lake


Ginny as My Little Pony and George

Rough morning

Hey honey, let's go stare at our boat.

When you get down there, you're done.

Almost done!


  1. see you in Idaho! lol

  2. What an accomplishment! Congrats and Happy B-day tuesday!

  3. Awesome blog! You have a new follower 😉
    Great meeting you. Thanks for the entertainment over some of those long miles.

    1. Thanks, Tamara! Great meeting you, too.