DNF (Did Not Finish) is exactly what I did at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Race. After 67.5 miles, trying to warm up at the Tunnel Creek aid station, I decided to drop. Now, days later and sitting in the comfort of a warm room and in front of the computer, I’m second-guessing the decision. The sights and smells of the run keep coming back to me and this race is going to haunt me for some time to come. This race taught me to prepare or what the lack of preparation can do. I think that I took this race a little too lightly. Mentally, I wasn’t focused on staying motivated and keeping myself moving towards the finish. No matter how much I train for 100 miles, I know that there will be times during the race when I’m going to be mentally down and feeling lousy. But those aren’t the best times to make a decision to drop. My decision was a culmination of events, but the two main factors were my body wouldn’t stop shivering when I stopped at the Tunnel Creek aid station and the cramp in my left calf kept getting worse.
I spent about 20 minutes at the Tunnel Creek aid station trying to warm up. The sun was starting to dip below the mountain peaks and I knew it would be dark within an hour. From Tunnel Creek, I had about another 9 miles to go before the Mt. Rose aid station where Nicole and Michael Thompson were waiting for me. From Mt. Rose, Michael would be able to run the last 24 miles with me to the finish. The support staff at the aid station really went above and beyond for me. My socks were shredded so one woman gave me her socks. Also I was wearing only a tank top, so another guy gave me a T-shirt and blanket to keep warm. I actually left the aid station and started running towards Mt. Rose, headlight ready and a blanket wrapped around me but I was too worried about getting hypothermia on one of the ridges and being stuck alone. I turned around and made the decision to drop.
Things just didn’t go easy from the beginning. I had emailed the race director a week earlier asking to check-in the morning of the race. I understood his reply as normally they wouldn’t do it, but it could be done. Friday at around 1 PM, he called and said that I needed to be in Carson City by 7 PM that day or I couldn’t run the next day. It took an hour to gather Michael and Nicole. By 2 PM we were checked out at work and on the road, heading towards Carson City. It was going to be close.
I had reunited with another runner, James, in Tahoe a couple weeks earlier and was trying to arrange having him split pacing duties with Michael. James would run with me from mile 50 to mile 76, then Michael would run mile 76 to the finish. But James emailed a few days before the run and said he could only arrive later in the day, so we thought that Michael was going to run mile 50 to mile 76 and then James would finish with me. But Friday night, James said it wasn’t going to work so the plan was to have Michael run from mile 76 to the finish. I knew that last 24 miles would be in the dark, so out of the two possible sections, I chose to have Michael run the last section with me.
We drove as fast as we could and arrived in Carson City at 7:05 PM and got briefed and weighed. The scale seemed a little high at 168 lbs so I took everything off but my shorts and went to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale again and had only lost 1 lbs. Yikes! My weight was more likely around 165 lbs and normally I wouldn’t care, except I would need to weight in at the aid stations and if my weight was down during the race they would make me stop. So it was important to be as accurate as possible. They assured me the scale seemed a little high with other runners but said the same scale would be used during the race. (But how could the same scale be used at all the aid stations?) I didn’t have time to question. We found a small Chinese restaurant, ate some dinner and headed to Truckee for a quick night’s sleep.
At 2:50 AM, the alarm clock woke us up. By 3:20 AM we were out the door and driving towards Spooner Lake for the start. No sooner had 5 AM arrived, and I was running down the trail. About 100 other runners made the start and most looked to be in very good condition. The sun hadn’t come up yet, but I decided to leave my headlight with Nicole and follow in the steps of other runners. Good decision because within 20 minutes we could see just fine.
Right away we were climbing and this seemed to be the case most of the day. The course proved extremely challenging, with some very steep climbs. The Red House loop from around mile 11 to mile 17 drops very fast only to make you climb right back up after reaching the bottom. At any elevation, the grade is too steep to run up so I settled into a power walk. I made it to the Mt. Rose aid station (mile 26) in 5 hours! I had expected around 4 hours! I couldn’t believe how slow I was running and how hard the course felt. My stomach had been somewhat uneasy up to this stage and I had been dealing with slight headaches so I took a few extra minutes at the aid station to regroup. I also called Nicole and said I wouldn’t make mile 50 until 10 hours, and that was going to be at best. Leaving the Mt. Rose aid station, I somehow missed a trail marker and took a wrong trail. About a mile or two later, I realized my mistake and turned around. A couple other runners apparently had followed me but they kept going. We all met on the correct trail about 10 minutes later. In the end this probably didn’t cost me anything but a couple extra miles and 20 minutes.
The second half of the course was nearly the first half just run in reverse. The highlight of this portion was Snow Peak, where the trail reached about 9200’ with incredible views of both the California and Nevada landscapes. The wind really whipped on the peaks and when I arrived at this aid station, about mile 43, my weight had dropped to under 160 lbs. So I was forced to eat more soup and tried to down some watermelon and potatoes. They finally let me leave after my weight rose to 161 lbs. From this aid station to the halfway point, the course was mainly downhill, and many of the 50K runners were finishing up which meant a little extra company on the trail.
Nicole and Michael met me at mile 50 and I took some extra time to down some fluids and food. It was great to see them but I knew the stay needed to be short. My calf continued to feel real tight and especially painful on the uphills. So while at this aid station, a therapist really worked my calf to try and loosen the knot. Nicole thought she saw tears in my eyes as the therapist dug into my calf but I don’t remember crying! I headed back down (rather back up) the trail and it took about an hour before my stomach felt normal enough to sustain a jog for more than 5 minutes. For at least an hour after mile 50, I dealt with the constant feeling of losing whatever was in my stomach.
My mood was up and down for the next couple hours. Mentally, the uphills were hard to stay focused and motivated. When the trail flattened out or went downhill I felt much better but my calf continued to tighten. I did the Red House loop again, passing the leader, Jasper, as I was heading down and he was heading up which meant I was about 1 hour behind the leader. But I didn’t see anybody else for another hour. During a couple sections of the Red House loop, overgrown shrubs and trees blocked the trail and I was nearly running blind, unable to see even a few feet in front of me. I kept thinking I’m going to run right into a bear (one had been spotted earlier in the morning in the area) so I started making a lot of noise until I could clearly see what was in front of me.
I arrived back at the Tunnel Creek aid station and that’s when things started to really unwind and I where eventually dropped. Like I said early, the course was very challenging but I feel that I should have finished under 24 hour. But I didn’t! My body started to shiver uncontrollably even with some soup and blanket. Luckily, Nicole had given me the headlight at mile 50 even though I thought that I would make Mt. Rose before sundown. I probably waited at the aid station for about 20-30 minutes, drank some soup and tried to warm-up but I just kept feeling worse. Eventually, I left and headed towards Mt. Rose but after a few minutes, made the decision to turn around and drop.
They called Nicole and one of the volunteers drove me down the mountain to where Nicole and Michael could meet me. You definitely needed a serious 4WD vehicle to navigate over the rocks and make the climbs. Thankfully, this guy volunteered to drive me otherwise getting down the mountain would have been another adventure. I really want to finish this run next year. If it came down to Western States and the Tahoe Rim Trail, it might be a difficult call. I honestly believe this race is as difficult or harder than Western States due to the altitude, lack of crew access, and constant climbing. But the scenery is spectacular and I highly recommend this as a must-do event.