Thursday, July 26, 2007

The TRT 50 Mile Endurance Run

The first ultra I ever ran was the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K back in 2003. It was a difficult course, and since it shares 31 miles with the 50 mile course, I was very aware that this year’s 50 mile race would present a big challenge for me. When I decided not to run the AR50 back in April, I took a good look at my goals for this race. I decided 11 hours would be a good target; ambitious, maybe, but disappointment at missing my first planned 50 of the year had spurred my ambition.

The week before the race it was time to take another look at my goals. After spraining my ankle 5 weeks before the race, I knew there were some major holes in my training. I looked at some finish times from the previous years for runners I was familiar with, and closed in on a stark reality: 11 hours was out of the question. I simply had not done the training.

I knew I would like to run 11 hours on this course some day, so I kept it as a long term goal, and set my sights on 12 hours. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that sure I was ready for 12 hours, but I knew I would be disappointed with much less. I calculated splits for 12 hours and pasted them onto my water bottle alongside the splits for 11 hours which were already there. This was the first time I had figured out splits for an ultra and brought them with me, and it made me kind of nervous. I love the ultra attitude that says we are just there to have fun, but I have to admit that sometimes I am competitive and part of having fun is pushing myself.

The day before the race, Scott Dunlap had invited some folks over for some pre-race socializing. It was great because I finally got to meet Addy and Jessica. I always say “see you there” on people’s blogs, but honestly it’s hard to find people you’ve never actually met before at 6am on the starting line. It’s so much fun to talk with people who are doing the same thing, and don’t respond by telling you you’re crazy. So thanks Scott! Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet Christie and Sophie, but maybe next time.

Fellow running Bloggers Addy, Scott and Jessica

I arrived at the parking area at 5:00 am on race morning, and by the time I caught the shuttle to the start it was 5:15. It turned out to be the perfect amount of time to tape my feet, get my drop bags ready, slap on some sunscreen and get to the pre-race briefing at 5:50. I found Addy and Jessica at the start, and suddenly it was time to go! The crowd moved off, and when I checked to see if Addy was still with me, I saw her still standing at the start talking to her dad. Clearly she was not stressed about running her first ultra!

I spent most of the first 6 miles to the Hobart aid station wondering if I was starting too fast. There is a lot of gradual climbing, and I ran most of it. It was chilly and running kept me warm, plus that extreme taper had my legs desperate for some running! The sight of Marlette Lake with the sun coming up, surrounded by granite boulders and purple lupine was breathtaking. As we left the lake the climb became steep enough to hike.

I arrived at the Hobart aid station right on the mark for 12 hour pace. Completely crestfallen that they were serving Gatorade, I filled my bottle with half water and half Gatorade, despite a volunteer’s assurances that it was already mixed at half strength. My stomach just does not do Gatorade. Since the website showed the race was sponsored by Hammer, I just assumed they would have Heed to drink. I usually drink only an electrolyte drink, no water, in my bottle. GU2O is my standard, but I can do Cytomax or Heed as well. Gatorade was going to put a hitch in my race plan.

Scott Dunlap at Tunnel Creek aid station

Somewhere between Hobart and the next aid station at Tunnel Creek I fell in behind a woman and the guy who was in front of her. We got to chatting and soon discovered that she and I were both hoping to run 12 hours. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

At Tunnel Creek I picked up my second water bottle, dropped my long sleeved shirt, and discovered that I hadn’t put the bag with my GU and Clif Shot Blocks in my drop bag. It was simply destined to be a day where my stomach had to adjust to new race foods. I also grabbed a bag of Salt Stick electrolyte caps from my drop bag and shoved them into my pocket. I rarely take these, but figured they would help compensate for drinking only water instead of GU2O. Soon we were off to conquer the Red House Loop.

Marlette Lake and Tahoe viewed from Marlette Peak

Tate, my new 12 hour running partner, caught up to me shortly down the trail after I stopped to pee. We had a great time. People will tell you how awful this loop is, but honestly it’s not that bad. We cruised the down hill and were at the aid station in no time. I had to remove the last of the tape on my toes, as it seemed to be doing more harm than good. (Note to self: test out new taping methods on a run longer than 3 miles!) Tate stopped to wait for me, and at the time it made me feel a bit guilty. Eventually I realized we had actually become a team out there, and this turned out to be the biggest blessing of the day.

Back at the Tunnel Creek station I shoved down some food, and stuffed my pockets full of Hammer Gel. It was 9 miles to the Mt. Rose aid station where we would turn around and come 9 miles back. There was one aid station at 4.5 miles, but it was water only. This was the only section of trail I had never run on, and I was curious about how it would go. Tate and I kept up a steady stream of conversation, now and then joined by other runners. The views of Lake Tahoe were beautiful, and all I could think about was going for a swim. I learned that Tate is from Bend Oregon, and had traveled down to the race with a whole crew of folks running, including one of the top men in the 100 race Sean Meissner. She also works with Rod Bien who had finished 2nd in last years 100 race. She clearly has some great mentors and a supportive ultra community in Bend. I found myself quite envious!

Me, leaving Tunnel Creek (photo courtesy of Jessica)

Soon we saw the 100 mile leaders coming back from Mt. Rose. First was Jasper Halekas. To be honest, the only reason I even recognized him is because he was wearing the same thing he wore at Silver State. (So was I, so I’m not making fun of him!) He looked so relaxed, and he appeared to have a solid lead already. Eventually a few more men came through, including Sean. Not far behind that group Scott Dunlap came by looking speedy, and as usual having a great time. I gave a few words of encouragement, and Tate gave a jolt of recognition, shouting “Scott Dunlap! I love your blog!” at his retreating figure. I laughed. He’s like a running celebrity! Down the trail I also said hi to Jack Driver, a local runner from Donner Summit, and Chet Fairbanks from Reno, who I had run with a bit at Silver State. These races with turn around points are great for socializing! After the turn around we also saw Catra Corbett who promised me she was returning to the PCT on Monday. Go Catra!

Tate had a great system set up for taking food and electrolytes. (Maybe this was a tip from Rod?) The timer on her watch was set to go off every 30 minutes, at which point she ate a GU. Those 30 minute intervals kept coming around so quickly, it didn’t take me long to decide that I should eat when she eats, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be eating enough. With every other GU she took an electrolyte cap, and I quickly got on that plan as well. Having the timer set really helped us keep track, and it also convinced me to force down a gel even when I didn’t want it, which was a good thing. I will definitely be taking this tip to my next race!

Nearing the Mt. Rose aid station, Tate ran out of water. This surprised me, since I had plenty of water left. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough? I gladly gave her one of my bottles, still ¼ or so full. Upon reaching the aid station I slathered on a bit more sunscreen and grabbed a popsicle. Although truthfully, a smaller popsicle would have been welcome, I just can’t pass up these treats. It melted all over me as I ran with it, but fortunately there was a creek where I could rinse off. With Tate by my side, the miles continued to fly, and we were back at Tunnel Creek still feeling good. I couldn’t believe we only had 15 miles left! This time it was Tate’s turn to help me out with a donation of Clif Blocks since my stomach wasn’t really interested in much more.

Ever since the Red House Loop we had been coming into the aid stations right around 11 hour pace. Sometimes we were a few minutes ahead, sometimes a few minutes behind. I knew that the 8 miles from Tunnel Creek to the Snow Valley Peak aid station could be pretty slow, so I wasn’t counting on anything yet. Tate said she did not want to know our pace, so I had to keep my thoughts to myself on this one. I figured I would just wait and see where we were time-wise when we left the Snow Valley aid station, and decide on a goal at that point. We cruised through Hobart in good time just as Jasper came through in the opposite direction, still leading the 100 mile race.

The wind at the top of Snow Valley Peak was brutal. I had my visor cinched down tight, and tried to pick out some food that wasn’t completely coated in dirt. That was a losing battle, but really, what’s a little dirt? I thanked the volunteers here profusely because it did not look like fun to be sitting there getting dirt blown in to every crevice of your being by the howling wind. Tate was in full agreement that we get out of there as soon a possible, and we began the 7 mile descent to the finish.

We were about 15 minutes behind 11 hour pace at this point. I knew it might be possible to make up the time, but I also knew it would be close. Tate still didn’t want to know our pace, but I was definitely on a mission for sub-11 by now. We picked our way through some technical sections, still feeling good. I could definitely feel the downhill in my quads, but when it wasn’t too steep I tried to push the pace a little. We had snippets of conversation with every 100 mile runner that we passed, and we both had to profess our admiration for them. I was so glad I didn’t have another lap to do after this!

As my watch said 10:45 and the Spooner aid station was no where in sight, I started to realize I wasn’t going to make it. I had pulled a little ahead of Tate, and convinced myself if I passed the aid station, which was 1.5 miles from the finish, by 10:47 maybe I still had a shot. It turned out that there was a big clock at the Spooner aid station (brilliant idea!) and as I came by it read 10:49. Accepting my fate, I switched to a slightly more comfortable pace and vowed to enjoy my last mile and a half of the day.

I crossed the line in 11:05, with Tate just a minute behind. It had been a truly brilliant day. We kept a really consistent pace all day, and Tate’s presence made it feel easy. I couldn’t have been happier with my finishing time, and I was 8th woman. Tate had commented on the return from Mt. Rose that she considered herself a back-of-the-pack runner. I’d laughed and said, “Not today girl!” She finished 9th in her first 50 miler!

Tate and I celebrate our triumphant finish!

A big thanks go to the race directors and all the volunteers who put on a great event! Also, a big kudos to whoever came up with the finisher awards. As soon as I crossed the line I was handed a cold 20 oz. “Red House Red” beer specially labeled for the race, and a finisher’s medal that was also a bottle opener. Excellent!

Congratulations to all the runners, especially Addy, Scott, Jack, Chet, and of course Tate!


  1. Great report! You did a fantastic job having sprained your ankle only 5 weeks ago. I love seeing that group shot of us on 4 different blogs too. cool :) Hope to see you around before next July!

  2. Congratulations on your amazing race Gretchen!
    I'm sorry I missed meeting you, I must have just headed out to Mt. Rose when you were coming in. Thank you so much for all the area trail tips you shared with me pre-race. Between Sat. & Sun. I managed to get in 25 miles on the PCT, which felt great. I did meet your Oregon running buddy Tate late Saturday evening, and talked with her about the TransRockies Race, which she seemed interested in. Did you by chance get her email, or would you mind passing her mine?

    I hope you're enjoying (probably done with?) Harry Potter, and that our paths cross a bit more closely one day soon.

    take care,

  3. congratulations on your race, gretchen. 11:05 when you were shooting for 12 hours--i guess that xtreme tapering really does work.

    enjoyed reading your recap.

  4. Congrats! That was an awesome run. Way to go!

    Wouldn't you know I've come down with a nasty head cold two days before my first 50M. I'm going to draw inspiration from your report!

  5. What an awesome race you ran! Sounds like lots of fun, learning and friendships, not to mention views! A must do, and you did great time!!!

  6. You looked GREAT out there! Congrats on a fast finish. I think you're the only one I've heard say Red House wasn't that bad. ;-)

    Wonderful to see you the day before as well. We should do that more often! Maybe the 100-miler is your destiny for 2008...

    I definitely WILL see you at Cool!

  7. Hey Gretchen!!! I LOVE your blog-it is a great race report and reminds me of what fun we had out there together! It was so awesome running with you, and I hope that we can do it again sometime soon!
    Hope you have recovered well!
    I'll email you and we can be in touch!
    Thanks for putting up with my constant chatter out there!

  8. Congratulations on a great finish, especially sans an optimal amount fo training! I'm sorry I didn't meet you, as we didn't finish too far from each other. I might have been too busy trying to feed my toddler. About Harry, I have ALL 7 books to catch up on, so feel ahead of the game...

  9. Gretchen,

    Great report, it makes the time and miles go by so much faster when you can engage with someone on the trail. Sounds like that worked for both you and Tate your new best trail buddy!

    I thought of you when we were staying up at Lake Donner the week before my failed WS100 attempt. I was downtown a couple of times but didn't have any way to contact you. Oh well, perhaps we will meet at a race or next time we are up at the cabin.

    Hope the ankle if feeling OK after cranking out those miles on it!


  10. Congrats on running such a wonderful race! You came so close to your initial goal even after the sprained ankle, which is amazing. just after 11 hours is such a fast time for that course (or really, for a 50 in general!) It was so nice to finally get the chance to meet you, and I look forward to running with you some time in the future :)

  11. Thanks for the comment Gretchen and congrats!

    I would like to say that I had the same conflict of the Harry Potter vs TRT. Glad I made the choice I did, it was a fun day!

    You rock! Keep up the good work!

  12. Congratulations on a great race and a great result, especially in the face of all the challenges. Reading your blog it makes it sound like it didn't hurt a bit. I feel like I was right there with you, and I even felt a little inspired to think about maybe doing one of those things someday.

    Hope you're basking shamelessly in your glory.

  13. Mmm beer! Hey thx for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the photo show. I see you had an eventful weekend too, congratulations @ TRT50! Great race & report. I also enjoyed reading about all your adventures along the way. Happy travels!

  14. Awesome race Gretchen, beautiful pictures and what a great attitude. It's not easy to find someone to run 50miles compatibly with. How great you found someone right there.

  15. Thanks for the comments everyone!
    Sarah- glad you found time on the PCT, sorry I missed you at Mt. Rose!
    Scott-I was thinking Red House would probably be bad though on lap #2 inthe 100. ;) Are you really still doing Cool?? Make sure that torn muscle heals!
    Mark- thanks for stopping by! I thought I saw you at the start, but was getting too stressed out by the woman telling us to "head down the hill" to introduce myself. How did I miss you at the finish??
    Eric- yes next time you are in town let's go run!

  16. Hey Gretchen,

    Thanks for your note -- although I didn't actually recieve it until we got back from our extended road trip last night :) On word from Charlie, I looked pretty hard for you at the joint 50mi/50k start... to no avail. Perhaps it was the sunglasses and cap that kept you in relative disguise. In any case congrats on a great 50mile! Always nice to finish an hour faster than you might expect, and it seems like you had a great running partner as well.

    Altitude adjustments aside, the other Carleton fellahs and I had a fine time ourselves and especially enjoyed the waters of Donner Lake on Sunday afternoon.

    I'm getting ready for my first 100 (Wasatch) in September, so I actually ran the White River 50mi (up near Mt Rainier) on the Saturday after Tahoe. A pretty nice race as well if you are ever looking for a PNW venture, but now my legs are tired. Just few more weeks of solid running before I can start that taper. Thank goodness!

    Best wishes --

  17. this why I love ultra. it's always about the "journey". your report says it all. thanks for sharing it here.