Monday, July 28, 2008

Tahoe Rim Trail 100: The Full Details

I guess it’s appropriate, and not surprising, that my longest run ever should result in my longest blog post ever. I considered hacking it back to a more readable length, but in all honesty this was largely written for me. I am happy to report that it did actually do a lot to help me process the experience.

That being said, I understand that many of you are not interested in every detail about my every footfall on this hundred mile journey. Thus, I offer you several other options. For the moderate, yet fairly full-fledged version, I suggest reading only the following subtitled sections: Prelude, Miles 50-61, Mile 76, Miles 76-100, Mile 100. For the truly time-constrained, just scroll through the pictures and read mile 76-100.

For those less faint-of-heart, read on for the extended length director’s cut.

Prelude: A Lengthy Discussion on Goals

Goals are a big part of running for me. I love to run, but having a goal is my motivation.

When running your first race at any given distance, everyone always says your main goal should be to just finish. This makes perfect sense. After all, if you have never run that far before, you really don’t know what you are in for, so how many other goals can you set?

When running my first marathon, everyone said “run to finish.” Okay, that was certainly a goal. But what I really wanted was to qualify for Boston. At the time I had a great training partner, and we executed both our training and race plan perfectly to qualify for Boston. This was my first time responding to the advice, “Just finish.” You can see where this is going in regards to ultras, yes?

I didn’t have quite such ambitious goals with my first 50K or 50 miler, but still, I reached the starting lines fairly confident in my ability to finish. I needed a “reach goal.” What could I do if I had the best day possible?

For my first 100 miler I had enough respect for the unknown to realize that “just” finishing would be a good day. I fully understand the logic in having this as your one and only goal: reachy goals can make the inexperienced runner do stupid things like start too fast, thus jeopardizing the chances of finishing at all. It’s common sense. But logic and common sense can do little to dissuade the desires of the human heart.

My hopes for a top 3 finish among women were finished when a handful of elite women came over from the non-Western States race. Nonetheless, it was exciting to share the race with them, even though I knew they would all be hours ahead of me.

My reach goal would have to be focused on time, and I had been contemplating the possibility of a 26 hour finish. I knew this was a total shot in the dark. With nothing for comparison, I had no idea what I could run. Still, I figured if 26 hours were even possible, I would need to run the first half in 12 hours, leaving 14 for the second half.

So my 3 main goals, from easiest to hardest were:

1. Finish
2. Sub-30
3. 26 hours

As race day drew near and I got nervous and stressed, I also added the following, very important goal: Have fun!

Packing the drop bags

The drop bag check list


Pre-race check-in at Carson City was quick and easy. I weighed in, registering 136 on their scales. I thought that was light, (I’d been more like 139 all week) but race officials told me that everyone else said they weighed heavy. They wrote my weight on my wristband, along with warning weights both high and low. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what all those numbers meant, but I didn’t need a wristband to tell me that if I dropped below 130 it would be bad.

I saw Sean, and then Jessica. I took a few minutes to socialize before dropping off my drop bags at the appropriate stations and settling in for the pre-race briefing. After that, I went home to cook dinner for Andrew and Sarah, and give them whatever last minute information I could so they would be ready to support (Andrew) and pace (Sarah) the next day.

Race Morning

I had been on a coffee diet all summer so I wouldn’t be such a caffeine addict, and it had been tough. When my alarm went off at 2:30 am, I sprang out of bed in sheer joy at the thought of a cup of coffee. I put the water on, and went through my pre-race checklist. Dressed? Check! Sunscreen? Check! Pre-tape feet? Check! Breakfast? Check! Start/finish drop bag? Check! Coffee? HELL YEAH!

I spent the 40 minute drive to the starting line sucking java from a travel mug, blaring the music and singing along with Michael Franti, bursting with excitement. Nothing like combining pre-race nerves with a caffeine high!

Everything went smooth as butter as I shuttled to the start, hit the port-a-pottie 2 or 3 times just to be safe, and stood around with other runners making false pretenses at stretching. I met Rick for the first time, and saw Harry who had finished a few minutes behind me in the 50 mile race last year.

Runners gather for the 5:00 am start

[Miles 0-11] The Early Miles: Exuberance and Joy!

Soon we were off in the pre-dawn darkness. Several runners were without lights at this point, and I was glad I was not one of them. They were dependent on the rest of us for light, and when we hit the single track in less than a mile it must have been tough.

I tried not to worry too much about pace. I know excitement was causing me to run faster than necessary, but I felt relaxed and just wanted to enjoy the moment. Coming down the single track to Marlette Lake, the sun was rising and the view was stunning. The trail paralleled the inlet creek, and the resulting lushness caused wildflowers to abound. Unfortunately the light was still too low for great pictures.

Approaching Marlette Lake on the single track

Miraculously, the outhouse at Marlette Lake was empty, and I made quick use of it. Soon I was heading up the road towards Hobart, and found myself among a pack of fit looking men, including Harry. Since he and I had similar finishing times in the 50 last year, I thought maybe this would be my pace group. Alas, a few miles past Hobart, Harry would move ahead not to be seen again except miles ahead of me on my way into Mt. Rose. I figured he was having a great race, but a recent look at the results found his name absent. I was disappointed for him to say the least.

Looking back at Marlette Lake from Hobart Rd.

The trail up to Marlette

Between Hobart and Tunnel Creek, we climbed Marlette peak for some of the best views on the course. So far the course had been mostly uphill, and I was still right on pace to finish my first lap in 12 hours. I was still with Harry and the fast guys approaching the summit, but they easily gapped me on the downhill. Although I had been practicing my descending all year for this race, I also wanted to stay relaxed and avoid any falls or twisted ankles, so I just tried to keep it smooth and let gravity take me down.

Marlette Lake with a smokey Tahoe in the background.

Harry and the fast guys lead the way up Marlette Peak

[Mile 11] Tunnel Creek: The Aid Station from Heaven

Coming into Tunnel Creek aid station at mile 11, I was immediately blown away by how amazing the people at this aid station were. This would prove to be a theme for the aid stations at this race. I remember them being great when I ran both the 50 mile and 50K races here previously, but this year things were at an entirely new level. I wondered if they just get better every year, or if 100 mile runners get special treatment. I think it’s probably a bit of both. Late in the race I would come into an aid station, plop myself into a chair by a heater, and just let all the volunteers fill my water and bring me food. (I never would have thought I would do that kind of thing, but I had no idea what happens late in these races. Thank God for tireless volunteers!)

A runner indulges in the buffet at Tunnel Creek

From my first visit, Tunnel Creek became my favorite aid station. This was convenient since we would visit this station 6 times throughout the race. Stan Ostrom met me as I approached and grabbed my bottles to fill them with water. I don’t really know Stan, but I have seen him as the RD of the Silver State 50/50 races which I have run the last 2 years. He always has the sweetest smile! Before I could even get to the drop bags, a volunteer had looked at my number and brought me my bag. Amazing! I pulled my drink mix out, and Stan held my bottles while I poured a baggie in each, then he ran off to top them with water for me. Meanwhile, I gorged on the plentiful buffet, and refilled my pockets with GU.

The theme of this station was Hawaiian, and even Stan had on a grass skirt. Dave Matthews blared through the speakers, and I sang along as I re-packed my drop bag and made ready to go. Everyone was all help and smiles, sending me on my way with a burst of energy. “Se you and me, have a better time than most can dream of, better than the best, so can pull on through…” Bye Tunnel Creek, I’ll be back in a quick 6 miles! And I was off to the infamous Red House Loop.

[Miles 11-17] The Red House Loop: “Why is this so infamous?”

The 6 mile Red House Loop is considered by most to be the “Taste of Hell” portion in the “Glimpse of Heaven, Taste of Hell” race motto. The first section of downhill is steep, and in my opinion the crummiest part of the loop. Overall however, courses like Diablo or Silver State with its 6 mile climb up Peavine, are MUCH tougher than the Red House Loop.

I paused at the aid station right at the Red House itself, about halfway through the loop. Peter Fain came flying through on his way to a win in the 50K. That pretty much sums up all of my standard encounters with Peter.

Approaching the Red House

I was running along a flat section behind a runner I had dubbed “the coughing backpack guy,” because he was running with a huge backpack and had a hacking cough. I tried to imagine what he could possibly be carrying in that pack. Perhaps an extra pair of legs for the second lap? If he had an extra pair of lungs, it was certainly time to pull them out.

“That cough doesn’t sound too good,” I remarked as I came up behind him.

“Oh, this is just normal. It’ll go away in a few more miles,” he explained. Yikes.

“Ooh, bummer.” We were already at mile 15 or so.

“So why is this loop so infamous?” he asked. He’d already seen the downhill, so I figured he was of the same mind as me: It just wasn’t that bad.

“Well, we have to run back up part of that same hill we came down,” I offered, “but I really don’t think it’s that bad.”

“Yeah!” he agreed. I thought going down it was certainly worse than going up.

“I suppose we’ll find out the truth of the matter when we run it at mile 60,” I surmised.

“I guess.” He still sounded skeptical.

If you’re not familiar with the course for TRT, it basically follows a “lollipop” with an additional 6 mile loop at Red House. The Tunnel Creek aid station sits right at the juncture of the “stick,” and the Red House loop. Thus the 50 mile runners visit that aid station 3 times. 100 mile runners do the 50 mile course twice, and visit Tunnel Creek 6 times. I was well aware that running the Red House loop the second time could bring home the infamous aspects of the loop.

As I ascended the last hill of the loop with a steady hike, Thomas Reiss came by me on his way to breaking his own record in the 50 M race. I was in awe that he was actually running this hill, but he soon switched to a steady hike just a bit faster than my own. I kept him in sight until the ground leveled out and he blew through the Tunnel Creek aid station before I even got there.

Tunnel Creek was much busier now with runners of all distances present. (The 50 milers and 50K runners started an hour later than us.) Still, Stan greeted me with his smile, calling me “the bouncy runner” and promptly took my bottles to be filled. I hopped on the scales for the first time that day, checking out at 138. This seemed closer to my normal weight than 136, so I felt pretty good about it. With their incredible attentiveness, the volunteers had me out of there in a flash, and I was off toward Mt. Rose.

[Miles 17-35] The Mt. Rose Out ‘n Back: “Good job! Good job!”

Miles 17-35 are made up of a nine mile out and back to the Mt. Rose aid station. This comprises most of the “stick” portion of the lollipop course. I once heard this section described as monotonous. Whoever said that must have been one of those runners incapable of running without headphones. This section is awesome!

It’s mostly rolling, with no major hill climbs or descents, so you can run most of it. There are also breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe, and on the other side of the ridge, occasional views of Washoe Lake and the Carson Valley. My favorite part about this section of the course though, is that you get to see many of the other runners in the race regardless of pace. As I was approaching Mt. Rose, I saw the fast folks on their way back. As I was leaving Mt. Rose, I saw the people behind me still heading out, as well as most of the 50 mile runners.

Bad self-portrait

Exactly what order I saw all these people in, I don’t recall. I do remember seeing the lead group of men. One runner was in front, who I believe was Jon Olsen, then about 10 seconds back was Erik Skaden with another guy I didn’t recognize. He turned out to be Mike Wolfe, and shared the championship title with Erik.

I saw Nikki Kimball and Bev Anderson-Abbs pacing each other through a strong run and cheered them on enthusiastically. I saw Sean Meissner looking strong. I saw Jenny Capel. I love seeing all the fast folks kicking butt!

At some point it finally dawned on me that there was no aid station at Diamond Peak. This was about halfway to Mt. Rose, and there was supposed to be a water only aid station. I was already nearing Mt. Rose, and running close to empty on my bottles. It was still cool out though, so it wasn’t a huge deal. On my way in to the aid station I saw Rick Gaston, who kindly stopped to check if I had survived the missing aid station. By the time I returned, they had water at Diamond Peak, and this time it was a good thing, since it was so much warmer out!

I had told Andrew I might be at Mt. Rose as early as 11:00 am, and he should be there by 10:30. It was 10:45 when I rolled in, and I wasn’t totally shocked when he was nowhere to be seen. My only concern was that he would show up unaware that I had already been through, and wait for hours steeped in worry. On my way out of the station, I saw him approaching with two friends and I screamed and cheered. They cheered in response, and then I was gone.

The return trip to Tunnel Creek abounded with “hellos” and “good jobs” with many 50 mile runners. I saw Mark Tanaka, and wasn’t even gracious enough to stop while he got his camera out. I’m not sure what my big hurry was, but I guess I was just in running mode. Sorry Mark! Anyway, I figured he would come up behind me at some point later in the run and we could say more than just hello, but I never saw him again. I also got to say hi to Peter Lubbers, Jeff Barbier, and Jessica Deline. I was loving the social aspects of this course!

Jeff Barbier is all smiles in the 50 Mile race.

[Miles 35-50] Tunnel Creek to the Start/Finish

I got weighed again at Tunnel Creek by Micheline, who told me “When I grow up, I want to run like you!.” I laughed and thanked her.

“Just see if you still feel that way when you see me at mile eighty-whatever!” I warned.

I followed my standard aid station routine: Empty trash from pockets, stuff pockets with GU, fill bottles with GU2O and water, eat! I also soaked my bandana and added some ice, since the day was warming up and we were in full sun. It didn’t feel too hot with the breeze, but the ice was a welcome addition.

I bid Tunnel Creek a fond farewell for the next 25 miles, and headed back toward Hobart.

The theme at the Hobart aid station was “Haunted Hobart.” They had ghouls and goblins, and funny signs as you approached and left. They were even adding new decorations in preparation for the coming darkness.

“I’m a little nervous about coming back to this aid station in the dark!” I told one volunteer. Little did I know, I would never visit Haunted Hobart in the dark. Maybe that was a good thing.

Creepy decor at Haunted Hobart

Here I indulged in the now world famous “Hobart Ensure Smoothie.” Last year these things really hit the spot, and this year they tasted even better. I asked the little girl pouring the smoothies what the secret ingredient was. Her answer? “Love.” No wonder they were so awesome!

Smoothie Makers at Hobart

From there it was 3 miles to the Snow Valley Peak aid station. I thoroughly enjoyed it since it was largely uphill, and I felt no need to try to run it. This aid station was run by a Boy Scout troop from Nevada, and some of the boys sitting at the entrance had the list of numbers and names. Thus, an enthusiastic group of teenage boys greeted me with a chorus of “Go Gretchen! Yay Gretchen Yeah!” and I felt like a rock star. The personal touches at these aid stations continued to amaze me!

I took it easy on the approximately 6 mile descent down to Spooner Lake. I wanted to keep a decent pace while avoiding pounding my quads to death. Everything still felt smooth when I rolled into the start/finish area at mile 50.

[Miles 50-61] Start/Finish to Tunnel Creek: Feelin’ Groovey!

I came in at about 11 ½ hours: a little faster than my planned 12 hour first lap. Andrew was there, and he did his best to make me eat more than I wanted. My weight was around 137. This was okay, but I would be happier with it at 138 or so. Next, I was off on lap #2!

With no 50K or 50 Mile runners, the trail suddenly felt vast and empty. There were a few stray hikers heading home for the day, but otherwise I was alone. It was just after 5:00, not too late in the day yet, but the lower angle of the sun lent itself to cooler temperatures, and a calm, peaceful feeling.

This turned out to be my favorite part of the whole race.

I was chugging along the single track of the Marlette Lake trail, doing some running and some walking. It was my second time on this section of trail today, and this time felt vastly different than the first. With 50 miles on my legs, and feeling great, my psyche suddenly got a huge burst. “Wow, I’m doing it!” I thought. “This is longer than I’ve ever run before, and I feel great!” Every step now was a distance PR! I reveled in the sheer joy of being out on the trail and feeling powerful. Once again the lushness, the wildflowers, and the beauty of Marlette Lake overwhelmed me. (I wish I hadn’t handed my camera off to Andrew at the last aid station!) I let myself dwell on the fact that I was running 100 miles, and started to get emotional. I immediately stopped dwelling. I knew I had too far to go to get teary eyed already!

I felt so good in fact, that I began to wonder when things would get hard. Maybe this whole ultra thing was easier than people made it out to be. Maybe I was just a rock star!

Several words come to mind here: arrogant, naive and stupid are just three of them. Later on, around mile 80, I told my pacer Sarah about these thoughts. We both had a really good laugh over it. Hey, at least we were still capable of laughter!

I passed through Haunted Hobart (still in daylight!) and made my way toward Tunnel Creek. Somewhere in here I saw Jessica again, heading the other direction. I was super excited to see her, until she told me she didn’t think she was going to make the cut off at the next aid station. Then I was bummed for her. She looked great, but had turned her ankle during the race, and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better. Huge bummer!

At Tunnel Creek I was greeted by a crew of volunteers that was beginning to feel like family, all crying in excitement, “It’s Gretchen! It’s Gretchen! Hooray!” How awesome is that! They weren’t looking my number up to find out who I was either. I had to respond with some enthusiastic cheering of my own.

The music was off, and the place had a decidedly more mellow feel to it. Still, the people were just as friendly and helpful as ever. Someone held my bag open for me as I searched through it for what I needed. I donned my headlamp and stuffed my sunglasses and visor in the bag. I headed off into the setting sun, bound for the Red House Loop.

[Miles 61-67] Red House Loop #2: Spilling the Wind from my Sails.

There are only a few things worth mentioning about the loop this time.

First, the sunset was unbelievable! As I approached the Red House, I looked back to the east to see the clouds lit up in a brilliant orange-pink. We don’t usually have many clouds in the summer, and they make for better sunsets, so this was a rarity. I again wished for my camera.

Second, although I would not say this loop was awful, it definitely caused me to turn the corner from feeling “great!” to feeling “not so great.” It just took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t actually lose any time here either. I still had a one hour cushion on a 26 hour finish. It just caused me to feel a little depressed.

When I arrived back at Tunnel Creek, I was all set to complain about it.

“Ugh!” I began.

Micheline’s voice came floating out from the aid station tent, “Now Gretchen,” she admonished” if you have a bad attitude I’m going to send you back out on that Red House Loop.” I immediately got over it.

“Okay, well, I’m done complaining now!” I announced to the crowd at large. We all laughed, and I actually did feel better.

I put on a long sleeved shirt and switched from 2 handheld bottles to my hydration pack. I also had additional warm clothing in the pack. Although it was dark already, it still wasn’t very cold out, and I wanted to have clothes with me when the temperature dropped. The entire time I worked on all this packing business there were two volunteers holding flashlights so I could see what the heck I was doing. Thanks guys!

[Miles 67-76] To Mt. Rose: The Beginning of the End

In darkness, this 9 mile stretch to Mt. Rose was much more difficult. The rolling terrain all looked the same. The only thing telling me I’d made any distance at all was when I hit the table with water at the Diamond Peak self-serve aid station at about halfway. This time I was doing much more walking on this very runnable section of trail.

I was slowly but surely feeling more and more like crap. When I started feeling raindrops coming down I was thoroughly annoyed. It never rains in Tahoe! What the hell was going on? It was windy and I didn’t want to get soaked, so I stopped to put on my windbreaker.

I passed the time by keeping my eyes on the bright lights of the mountain bike Safety Patrol, who were riding their bikes up and down this lonely 9 miles of trail. I cheered for the occasional runner going the other way, and occasionally someone cheered for me by name. I couldn’t tell who anyone was in the dark, so finally when someone said “Good job Gretchen!” I stopped, shined my light in his face, and said “Who’s that?” It turned out to be Rick, and it was great to see a friendly face out there.

It seemed like forever before I made it to Mt. Rose. I knew I wasn’t eating or drinking enough, and I have no idea why. It’s one thing to know that you have to keep eating and drinking, but it’s another thing to really know it. You know? One thing’s for sure: I know it now!

Andrew and Sarah wait patiently at Mt. Rose

[Mile 76] Mt. Rose: A Definition of Fainting

Andrew and Sarah were sitting in chairs with their sleeping bags over them like blankets when I arrived just after midnight. I knew I wasn’t feeling so hot, but I gave no consideration to the idea of stopping. I figured feeling like crap was probably par for the course, and I still had a 30 minute cushion on 26 hour pace. With 24 miles to go, I was already aware that this would not be enough, but afterall 26 hours had been my “reach” goal. Coming close to it would still be good.

The weigh-in

I was afraid to take the offered chair by the space heater, for fear I would not get up again. My weight was down to 137, the lowest it had been all day, and the volunteer scolded me when he saw that my hydration bladder was still ¾ full. I knew I had been stupid not to drink. I just hadn’t really been thinking about it.

I grasped tightly to a post that was doing double duty holding up both the aid station tent and myself. I ate a few things off the table while I told Sarah and Andrew how my day was going. I tried hard to sound upbeat, but I knew I looked far different from when Andrew had last seen me at mile 50.

Now let’s address the title of this section: A definition of fainting. I personally think of fainting as something done by Victorian women in long hot dresses and tight corsets, preferably onto one of those little velvet couches missing an arm and part of the back. Right? I can safely assure you that nothing of this sort happened at the Mt. Rose aid station. Here is what did happen:

After shoving some unwanted food in my stomach, I suddenly felt nauseous. I was a little concerned about the possibility of puking all over the aid station, and began to step away from the tent. Then I thought better of it. It was dark out there, and there was no post to hold on to. I stepped back toward Andrew.

“I feel weird,” I said, genuinely puzzled. I slowly held my hands up for inspection. “My hands are tingling.”

I was staring at them in wonderment, when Sarah promptly said, “I think you better sit.” She took my arm to lead me towards the chair.

“Yeah,” I agreed. But I just couldn’t quite make it that far. Unseen hands reached out and steered my but toward the chair, while I had an odd, out-of-body experience. A second after I was seated I was back in my body and seriously weirded out. It slowly dawned on me that I was at mile 76 of a 100 mile race. After another moment of reinserting myself into reality, I realized I had just passed out and this was bad.

This was the first time it occurred to me that there was a possibility I might not finish. I didn’t want to stop, but it was clear that my body might have other things to say about it. I tried not to dwell too much on this thought, and instead focused on taking in the various forms of liquid offered me by my crew and the aid station volunteers.

This is where I started to learn something about what makes a good pacer. When selecting a pacer for your next race, I highly recommend choosing someone in the nursing or emergency medical profession. Sarah is in nursing school. Instead of getting all worried about me, she went straight into “nurse mode.” She was calm, confident and reassuring; never expressing for a moment any doubt that I could (and would) continue. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to continue on without her company.

The very clear thought running through my head at that moment as I sat there eating, was that I could not stop now because now I knew exactly how hard this hundred mile thing was, and I wasn’t sure I would ever have the guts to try it again.

Sarah in "nurse mode" during my chair recovery. Do I look gross, or what!

Andrew is also an EMT, and between the two of them they kept taking my pulse, discussing my low blood pressure….blah blah blah…low blood volume…blah blah…nervous system something something. Diagnosis? Eat and drink more…duh! Nonetheless, I needed someone there with a brain to tell me and make me do it.

I swear it was the 3 cups of chicken broth that brought me back from the dead, but I also consumed 4 or 5 cups of water, a can of sprite, and a salt stick cap. Sitting by the heater with a number of other runners who had dropped was a dangerous atmosphere. They all looked so happy to be done running! I had recovered considerably, and made ready to go.

Sitting still had made me cold, and Andrew and Sarah layered me up with some warm clothes from my bag in preparation for the 9 mile journey to Tunnel Creek. (That’s all I was allowed to think about now: not 24 miles, just 9.) I’d stayed at Mt. Rose for 30-40 minutes I think, and I told myself I had to forget completely about my finishing time now. I just needed to focus on one thing: getting to that finish line!

I apologized to Andrew for making him worry. I really didn’t want him to see me like this because I wanted him to think ultra running was a normal, non-risky thing. So much for that one! I shuffled off into the darkness with Sarah, shivering desperately under my layers. Fortunately it was a warm night out, and after a slow half mile, I was warm again.

[Mile 76-100] Mt. Rose to the Finish Line: The Long, LONG Road Home

The rest of the race could be summed up in various ways: slow, painful, depressing. Also, enlightening and humbling. The distance between each aid station took absolutely forever. I can only imagine how slow it felt to Sarah.

And yet, here I was. This was what I had been looking for, wasn’t it? Allow me to quote myself from a blog post back in March when I concluded that I wanted to run 100 miles because “…pushing my own physical limits as far as I can makes me feel alive like nothing else.” Or, as I said in a line in one of the poems I wrote with my English students last year, “I want to push myself as far as I can, just to find out how far that is.” And here I was.

Who can say if that was really my physical limit, but I definitely felt near the brink. And I have to admit, it was potent, vivid. It totally sucked, true, but something about that self-induced pain brings every moment into sharp clarity. When all you want is to be somewhere else (the finishline!) it’s amazing how much you can actually be in the moment.

Some aid station volunteer at Snow Valley had this exact thought in mind. He greeted us on our way into the aid station loudly and boldly declaring, “I would like to welcome you to this exact moment! Right now!” And he stood before a large sign proclaiming the same thing. I was stunned at how appropriate this was, and let me tell you, he burned that moment--my sluggish trot, the morning sun, bright at the top of the highest point on the course—into my brain forever.

I could go on about the exact details of the rest of the run, but this seems a more appropriate place to end it. I found my suffering, and I gained a whole new respect for it. The competitor in me, who had proudly driven me through every other race this season, gave up and crawled into a sleeping bag at the side of the trail somewhere around mile 70. I had to rely on the stubborn bitch in me to get through that last 30 miles. She didn’t care about running 26 hours. She didn’t bat an eye when a woman passed her with 10 miles to go, then another with 6 to go. She didn’t have time for those trivialities. She was busy with this exact moment, right now!

[Mile 100] The Finish Line and Beyond
Hobbling toward the finish line.

Andrew was there to hug me as I crossed the line, which was all I had been visualizing for the past 4 hours. Relief was more powerful than joy at this point.

It’s taken me a while to process this experience, and I’m sure that will be ongoing. Honestly, I was disappointed at first with my finish, even though I was well aware that I shouldn’t be. With 111 starters and only 64 finishers, the race only had a 58% finish rate. I’m not sure if that’s typical for this race, but it seems low to me, and anyone who finished should be proud.

Somehow I skipped right over all that post-race euphoria you’re supposed to have, and just felt depressed. In retrospect, I think my electrolytes, hormones, endochrine system, and all that jazz were still out of wack. In my world, that tends to equal depression

In re-visiting my goals, I actually accomplished almost everything: I finished, I ran sub-30, and most importantly, I had fun. It certainly wasn’t all fun, but there was fun to be had in most of it. I was reminded of this goal when one of the aid station volunteers from Tunnel Creek sent me an incredibly kind email telling me, among other things, that I had received the unofficial Tunnel Creek’s Nicest Runner Award. No joke. If those guys hadn’t already won my heart, that certainly sealed the deal. And that was enough to kick my butt out of depression into recognizing that I had just done something pretty amazing.

Getting that 100 mile buckle is a pretty cool thing, but I guess another thing I gained from this race, in addition to a lot of humility and some fat blisters, is the knowledge that you don’t have to run 100 miles to be a part of this very cool community. People like Andrew, Sarah, Micheline, John, the guy who helped catch me at Mt. Rose, the guy welcoming us at Snow Valley, the cheering boy scouts, the smoothie-makers, the dropped runners who became volunteers themselves—all these people deserve part of my buckle. Corny, sure, but true. Running isn’t such an individual sport like everyone thinks. It takes more than just the will of one runner to get us to that finish line. With each day that passes I have a better understanding of everything that went into it, and I feel more and more proud of being a part of that team and reaching that finish line.

I don’t know if there is another 100 miler in my future, although everyone else seems to think it’s a given. I know this sounds completely stupid, but running 100 miles was actually harder than I thought it would be. I guess if I ever get into Western States I’ll have to give it a shot, but for the moment I feel slightly relieved that next year’s race will be filled with 2008 runners. :)

Sad feet. Sad, but so tough!

A quick summary by the numbers (and other things)

Place among Women: 6
Overall Place: 31
Sunrises seen: 2
Sunsets: 1
Moonrises: 1
Runners on trail I knew by name: 16
Volunteers whose names I learned: 3
Buckle color: silver (for sub-30)
Best aid station treat: tie between Ensure/strawberry smoothies at mile 40 and raspberry sorbet at mile 93. Honorable mention: Stan Ostram’s smile
Best race schwag: The buckle (duh!) Runner up: TRT pint glass
Number of times I peed between miles 76 and 85: 5
Number of times Sarah told me to drink between Miles 76 and 85: About a billion
Blisters: 5 or 6
Goal for next year: 10:30 in the 50 Mile race or Tunnel Creek AS Volunteer

I couldn't get the picture to rotate correctly for some stupid reason, but here's the up close version of the buckle. So shiny you can see my camera reflected in it!


  1. Hey, seriously, thanks for doing such an in-depth race report. Especially on your first 100 miler. I just did the TRT 50K as my first ultra, and can imagine doing 50 miles, but just can't wrap my head around 100. It was cool to read your thought process as you went through it...

  2. WOW! This was a very inspiring read- I'm only up to half-marathons so far, but reading about how great you felt at mile 50 makes me want to train a whole lot harder! And for a 100 mile race, it doesn't get much more beautiful than the TRT. :) Thank you so much for sharing! Amber

  3. you did a great job out there! It was good to see you looking strong every time we passed each other.

  4. Hi Gretchen,
    I loved your in-depth report and it brought back lots of memories from last year. Again, awesome job!
    Take care,

  5. Fantastic job, Gretchen. Thanks for sharing all the details - I've got your page bookmarked to study over the next 10 days until my 100!

    The pictures look beautiful, despite all the smoke. It's great that you appreciate living there so much. TRT is definitely on my list for future years.

  6. Congratulations! I thoroughly enjoyed your honest and riveting report. : )

  7. Ok, I don't know what to say. On the one hand, I am awed, impressed, and inspired by you. On the other hand, I want to come up there and smack some sense into you! You passed out and kept going? And if I do come up there to smack you, I'm smacking Andrew, too. Bonk your heads together for me, why dontcha?

    Glad you are safe, and a champion! And thanks for the good cry.

  8. What a great report. I love how you broke it down into sections. I admire your ability to push those boundaries out farther and farther. The last part of your report really touched my heart. I'm getting ready to run 12 hours of Cool Saturday and I know your words will come to me sometime in the middle of the night and help get me through. Congratulations. You certainly deserve that beautiful buckle.

  9. Wow! Talk about inspirational! Thanks for giving us the gruesome details, it lets us understand better what you were going through. You finished sixth??? That is so awesome!
    Your Butter bud, Greg.

  10. Read the whole thing. Unbelievable how you passed out at Mt. Rose, got back up and finished the race. You are tough lady. I'm glad you finished. First try and first hundred. I hope you are recovering nicely.

  11. What pretty, pretty bling!

    Sorry it took me so long to read it, but I wanted to make sure I could read about every gruesome moment of it. Congratulations, Gretchen! I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you are such an amazing runner, you really are my hero! You pass out at mile 70-whatever and STILL got up and kept going! I'm sure I'll be telling myself that story at tough moments for years to come.

    Congratulations again. And please, PLEASE will you make that picture where you're chugging drink powder right from the jug your profile photo?!?!?!

  12. Gretchen, thank you for not holding back. I love the long reports, and each feeling of being in the moment every step of the way. It's very educational for those of us who follow...

    Congrats on a great run, and a great finish. I'm right now trying to decide on my first 100 and TRT seems like not the best one, but man..that's a nice buckle.

  13. OK, now you've done it! I have belt buckle envy. That's one good-looking buckle! Your smile complements it well!

    Thank you for your excellent report. I just may need to get this race on my radar.

    You must be stronger than I am in the will power department. I'm a coffee drinker with a running problem. To purposely deprive myself of coffee would just be wrong in so many ways.


  14. Gretch! Amazing report. I haven't read you blog in some time (shame on me), but I'm glad I wandered back over tonight. TRT has been on my list of "Dream Races" for quite some time. I'm glad it doesn't disappoint.

  15. So happy to have read this! As I prepare for TRT100, you've definitely given me a few pearls to gnaw on :). Currently, you're putting the finishing touches on your prep for HARDROCK!!! My, how time flies, huh?! You are a rocks tar, Gretchen.