Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tahoe Rim Trail 100, 2010

I’ve often thought that writing and running are complimentary pursuits in my life—both essential parts of holding my world together. After writing my last blog post, and subsequently running the race I was pondering, I am more certain than ever that these two activities come together for me with a result that is more than just the sum of their parts. Using writing to explore my goals and thoughts going into this race is almost certainly what allowed me to have a wonderful and rewarding experience during a hot day on a difficult course. Feeling grounded in my goals and intentions gave me something to focus on when things got tough during the race.

In the weeks leading up to the race I had a few conversations with friends about the strength of the ultra running community, and how we enjoyed being part of it. It had me thinking a lot about what I love about trail running—what I’ve gotten out of it and what I hope to accomplish. I never felt a stronger sense of the running community than I did at this race, on this day.

Donald, me, Olga and George, ready for a big day

It started Friday night with a small gathering of runners at my house for dinner. I love it when runners come together from far and wide to hang out, and it’s especially nice when we can take some time together outside of the race to socialize. It was a perfect pre-race distraction for me.

100 mile chicks!

Saturday morning I arrived at the start a bit earlier than strictly necessary, but it turned out to be yet another great opportunity to say hi to a number of friends I knew I wouldn’t see once we started running. I was excited but not nervous, as we headed off into the dark towards Marlette Lake.

Racer and wingman, pre-race

Is it just me, or am I the only one on the starting line letting loose with a huge belly laugh? Catherine must have been saying something pretty funny!

I ran a few miles with Kathy D’Onofrio, until I realized that her pace was too fast for me and I had to let her go. After that I ran for a while with Mark Tanaka, who is clearly also too fast for me. Unfortunately, I failed to recognize this because he is such an entertaining person to run with. By the time I left Tunnel Creek at mile 11, I was well aware that I needed to slow things down or be very sorry.

As I headed down into the Red House Loop I noticed my stomach was upset, and I really started to worry. Had I made a mess of things already? I was forced to duck into the woods for an emergency bathroom stop with nothing but thimbleberry leaves for TP. I was feeling pretty bummed, and I knew that was a bad way to feel this early in the race.

At the bottom of Red House I took a mental break to assess my situation. The last thing I wanted was to feel depressed about things already, so I made up my mind not to. I made a plan to slow down, eat some food, and get some salt caps from my drop bag at Tunnel Creek. I gave myself a pep-talk and decided that I needed to enjoy myself, no matter what the day might bring. All of this helped me feel much better.

On the way out of Red House, there is a short stretch where you share the trail with runners headed out. It was on this section of steep climbing that I saw nearly everyone I knew in the 50M and 50K races on their way down, and was even greeted by a few anonymous blog readers. Seeing all those smiling faces, getting all those hugs and hellos, was absolutely the highlight of my day. It was exactly the mental boost that I needed, and if you were one of those people you need to know how important you were to my day. Thank you!

At Tunnel Creek my weight was down three pounds already, from 133 to 130. I simply incorporated the information into my plan to take care of myself. All the way to Diamond Peak I concentrated on salt and hydration.

Turning down the new section of the course that headed towards the mile-30 aid station at Diamond Peak Lodge, I checked my watch and realized I might arrive as much as an hour earlier than planned. Would Donald, my one-man crew/pacer team even be there yet? It’s not that I couldn’t have survived without him, but there’s something very comforting about knowing someone is there waiting for you. I was looking forward to the support of someone just asking me what I needed and cheering me on. When I rounded the corner into the parking lot to see my Subaru parked there, I smiled with relief. Donald was somewhere on the other side of the lodge waiting for me.

Rounding the corner into the Diamond Peak Aid Station

Part of the new course includes a departure from Diamond Peak that leads the runner straight up the ski slope to the ridge. I referred to this section affectionately as the “Hill from Hell” or the “Cliffs of Insanity!” It was simply brutal. No fun at mile 30, I knew it would be unbearable at mile 80.

Looking back down the steep, sandy climb as runners trudge up

The twenty miles back to the Start/Finish transition went reasonably well. I spent the whole time focused on hydration and nutrition, and every time I got on the scale and it said 134 I gave myself a big high-five. I fought the heat with a bandanna full of ice on my back, and a cup of ice in my sports bra at every aid station. The volunteers, particularly the men, were amused every time I dumped ice down my top, (especially when I squealed) but no one made fun of me. They all knew I was being smart.

Following the ribbons on the TRT

Back over Marlette Peak

Approaching the Snow Valley Peak Aid Station at mile 43

Friends greeted me at the 50 mile station at the Start/Finish and helped me with my food and water as Donald got ready to join me. Seeing all those people, I again felt overwhelmed by the awesome community around me. I tend to get a little giddy at the aid stations because it’s just so cool to have all those people cheering. I was told by many people after the race how good I looked at various aid stations. It’s ironic since I was struggling physically most of the day, but I’m sure it’s because I was enjoying myself in spite of feeling crummy. I’m really not such a goofball during the miles in between aid stations. I’m pretty sure.

Meghan and I do a little jig together as I come into mile 50.

Weighing-in alongside Kathy. 134! High-five!

As Donald and I headed off on lap #2, I couldn’t help but compare how I felt now to how I felt at this same point during my race in 2008. It was obvious to me that I felt decidedly worse this time around. I’d run about 30 minutes faster for 50 miles on a harder course on a hotter day, so it wasn’t too surprising. Still, my training had been much better this time around, so I held on to the faith that it would get me through.

Heading towards Marlette Lake for the second time that day.

Having Donald as my pacer was a circumstance that turned out to be nothing short of perfect. It might seem odd, since on the surface it would appear that we didn’t know each other well. As I said to him in the weeks before the race, we’d only spent about 30 minutes ever in each other’s presence, and for at least half of that (during his Western States run last year) he was in danger of puking all over me. Possibly not an auspicious beginning to a friendship, but ultra running is funny that way. He’s written enough blog posts that made me think, Whoa, this guy is looking inside my brain and putting words to my own thoughts, that I knew it was going to work out just fine. When he volunteered for the job, I jumped at the chance.

My friend Betsy once gave me advice on finding a good pacer, and she recommended having someone you respect and trust, someone you’ll listen to, but not someone you know well enough that you’ll argue with him or get irritated. With that description, I knew I had the perfect pacer in Donald.

I was excited to play tour guide on my favorite trails, and I busied myself by explaining the course to Donald, and pointing out flowers and views and things he really didn’t need me to point out.

When we landed at Tunnel Creek for my fourth time, I decided it was time to have some blister issues taken care of. They’d been bugging me all day, and frankly I needed a good excuse to sit down.

Jenny, Andy and JoAnn tackle my disgusting feet.

The amazing Tunnel Creek crew took great care of me, as usual. Andy and JoAnn expertly dealt with my blisters, then Jenny and Donald cleaned my feet and put my shoes and socks back on. I was reminded of watching Nikki Kimball’s crew at Western States last year and thinking what a rock star she was to have an amazing crew like that. Here I was now with my own rock star crew! I was only disappointed that no one took a picture of Jenny and Donald cleaning the dirt from between my toes. I thought it was great! I was enjoying myself so much in fact, (acting like a goofball again) that one of the volunteers asked me if I was on drugs.

“You know,” I responded, “I think I might be!” Running is kind of a drug, right?

Have you ever seen people with two such goofy grins heading into the Red House Loop? Complete dorks--both of us!

As the evening wore on, my physical state slowly deteriorated. Somehow though, almost magically, I felt great mentally. We shared stories, Donald kept me laughing with corny jokes, and on the Cliffs of Insanity! we stopped several times to turn off our lights and check out the stars. (It had nothing to do with needing a rest, I assure you!) It was good stuff, for sure.

Back at Tunnel Creek one last time. I can't fathom why I'm still smiling.

The hardest part of the night came somewhere after 4:00 AM. I kept thinking I was feeling dizzy or something when it finally occurred to me what was going on: I was incredibly sleepy! I became so sleepy in fact, that I began nodding off while running, and swerving all over the trail. I kept shaking my head, trying to wake myself back up, but I had to do it every three or four seconds. This went on for hours. All I wanted was to sleep, just to sit down for a few minutes and nod off. I knew of course, that it probably wouldn’t help, and so did Donald, but he indulged me once or twice and let me sit down. If it weren’t for him though, I probably would have curled up at the side of the trail and slept for hours. I’m no good at sleep deprivation.


Taking a 60 second nap in the middle of the trail

I’d heard plenty of stories from other runners of having hallucinations on trail. Since I hadn’t experienced anything like that during my other 100 in 2008, I figured I just wasn’t a hallucinator. Boy was I wrong! I’d been seeing things that weren’t really there a little bit all day, but in these wee hours of a sleep-deprived morning, it all became completely unreal. I entertained myself by watching houses and buildings and cars and people that I knew weren’t really there turn themselves back into trees and rocks. It’s really fascinating the scenes the human brain can concoct in such a depleted state.

Since I was well aware that none of it was real, I didn’t say much to Donald. When I did point out a little black dog that turned into a tree stump, I think his response was something like, “Boy, you’re really going through it, aren’t you?” I wasn’t sure if he was laughing at me or freaked out. I refrained from pointing anything unusual out to him after that.

In those last ten miles, my brain and emotions were all over the place. I kept reminding myself of the goals I’d written up before the race, and that’s what kept me from falling apart mentally. The few moments when the pain and the sleepiness were so hard that I was overwhelmed and I thought “I just want to be done with this,” I immediately put the brakes on that thought. I remembered to acknowledge what I was feeling and accept it as part of the experience. I remembered not to fight it. I’d been looking forward to this race for so long, I didn’t want to wish any of it away, not even the worst, most painful parts. I breathed deeply, took pride in how far I had come, enjoyed the presence of a friend, and kept moving down the hill with painful, little steps.

I already knew, as I made my way around Spooner Lake in the last mile, that I was happy with my race and proud of myself. I’d made a few mistakes early on, but I’d been smart and kept it together for most of the day and night; I’d stayed positive throughout the race. I think that, most of all, is what I really feel good about.

Physically, I felt much worse than I think I should have, and it was a very hard race for me starting early in the day. After my pep talk at the bottom of Red House though, I never felt down or disappointed with how things were going. I just remembered my goal of accepting my best effort without judgment. I knew I was giving my best effort, and that allowed me the freedom to enjoy myself, the freedom to let go of everything else outside of the run itself.

Andrew surprised me by being at the finish line, and the race officials surprised me by telling me I was the third woman.

“Third?” I sputtered in confusion. “But what happened to all those women in front of me?”

A woman standing nearby raised her eyebrows and hands and said quietly, “They all dropped like flies.”

I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes on a hard course on a hot day. The finish rate for the 100 was 56%. Ouch.

This race was so challenging for me, I’m not sure I’ll be back to the 100 mile distance. I said the same thing in 2008 though, so I’m certainly not saying I
won’t be back. A runner passed me in the last few miles, being paced by Rob Evans. Rob told us as he ran by that he loved being a pacer this year. (He ran the 100 last year.) I told him I was seriously keeping that option in mind for next year, and I am!

I can’t express enough gratitude to all the people involved in this race. Everyone from the directors and the volunteers, the other runners, my pacer/crew, to the friends and family cheering on the sidelines. A special community indeed—this race is where I have felt it the most. Thank you!


  1. Gretch, I loved the descriptiuon! The sleepiness is one of my vices, and the smile you had was beautiful - almost more so than trails themselves! Way to pull through, and glad Donald was there to entertain. He owes me sex talk, so he's got to pace me somewhere:) Congratulations, and yes, at this point I feel I rather pace and run 50's, but then again, I am taking my life one step at a time and see the changes as they come.
    p.s. I am stealing your pictures and linking to your post for more of them.

  2. I've been highly anticipating this race report, and it was well worth the wait. What a great team you and Donald made! And what a great race you had just by keeping it together and finishing third among all the women. THIRD! That's gotta be worth a few howls from those dogs that turn into tree stumps!!

    I think I'll bookmark this one for future reference. Congratulations, Gretchen.

  3. Amazing, Gretchen. Your ability to take a blisteringly hot race day and turn it into a hilarious, fun time with friends is inspiring. Wish I would have been a little faster into Red House to have seen you coming out - might have given me a lift too.

  4. Congratulations! And thank you for writing such a well thought out, well written account of your experience. It was a joy to read. I'm glad to hear that you and Donald were such great partners out there. You really made the race sound like a lot of fun, despite all the issues :).

    Congrats again!

  5. Olga - You can always use my pictures. And sex talk?? I didn't get any of that! I think I got short changed! Donald and I are going to have to have a talk ...
    It was great seeing you out there. Take things easy, for sure. Maybe we should meet up at a nice little 50 mile race or something and hang out. :)

    Anne - Aww, thanks. It was a pretty special day, for sure. I have to say though, I'm glad the trees are all staying just trees these days!

    Turi - I was totally looking for you on Red House! I think you might be the only person I didn't see. Total bummer. I also wanted to tell you that I've been using your TRT wallet you made me for the last several weeks as good luck. It rocks! I showed it off at dinner on Friday to everyone and I think you may need to go into business selling those next year. ;) Maybe the race can do wallets instead of t-shirts?

    Addy- Thanks! That does kind of sum it up - a lot of fun despite some tough challenges. Well, I guess the challenges are why we are there, so if we can't handle them with a sense of humor, then it would be a total drag, right?

  6. What a great performance! That was a tough day out there, and you rocked it. Your 3rd place finish was due to the wisdom of pacing. Glad you got some hallucinations too - those are the best part!

    I had a feeling you had started fast when I didn't see you on the Red House loop when doing the 50k. Jon Olsen was the last guy I saw coming up, and he said Tanaka was just behind him.

    I chatted with Donald while he was waiting for you at the 50-mile mark. He was having a great time being your pacer!

    Happy recovery...


  7. Wow Gretchen what a fantastic post and description of running a 100 miles. I have felt everything you described but have never put into words like this. From feeling numb and dizzy to the hallucinations. Love it.
    I especially loved how you describe how you saved your race. The pep talk at the bottom of Red House to taking the steps to slow down and eat and drink and take in some salt. You would have fallen aside like the others if you had not taken those steps when you did. Anyone that has done 100's or is thinking about their first one should read this post, they might have a chance at finishing.
    A huge congratulation to you and a well deserved 3rd place. (almost second place!) Take care and recover well.

    BTW I'll send you some pics.

  8. Nice report Gretchen, I had no idea you were so sleepy. You are a total badass, stud woman for completing that course!! I was biting my tongue at DP trying not to tell you what place you were in and about the drops :) Anyway, I hope that you are still resting some (I am), can't wait to celebrate our totally hardcore running successes!!

  9. Great Job Gretchen! I can't imagine doing that loop twice! I saw you coming up Red House and you looked happy as ever...your personal pep talks seem to work well.

    I could have used your frame of mind (pep talks) during the 50M. Didn't even come close to my goals; I'm really surprised I even finished!

    I talked to your pacer before the 50M race and that guy is one nice dude!

    See you on the trails.


  10. Congrats Gretchen on a great run! Sounds like you ran through a lot, but way to endure to the finish, shows the mental toughness you have. Recover well and enjoy the accomplishment!


  11. Great job and nice meeting you at the start. You absolutely rocked it out there! I'm also thinking 50's are more my thing (this race was just so dang hard and my first 100), but who knows what the future will bring. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

  12. Yaaaaaay Gretchen! Your blogs are so inspiring, especially reading all the emotions that pass through you during these mind and body blowing runs. Indeed running and writing go hand in hand for you! :) And I must agree- running dorks are the best kind.

  13. Scott - Thanks! The hallucinations were definitely entertaining. Glad you came early to the start so we could say hi, even though we didn't get to chat really.
    I was well behind Mark on Red House, so you missed me because YOU were going so fast! Glad you got to chat with Donald, too.

    George - Thanks. I do think my experience from 2008 helped me in terms of knowing what to do when things went wrong. Turns out I was coming down with a cold - cough and sore throat developed during the race and I'm sick as a dog now - so circumstances may not have been the best for me. I feel great about doing the best with my day! Thanks also for all your work out there. You guys really put on a great event. I would love to see your pictures!

    Jamie - It was great seeing you at Diamond Peak. When you said "you're in ssss..." and bit your tongue I was certain it was sixth. :) Funny. Guess I'm glad I didn't know because I may not have enjoyed the last 20 as much, feeling stressed about getting passed. And yes, lets get together soon!

    Darren - I remember seeing you on Red House! I figured based on your time it was s tough day out there. You should feel good about pushing through it! That new hill ... Oh. My. Right? Anyway, good job! And yeah, my pacer is pretty darn nice, isn't he?

    Brett - Thanks, it was definitely quite an experience. Congrats on your awesome race! A finish like that really doesn't allow the rest of us to have any excuses about it being a hot day or a slow course. Darn you! ;) Anyway, I hope you are stoked and think about coming back to this race in the future.

    Joy - Thanks and congrats to you!! Such a tough course (and day!) for your first 100. I hope you are feeling mighty proud and resting up!

    Amber - Yay running dorks! :) Thanks for the kind words. Also, big yes to beer drinking at your place next week. ;)

  14. Oh, I love it! Congratulations! What a stellar performance. I love all the smiles throughout, and I think that picture of you snoozing on the trail is my new favorite, too funny!

  15. Congratulations, Gretchen! Thanks for a wonderful read. I love your "be here now" attitude. And I'm with you on the 100's. It takes a tremendous toll on the body, but it's such a trip to train and run and finish.

    "What happened to all of the women in front of me?" That's awesome! Icing on the cake!

    Enjoy your recovery. Every livelong moment of it......

  16. Yip, yip! Congrats, girl, and awesome write-up!

    I LOVELOVELOVE the mini nap on the trail pic. That seriously says almost it all!

    You're a rockstar!

  17. I suspect that your writing makes you a better runner, and your running makes you a better writer. Nice how that works, huh?

    Fantastic report, chica - although I think you give me too much credit. There was more than one point when I wondered which of us was the one doing the most assisting. You were about as low-maintenance as I could possibly hope for, mainly because you were so dialed in with all the training you had done beforehand, combined with the perfect mindset all through the race. Have I already told you that I'm proud of you?

    However, a few points of clarification:

    1) Your 60 second nap was actually a full 2 minutes; I had a bit of compassion for you.

    2) I forgot to tell you the joke about the dancing duck - remind me for next time.

    3) I have no earthly idea what Olga's talking about, but ... good golly. That sure sounds like it would be an interesting experience. I think she'd have me blushing the whole time.

    Big congrats to you, and thanks again for the ride - I'm already looking forward to the next one!

  18. My favorite part of all this was that you were dancing at Commons Beach to Hot Buttered Rum mere hours after finishing. Whatever it is you are made of is a rare element indeed!

  19. That was a great write-up Gretchen, and don't tell me that those were the only pictures that turned out well (btw, can I steal a couple?). Great we got to chat at the beginning--honestly I thought I might not get to talk to you at all. My one hallucination was more of a mirage; you were really tripping out! And yes, they dropped like flies, so your 3rd place overall is well deserved-- congrats!

  20. You're such a dang inspiration. I can't decide if I'm more blown away by your physical toughness, your mental toughness, or your infectious enthusiasm.

    Super bummed I missed linking up more than we did, but I can't tell you how glad you "talked me into" coming out. And I can't wait until the next time the lil' crew is assembled again.

    When I grow up I want to be just like you!

  21. Dang, Stacy took the words right out of my mouth. I'm approximately twice your age, but ... When I grow up (do my first 100) I want to be just like you (with your great attitude and joie de vivre).

    And you went dancing after the race? Yep, I'd say you milked the experience for all it was worth!


  22. Congrats, Gretchen! I am blown away by your strength and endurance, both physically and mentally. You're an inspiration to runners, especially a novice one such as myself. =)


  23. Paige - Thanks. Yeah, that picture makes it look like I am just totally devastated, doesn't it? Just SO sleepy!

    Pam - Thanks for reading! 100's are a crazy trip. Probably not my ideal distance as far as performing well, but such an adventure. That's probably why I'll do more of them in the future.

    Meghan - Thanks so much for being there! It was great to see you this weekend and especially at the 50 mile mark. (Also, thanks for cooking and doing dishes on Friday. You're like number one crew-woman for taking that on!)

    Donald - I couldn't possibly have given you too much credit. As to your points:

    1) 2 minutes?? I think you were too easy on me. Next time make it 30 seconds and tell me it was 60. I won't know the difference.

    2) Dancing Duck. Check. I'll remember.

    3) Don't play innocent with me. Olga has raised my expectations of you so you'd better come up with something. ;)

    So, are you busy on the last weekend in June next year?

    Dave - Great seeing you at Tahoe! Thanks for reading my report. Yeah, no better way to top off an amazing weekend than with some friends and some Butter. You should have seen me later than night though when I finally sat down to eat. I almost passed out. Oops. :)

    Mark - Thanks. It really was a blast running with you, even if I should have been going slower. I don't regret it. Of course you can use whatever pictures you want. Congrats again on your big redemption. You rock!

    Stacy - Aww, you're so sweet. I'm so glad you were there. Sorry that I didn't get to see you after your race, but I guess that was kind of a given. Next time we all get together for a a run it's going to be way more low key, and I'm pretty stoked about that.

    Dan - Thanks, that's very kind. When you do run a 100, be sure to enjoy even the icky parts, cause there will surely be some. :)

    Aimee - Thanks for stopping by! And for the kind words.

  24. Great post, great race and great report.

    Wisdom sure paid off and slowing down early was a great plan!

    The biggest take away here...you enjoyed, started with a smile and finished with one too...can't say better than that!

  25. You done did it again - congratulations!

    Your reports always put "me there", albeit without the blisters and hallucinations. Thankfully.

    See ya at your next 100! :)

  26. Fantastic report. Fantastic run. Congratulations.

  27. It was great seeing you Gretchen and it was also a pleasant surprise to find that Donald was your pacer. I had asked Jamie at Diamond Peak who your pacer was and I only caught the "Dona" part so I thought some woman named Dona was pacing you. Imagine my surprise when I ran into Donald. So wait, no caffeine for the night section? I take caffeine to stay up but it didn't stop me from having hallucinations when I ran the race with you in 08. I saw trees making out shortly after leaving Tunnel Creek for the last time, headed home. There was some passionate twisting and wrapping of branches going on.

    Anyway great job that you rallied and pulled through despite not feeling great from the early miles of the race. You persevered and endured through your own battles and it got you through to the finish line. I can totally relate with the experience, many of us can I'm sure. Something tells me you will recover faster from this race than the one in 08. You are stronger now, more than ever.

    P.S. Love Rob Evan's sentiments about being a pacer. I know from stories shared last year that his pacer (think it was Jasper) pushed him hard through the last miles because he could see Brett River's lights coming up from behind.

  28. Stuart - Yeah, wish I'd had more wisdom in the first ten miles, but I did have great fun out there!

    Russ - Does this mead you'll be at States again next year? Cuz that's next on the list!

    Hank - Thank you very much!

    Rick - Wow, sounds like you won the hallucination game. I think witnessing some passionate embraces sounds like more fun than buildings and cars. I feel so boring. :)

    I definitely already feel much more recovered than last time, both physically and emotionally. Actually, I'm already thinking about when I can get back to this race. CRAZY!!!!

  29. Hi Gretchen,

    first time posting to your blog. I was one of those flies that dropped. I had lost 7 lbs after I came out of the red house loop on the first time. Reading your blog now I should have sat down and taken a break, because it was just the beginning of the race and I was already dehydrating. I tried to catch up but by mile 56 I could not go on. Hallucinations, dizziness, losing my balance you name it. I had conversations with real people (so they tell me) that I don't even remember. I never regained my weight. So, congratulations on your finish. You ran a smart race and persistence paid off. Take care,


  30. Thanks for the continued inspiration, my friend. Hope to see you again soon.

  31. Congrats, lady!! This race report is really exuding the love, I've got to say. If I'm not mistaken, I think you had a damn fine adventure. And you made the podium! Woooooot! Now go enjoy the rest of your summer.

    Leslie and Keith

  32. Marco - Sorry about your DNF man. We do learn the most from races where things go wrong though. I hope you rest up from this experience and get back out there to try it again!

    Lara - Thanks for reading! :)

    Leslie and Keith - Thanks for the love. I'm already ready for the next race. That sounds like an enjoyable summer to me--lot's of running!

  33. Sorry I'm late commenting! I really enjoyed the photos and your reflections. Accepting our best effort without judgment is so simply beautiful, but hard to do! Congrats for embracing that and coming away with a great race. Looking forward to meeting you at Waldo!