Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tahoe 200: Detailed Race Report, by Segment

I don't claim to have the best memory for race details; that's why I usually don't write detailed race reports. However, I think I remember enough of the Tahoe 200 to jot down some memories from each segment.  Here goes:

Starting line:
  • Luis Escobar gave the Micah True speech: "Raise your right hand.  Repeat after me: If I get hurt, lost, or die, it's my own damn fault."
Start to Barker Pass (mile 7):
  • The race begins with one hell of a long climb.  Like 4 miles long.  My feet already hurt within the first mile.  Not a good sign!  I stopped and took off my compression socks, and they felt a little better.
  • During the first day, I kept myself busy saying rosaries for folks who had given me prayer requests.  It helped the time fly by, and I felt happy to pray for people, to return the favor  in a way, because I know so many folks have been praying for me lately.
  • I got to see Joe briefly at the aid station.  I wouldn't get to see him again until 4:30am the next morning, at mile 63, because crew aren't allowed at a lot of the early aid stations.
towards the beginning of the first climb
Barker Pass to Loon Lake (mile 24):
  • Shortly after the Barker Pass aid station, the course markers disappeared.  Someone must have gone through and taken them all.  There was an intersection of three trails; I started up one, but looked at my GPS and realized it wasn't right.  So I went back and tried the other two trails; one matched my GPS, but none had course markings.  After a while of wandering back and forth on the trails, talking to other runners about what we should do, a group of six of us decided to go with the trail that matched our GPS.  We committed and took off, continuing to rationalize our decision for the next hour and a half, until we finally saw course markings again.  Whew!
fellow runner Ken's relief upon finding our first course marking in an hour and a half
  • I filled my bladder with dirty water from Buck Island Lake.  Mmm, floaties!
  • We were on the Rubicon Jeep trail for a while.  Those Jeeps stop for no man -- or woman.  I can't say I understand that hobby.  Move forward an inch, get stuck, move forward two inches.  Fail to yield to pedestrians.
  • It started raining towards the end of this leg.  Cold and wet is not my bag, baby.
Loon Lake to Tell's Creek (mile 30.5):
  • It continued raining throughout this stretch, and the temps dropped.  I had to stop under a tree and add layers -- rain paints, arm sleeves, rain jacket, buff over my head.
  • When I arrived at Tell's Creek aid station, I grabbed my drop bag (the 1st drop bag of the race), ran down the road to the bathroom, and changed my outfit head to toe, except for shoes.  Due to the rain, and also my clumsiness at creek crossings, my feet would stay wet from 1pm Friday through 4:30am Saturday.  *Sigh.*
Tell's Creek to Wright's Lake (mile 44):
  • Three words to capture my memories of this stretch: 1) dark 2) wet 3) chilly.
  • Around this point in the race I started thinking, Hey, I did sign up for the Tahoe 200, right?  I haven't seen the damn lake since we started the race!  At this point, we were way south and west of the lake, and wouldn't see it for quite a while yet.
  • This section included the Barrett Jeep trail.  Once again, it seems people can't get enough of driving Jeeps on questionable surfaces.  This time had the added annoyance of dealing with their bright headlights shining in my face.
  • I kept referring to my GPS app (Gaia); it was really helpful in keeping me on course.
Wright's Lake to Sierra-at-Tahoe (mile 62.9):
  • I had my second (and final) drop bag at Wright's Lake.  (After this, Joe would meet me at each aid station with a Victory bag filled with anything I'd need.)  Once again, I changed head to toe (minus shoes) in the bathroom; I was hoping that doing this would prevent chafing.  And I did get remarkably little chafing, which is a new experience for me!
  • This section included a road section of 3-ish miles downhill.  That was amazing.  I joked with a fellow runner, "I'm doing 11-minute miles!  This is great!"
  • I had remembered the RD, Candice, saying that we'd see the ski lift as we approached Sierra-at-Tahoe.  So I got really excited when I saw it . . . and then really frustrated as the aid station didn't appear, and didn't appear . . . I texted Joe something like, "Well, this is my life now.  Walking down this never-ending road."
  • As I finally approached the aid station, I ran into Katie heading out with her pacer, Shaun.  She looked great!  Then I saw Joe, who handed me my Victory bag.  I went inside the bathroom and gave myself a "baby wipe bath" and changed head-to-toe again.  This time I changed shoes as well, to a half-size bigger.  My feet were hurting, but no blisters as of yet.  
  • I tried to sleep in the car, but after a couple minutes, gave up, feeling like I was just wasting time.  It was really not fun leaving Joe and heading back out into the darkness, even though it was almost morning.
Joe modeling the Kodiak bag from Victory Sportdesign, which he used to crew me

Sierra-at-Tahoe to Housewife Hill (mile 70.5):
  • During this segment, I started noticing that my lungs were making a wheezing sound, like a squeak toy.  It sounded just like what I experienced at the end of Bighorn 100 in June.  It's kind of alarming, and it makes you focus on each breath in a way that reminds you, "Shit, if I stop breathing, I'll die!  I hope I keep breathing!"  
  • As I arrived at the aid station, I saw our rental car, and Joe asleep in the driver's seat.  I tapped on the window, almost sorry to wake him up.  I think I changed my shorts and shirt in the car, but I can't remember.  As I sat there, I kept coughing up terrible-looking phlegm.  Joe helped me put my shoes on.  I was really feeling overwhelmed at this point.  I'd gone 70 miles, been moving for a full day, and yet I still had 135 miles to go -- that in itself was way more than I'd ever gone before.  And now with the wheezing, and the coughing . . . I told Joe, "I feel like the wheels are coming off."  
Housewife Hill to Armstrong (mile 88):
  • I just had to make it to Armstrong, and then Joe would get to run with me for a few miles.  I was really looking forward to that.  
  • During this section, we ran through a really pretty meadow.  After that, we crossed a highway and stayed on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  I kept myself entertained for a few hours by listening to podcasts on my phone.  I learned valuable information, like how to make a shrunken head.
  • Coming into Armstrong was so fun -- it was a downhill, and I ran into Katie and Shaun again, and then spotted Joe sitting on a log watching for me.  And, to top it off, Scott Jurek was standing by the aid station with his baby, and told me, "Nice job!"  I needed a moment to collect myself after that.  Scott Jurek!  (Apparently he was pacing Luis Escobar -- who was the next finisher after me, by the way -- so Scott Jurek was right behind me! #fangirl)
  • At Armstrong, I tried sleeping in the car, but couldn't.  Then I tried sleeping outside the car in my sleeping bag.  That didn't work either.  So I just gathered my stuff and took off -- this time, with Joe!
Armstrong to Heavenly (mile 103):
  • Joe paced me the first 4 miles, which was a climb up near Freel Peak, which he had summitted earlier.  It was so nice chatting with him about the adventures he'd been on while I was running.  He'd bagged two peaks and explored some other trails, as well.  In exchange, I shared with him how to shrink a human head.  
  • After Joe left me to head back to move the car, I enjoyed running the rest of the segment.  I took exactly 14 pictures of the sunset.  It was so beautiful!  Unfortunately, none of my photos fully captures how pretty it really was.  The views of Carson Valley lights in the darkness were also pretty cool.
sunset picture 1 of 14
sunset picture 9 of 14.  I couldn't stop myself!
  • This segment only stopped being enjoyable once I reached the Heavenly ski resort area, and there was an unexpected climb.  At this point in the race, any climb is tough, but an unexpected climb makes me unreasonably angry.  Angry at what or whom, I don't know.  Just angry.
  • At Heavenly, Joe met me and explained he'd put my sleeping bag in the sleeping room, and he was charging my headlamps for me.  I laid down and slept -- I can't remember how long, maybe 20-40 minutes.  But I kept waking up and coughing up phlegm.  After I came out of the sleep room, the medical director stopped me and cautioned me that my cough sounded bad, and that they'd already had one case of pneumonia.  This worried me a bit, and I told Joe about it as we started off on the next segment.
Heavenly to Spooner Summit (mile 123.5):
  • Joe and I headed off into the night, on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  He stayed with me about 5 miles.  We noticed a course marking that looked like it had been moved to a wrong trail, so he fixed it.  (Why would someone move course markings?)
  • After Joe left me, before sunrise, I laid down in my bivy sack and took a 10-minute power nap.  After that, I was able to keep going.  There was one section that would have been a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, except that the sun hadn't yet risen.  I turned on my music at this point and jogged down to the Spooner Summit aid station, still ahead of my predicted time by a couple hours.  
  • I was feeling pretty good during this entire segment.  At the same time, though, I was starting to feel like the end of every segment was longer than it should be.  I kept thinking the aid station should be here, it should be here, and even thought I glimpsed a tent and heard voices, but there was nothing there yet.  I was very happy when I finally saw the aid station, and there was Joe!  I think this was maybe the aid station where he rubbed my feet.  :)
Spooner Summit to Tunnel Creek (mile 140.5):
  • At Spooner, I changed to my Altra Escalantes.  Even though they were road shoes, I was desperate to wear something comfortable, and I always feel good in those shoes.  My poor feet were not feeling great, although still no blisters, just soreness.
  • I really struggled on this section.  Joe stayed with me about 5 miles, and it was all climbing.  Blech.  I had to stop every few steps to catch my breath.  I was wheezing, breathing heavily, high heart rate.  No bueno.  But the views were great, just below Snow Valley Peak.  
  • We stopped and had a picnic lunch and enjoyed the scenery.  Then Joe left to head back to move the car -- by way of Snow Valley Peak, to see the view -- and I laid down to take a nap in my bivy sack.  It was funny timing, when I woke up 10 minutes later and started off again on the trail, I ran into Joe, coming down from the peak.  I didn't even realize those trails intersected.  Good timing!  I got one more second of Joe Time.  
  • From here, it was all downhill to Tunnel Creek.  Literally, and also figuratively, in terms of my mental, physical, and emotional state.  I had such low energy, and my breathing problems continued. The continual mountain bikers kicking up dust into the air didn't help.  Around mile 130, I texted Joe and asked him to say a prayer for me, because I was really struggling and couldn't foresee how on earth I'd be able to continue and finish.  Then I asked if I could call him.  So I did, and he calmed me down a lot.  But man, was that a long, long, terrible slog for next 10 miles.  It was runnable, but I couldn't run, so instead I walked for about 3.5 more hours. 
  • Unbeknownst to me, after hanging up the phone, Joe went right to the store and bought me allergy medicine, cough medicine, food, and a rose.  I dragged myself into the aid station, having been wallowing in my own pity party for the previous four hours, all ready to hand him an invitation to the party as well.  I was ready to discuss how miserable I was and how it just didn't seem possible that I could keep going.  But he didn't ever give me the chance: he greeted me and said, "When we leave this aid station, here's how we'll go out.  Let me fill your bladder.  I've got sandwiches and donut holes in the car."  And then he showed me my flower.  So instead of discussing quitting, I ate something, and drained and taped two blisters.
  • Oh, this also happened: I had tried to text Joe and ask him if I could borrow his Hokas at Tunnel Creek, but I didn't have service.  (Joe's shoes are a full size bigger than mine, so he brought them to Tahoe in case I would want to use them at some point.)  When I got to the car, I asked him if I could change into his Hokas.  I didn't realize they were on his feet, since he hadn't gotten the text.  He didn't hesitate, he took them off his feet and gave them to me to wear.  It's like that saying, "He'd give you the shirt off his back" -- only better!  My feet felt sore still, but so much more comfortable in Joe's shoes.  I wore them for the rest of the race.
My flower.  Not pictured: the donut holes, which were another excellent purchase!  Well done, Joe!

Tunnel Creek to Brockway Summit (mile 156):
  • Joe and I took off across the road and along "Millionaire's Mile," this beautiful lakeshore road with multi-million dollar estates.   The kind that have names.  We had so much fun laughing and joking about the properties.  And we ran into a group of three guys that we chatted with -- until we turned a corner and started a sharp ascent.  The group of guys took off, climbing really strong, and I fell back.  
  • We made it to the powerlines, which was a ridiculously steep "trail" (not a trail), where I had to take a lot of breaks.  Climb, climb, climb, break.  Repeat.  Luckily we had attended the course briefing where we'd been warned that there are three false summits.  I was still fooled, though, into celebrating after the last false summit.  Joe hesitated to point out that we weren't quite done with the climb.  The sun set while we were on the powerlines, and at the top, we took a moment to enjoy the stars.
  • Once we really made it to the top, and we found where it connected to the Tahoe Rim Trail, Joe headed back down the powerlines (poor Joe!) and I continued up more climbs.  I felt good, though, for whatever reason.
  • At Brockway Summit, loud music and friendly volunteers greeted me.  This was supposed to be a sleep station, and another runner complained to me about how he wasn't able to get any sleep there, due to the loud music.  I had asked Joe to have my earplugs and sleeping bag ready for me, though, so I went inside a tent and had a restful two hours' sleep before taking off again.  (The medical director told me later that those volunteers had been "partying" before they arrived at their aid station, and had continued partying, and were maybe in a little trouble for it.)
Brockway Summit to Tahoe City (mile 175.5):
  • A highlight of this section was telling Joe about a podcast episode I had listened to on my way to Brockway.  Here's an excerpt from the conversation: 
          "So Oprah was interviewing Jimmy Carter."
          "Wow, there's a real brain trust."
          "[Laughing] He seems like a nice guy!"
          "Yeah, I'm sure he is.  Too bad he was a terrible Commander-in-Chief."
          "Okay, but there was this really cute story about him and his wife.  You see, he'd forgotten her birthday, so he wrote on a piece of paper, 'I'll do anything you ask of me.'"
          "Ooh, good strategy."
          "So she thought about it and asked him to bring her coffee every morning when she first wakes up.  And he's been doing that for 25 years now.  Isn't that sweet?"
          "Man, that plan really backfired!  Poor guy."
  • When Joe and I left Brockway Summit, it felt nice and warm, despite being in the middle of the night.  So Joe only wore shorts and a t-shirt.  Unfortunately, I started feeling incredibly sleepy, so I climbed into my bivy sack to take a power nap.  But I felt so bad -- Joe was just sitting there on the trail, freezing to death.  I got up, kept going, but then felt again like I just needed to lie down and sleep.  I finally convinced Joe to take my long-sleeve shirt and run back to the car, and I would lie down for a nap.  It took a lot of persuasion, because he didn't want to leave me earlier than planned, but it worked out well for both of us.  I ended up getting a 35-minute nap, and Joe got warmed up by running fast back to the aid station.
Tahoe City to Stephen Jones (mile 195.5):
  • This was my lowest of low points.  At the Tahoe City aid station, the medical director taped up my feet, and as he was doing so, I mentioned our conversation back at Heavenly, and said that when Joe had me take Claritin and cough suppressant, it seemed to help, although I was still wheezing and coughing up phlegm.  He proceeded to tell me that they'd had a case of pulmonary edema they just sent to the hospital.  When he detailed his symptoms, I thought, "That's exactly what I'm experiencing!"  That totally psyched me out, and back on the trail with Joe, I was taking a few steps, and then stopping, despairing that there was no way I'd be able to go another 30 miles when I had no energy and was having so much trouble breathing.  And I couldn't catch my breath on climbs, and there were so many climbs left!  And -- and -- and -- . . . I was working myself into such a panic that it was even harder to breathe.  Joe told me to slow down my breathing, take deep breaths, not worry, and I tried, but that's easier said than done.  Ultimately, he figured it would be good for me to rest, so he found a flat, soft-looking spot and made a little bed for me.  I slept 20 minutes or so.
  • pacing duties include taking pictures of trail naps
  • When I got up, I didn't feel a ton better physically, but I was at least able to make forward progress without feeling overwhelmed and despairing about being able to do thirty more miles.  On the big climb, I started muttering, "Okay, okay, okay" with every step.  (This continued through the end of the race.)  Poor Joe, to have to listen to that!  Joe got me all the way to the top of the climb, mile 11 or 12 of the segment, before leaving me to move the car.  Just as he left, as the sun set, a storm came up.  The winds picked up, thunder and lightning crashed, and I started moving down the mountain as fast as I could to avoid being struck by lightning.  Poor Katie got hailed on at this point, on the top of a different mountain!
  • The trail led down to a road, which led to a nice bike path along Lake Tahoe.  That was a nice stretch, and I power-walked my way past another lady runner and her pacer.  Then we turned off onto another street and then a singletrack trail.  I expected the aid station to be right there -- I kept looking at my GPS, but it was way further away than it was supposed to be.  It turned out to be God timing, though -- the aid station wasn't where it was supposed to be on Joe's map, either, and he was struggling to find it in the car.  He was so worried he'd miss me, but since I had to go further than expected, we ended up walking up to the aid station at almost the very same moment!  
  • At the aid station, it was still raining, so we went into the car and both fell asleep for about 90 minutes.  We awoke to a loud thunder clap.  I turned to Joe and said, "What if we waited until the storm ended to go?  What if we waited until morning, and then went?  I could still finish by the cutoff time."  Fortunately, Joe is much wiser and more determined than I am, and he said that would be a bad idea, so we packed food into our vests and headed out into the night.  
Stephen Jones to Finish (mile 205.5):
  • The final segment began with a relentless climb.  My verbal tic, "Okay, okay, okay" somehow seemed to help me take step after step up that stupid mountain.  That's right, it was stupid.  At this point, I was getting angered by the climbs, and called them all sorts of names in my head.
  • We passed by Barker Pass again, which was the mile 7 aid station, but which was no longer an aid station, and from then on, everything was familiar to me, because it was the same as the first 7 miles of the race.  It was fun reminiscing with Joe: This is where I saw you!  You were sitting on this log!
  • Joe left me almost at the very end of the climb to drive the car to the finish line.  After I finished the climb (finally), there was maybe 5 miles of relentless downhill.  I hadn't thought I'd ever tire of going downhill, but holy crap, enough is enough when you're at mile 200 and beyond.  I was also cursing the rocks.  I actually said out loud, "Great, I hope this hill never ends.  And could we get any more rocks here?"
  • Finally, I could see the lodge, and I heard a cowbell and cheers.  It was really nice of the few volunteers to wait around at 4:15 in the morning to cheer on a solitary runner in the darkness.  The scene was pretty anti-climactic.  I grabbed my buckle and Joe and I walked to the car and started driving towards my friend Annie's house.  Annie was a lifesaver -- she gave us a place to shower and sleep, and even did our stinky laundry for us!  
  • After recuperating at Annie's, we came back for the dinner and awards ceremony.  There I got to chat with Katie and hear about her race, and I got to meet Victor and Jenna Ballesteros and Lucy the Victory Sportdesign mascot.  It was such a treat to hang out with them and hear about Victor's race, when he did the Tahoe 200 in its inaugural year.  I'm looking forward to seeing them again when they come out to Texas for the Brazos Bend 100 in December.  I'm also really looking forward to returning a small, small portion of the help I got from Joe by crewing him when he runs the Brazos Bend 100.  Go Joe!
(Note: scroll down for two more reports on Tahoe 200: "Lessons Learned" and "Surprises")

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