Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Racing the 2006 Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler

Last weekend, I joined ~400 ultrarunners for the 2006 Tahoe Rim Trail 50k/50m/100m (TRT) near Incline Village, NV. This course winds up and down the mountain range on the northeast section of Lake Tahoe, providing gorgeous views and plenty of climbing. This was the fifth running of the TRT, and there was something for everyone. If you wanted to go fast, the 50k doubled as the RRCA 50k National Trail Championships. If you wanted to go long, a 100 mile option was added this year (double loop of the 50 miler). No matter what the distance, you were bound to get "a glimpse of heaven, and a taste of hell" as advertised. I ran the 50k last year, and opted for the 50-mile this year. It was as exciting and beautiful as I had hoped.

Clear skies and 70-degree weather awaited us at the 6am start. The forecast was for heat, but not "deadly" heat like at Western States. The centurians (aka, 100-milers) had started an hour ahead of us, and were well on their way. I knew somewhere in that pack were the familiar faces of Don Lundell, first-time 100-miler Chihping Fu, Mark Tanaka, Tracy Bahr, Catra Corbett, and many more who had been talking about this race all year. I looked forward to catching up! As the sun came up, Race Director Dave Cotter sent off the 50k and 50m runners in a blaze of dust.

(Heading up the new single track to Marlett Lake as the morning sun awakens the valley)

Within the first two miles, we found ourselves on the new single track trail up to Marlett Lake. This is the one course change from last year, and a significant improvement if you ask me. It's a wonderful trail that avoids much of the mosquito-infested marsh land that the previous trail cut through. But it also means you hit single track much earlier, so we had some back up of runners. No worries - always best to start slow!

(First climb done, heading into Marlett Lake)

We finished the first climb and circumnavigated Marlett Lake. Fisherman were posted everywhere, enjoying the first year that Marlett has been stocked with trout and open for catch-and-release. The sun was coming out now, and I took the opportunity to pull out some new trail running gear that I had bought just for the occasion. After running out of water between aid stations last year, I decided to give the Camelbak a try. I had also been training with Salt Stick Caps electrolytes and a Cool Off Bandana that holds ice when needed. One thing I didn't bring this time was my iPod - for TRT, it was going to be nature's soundtrack.

(Jeremy Reynolds of Los Gatos, CA cuts through the fisherman as we head around the lake)

We climbed for a couple more miles and hit the Hobart Aid Station around mile 6. I grabbed some m&m's and pretzels, and hit the trail again, pacing with Vance Roget up to Marlett Peak. We caught up to some of the 100-milers as we crossed one of the few remaining snow fields, and wished them a good race. We picked up the pace over the next few miles and criss-crossed our way down the Valley to the Twin Lakes, and the Tunnel Creek Aid Station.

(The gorgeous Tahoe Rim Trail, just before Tunnel Creek)

As we approached the aid station, the front-runners in the 100 mile race were already coming OUT of the Red House Loop. That meant they were more than an hour ahead of me, and setting a phenomenal pace! Chris Chromczak (Rensslaer, NY) was just coming out of the Red House Loop, with Jasper Halekas (Oakland, CA) and Ron Bien (Bend, OR) not too far ahead. We all shook our heads in amazement. Gordy Ainsleigh filled my Camelbak like a NASCAR pit pro while I snacked on some PB&J's and Coke. The sun was bearing down on us, so I took a minute to wax my beak (aka, apply more sunscreen to my nose).

(Chris Chromczak in the front pack of the 100-mile race, coming out of the Red House Loop)

I descended down the steep Red House Loop, shouting good wishes to the 100-milers on the way up. Last year the Red House Loop was a brutal 90+ degree humid mess, but this year it didn't seem so bad. I crossed a few creeks, splashed some water on my face at the Red House, and began the climb back out. There were lots of 100-milers on the way, all smiling and having a good time.

(Erol Ackdoe and Patricia Carroll, who came all the way from Hawaii for the 100,
coming out of the bottom of Red House)

(Kevin Swisher and Jeff Barbier working their way up the Red House Loop)

With one more top off of the Camelpak at Tunnel Creek, I headed out towards Mt. Rose on a 9 mile out-and-back section. This trail switched from the west side of the mountains to the east, alternating spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and Washoe Lake. I caught up to Don Lundell and diggered just as I said 'hi', which was worth a good laugh. About three miles from the aid station, the 100-mile leaders were coming back - Jasper was leading the pack, with Rod 30 seconds behind and Steve about 5 minutes behind them. Tracy Bahr was leading the ladies, with a smile as bright as the sun. Not too far behind her was Jeff Kozak who was SMOKING the 50-mile course with an 8-hour pace. Whit Rambach was not to far behind, and looking very strong.

(Tracy Bahr at mile 32, leading the women's division in the 100 mile)

I hit the turnaround at Mt. Rose in just under 5 hours, just as Molly Zum (Reno, NV) went flying by, leading the 50-mile women's division. Chihping Wu was just heading out, saying he was feeling the altitude but going to press on. My stomach agreed with Chihping - the altitude made nothing look appetizing at the aid station. I did my best to choke down some potatoes and a few more m&m's, and headed back out.

(100 milers Don Lundell and Richard Feit stop for no man! Stop crowding the single track!)

I jogged down across the meadows and headed back along the TRT. I crossed the 50k mark in 6:08, which was faster than my 50k time from last year. But I knew that Snow Peak (9800') was still ahead of me. Plus we were at high noon - no shadows, no cover. On the lake side it was still quite cool, but the Reno side was getting hot. I tagged along with a few of the 100 milers who kept a good pace on the downhill, then let me pass on the uphills.

(Chet Fairbanks pauses for a smile at mile 32 on his way to finishing the 100 mile)

I ran out of water just before reaching Tunnel Creek on the way back. I calculated I was drinking about 40 oz per hour on the way out, and about 50 oz per hour on the way back. My hydration felt good and I was keeping up with my electrolytes, but the thought of food was making me woosy. This was a first for me, and I couldn't decide what to do - force down some calories, or just bypass the food for now? I grabbed a potato and stared at it for 5 minutes. There was no way it was going in my mouth. I guess I opted for "pass".

(As the trail hits the west side, Lake Tahoe comes in view)

The next few miles are what I consider the toughest part of the course. The TRT climbs quickly from Tunnel Creek to Marlett Peak, but you don't notice it right away so it sneaks up on you. I was glad I screwed this up last year so I knew to slow down. As I approached Hobart (mile 38), I ran into Rajeev (see his race report here) and a few other 50k runners stocking up for the final ascent. Vance Roget flew by with the energy of a 20-year-old. Although I didn't feel like eating, my stomach was growling. So I sat down and forced some PB&J squares down with water.

A few miles later, I paid the price. Just I was cresting Snow Peak, I got dizzy - my 2 second warning that I was about to blow chunks. A quick inspection showed both undigested food, water, and undissolved electrolyte capsules. I was sure I just set myself back an hours worth of calories, but it's hard to say. I walked up to the Snow Valley aid station and let them know what happened. The volunteers asked a few of the 100-milers up there what they would recommend, and I soon had a Tums and chicken soup cocktail in my hand. I rested for a few minutes, and got the question from volunteers that puzzles every ultrarunner at some point - "do you think you should stop?". Let's see...feet good, legs good, stomach no good. Two out of three ain't bad. Then I realized every other runner at the aid station was going to make a SECOND loop to finish the 100. Honestly, what do I have to complain about?

(The view from Snow Peak to Marlett Lake and Lake Tahoe)

I walked for 10 minutes or so. The Tums and chicken soup cocktail calmed my stomach, and before too long I was back to running again. Of course, the last 7 miles is mostly downhill so it's a bit easier to keep pace. As I descended my head felt more clear, so perhaps the altitude had something to do with it. I splashed some water on my head at the last aid station, and hustled in to finish in 10:36:22, roughly 16th place or so.

I caught up with Jeff Kozak at the finish, who had successfully defended his title in the 50 mile with a time of 8:47. Jeff said he kept his course-record-breaking pace right up to mile 38 or so, but had stomach issues of his own. Whit Rambach finished about 10 minutes behind him, and Molly had held on to win first female. Somebody let me know that LA-based Sal Bautista (legend of the Malibu Creek Challenge) had won the 50k, and Kitty Marcroft (who got 2nd last year) won the women's division, holding off Western States star Annette Bednosky. Later I found out that the 100-milers had finished close to the order I last saw them, with Jasper Halekas winning in 20:18, Rod Bien coming in 2nd in 21:30, and Steve Roarke passing two people in the last couple of miles to get third in 22:53. Diane Van Doren (Sedalia, CO) won the women's division in 26:56. Chihping survived the altitude and insane blisters to finish his first 100-miler in 31 hours. Rock on, Chihping!

I hit the massage tables (niiiicccce), and nibbled on tortillas to get my appetite back. I was really happy with my finish, oddly because I had struggled through stomach issues but found a way through it thanks to the advice of fellow runners. As I reviewed the pictures, I reveled in the epic scenery and was already thinking about coming back.

My thanks to Dave Cotter, Kevin Bigley, the Sagebrush Stompers, the Tahoe Mountain Milers, and the many volunteers who put on a fantastic race. Next year, the 100!!! (ha, ha)

- SD


  1. I've been reading your blog for some time now and truly enjoy them. You are an amazing runner and you write well too. Congratulations on the high finish.

    Sorry to hear about your stomach problems in the Snow Valley Aid Station. Like everybody else not used to altitude, I too could not eat anything at all on Saturday. A few potato chips here and there and a bottle of Ensure. What saved the day was Coke (lots of it) and the new Electrolyte Jelly Beans (got them from Don and Gillian) that are available these days. I also used Succeed up until 4 pm or so (just about when you were finishing :) ).

    Keep running strong. Of course you will do the TRT100 mile race next year. You look like someone who likes challenges - the bigger the better.


  2. Thanks, Rajeev. I enjoyed your write up too (and linked to it!).

    I'll have to check out those Jelly Beans. You're not the first to tell me they were just the thing.

    Thanks for blogging and sharing your learnings!


  3. Scott, great race you had! I met you briefly at Miwok and said, "hi" as we crossed paths. You know, Tracy Bahr had told me that this was a very decievingly tough course and she was right!! I can't put my finger on it as there was not too much climbing (about 14,000) which is less than the 20,000 advertised and no huge climbs but it kicked my ass anyway!! I just felt like I never got into a great rythm all day. However, the scenery and great aid stations were awesome. Oh, by the way, that was not Steve Roark that you have a photo of. The guy's name was Chris something, from New York. Cool kid, just 21 years old. He ran a great first 50 miles but faded a bit after 2nd Red House Loop. Steve Roark was a ways back but ran a strong section from 75 to the finish. Anyway, congrats on your race and persevering with a sour stomach. It seems like about almost everyone I've talked to (including myself) puked at some point during the race. Thanks for the race report, I truly enjoy checking out your site weekly.
    Rod Bien
    Bend, Oregon

  4. That looks so beautiful it makes me want to run 50 miles :) Thanks for the great report as usual. And yes I think you should run the 100 next year!

  5. Thanks for the correction, Rod. I always have a hard time sorting out the names and faces at the end of the race (and the longer the race, the worse it gets).

    And congratulations on an amazing finish! That sub-24 TRT belt buckle is a rare prize. I hope you'll be back next year.

    Appreciate the kudos!


  6. Scott,

    Congratulations on a fine run at TRT. BTW, the lake on the eastern side of the "out-and-back" is Washoe Lake, not Mono Lake. You're more likely to see Mono Lake when running in the Sierra ridgeline in Yosemite.

    jr - TRT 50M

  7. Washoe Lake, got it. I just saw big water and assumed it was the big lake on Google Maps. ;-)

    Thanks for the edit!


  8. Scott: I ran with you for a while on your return trip from Mt. Rose. I did the 100 and was telling you that I was the reason the TRT was offering the 100 mile option. Congrats on gutting out a nice finish on a tough 50 miler. Oh by the way my Garmin on the first fifty mile loop corrected by Motion Based came up with 11,243 feet of elevation gain and the same in loss so that sounds like about 22,400 for the hundred. That might be the reason it kicked everyone's ass along with the sustained effort above 8000 feet of elevation.
    I completed my fourth 100 and this one I'm proud of because I did it solo, no pacers. 2:11:22 17th place. I had my first experience with a iPod on the second loop with a 14 hour playlist. I have mixed feelings about using it but it sure saved me during the night keeping me company. See you on the trails something soon.

    George "Squirrel" Ruiz

  9. George, you would definitely know better on the altitude gain and loss as you live there..... But, three of us with altimeters(two suuntos, one pathfinder) were within 300 feet of each other on total altitude for the course..... which we got in the low 14,000's. That actually "felt" about right to me as the climbing really was never very substantial. Whereas courses like H.U.R.T and Angeles Crest, I could tell there was serious climbing. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if other poeple on this blog got different results. Obviously, I hope it is a lot!!! Anyway, congrats to all who got out there on a tough course!!
    Rod Bien

  10. nice report, as usual! I love the sierra nevada mountains. I can't wait to get running again!!!

  11. Scott
    Great to see you at the race (a couple of times). My polar altimeter recorded roughly 8000 ft altitude gain per each 50M lap. Yes...I tried to do the 100M, and had a great run until mile 76 / 19hrs, but then lost steam. Learned a bunch that will use next time. Will have to come back in 2007 :-)


  12. Fabulous photos! I am putting this destination on the vacation planner!

  13. Great post Scott, keep those long ones coming. I'm a learning runner, trying to slowly up my miles and the site is a great inspiration to me as I one day hope to be able to run Ultras.

  14. Scott- You are probably at sunsweet race now- I want to start a blog on one of my favorite things (besides running)- reading books to kids- especially little ones. (Youmight like it- with your little one coming) Can I ask you a couple of how-to blog questions, or should I email you? Thanks, kate

  15. Scott, congratulations on a great race and oh, that massage afterwards looks like a fabulous way to finish out a hard effort! The pictures are wonderful, thanks for sharing!

  16. Kate -

    Feel free to send me an e-mail at scottdunlap [at] yahoo.com.



  17. Strong work, Scott! I think you passed me on the way up to Blow Valley Peak--had no idea you were going to cookie-toss, as you were looking great.

    Don't let the fact that this fellow lowlander took almost twice as long to crawl his 2nd 50 miles as he ran his 1st. You will run faster (everyone else who finished this year did). You must continue the progression from 50k to 50m to 100m. It is your destiny.

    Good luck with your remaining races / keep blogging.

    Mark Tanaka, last across the finish line and damn proud of it

  18. Mark -

    You are THE MAN. Congratulations on sticking it out for over 30 hours!

    I had no idea I was going to blow either. It was very sudden. But I felt much better afterwards. ;-)


  19. Hi Scott, I'm Chris Chromczak. Great race article-though I want to correct you that never actually led the race. Jasper and Rod must have been out of the Red Loop when you saw me and perhaps you thought I was leading. The closest up I got was 2nd place around mile 40, but Rod quickly got that back. Being it my first 100 mile race, I thought I'd test my body and see how far and fast it could go. I hit the wall big time at mile 63 during the second red loop. It was fun flirting with 2nd and 3rd place, but as a rookie, I certainly got what was coming... Congrats to you and everyone else who participated in the races.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. Scott, I'm 100% sure that my last message was 100% wrong, and that the guy next to Kevin Swisher is Jeff Barbier, and not Tim Daly, since I just ran with him for part of Skyline 50k on August 6th. He would've won the fastest rookie award at Skyline had he not run Tahoe, where he inadvertently ran the Red House Loop twice.

  22. More TRT photos from Don Lundell, who did the 100, here.


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