The journey to run the Tahoe 200 began way before the race started at 9AM on September 7th. I had heard about the race and the huge challenge to complete and was intrigued. Last year, I listened as the names were drawn for the Western States 100 participants from their lottery. When my name wasn’t called, I immediately knew my backup plan for my “A” race this year. When the last name drawn was not mine, I immediately surfed on over to tahoe200.com on my phone and clicked “Registration.” Done. Here we go. Wait. What did I just do? Oh well.
I began making plans for my wife and I to be there. I ended up using frequent flyer miles to get us there and back. I rented a small space from VRBO about 2 miles from the start/finish. All set. Wait. I have to train. How in the world do I train for 200 miles in the mountains??? After doing some research, I started modifying my existing 100 mile training plan to include some hill work. I would also add in additional leg work on weight days and some trekking pole work at the local “mountain”. I lined up some back to back 50 mile races, one of which was in Fairplay, CO at altitude.
I thought through logistics for the race, gear for the race, nutrition for the race, everything that could go wrong for the race…. I decided to wear the Altra running shorts as they were lightweight and very good about not chafing after long distances. I would wear injinji socks because they always protect my toes and treat my feet well. For shoes, I decided during the last month to go with the New Altra Olympus 3.0 instead of my trusty Lone Peaks. I figured the extra cushion the Olympus provide would be nice for such a long haul. I brought my Lone Peaks with me as backups, though. I would bring my Black Diamond trekking poles. I also decided on my trusty Ultimate Direction SJ FKT pack for this race. The other things I would carry with me: UD Men’s Ultra Jacket, Petzl Reactilk light, Sawyer mini filter, spare LED handheld light, and a buff.
For nutrition, I would rely mostly upon the real food at the aid stations for nutrition, but brought some Honey Stinger Waffles, ProBar chews, and Honey Stinger Chews along too. I also use Tailwind mixed in my water for electrolytes and nutrition.
Jen and I flew to Reno on Wednesday afternoon. We were late (again) due to American Airlines, but still made it to the cabin before midnight. We got a decent night’s sleep and did some grocery shopping the next morning. Check-ins were at noon and included a medical check. There was also a trail briefing during the check-in time. I tried to pay attention, but it was hard to have any reference not having been on these trails. At 5, we had the official, mandatory, race meeting and things got real. After the meeting, we went eat, headed to the room, went over the logistics for the race, and got a good night’s sleep.
The race started at 9AM so the morning was actually pretty laid back. I got up and was able to do my race morning routine much later than usual. I ate my breakfast, took a shower and shaved. (I just do this….if I’m gonna stink for the next 200 miles, I can start feeling clean. :P) We made our way to the Start/finish and I got my Bib and SPOT tracker. Jen and I hung out as I nervously went through my things and played through the race in my head. I had NO IDEA what my body was going to do for 200 miles. The time came for us to line up and before I knew it, we were off! Fast at first, but the uphill demanded a slow steady trudge with my trekking poles. I just fell into a comfortable rhythm and tried to settle in. My calves were screaming early, my lungs struggling, and heartbeat pounding. Altitude…. I was hoping it would feel better as my body warmed up, which it did. We cruised along at a slow pace as everyone separated. I saw Courtney Dauwalter up ahead looking like it was easy. I saw Sean Nakamura, the course record holder run ahead with ease. I just kept telling myself to just run my race and do my thing. I pulled into the first aid station (10 miles – Stephen Jones Aid Station) well ahead of my projected schedule. Cool. I took my time, drank some cold water, ate a thing or 2 and headed back out.
Stephen Jones AS to Tahoe City (20 miles)
The next aid station would be 20 miles away. This meant that I would have to carry all that I needed for the 20 mile journey. It was warming up by now and that concerned me a bit. I sweat a LOT and made myself conserve a bit. This section started with a little road running before some beefy climbs. It was pretty good. I remember taking in the views and just enjoying the journey. I decided that every 10 miles, I would say a prayer of thanks to God for the privilege of being out here. Quite a few times I’d get caught up in the run and trip or stub my toe and have “bad” thoughts. I’d look at my watch and realize it was a 10 mile prayer time! My prayer would start with, “Sorry God….thanks!” and I’d reset my attitude.
Tahoe City aid station was chaotic, but they took care of us. Lots of people and crews lining the sidewalk. Jen made sure I had all I needed. I sat down and ate a hamburger, some cold watermelon, and grapes. It was good to get the calories down. I realized I was standing next to Jamil Coury (Jam Jam). We took a selfie together. I had a glass of coke and headed out. I was right behind Jamil. So far so good!
Tahoe City to Brockway Summit (20 miles)
I got behind Jamil and another runner for a portion of this section and just kept plugging forward. Mostly power hiking the uphills and jogging the downhills and flats. I focused on trying to just conserve and keep moving forward. I remember running low on water and stopping to filter some in Watson Lake using my Sawyer mini. (Something I would have to do at least once every day.) I noticed I was being filmed by one of the people collecting footage. He notified me that I was in top 10. I was like, “Really?? That’s cool!” I hope to be able to see that footage at some point. I was feeling good and just enjoying being out on the trail. To be honest, I don’t remember much about The Brockway Summit Aid Station. It was here I was beginning to feel a blister forming on my right heel. I’m not used to having issues like that as my feet do really well. I asked Angel, the awesome medical official if she could take a look. There was the beginning of a blister there. She cleaned it and taped it up to keep it from getting worse. She was awesome. I remember Jen taking care of me, grabbing some warm gear for the night, and heading out.
Brockway Summit to Tunnel Creek (15 miles)
The part I remember from this section was the crazy steep dusty downhill of Powerline right before incline village. It was dark on top of that. I remember how well my Altra Olympus gripped well these crazy conditions. Even though, I still slid down quite a few times. I couldn’t imagine them having to come up this thing when the course was run the opposite way! It took me a long time to get down using my trekking poles. When I got close to the bottom, I saw a headlamp above me on the hill. I remember thinking, “He’ll be a while to get to where I am.” Just then, the dude came barrelling down the hill like a madman! I was like, “Holy Crap dude, did you do that on purpose?” He said, with an aussie accent, “I have half the hill in my shoes!” Turns out this was Nicholas from Australia who I had run with earlier in the day . Dude was a downhill master. He and I would run together the next day quite a bit. I’d always catch him on the uphills. I passed him when he was cleaning out his shoes at the base of the hill. From there, we’d run a long section on pavement through nice neighborhoods. I decided to just take my time here. Easy jogging and some power hiking.
I ate a burger and some broth at Tunnel creek aid station. Always taking my time at every aid station to get calories down. I wasn’t drinking as much of my Tailwind/water mix and Jen kept reminding me of that. I needed to do better to get hydration and calories down. The next aid station was not a crew accessible aid station so that would be a bummer. I loved having Jen there waiting for me and the boost she gave. Oh well.
Tunnel Creek to Spooner Summit (17 MIles)
I kissed Jen and headed out again. Uphill….always uphill. By this time, I was will close to my prediction chart. In fact, I was a little ahead. Still a lot of race yet to go. According to my plan, I’d reach Spooner Summit around 7:15 in the morning. I was looking forward to the sunrise. It didn’t disappoint.
Once I got to the Spooner Summit Aid station, I ate my burger, soup, watermelon, and grapes and was on my way. I remember turning back when I saw the decomp bathrooms and making use of those. Good times.
Spooner Summit to Heavenly (>20miles)
This section seemed long. I felt good, but there was some steep climbs to get to heavenly. It seemed like the trail took us way out of the way to get to the aid station. I think I was just tired and a little grumpy. Physically, all was well though except for a knot in my upper right calf, right below my knee. When I finally got to Heavenly and saw Jen, my spirits were lifted! This aid station was a nice ski resort. I would be able to clean up a bit in a real bathroom, change clothes, eat, and rest in the mattresses that were set up. I ate, had Angel look at my foot again. I had felt something give in the blistery heel. It had popped under the tape. We decided to just leave it taped since it didn’t hurt any worse. I tried to take an hour nap, but it was too noisy. So after about 30 minutes, I got up and got ready to go. I remember being positive. This was the halfway point. I was excited to be this far along. Jen commented later that I said it excitedly, not in a gloomy manner, as some of the other runners had. Over 100 miles to go! I got my stuff together and headed out on the trail again. I’m guessing this was about 2-2:30 in the afternoon. The next section was about 15 miles, so I would see Jen around dark.
Heavenly to Armstrong Pass (15 miles)
I remember moving slowly to Armstrong Pass. I enjoyed some of the scenery and took it all in. Just cruising along as it got dark getting to Armstrong Pass around 7:45PM. I got my calories in while I visited with Jen, then headed out again.
Armstrong Pass to Housewife Hill (17.6 miles)
This section would be a booger. We would climb to the highest point in the race. I remember getting REALLY tired during this section and confused. I was sleep running for sure. I remember not being sure why I was out there running on the trails. I needed to rest….badly! I was still wearing shorts with a jacket on my upper body so it was too cold for me to lay on the trail and sleep. I was about 3 miles in and didn’t want to go 3 miles backwards to the previous aid station. I took some energy chews to try to wake me up. I needed to get to Jen at the next aid station so I could rest. The chews didn’t help so I took a caffeine pill I had for emergencies like this. I really don’t like doing something like that, but I had to get my wits about me and get to Jen. I started coming to myself and just ran as much as I could. I came across another runner, Jessica who was having some stomach issues, and gave her a ginger chew I had. I just kept moving through the night….trying to get to Jen. Up and down, following the light of my headlamp, looking for trail markings. After what seemed like an eternity, I got to Housewife Hill aid station. I told Jen, “I HAVE TO GET A NAP!” I ate some food, then laid in the back of the rental SUV, then crashed HARD for an hour. I needed that! I got up, got myself together and headed back out. Before I ventured out into the dark cold, I smiled at Jen and said, “This is stupid.” I was kind of joking, kind of not. I always come to a point where I question why I’m doing what I’m doing in an ultra. I was pretty much making fun of myself. The next section was supposed to be about 7 or so miles so I got out and felt real good about it.
Housewife Hill to Sierra at Tahoe (7ish miles)
This section was pretty easy with some runnable sections. I remember the last mile or so being on paved road. Sierra at Tahoe was a nice resort! I didn’t see Jen anywhere, but knew I was going to take another short nap. As I was about to go look for the car, I saw Jen passed out on one of the air mattresses. I woke her enough to let her know I was going to nap for a bit. I slept for about 30 minutes, then took my time and got a burger and other food in my belly. At this point, I wasn’t too concerned about my time. I just wanted to get through the race. It was here that Walt, one of the guys I had run with a bunch early on, was laid up on a mattress and feeling bad. Also, the girl Jessica was sleeping and was having trouble keeping her blood pressure up. Thankfully, they would both bounce back and recover enough to finish strong thanks to Christina, the medical staff stationed there! I took some extra time here because for the next 2 aid stations and 30 or so miles, I wouldn’t be able to see Jen because they weren’t crew accessible. I got here at around 6:30AM and left around 8AM.
Sierra at Tahoe to Wright’s Lake (19 Miles)
Things were great and I was in good spirits until I got to Wright’s Lake Road. It was a paved section that was relentlessly uphill, exposed to the sun, in the middle of a hot day! It was rough! I power hiked a bit with Dion who I found out was an Aussie who lived in France and was an author. He told me the true story he wrote about a dog he adopted after it ran 80 miles with him on a stage race in China! It will be made into a movie at some point. Really cool. He eventually took a break and I kept going. The heat was really getting to me. I was concerned, once again, about running out of water. Seventy ounces for almost 20 slow miles in the heat goes quickly. When the road finally dumped me on an exposed trail, I found some water to filter. Thank goodness! I was beginning to hit somewhat of a low at this point. It was hot, I was tired, I wouldn’t see Jen for a bit! Yuck! I got to the Wright’s Lake Aid Station at about 2:45 and hung out for about 30 minutes and refueled. This aid station was sponsored and run by the Squirrel’s nut Butter people. I met the owner and he even massaged my shoulders. It was heavenly! Lol I was almost 162 miles into my journey and could smell the end. Less than 44 miles to go! The next aid station would be crewless also, but it was only 13.5 miles away. I got up and got to it!
Wright’s Lake to Tell’s Creek (13.5 Miles)
The next 13.5 miles were all a blur. (“blur” seems like a common theme here) I ran into another runner named Miko. We stuck together in the dark and we just kept moving slowly. We were both just trying to get to the next aid station and get a nap. I was getting tired. The miles were adding up on my mind and body. I just zoned out and moved. I got to the Tell’s creek aid station about 8:15pm, ate some soup and another burger, and took a 30 minute nap. Then I was up and at it again. It would only be 6.5 miles to Loon Lake.
Tell’s Creek to Loon Lake (6.5 miles)
This was another fuzzy section. I would get to Loon Lake around 11:15 at night. Jen was there, but sleeping in the car. Luckily, one of the aid station people found her. She thought I’d be longer. I enjoyed visiting with the aid station volunteers here. One of the ladies loaned me a cord to charge my phone while I rested. I got there around 11:30, ate another burger, and ended up leaving around 1AM after another 40 minute nap in the back of the SUV. After this one, I’d have only 24 miles to go. I could taste it. However, I had some nastiness to contend with in the next section of the course.
Loon Lake to Barker Pass (17 Miles)
This next section was where I hit my lowest low. Rubicon jeep trails for miles and miles. Rocks, stones, boulders, dust. In the dark it looked like I was on the surface of the moon. It was hard to judge holes and stones with the dust. I stubbed my toe so many times. I stepped in holes so many times and almost tripped. It was miserable. Some of the markings had been moved so I had to pull out my gpx track quite a few times to figure out where in the moon I was supposed to go. I was alone, it was cold, and I wanted to be done! At one point I came across these jeep guys camping. One of them mumbled something when my headlamp hit him. I just said, “Sorry!” and moved on. I was tired and sick of these jeep roads. I wanted to kick a jeep. I was getting disoriented and ready to be off of these roads. Eventually, I found a rock on the side of the jeep road that wasn’t full of dust and took a 10 minute power nap. It helped. Shortly after, I was off of the jeep roads and going down the dirt roads ready to get to the aid station. I was sleep walking/running again. Weaving all over the road. It was rough. I went through about 100 feet of freezing cold water crossing a stream that I realized I could have gone around when I was halfway through. Ugh. Only time I got my feet wet. Then, FINALLY, I got the the Barker’s pass aid station. It would be 7 miles to the finish from here! So what did I do? With Jen’s help, I took off my wet shoes and socks, ate, and took a 30 minute nap. Yep…lol I had to. I put on a fresh pair of Altra Lone Peaks with some dry injinji socks and headed out to finish up these last 7 miles.
Barker Pass to FINISH LINE (7 Miles)
I was told that this section was 90 percent downhill. Well, it sure didn’t start that way! It was an uphill slog for almost 2 miles. But I moved with purpose. My watch had died so I was running with time in mind. I was told it would take about 2 hours to get down. We’d see. Once I hit some comfortable downhills. I ran. I ran the whole last 4 or so miles. I could taste it. I was getting close and thought I was about to turn to the last slope. A lump formed in my throat.
Now, I’ve never gotten emotional about finishing a race. I’ve always been more emotional about others accomplishing their goals. I cried when my wife finished her first marathon, but nothing for any of my races. This felt different. I was so raw emotionally. So, as I got closer I felt the flood of emotions. “Not yet. Hold it in. Keep it together….Not yet.” I realized I had another area to cross before I would make the final descent. Then, I heard the crowds at the finish. I heard cheering and the end was in view. My face contorted and I sobbed as I ran hard to the finish. I wanted to finish strong, so I did. I felt no pain. Just joy and a flood of emotion that I just can’t explain. I was about to finish the journey of 205 miles in the mountains, on foot. I ran under the arch with tears in my eyes. I was done.
I could rest now! I had accomplished my goal. I deserved to be there. I could hang with the mountain goats! I was 17th of the over 200 that had started and the only flatlander anywhere near this spot. My body hurt, but it did not break. My emotions were stretched, but did not snap. My will was tested, but I stood firm. Jen commented how she could tell I was tired and even confused at points, but I was never mean or short with her or anyone at the aid stations like she saw others doing. I know sometimes emotions get away from us, but when we are scrubbed to our core like ultras do, we sometimes are shown parts of us that are a reality that we really don’t want to see. I’m thankful, that what I saw, though not perfect, is not bad and getting better. During this whole race, I never listened to music or audiobooks that I had set aside in case I needed it. I remained present, in each moment, as much as I could.
A big thanks to Jen taking care of me and missing her 25K so she could keep crewing me. She stayed up and drove through some crazy places to be there for me. She’s an amazing wife. I’m a blessed man. A big thanks to Angel, Christina, and Rachel. They were the medical personnel who took such good care of everyone with smiles on their faces. And thanks to Candice and the volunteers for putting on such a great race with amazing aid stations. I lost count of the number of burgers I ate. Good stuff.
Also, a big shout out to Altra for amazing shoes in the Olympus 3.0! Amazing shoe! My feet were well protected. I wore them for 198 miles and the only reason I switched into my Altra Lone Peaks was because I got the Olympus wet! My Olympus took a beating through some rough, rocky terrain, but still have some life in them! My injinji socks kept my toes happy! My Altra shorts did a great job of keeping me chafe free and comfortable. Also, to Tailwind for keeping my base fuel going while I hydrated. I loved that they sponsored the race so I didn’t have to worry about carrying extra powder and could just fill up with the aid station mix. My ultimate direction, SJ FKT pack was just right for this race.
Next up Arkansas Traveler 100……but now, recovery.