Monday, July 19, 2010

Tahoe Rim Trail 50k

It’s 4am and the race begins in 2 hrs. I am feeling good, very energized, focused and positive. I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, a banana, and I drank some water. I was as ready as I ever could be. Coach Nikon and I joked around a bit; we gave each other our space to get focused and rode over to the event in the shuttles provided.

Happy Chuck

W arrived about 5:30 and quickly gathered our packet and bib number as we didn’t do it the day before. There was a study being conducted but I declined the weigh in and blood pressure before the race because I had to use the bathroom pretty bad and I didn’t want to be in the john when the race started. Looking back I probably should have done the study as I am sure I would have been a good candidate and it would have been interesting to see the results.

After the emergency bathroom stop I was just standing around the start and taking in all the energy and excitement. There were a lot of faces I knew which was even more exciting.

As the race drew near the race director informed the runners that there was a 600lb black bear out there and we might run into him. What, really? You have to be kidding was all I kept thinking and also remember to follow the ribbons, red for 50k. This trail could be confusing because it did loops and I knew I didn’t want to run the wrong loop. Coach Nikon gave me a quick hug and wished me luck and then the race started. We started next to each other, but even before I rounded the corner he was gone. Good Luck Coach Nikon!

JC Penny here we come

Crowd of runners at the start

I was super excited to be running, but I also knew I had to run a smart race due to the terrain and altitude. The weather wasn’t too cold, but as I climbed it was getting cold. The first mile or so was on a fire road which was great because I could run my race without the stress of fighting for position on the single track. But soon enough I hit the single track and the conga line that comes with it. This time around I was prepared for it and made myself comfortable and didn’t care that other runners were passing me. It was beautiful. As I climbed I really couldn’t run, my legs felt like lead, they were dead and I was concerned as this was just the start of the race. My other concern was my hands, they were swollen. My hands were swollen so bad that it was a real struggle just to take pictures; I couldn’t get my fingers to work. Even so, I kept running and that would be mantra for the day, just keep running. I never did think I was going to drop but things were not looking pretty. I was still climbing and even when there was a downhill section I could hardly run that. My brain would tell my legs to run and all I could muster up was a shuffle at best and that was a struggle.

Switch back after switch back

Switch back below/behind me. See the runners?

As I climb a familiar voice came from behind. It was Trish and her friend Monica. Trish just ran Western States 100 a few weeks ago and I found it inspiring to be running with her.

Trish and Monica

We talked a bit and I cracked jokes. My spirits really soared when I was with those 2. As I crested the climb and began the descent I was gone. My legs were back, I could run again. That was a great feeling being able to have control of my legs again. I flew down that section and soon enough came upon Marlett Lake. It was a brief high because immediately following the downhill was another climb and this is how the entire race was going to play out.

Marlette lake

Climbing up

But soon after the climb I came upon Hobart Aid Station. My Garmin told me it was mile 7. My hands were still swollen and again it felt like my legs were lead. I was at 8,120ft. I knew I needed fuel, and as I looked at the table nothing looked or sounded good. My mouth was extremely dry so I grabbed a small cube of water melon, then I tried some pb&j only to eat 2 very small bites and have to spit it out. I couldn’t stomach anything. I did get a coke in me. I was out of that aid station pretty quickly because I didn’t want to lose Trish or Monica who were already off and running on the way to Marlette peak.

Follow the signs

We climbed and had the gorgeous view of the lake. Of course Trish and Monica were already at the top enjoying the view when I came huffing and puffing. Trish looked at me and “It’s about time you got here.” We both laughed.

I made it!

Off and running again!

It is 8 miles into this race and I can’t stomach food, I desperately needed something. I pulled out my Gu. Vanilla flavor and downed it and quickly followed it with water. Only to have it come straight back up. It happened so quickly, it was pretty much acid. That is how much it burned. This happened at mile 9. Now my stomach was in real trouble. I can’t keep solid foods down and now I don’t know if I can even keep Gu down. All I could do was keep running. That is what I did. I ran/hiked the next 2 miles. I couldn’t keep up with Monica she is a rock star. I did run with Trish and she paced me down the decline and I kept up with her. I had no desire to pass her as I was not feeling too hot. My stomach was still very upset, my hands were getting bigger by the minute and my legs would come and go as they pleased. I had no control over anything and only time would tell if all systems would shut down or get better.

Things kept getting worse for me. I started having doubts and worrying about what I was going to do about my fuel situation. And then Trish had to use the bathroom and I was on my own. I could see an aid station in the distance and that was my focus. Make it to the aid station. I can do it, one foot in front of the other. Just keep running. As I approached the aid station there was a huge cheer and tons of yelling. I thought “Wow, they are excited. Wonder who that was for.” And as I got closer I saw trailmomma, Captain Kirk and Wonder Woman. Boy, was I the most excited runner ever.

Fleet Feet Crew of 3!

I enthusiastically hugged them each and they walked me the rest of the way in. Trailmomma kept asking me what I needed; only I couldn’t think straight. I was fumbling with my hydration pack and couldn’t seem to get it open. Luckily trailmomma took it from me and told me to get some food. As she filled my pack I told Captain Kirk my stomach wasn’t doing too well, I already threw up and couldn’t keep solid foods down. I was in trouble. Captain Kirk was awesome, he calmly told me to take a salt. He helped get an s-cap out of my pack once trailmomma came back; I was again having difficulty probably due to the swelling. I did manage to try some cantaloupe because my mouth so dry. This would be the last solid food I eat during the race and I was only at mile 11.
Coming into Hobart, I don't see them yet

Captain Kirk helping me with my salt
Last piece of food for the day

After I re-grouped and some great words of motivation from my fleet feet crew of 3 I was off. But before I could leave, I hesitantly asked them if they would be here when I returned from the Red House loop of Hell which was 6 miles. They said “yes, we will be here. “ Off I went.

The next 3 miles is a steep decline and it is here that I run into Coach Nikon as he is finishing the loop and tells me it will be hot on the way out. He looked strong and as usual was all smiles.

Coach Nikon

Going down Red House
Down I went, feeling really strong. My legs were back again which was uplifting and my stomach seemed to be settling. The s-cap was helping. At the bottom it levels out and then there is another climb. I took in a Gu and it stayed down, that is a good sign and ran then would walk then run to a point and walk. I did this the entire climb. I was getting stronger by the step.

One of the climbs to Red House Aid Station

 I was even passing other runners who were walking. That is uplifting for me and really raises my spirits. I climb until I saw the Red House aid station. I didn’t stay here for long; I took in a coke, mountain dew, and a water cup. That is it and I was on my way to face yet another climb.

Red house Aid

Climb out.
I was mentally feeling fresh and really energized. The climbing didn’t bother me one bit by now, I used it as a challenge. It did level off and this section was very runable. I continued passing other runners who looked like they were struggling, but I was in my own and enjoying this high.

Still Climbing

 I took in another Gu trying to catch up from not being able to eat earlier and I also took in another s-cap. My new schedule was an s-cap every 45min to an hour. I knew the hardest climb of this loop was coming, the 2 mile climb out that I came down earlier. It was steep. I would best describe it as k2 steep. I hiked a good portion of this climb but I was holding a really steady pace.

It just keeps going!

Then out of nowhere I started running. I was near the Aid station again. I could see my fleet feet crew of 3.

I ran this hill.
Trailmomma ran down to meet me and we ran into the aid station together.

Trailmomma helping me out!

Right away she grabbed my pack and filled it up, I told Captain Kirk and Wonder Woman I was feeling better I could keep GU down. Yeah!!! They were excited to see me and told me I was a completely different runner coming back than when I left. That was huge for me.

Return after Red house

 Wonder Woman grabbed me a coke and as I was drinking it my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I thought it was weird but I wasn’t too concerned I had other things to be concerned about, like finishing this run. They were thinking uhh ohh, maybe low blood sugar and I needed solid food. Only they knew not to tell me until I finished. I could hardly drink my soda without it splashing on my face that is how violently they were shaking. My body felt strong, I was mentally together unlike when I first came through and I was energized.

Trailmomma suggested I go stand in the shade. Yes, good idea I obediently followed her direction
and I stood there and assessed my GU situation. I only had 4 left and at the aid stations GU was not provided and I knew I couldn’t experiment with something new. I voiced my concern and Wonder Woman offered me hers. She gave me her Gus and blocks. Thank you so much, what a life saver and I mean it literally. As I was standing in the shade I was feeling really hot, I hadn’t been there too long and I saw a bucket of water and dunked my hat in it and said quietly "I think I am overheating." Captain Kirk grabs the water bottle and immediately squirts me down. That felt really good. I was just about ready only thing I needed was my hydration pack that trailmomma had filled. She helped me get it on and as we were doing so I started to fall over and stumbled about. All I hear is them say, “ohhh.” I could see captain Kirk reaching for me. I managed to stay on my feet. I said, “I think my legs are dead.” As I said that I turned around and off I went, only to turn around again and ask “Is this the right way?” It was they said. Thank you to my fleet feet crew you rock!

It is amazing how in an ultra one mile you feel hell and the next you are as high as a kite. I experienced all of the sensations and then some. After I left Tunnel Aid station I was cruising along, more like flying. My legs were back; my stomach was holding down Gus, I had a plan for salt replacement. I was good to go and I also was alone. It was mile 19 by now and I needed a Gu. The trick I found out that worked for me in keeping my Gu down was to take a little Gu followed very quickly by water to wash it down. I would repeat this process until the entire pack was ingested. This Gu didn’t go according to plan. I squeezed too hard and emptied the pack and it was just sitting in my mouth. It was warm and did not taste good and it was making my stomach turn. I was trying desperately to drink some water but it was too late. I threw up so fast I didn’t have time to turn my head and do it off the trail. There was nothing I could have done, I felt it coming and couldn’t stop it. I lost a valuable Gu and was quickly saddened that I had wasted something so precious. All I could do was push dirt over it and keep moving.

I was moving at an incredibly pace. I was a much stronger runner on this second half than I was first 11 miles. I was passing runners and the great news was there were no other runners passing me. This is great. I can do this all day. I would see a runner and focus on them. I wouldn’t push any harder but I would catch them. For the most part though I was completely alone. I didn’t mind I actually enjoyed the solitude and I think this made me focus on myself physically and also internally. I stayed with my new game plan, taking in an s-cap every 45min. It seemed to be working and I took in a Gu every now and then. I only had 5 to get me back plus the block. I thought that it should be plenty. I didn’t really think about it much after that.

I enjoyed the return trip more, probably because I was feeling better. I was climbing faster, I was runner fluidly, I was mentally focused and my hands were still swollen. I was cruising along when quit suddenly the Hobart aid station was approaching. I could see it, all I had to do was descend down and I would be there. I was feeling incredibly strong; I wasn’t having any issues with my legs and breezed into this aid station. The only reason I stopped was because I knew I needed water because I wouldn’t make it to snow valley. As I was approaching the aid station a volunteer came running out to meet me and I handed off my pack and said “water please.” She quickly sprinted it in and I followed. Another volunteer asked if I needed anything, and I replied “just coke.” She pointed me in the right direction and I gulped it down in one swig. My pack was ready and as I exited the aid I was putting on my pack and at full speed. I did notice that there were a ton of runners sitting down. I was in and out of that aid station in probably less than a minute. It was pretty fast.

My swollen fingers

The next section was going to take me up to snow valley. I hadn’t run this section today and I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew I was close. I was running strong and smart now. I was fueling with Gu and I was drinking plenty of water. I was 24 miles into this 50k and it had taken me 6hrs and 3 min thus far. This was a brutal but a gorgeous course.

Avery's Pond, nope Snowvalley Peak

The climb to snow valley for me was one of the toughest climbs for me all day. It was brutally hot as it was noon.

Just keep Climbing

 I had already thrown up twice, almost fell over while standing and was having major stomach issues for a majority of the day. This climb also gave me some of the best views I would ever see. As I climb I had to take in a few Gus. I was running pretty low energy and this climb seemed to never end.

Still Climbing
Almost There!!!!

 It had switch backs after switch backs and then I finally emerged into the hot sun which beat down on me, but I was still climbing. I could see the peak in the distance. I can do this. I kept telling myself that, and than I emerged at the top……

Nope still climbing, see the trail in the distance. One Up Please!

Only it wasn’t the top it was a false top and I had to keep climbing. I ran through a meadow, yes there was meadow on the top of this mountain. That was the last thing I thought I would see. I could see the trail off in the distance.

Signs say .5 to go

It never ends...


 I was still climbing. But finally after I thought I couldn’t climb anymore I came to the top hoping to be at an aid station. But it was further away in the distance.

I ran down to the aid station and as I approached the volunteers said “welcome, Melisa.” “Melisa, what can we get you?” I was confused. How do they know my name? I was a bit panicked. Then I realized they had a list the runners. It was weird; I thought I was losing it. I am sure I looked panicked and head light stricken. At this aid I only refilled my pack. It was mile 26 by my Garmin. What a rush only 5 miles to go.

Only the sign I read as I exited said 7.2 miles to the finish. What!? That would mean I will be running 33 miles.

33 miles, really? 33 miles, that is all I kept thinking. How could that be? I kept running, what else was I going to do. I of course had to climb some more but it was short climb. The next 5 miles were pretty much downhill. I still had my legs under me, my quads were feeling extremely great which surprised me. I tackled this downhill like I had done all day. Maybe even a bit faster. I was curious as to how my pace was and what time it was because I needed know if I needed to take a s-cap, if I needed a Gu. Only when I looked at my Garmin it had died. Noooo!!!! I had no clue what mile I was at, my time, my pace. All vital information I had been relying on all day. It died with only 6hrs and 30min on it. Crap! What was I going to do now? I felt like I needed an s-cap so I did, and I also was beginning to feel a bit sluggish. Maybe a Gu will be helpful. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my LAST GU.

This is it....

It was my last one, and I contemplated whether or not I should take it. I didn’t know my mileage but I knew my body was telling me it needed fuel. I took my last Gu at I am guessing mile 28. I still had 5 miles to go to the finish. I began to have some serious doubts at this point. As I am taking in the Gu I am also a little nervous that it won’t stay down. I take it real slowly and tentatively because I needed this Gu to stay down. It took a bit of work but I managed to keep it down. Thank God!

I am able to run the downhill section pretty solid. It keeps going for what I feel like an eternity. I am still going down, when all of a sudden I began to feel real sluggish. My legs aren’t moving as quickly as they did before. I am beginning to lose my focus. I have no clue how much further. I began to see runners in the woods, there are runners behind me, and there are even runners in front of me. Only there weren’t I was all alone. I was hallucinating. I was losing it and I am so close to the finish. Not a single runner passed me from mile 11 and I wasn’t going to let it happen here at mile who knows what mile it is?

I was having to walk, I was barely functioning I was mentally not there. My body was on auto pilot my legs were moving because they had been moving so long and didn’t know to stop moving. I walked; I would run when I could. I eventually paced off of 2 runners in front of me. When they ran I ran, when they walked I walked. But soon enough I passed them also. I started hearing things, I could hear cars on the road side driving by, wait no…. I wasn’t hearing things there really were cars. I couldn’t remember if there was another aid station. I thought the distance from the final aid station to the finish was 3 miles and I knew I couldn’t do 3 more miles with what was going on with my body. I almost started to cry at this point. The events of the day and being this drained had taken a toll on me and I was ready to break. And then there it was. The final aid station. The volunteers asked if I needed anything. The words out of my mouth were “how far to the finish?” The volunteered replied 1.7 miles. My next phrase makes no sense to me, “No, I am good.” As I turn left the volunteer calmly says “this way.” Pointing to the right. Really I am good, I didn’t or couldn’t have used that coke, I probably should have a coke or 2 but I was so close I was scared that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get moving again. 1.7 miles I can do this. I am so close.

I immediately picked up my pace; it felt like I was sprinting. I was drained and this was my final push. It was all or I was going to fail this close to the finish. I passed 2 more runners, then I started walking and a spectator on the course said “you are so close.” I replied “ok” and started running again. I kept running. I saw Monica; she had finished and looked refreshed and relaxed. She told me “I ran a great race.” I asked her “how far to the finish?” she told me less than half a mile.

Almost there....
I can do it, no I can’t. I started walking. I had nothing left to give. Than a remarkable thing happened. I started running again. I was going to finish this race strong. I could hear spectators cheering I could see the finish line. I even saw a person in a yellow shirt jumping and waving franticly. What great a spectator, but it wasn’t just any spectator it was trailmomma. Then I saw Wonder Woman and Captain Kirk popped out and I hi fived him. I had finished my first Tahoe Rim Trail.

At the finish

I crossed the finish, my legs had carried my through this course and my heart and will power got me to the end. I was spent; I didn’t comprehend anything anyone was saying. There were questions about did I complete the test at the beginning, “No.” I walked a little bit maybe 2 feet. Trailmomma was by my side so fast that I didn’t even see her cross over the rope; a volunteer stopped me in my tracks and wasn’t going to let me leave. I didn’t know what he was saying, something about did I want a beer, was I ok, and should I sit down. All I could do was look at trailmomma and she said “No, I think we will keep walking.” I grabbed a soda and walked with trailmomma. She was so happy for me and a bit concerned. I looked terrible. I had tears in my eyes and I hadn’t said a word to her, I was wobbly on my feet, I was ready to pass out. She immediately placed the cold soda on my neck to cool me off, kept me walking and upright. I was ready to fall over. I bent over and lend on my knees and almost fell over. I was having trouble focusing, than the first coherent sentence out of my mouth was “I ran out of GU, I can’t believe I ran out of Gu.” One would think it would have been ‘’I can’t believe I ran this race.” Nope it was about Gu of all things.

What a great experience. I still can’t believe I ran out of Gu. I had done the proper training for this race but it goes to show that no matter what things can go wrong. But no matter how tough it got out there for me I never gave up, my heart kept me pushing forward and I willed myself across the finish line. I finished in 8hrs and 21min.I also passed 25 runners from mile 11 to mile 33 the finish. This is one race I soon won’t be forgetting. I still can’t believe I ran out of Gu! What a race.


  1. You rocked it Pigeon!! You really did.
    Way to go Ultra runner.
    Love the Avery's Pond comment too!

  2. Love it! Congrats again on your race!