I was less than 3/4 of a mile from the finish. I was running on fumes and just keeping it together; when I see this massive hill. Maybe not massive but a tiny roller. Anthony softly tells me "You can hike this hill." I reply "please, thank you" as I transitioned into my hike I slowly feel my lungs closing, I couldn't get any air, I was wheezing which was causing me to hyperventilate, but I was still moving forward. Nothing is going to stop me; except the fact that I couldn't breath. I hear Anthony say to drink some water, I take a sip some how and keep hiking. I am so close to the finish, just keep it together I tell myself, keep it together, keep moving what every I do keep moving as I am wheezing and unable to breath........
The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler has been secretly been on my bucket list. I didn't tell anyone that deep down I wanted to run it, but I also knew that it would take some serious training and commitment like no other. I did just that, I changed my training program up, I even changed my diet and as the weeks and months went by I could feel a difference in my body, I felt stronger! I knew that my commitment had been there now it was all going to be tested and tested it was both physically and mentally that day.
The start of the race at Spooner Lake State Park, is at 7,000 feet, I would be running to the highest point of the course just below the 9,214 foot Snow Valley Peak. The low point on the course is at the bottom of the Red House Loop or other wise known as A Taste of Hell at approximately 6800 feet with a very substantial climb near the end.
On my way to Marlette Lake which by the way is a 1,500 elevation gain over roughly 4 miles I had decided that I would take this very conservatively. I actually had no choice in the matter as there was a huge traffic jam just getting onto the single track. I took this in stride and just went with it. I am pretty sure the traffic jam helped me remain calm and steady. My hike was very comfortable, in fact I didn't notice any heaviness in my legs like I had in years past. I guess all my hill training had paid off. On the small descent I fly down it, my legs enjoyed it and it allowed me to open them up. After the small descent there is another climb. I was at the base of Marlette Lake (7823 feet) and climbed on dirt roads to the Hobart Road aid station at 8120 feet.
I power hiked the fire road and continued to tell myself to stay relaxed and comfortable. This positive reinforcement went a long ways at it reminded me to conserve. I arrived a Hobart and quickly grabbed a PB&J square and was in and out within seconds. I only slowed down to grab the square. I continued my power hike up to a spectacular view of the lake. What a sight it was, but I didn't spend long looking as I was on a mission. I was now making my way to Tunnel Creek aid station where my crew would be waiting for me. I was feeling really good, lots of energy, I was mentally focused and on point with my nutrition (or so I thought) and slowly reaching my small attainable goals. I didn't look at the big picture of having to run 50 miles but rather shorter attainable goals, basically aid station to aid station.
On my descent into Tunnel I let the trail take me. Not pushing the pace but allowing the trail to tell me what to run. I was listening to my body. I arrived at Tunnel in a little over 2 hours and 40 minutes give or take. I was on schedule. My crew Anthony and Trailmomma quickly went to work, asking me questions trying to decide what I needed. Apparently I wasn't speaking much which caused some concern for them. I thought I was speaking though. They had my bottle ready of hammer perpetuem and I switched out, Anthony refilled my pack while Trailmomma made sure I had everything I needed. I needed to get the rocks out of my shoes and after doing that I downed two gels as I felt a little behind, but not depleted. Anthony poured some cold water on me which he always enjoys and offered me some words of wisdom "stay relaxed on the descent". I was off now for the taste of hell, the Red house loop.
Here comes the cold water; Photo by Trailmomma
Anthony loves this part! Photo by Trailmomma
Taking in fuel and last minute advice for Red House Loop, looking focused; Photo by Trailmomma
This loop is about 6.3 miles with a substantial descent at the beginning and also a challenging climb at the end. The descent could easily destroy my quads and while I went down I just kept thinking "when is this going to end" It hurt to descend, not my legs but my body, the pounding my body took step after step I really needed to be at the bottom. I hit the bottom and continued to motor. Knowing that fueling would be important I sucked down a gel and continued to drink my perpetuem and occasional took sips from hydration pack. On the small climb to the red house I would hike and then run, hike and run, repeating this process. I just needed to keep moving.
I went right by the red house and kept on moving. This started the climb up but it wouldn't be the steepest part that was still to come. I ran on the fire road, knowing that this was runnable and it would help me make up some time. I slowly found myself walking and very low on energy, hmm where did this low point come from I asked myself? I could have sworn I took in some gels, (I took in 2 gels at tunnel before the descent and than only 1 more gel before arriving at the red house, and maybe 1/4 of the hammer perpetuem was drunk) My brain was telling me one thing; I had been eating when in actuality I hadn't been eating or drinking, elevation must have messed with my head. I took in a gel and some salt, the gel was hard to get down but I managed. I arrived at the climb and just put my head down and powered up it as quickly and efficiently as I could. I found myself pausing to catch my breath and than moving onward and upward. It was steep, but I powered on.
I could see the aid station and broke out into a small jog during the flat section. I saw Anthony and Trailmomma my crew and I believe the first words out of my mouth were "I feel a low coming on" That was all I said. My crew had no other information to go on; Trailmomma asked if I needed more drink mix, I told her very matter of factly "yes, my bottle is empty" In reality I had about half a bottle left. I also told her I was out of gels, she didn't tell me at time, but I had plenty still. Anthony quickly took my pack because I told him I had been drinking; in fact I hadn't it was still pretty full. Both Trailmomma and Anthony were probably really concerned because I remember Anthony not telling me but asking me to please drink more water. I thought I was drinking, just like I thought I was eating.
My return from Red House; photo by Trailmomma
I arrived at Bull Wheel and just kept moving, I didn't stop knowing it would take a lot for me to get going again. I was shuffling along and than I was just walking not hiking but walking. I was empty; I took in a gel and some salt and kept moving. Than a female runner went by me and yelled out "Hi Melisa!" It was Jennifer, we had met back at the fire trails last year where we both volunteered and became friends. I yelled back "Hi!" I was so happy to see here. I watched her go by me and than something snapped in my head. I thought, I need to hook on, her pace is doable and she gave me the little bit of energy I needed. I did just that, my walked turned into a shuffle and I slowly hooked on. Jennifer asked if I wanted by and I told her, "No, if you don't mind I will just hook on." She had no problem. We chit chatted for bit and than we just focused on the task at hand. We worked with each other each of us taking a turn in the lead, I had a stronger hike but she had a stronger shuffle than I so we helped each other. I took my turn in the lead and when she noticed the pace was dropping she offered to take the lead from me and I thanked her. But slowly after a few miles my pace slowed and she went further ahead. I tried to keep her in my sights but I was not moving well, she was gone and I thought she looked strong and that I would never see her again.
I hit the descent that would take me to the Diamond Peak Ski Run and the wheels completely fell off. I was in so much pain on this descent, the pain wasn't in my legs but in my stomach and lower pelvic area. Oh the pain just about stopped me in my tracks, each step caused screaming pain and I was barely holding on. My mental capacity now was to reach the aid station and my crew, but I had no idea how far it was. The climb down winded this way and that, it kept going and going and with each step the pain got worse and worse. Runners slowly passed me as I couldn't keep the pace, I was falling apart and doing everything I could to keep it together. I just told myself "keep it together, just keep it together." I kept moving forward when all I really wanted to do was stop and walk, but I wouldn't allow it no matter how bad it got.
I hit the pavement in a all time low ready to cry because of the pain. I arrived at the aid station to huge cheers and my name being yelled. Anthony and Trailmomma came to me and they knew something was wrong. I was not speaking, not one word, it took to much effort to speak and I needed all my effort to stay on my feet. I handed off my pack and looked at Trailmomma and told her I need a bathroom! I checked in and made my way to the bathroom. I was surprised at this because I actually peed and it was clear, and I also did #2. I stood up and just doubled over in pain, standing caused by stomach to hurt. I exited the stall and Trailmomma had some Tylenol for me, which I took after doubling over again from the pain. I made my way back outside where I sat down and removed the rocks from my shoe. Sunscreen was applied, my perpetuem was ready, coke was in another bottle and my pack was good to go. I was sitting there and I hear Anthony tell me "we ready?" I knew that I only had one reply "yes" I say quielty, Again he asked "we ready?" "Yes!" I say louder, I stood up and he instructed me to get soaking wet as wet as I could. Tony helped get me wet and the coldness caused me to start hyperventilating. It was cold, I was overheated and didn't even know it.
The Last 20; A Game Changer:
It took me 7 hours to arrive at the 30 miler mark and the diamond peak ski resort; I was in bad shape upon arrival. Anthony and I headed out of the Diamond Peak resort at 8540 feet for a 1700 foot climb in just under 2 miles. This was going to brutal! Words can not describe the nature of this climb, pictures don't do it justice. Surprisingly I was in good spirits, my crew and friends did their job, they put me back together, though I didn't take in any calories while I was at the aid station.
The climb took about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Each time I thought we near the top, surprise I wasn't. I had to pause every now and than and when I did I would take a look behind me and enjoy the great view of Lake Tahoe and also where I had come not to long ago. It put it into perspective for me. I was at an all time low, but now with each step forward I was getting higher and stronger. I was hiking this "hill" with power, my will had not been broken it was getting stronger with each step
We climbed and climbed slowly gaining and also passing some. We joked and laughed; the best joke came from me. We were hiking up, both of us with our heads down starring at our shoes and the sand when I said "The view really is great" Anthony just chuckled and I didn't understand why until a few steps later. The "view" of our shoes and sand was great. Priceless.
Ever so slowly we made our way up when all of a sudden I was doubled over in excuriating pain, pain so bad that I was almost dropped to me knees. If Anthony could have seen my eyes he would have noticed they rolled back from the pain. We kept moving on, battling the pain. Than the pain moved lower into my pelvic and again I was doubled over and not moving. We slowed the pace down even though my legs were feeling strong. Walk 5 steps double over, walk 5 more double over. Finally we arrived at top and I was very surprised to see the aid station. It was a small descent but the pain I had just intensified with each step, running was out of the question, but I did. It didn't look pretty and it hurt but I ran the little descent.
At the aid station I really wanted some tums, to see if that would help settle my stomach, but they didn't have any. They did have Sports legs and I took 2 capsules. I really didn't know what it was but it was suppose to help decrease the lactate acid in the legs. All I know is it actually helped my stomach. We pushed on after filling up the bottles with coke.
We attacked the descent to Tunnel Creek. I was able to run pain free and made up some time. My mental capacity was also back, I was fully understanding and joking around. I was a new runner and Anthony knew and capitalised on this opportunity. He pushed me and told me when to transition into a hike. I was moving really well, there was no stiffness, I just allowed the trail to take me. It was a beautiful thing.
As we neared Tunnel I gave Anthony the plan, I needed to use the bathroom and he would fill my pack with water and fill the bottles with coke and we would be out. I hit the bathroom and as I exited found Anthony, I took in a swig of coke and was ready to go. Only Anthony was chowing down. He saw me and I waved at him that I was ready, I knew he needed to fuel but I was ready. I exited the aid station with him right behind me, or so I thought. He had been stopped by his fans and a photo opportunity took place. Meanwhile I am running down the trail focused on the task. He catches up to me, but it took a bit of an effort on his part. I knew he would catch and I wasn't that worried about, it was just funny and we laughed about it for a few miles. Me leaving him behind at the aid station.
Anthony pausing for his photo opp. Photo by Gretchen Brugman
The climb back to Hobart is challenging because it appears that I should be able to run it, but in actuality it is a pretty good sustained climb. I choose to power hike. I took the lead for a bit and than I instructed Anthony that in case he hadn't noticed I was racing. He knew I was racing at this point but I needed to make sure he knew that I knew I was racing. At this point I asked him to take the lead, I knew I had another gear in me and I asked him to push the pace. I wanted the pace increased but I was having a hard time doing it, but I knew that if he did I would do what ever needed to be done to keep up. He pushed the pace let me tell you. We even ran some of the climb. He continued to monitor my fuel intake as by this point I had only had 2 gels and the coke in the bottles. I knew that I could make up a ton of time just by hiking and I was still hiking with a purpose.We were finally passing other runners and when we passed them I wouldn't allow them to hook on. I was making a statement, I was on a mission. It was here that we spotted Jennifer and I was hoping she would hook on. She was battling some serious stomach issues and wasn't able to to hook sadly.
As we neared Hobart I was took the lead back and was running the trail very well at this point, the little rollers I would roll up and over without breaking my stride. I was passing 100 milers, one female 100 miler hooked on and started up a conversation with Anthony. She remembered us from miles back and told us we were moving really well. This lit a fire within me, I increased our pace and slowly she fell back, again I was making statement I told Anthony. Anthony just laughed when I told him that.
Hobart was arriving and I again gave Anthony the plan, wow here I am some 39-40 miles into the race and I am communicating unlike when I saw him and Pam at mile 11 and 18. A big change in attitude! I told him coke and water and I was again going to use the bathroom. After the bathroom I found Anthony and he quickly iced me down and cleaned my face, I was covered in salt and getting the grim off of my face was Heaven.
Off we went to Snow Valley which sits at 9,214 feet. A huge elevation gain. I was focused and on a mission. I ran until I needed to transition into a hike. My hike was still powerful and I knew that the finish was near. Anthony was always the calm voice in my head, keep drinking, now hike this, lets run this, keep going a few more paces. It worked, what ever he said I executed. On the climb up to snow valley, my breathing became very labored and I started wheezing, I could feel my heart beating up in my throat. I had to slow my pace down to recover. Once recovered we continued to motor. We arrived at snow valley and I took some more sports legs, and Anthony refilled the bottles.
7 miles to the finish, that is all 7 miles a piece of cake after what I have already been through. I had hit numerous lows, been depleted of precious calories but somehow someway I was still moving and not just moving but passing other runners while no one was passing me. The fire was burning and the mental aspect of running had pushed me this far. But how much did I have left? Did I have enough in the tank to finish, or did I spend everything in my mental tank? That was a question that I couldn't answer. There was only one way to find out, to finish strong!
The first part of the descent is very technical, very rocky and extremely difficult to get any rhythm. I was constantly having to stop and side step over a boulder or bounce off another boulder. My downhill legs at this point were not liking this and all the stopping and going was painful. Anthony reminded me that it opens up in a bit and I just went with it. No sense in getting angry at this stage of race. I was still passing other runners and no one was able to hook on.
I hit the very runnable section and run I did. I felt free and alive. My leg turnover was solid and I was effortlessly maneuvering around the boulders and over the boulders, effortlessly running the little ups and finding that last gear I needed. Effortlessly making my way down passing others and only one runner hooked on. This freaked me out, and I am sure Anthony could tell, I did everything I knew how to drop the runner. I increased my pace running 8 minute miles on this descent, I even took risk by running over the boulders instead of around, I pushed the hills that much harder but everything I did was not working. He was still there. Anthony calmly told me that I shouldn't push it and risk imploding because that would be fatal, especially after coming this far. I took his advice and slowed the pace back down to a more manageable sustainable pace. A more comfortable pace.
4 miles to go and it felt like I had nothing left to give. Anthony kept reminding to hike this hill and keep it easy, he knew I was running on fumes and was doing everything he could to get me to the finish in one piece and running. He didn't push me, he let me push myself, he offered up the encouragement I needed to continue to believe in myself. I dug even deeper and was hitting the wall, but just like digging for a well, if you dig far enough you will find water. I found my water per say; I was running, slowly counting down the miles, I knew the terrain and I just had to dig deep with each little roller. I was on fumes, I mean fumes there wasn't much left and the runner was still with us. That runner may not have known it but he was pushing me to keep pushing myself, I didn't want him to pass me.
We arrived at the last aid station and we didn't stop, the three of use on our way to the finish. 1.7 miles to go. One final descent to the lake and then it levels out and I can see the finish. It was on other side. I knew that once I crossed the wood bridge we would be in the home stretch. But the bridge couldn't come fast enough. I was less than 3/4 of a mile from the finish. I was running on fumes and just keeping it together; when I see this massive hill. Maybe not massive but a tiny roller. Anthony softly tells me "You can hike this hill." I reply "please, thank you" as I transitioned into my hike I slowly feel my lungs closing, I couldn't get any air, I was wheezing which was causing me to hyperventilate, but I was still moving forward. Nothing is going to stop me; except the fact that I couldn't breath. I hear Anthony say to drink some water, I some how take a sip and kept hiking.
I am so close to the finish, just keep it together I tell myself, keep it together, keep moving what every I do keep moving as I am wheezing and unable to breath. As I crest the climb I am able to breath and somehow find the strength to run again. The bridge, I see the bridge. I cross the bridge and find another gear, I hope I didn't kick to early I remember thinking. Anthony is right by my side matching me stride for stride, offering encouragement, almost there you can see the finish. I hear cheering but I am just focused on crossing the finish line, I have to get there, again I increase the pace and than again I increase the pace and I cross the finish line in 12:23:01 (give or take).
The final push; Photo by Trailmomma
What an incredible journey! I ran the first 30 miles in about 7 hours and the last 20 miles in 5:23. A pretty good split considering the terrain and the black diamond ski slope I had to hike up. It is amazing what the body can do under tough condition. I never thought about dropping I only thought about finishing. My training for this race was spot on, as I have become a stronger runner. The mental aspect of running should not be taken lightly, I know my mental game is what pushed my body those last 20 miles, that and having great support all day.
Finished a well deserved chair! Photo by Trailmomma
Thank you to my crew; Trailmomma and Anthony. You two knew what I needed and you helped me achieve and overcome this event. Thank you for your support all day. Anthony thank you for running with me. Your confidence in my ability allowed me to push on. You knew when and how to push me and you also knew when to let me push myself. I had a great time laughing and joking with you on the trails! An adventure I will not soon be forgetting, or the FROGS!