Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

by Matt on August 1, 2012

 

The coolest belt buckle I’ve earned thus far

The short version: I finally won a 100 miler.

The long version: When a monkey climbs down off your back he leaves a mark.

In learning about the race it was obvious the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Miler is a race with top notch organization behind it. The only grip I have is trying to figure out how much vertical gain there was before-hand. Most people in the know landed on 20,000 – 24,000 feet of uphill. I haven’t run a 100 miler with this little vertical gain yet, and all accounts of the trail was that it was buttery smooth single-track. To be completely honest – this scared me. I don’t see myself as much of a leg speed guy and the proposition of actually running 100 miles was daunting.

Although I really tried not to, I did peruse the start list. I figured one time Montrail Ultra Cup winner Victor Ballesteros was the likely favorite, having obvious talent and having run the race before. Canadian, and 2009 Chuckanut 50km Champ Aaron Heidt – who has short distance speed I can only dream about – also made my short list. The week before the race my buddy Justin txt’s me to “Watch out for my buddy Jon Robinson. I’ve been running with
him lately and he’s strong. He’ll be in the mix for sure”. And it’s always good measure to add a random four or five mental spots for California runners you’ve never heard.

The Start Line at Spooner Lake – Photo: Travis Liles

 

Saturday, July 21st we lined up in the dark at Sooner lake and were off. The course is a beautiful 50 mile route, that you run twice. It has three lollipop loops from the stem, which is the Tahoe Rim Trail. Although I had no idea who it was at the time, Seattle’s Jon Robinson shot off the front and quickly disappeared. I mean gone. I have learned a few things in my days of endurance racing, and one of them is to simply run your own race. I just put him out of my mind and figured if he has that kind of day more power to him. I’ll heartily congratulate him at the finish.

The front pack was a quick one, we introduced ourselves, chatted and moved at a good sustainable pace. I was surprised Aaron was missing from our numbers. I figured he was really trying to play it smart. Through the first aid station at mile six, Hobart, I was in 3rd having pulled a bit ahead of the pack on the climb up to it. At this point everything felt easy, I was climbing well, and my torn labrum was behaving. I had agravated this long standing hip injury on my last big week of training (120 miles of Wasatch-awesome). It was my biggest concern going into the race.

My last two 100 milers have been disasters, with cratering lows of epic proportions. So this race I was game to try a few new tactics. Chief among them was LESS caffeine.. yes, less. Can you believe it? I am genetically very sensitive to caffeine, and it’s something I just have to respect. It was a key factor in my suffering adrenal fatigue through the fall and winter. It’s taken a lot of research and working with some very smart people to figure it all out. I won’t lie, it’s been a long and disappointing road, but this race shows I’ve made some marked improvement.

Aaron caught up to me on the first climb out of the Red House loop. He said, “I couldn’t have run any slower.” I could have. We then ran out to the Diamond Peak loop together. Chatting like school girls made the 10 mile loop fly by. It felt so effortless and easy. To finish the loop the course goes straight up some sandy, loose black diamond slopes. Aaron pulled ahead as I stopped to take care of some business. As I caught him near the top of the steep 1,800 foot climb we could see Jon. I didn’t feel over taxed so this was all very promising.

Aaron Heidt and I running into Diamond Peak the 1st time. Photo Travis Liles

 

On our way back to the start/finish from Diamond Peak we passed back through the Tunnel Creek aid station for our third time of the race. With the time of day change and entering the aid station fast and from a new direction I was so confused as to where I was. I just completely didn’t recognize the aid station until I was a few miles out. Leaving that aid station I yelled, “let’s go Aaron!”. I wanted company for this climb, but he didn’t respond. I figured he might have already left, so I picked up the pace a bit to catch him. I was feeling very good and climbing well. I soon caught Seattle’s best, Jon Robinson. We ran together for a few minutes then he dropped back to run his own pace and let his stomach settle. This was probably mile 37 or so. I caught a glimpse of Aaron behind me in the switch backs and realized I was in first place.

Now I had to run with a bit of concern that I might get caught. I played mental games to prepare for this. I just figured at some point it would happen, and I didn’t want it to mentally deflate me when it did. But, I was up for the challenge of seeing if I could stay in front for the next 63 miles. I finished the first 50 mile loop in 8hours 38 minutes. The winner of the 50 mile race came up to me and told me that I had run just two minutes slower than his winning time.

It was nice to see Ellen and her boyfriend Matt had come out to cheer and help crew. There was just so much good energy oozing out of that place I didn’t want to leave. I sat for a couple minutes and made sure I had everything I needed before departure.

The one disadvantage to this course being run twice, with 50km and 50
milers on course as well, is the dust factor. I have a bit of asthma, and
as I headed out on loop two I started to notice the wheeze. I think I’ll spare you the blow by blow and say I ran paranoid the rest of the next 50 miles. I was able to avoid the depths of an energy crash, but my pace and motivation waned a bit more than I should have allowed. For the last 20 miles from Diamond Peak I employed 2004 Hardrock Champion Paul Sweeney to “safety run” me home. Paul’s perspective was great as I closed in on my first 100 mile victory. It was basically “soak it in, and enjoy it”. The unspoken understanding that winning a 100 miler is special, and they don’t come easy, or often (for most of us).

I was on course record pace through 50 miles, but with my lead growing I let off the gas a bit here and there. Something I’ll try to fix for my next 100. We are lucky to get to run these races. I mean, seriously – we run 100 miles in one shot. So my attitude from here on out has to be – leave the best damn time you can, every time.

Thank you Miriam, Darryl, Paul, Ellen and Matt for all your amazing support out there. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Getting the coolest belt buckle ever. Photo: Travis Liles

 

My Gear:

Montrail Rogue Fly Shoes

Mountain Hardwear Way2Cool Tshirt

Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp


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