Its not that I haven’t been thinking about writing this race report for the last month, let’s just say that I have been reliving every moment of the 2011 Tahoe Rim 100 over and over. Not really looking for answers, but instead feeling the high moments again and allowing myself to be okay with the low times too . Even though the outcome wasn’t what I hoped, I really love that it left a fire burning in me.
After a lot of buzz about my race, I feel it poignant to mention that it was certainly in my mind before the race that I wanted to be on the podium. I mentally put myself there during those long training runs and envisioned it happening. I am not much a believer in luck. I don’t think that’s how the world of ultrarunning goes these days. Obviously someone is going to to have a better day out there than the next runner, but overall, ultrarunning is different now. More and more runners are training hard and they work to be at the top. I was hoping my hard work would also get me there too.
Without a doubt, The 2011 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 was the best, and most trying race I have ever run. It seemed as though life converged into one moment where everything slowed down and the reality of being a new mom, an ultrarunner, a wife, and a professional, was my burden to carry for the 100 miles . The race gave me a chance to reflect. I think Roch Horton describes running a 100 miles best when he says- “You live your life in one day.”
About 10 days prior to the run, I was struggling with a pretty concerning inner adductor (groin) strain most likely that occured during the snow running and subsequent falling I did while filming at Western States a few weeks prior. I actually couldn’t run at all for two weeks prior to the race. After a very good chiropractic session in Ashland (Thank you Kelly Lange), I just tried to remain hopeful my leg would hold out. It seems to be my luck to get an injury so close to big races (see hamstring pull circa Cascade Crest 2009), but I usually count on them to go numb in the first 20 miles. Either way, I would just have to wait and see how it did.
I was so excited to have my hubby, my dad and one of my closest friends, Carly Koerner, as my assembled team and crew for the day. Not to mention my mom, who took Eva for the weekend to let us focus on the task at hand. They were truly my rock to stand on throughout and I am always amazed when people give so much to see one runner get across that line. This is very selfless and much appreciated.
Start to mile 30.
I was cold as the race directors sent us on our way promptly at 5:00am from Spooner Lake. I found myself running with Jon Olson and Thomas Reiss for a mile or so and Jon commented that it was good I was not trying to chase down the two ladies ahead of me. He was refering to the very talented and fast Bree Lambert and Roxanne Woodhouse- the two previous year’s defending female winners. I remember watching them sprint out of the start and thought it was incredibly early for that kind of running. I got myself into a comfortable pace for the climbing that would take us to Tunnel at mile 12. Early on, mostly from lack of sleep and not enough of my usual morning coffee, I was dealing with a bit of a headache and was slow to wake up. Other than that, my leg was feeling good and the air was super nice. We hit the much anticpated snow on our way to Tunnel after the first aid station. While it wasn’t too long, it was pretty slick and annoying more than anything. Descending into Tunnel aid station, I got to chat with Mark Tanaka and of all things, we talked about my “pumping on the run” strategy for the day. Since I am still breastfeeding, I get to add in timed pumping sessions to my list of eating gels, and taking salt tabs. Yes, Mark is an ER doc and a father himself, so it felt like I was telling a trusted friend about this whole added component to my race . It made him laugh and well, me too. I was happy to entertain someone for a few miles. I was feeling good as I arrived at Tunnel. I got to see my dad, who would be stationed there for the entire race. He would be manning my drop bag and helping me with everything he could. The Red House loop isa section of the course you have to learn to love. Its steep and a grind and every runner deals with it differntly. In 2008 another runner found it motivating to yellover and over at the top of his lungs “I LOVE THE RED HOUSE LOOP”, but this year, I really did love it. During the first loop I took note of things I would use to help me later in the race (streams and the terrain where I could make up time.)
My dad told me I was about 15 minutes behind the lead women, who were running close together on the way to Diamond Peak. I was happy to hear I wasn’t too far out and I was definitely ahead of my projected splits. I promised my dad I was going to slow down a bit to conserve for later. But pounded the downhill pretty hard and got to Diamond Peak feeling a bit flat- super tired, sleepy and in a low point. But I saw Carly and JB waiting for me, and I couldn’t help but smile. That inspiration helped to get me started on the climb to the top of Diamond Peak ski resort. On the way up, I got to hike with Nathan Yanko and Devon Crosby-Helms who were out cheering us on. I was so grateful to both of them for the awesome and distracting conversation about the Hardrock 100, of which Nathan had just run the week prior. Its definitely a race I want to do and so hearing about it while climbing 2,000ft in 1.7 miles helps put it all in perspective.
This was actually the toughest section for me in the whole race, and maybe in any of my races. I have never had a low that lasted for 20 miles, ever. I contemplated dropping out, but couldn’t find any legitimate excuse. My legs were fine and I was able to eat and drink. I realized I was thinking about Eva, missing her. Unlike most ultras I do, I wasn’t smiling. Even a month later, I still don’t know why this happened to me. Maybe because I was pushing so hard, or maybe because the sleep deprivation was taking effect. I came into the 50 mile mark in 10:25, which looking back would have put me on the podium for the 50 mile race. I guess pushing that pace does mentally take a toll. The good news was that Carly was there to pace me and as soon as I saw her I knew dropping out was not an option. JB also was waiting for me with a Red Bull to get me out of my funk. I learned that Roxanne was at the aid station contemplating dropping. Apparently Bree was about 35-40 minutes ahead of me at that point.
As soon as Carly picked me up, I could feel her energy and it gave me a great boost. She was chatting with me about things we would always talk about and the familiar back and forth took my mind off the race for a bit. She helped set a great pace and let me complain when I needed to, but re-focused me on eating and drinking and having fun. We made great time to Tunnel Aid station and after seeing my dad again, we dropped in for a second go at the Red House loop. At the bottom the creek crossing called out for me to sit in it for a bit. That was the smartest 3 minutes I spent. It completely refreshed my legs and then Carly and I starting cranking the pace. We got to the top of the climb and my dad informed me that I was only15-20 minutes back on Bree. We picked up at least 15 minutes in the Red House loop. My mental focus became crystal clear for me at that moment. I was compelled to run my race and not worry too much about how things were going to play out. Carly and I ran our hearts out down the long decent to Diamond peak. I certainly remember moments of peace as I watched the full moon hover overhead and moments where I kept muttering, okay, okay and feeling not okay at all. But all in all, everything was still working very well for me. Despite hurting at times, I felt strong and still pretty fast. Carly was amazing and she handed me off to JB at Diamond peak in great form. We were now only 5-10 minutes back from the lead woman.
Mile80 to the Finish
After picking up JB and a full can of coke at the aid station, we began the climb for the second time up to the top of the ski resort. JB was in great spirits and had me excited to try to get into pole position. We could see the headlamps ahead of us and knew we were pretty close. But the climb is quite deceiving, especially late at night. After we crested the top, it was time to use the rolling terrain to run smoothly and quickly back into Tunnel. JB got me into a good rythym as we charged towards the aid station.
Little did I know, the crux of the race was upon us. As we entered Tunnel Creek aid sation, I glanced to my right and locked eyes with my competition. I felt my heart flutter and I was silently screaming in my head.. “I can do this.” Bree’s eyes showed me both determintation and fear. My dad’s eyes showed me astonishment and hope. We both scrambled to eat, get our bottles filled and I changed my shoes for the snow section that lie ahead. I yelled to my dad as I left, powering down a grilled ham and cheese, “its going to boil down to who’s hurting the least.” JB and I talked about our strategy as we left Tunnel. Since Bree was seemingly in the hurt locker and my legs at that moment were feeling good, we thought it best to just stay behind her and make her work up until Snow Valley peak at mile 92. She would eventually wear down and I could pass her and then run ever so effortlessly into the finish in first place where I would be carried away by singing male models to the VIP tent. I mean isn’t that what happens, usually? Admittedly, this decision made sense at the time and then it didn’t about 3 miles up the climb. As I continued a power hike that felt good, within 3 miles that same pace started to feel laborious and I couldn’t see the headlamps anymore. I was just slipping, mentally. JB was doing his best to run a pace I wanted to keep up, but then I would get angry at him for getting too far ahead. Poor guy. I have never been a cranky runner until we started up to Snow Valley Peak and then I turned into a real sweetheart. JB would tell me to run faster and I would yell, “No.” JB would tell me that this chance only comes along every so often and I would yell back, ” that’s good, I can’t go any faster.” At this point, Bree and her pacer were running with headlamps dimmed so we couldn’t see them. It was a smart move as it began to extinguish my desire to put the hammer down. We made it to Snow Valley peak and I was worked. I grabbed some more coke and hoped gravity would help me with speed as we worked to catch up. About a quarter of a mile out of the aid, I tripped on a rock and pulled my injured groin. I yelled out and it was excruciating. I had to stop, breathe and swear a few times. It was not what I needed to get me down the mountain. The next 8 miles were a grind and I was hurting. We did pick up the pace and got moving fairly well, but it wasn’t enough. I knew it wasn’t going to be my night, my win. As JB and I rounded the last turn and heard Carly and my dad call out, I felt a bit of joy and sadness all at once. Yes, I was happy with my efforts, but when you get so close to something special, walking away with anything less was a bit unsatisfactory.
I learned so much during this experience. From a strategic standpoint, I wish I would have made the decision to pass Bree when I caught her. I could have used that fear as a motivator to not let her pass me again, but instead she used that to her advantage. But despite that and a second place finish, I am so happy with the result in light of the crazy year I have had thus far. I found out later that it was good enough for the 4th fastest time by a woman and to that end I can’t complain. The race directors, volunteers, my friends on the course and my crew were just awesome and my gratitude can’t be expressed enough. Congratulations to Bree on a well fought win and I can’t wait to see you on the trails again.
And in the famous words of JayZ, “I’m on to the next one.”