Michelle's Tahoe 200 Race Report
The Tahoe 200 started September 5, 2014 and was the first ever 200 mile single loop course in the United States. Circumnavigating the varied terrain around the astoundingly beautiful Lake Tahoe it also had 40,000 feet vertical gain. Runners would have 100 hours to complete the course.
So many variables can impact an ultra and they are exponential as the mileage increases. I planned my dropped bags meticulously, brought the best crew (sister and husband), employed my expert knowledge in hydration and nutrition management, and approached the race with an “I will finish” attitude.
The first 50K took us through Rubicon trail which is billed as the ultimate challenge for larger-than-life 4x4 trucks. If I wasn’t risking a sprained ankle I was marching through 6 inches powdered dust, which ground away at the skin of my toes. It took 8 or hours to complete the 50K – the slowest most painful 50k I have ever run.
The race was set-up that crew did not have access to the curse of runners until mile 60. Even though almost half of the finishers did it without crew, I recommend having a crew. The aid stations do not always have what you want or need. It also gives you additional reason to finish, your crew is in this with you and it is as hard on them as the runner.
The first 60 miles can make or break you, I focused on calories and hydration. I only use water since I replace all my electrolytes with Fuel 100 Electro-Bites (over the 200 I went through 30 or more packages). Each of my drop bags had extra socks, lube, sunscreen, batteries, flashlight and nutrition; the redundancy paid off, it gave me great confidence in those miles in between drop bags that there was something special waiting for me at the next aid station. I took a “bag to bag” approach for a successful finish.
With the 10:00 am start I had originally planned to run the first 30 hours without sleep. It became evident to me by mile 50 that this was not a realistic plan. The fatigue from the heat, constant ascending and descending, and terrain was taking its toll. By the time I rolled into the aid station at mile 60 it was 3:00am and I was toast and my feet and toes were covered with blisters. This was the first time my crew had access to me and when I was told to go to sleep, I did not give any argument. I slept 2.5 hours on that first night.
Day 2 - 6:00am start, as a result of managing my calories the day before and the physical preparation I had done for this race, I felt ready to go again. The first 20 miles of the day seemed easy and I passed many runners who had skipped sleeping the night before, this would become a common theme over the next 2 mornings. At mile 80 I picked up my pacer Pierre, who had paced me during my first 100 at Western States in 2009. Having a pacer is wonderful, but it takes time to transition from running solo and in your own head to sharing your race with even the best pacer. I suffered over the first segment with Pierre, my mind was no longer in the game and I had inadvertently stopped managing my fuel. The aid station was further than described and by the time I got there I was one cranky runner.
With the help of some baked beans and hotdogs and much needed blister care by my crew, I left the aid station ready to go into night two. The massive climbs and chilly winds of the afternoon soon gave away to a remarkable night sky and a fun game of “find the flags”. At Mile 103 I was ready for my night 2 catnap. I crawled into the back of the SUV and Pierre headed to our rented condo for a few hours of rest. We would get going again before dawn, I think it was about 4:00am.
Day 3 - Getting up and running on for the third day was a unique experience. It was like the Superbowl had gone to commercial break and when the commercials were over the same intensity and focus resumed. My crew, Pierre, and I were like a well-oiled and well coached team in the biggest game of our careers. Headlamp charged, watch charged, change of socks, bra, and shoes, food, blister care, and off we went. I had been passed by 3 or 4 woman while I slept and it felt good knowing I had friends and competitors in front of me.
The running was great for the first hours, I realize now that the key to running a successful 200 is run as often as you can. Hiking and walking are necessary but can become habitual so when running is an option, I run. We were rewarded with jaw-dropping views of Lake Tahoe! Pierre was able to stop and take a few pictures of the view at mile 130. This is exactly why I run: Moments on mountain tops. With my fueling plan on target and the beauty that surrounded me it was easy to run for the first half of the day. Pierre dropped me off at mile 137 with hugs and encouragement. I headed out for the next segment with a roast beef sandwich, trekking poles, and course maps; now that I was solo again I needed to take charge.
I left the aid station around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, and this next segment included Poweline - a brutal vertical climb. It would be the longest a segment without water available on course and I was doing it in the heat of the day. It was on this segment that I passed Claire for second place. I ran out of water and was overheating when I was offered much needed water by another runner. The support and kindness of fellow competitors is another reason I love this sport!
I was planning to run the 3rd night alone, but another Tahoe starter who had dropped introduced me to his pacer, Pete. At the 150 mile aid station Pete was waiting for me and after having some soup and another blister care session, Pete and I headed out at dusk.
Night three was awful. Without hesitation the most terrible part of this race was the spiders. Spiders, big spiders, on the trail. Blocking the trail. I would not have made it through the night without Pete. He guided me and moved spider after spider off the trail. Sometime around midnight we found a runner huddled by a tree on the trail. He was cold, hungry and he thought he was lost – he had left the previous aid station hours before us. Pete can now be credited with 2 saves. He guided us both safely into the next aid station. I ate and slept a couple hours.
With just over a marathon left to go I was moving again before dawn. The fatigue was compounding and I knew I was not thinking clearly. At every corner or slight variation in the trail I doubled and tripled checked for the flags, even back tracking several times to be sure I was on course
My sister was waiting for me at the last aid station, mile 187. She took charge with the purpose of getting me out of that aid station and to the finish. She handed me my trekking poles and had me slather up with sun screen and said I will see you at the finish line. I had only dreamed of getting to the finish before sunset and not having to run into the 4th night. If I could just keep my pace, I would be in before dinner time.
The last climb was cruel. The drop-offs seemed too perilous for racers who had already gone 195 miles. It was the icing on the cake for a race offered up everything a mountain runner would ever want or need. It was fitting that even as we approached the finish line, we would be tested again. The only thing to do is to say thank-you.
96 runners toed the line on September 5, 2014 at the Tahoe 200 – 60 would complete the task in the required 100 hours. I achieved my goal of finishing before the 4th night and finishing with a time of 77 hrs 47 minutes for 2nd place woman and 12th overall.
Thank you for this report. I will endeavor to run the Sulphur Springs 200 in May, and most reports skim over the management of sleep. I appreciate your insight.