I sat at the Rideout Aid Station at mile 187 and asked the volunteer tending to me what his name was. He responded, “Yassine.” Of course I knew it Yassine Diboun of Animal Athletics in Portland but in my sleep deprived, exhausted stupor I figured it was best to ask. I was in a good place mentally as I had one more 15 mile section and I’d cross the finish line at the inaugural Tahoe 200 Endurance Run and I had 24 hours to get there before the cut-off. I was relaxed and not in a huge hurry to rush down the trail as the time off my feet was awfully nice. I asked Yassine about Animal Athletics and my mountaineering son, Kane, perked up as he heard the description of Animal Athletics mission. I met Yassine’s partner, Willie McBride, for the second time as we shared a bit of trail time on day 2 of the race. Yes, Willie was running with me on Day 2 yet beat me by 10 hours and was now cleaned up and volunteering at the aid station. I suppose I should feel bad about this but I had only one goal, complete the race. Plus we will see if Willie can run my time in 25 years when he is my age! Kane and I could have spent hours shooting the breeze with Willie and Yassine but it was time to shuffle down the trail one last time on my journey back to Homewood.
The moment I heard about the Tahoe 200 I knew it was for me. I’m fairly new to ultra running but I’d done 50 and 100 mile races, 24 hour runs, a multi-day AT race, R2R2R and I needed a new challenge. I entered and was chosen in the “lottery” before I ever discussed it with anyone. I had double hernia surgery over the Christmas holiday last year so my year started out pretty slow but by late winter/early spring I was back on the trails and logging the miles. My old college friend, Lyle Parker, said he’d be in Tahoe and assist in any way I needed. Kane was working in Alaska all summer as a mountain guide but made the commitment to be in Tahoe as well. Lyle would do the majority of the pacing and Kane would run some and primarily crew me. Our 3 man plan (runner, pacer, crew) didn’t work out as planned as Lyle’s mother became quite ill in the weeks leading up to Tahoe. Thankfully Lyle made the right call and stayed home to be with family. As it turned out Lyle’s Mom passed away while Kane and I were still in Tahoe. Lyle is an only child so I’m so happy that he was there to support his Dad through it all. I thought of the three of them many times on the trail that long weekend.
Kane and I arrived in Reno on Wednesday evening prior to the Friday start and volunteered to give Ultra Pedestrian Ras a ride to Homewood. Since Lyle didn’t make the trip we asked Ras if he wanted to stay with us at a cabin in Kings Beach and he quickly accepted as he had no real plan other than to camp near the start/finish. Ras is quite an interesting guy, full of information, experienced in endurance events and a lot of fun…. Plus he’s got a 13 year growth of dread locks so what’s not to like. Thursday was full of pre-race meetings, medical check, gear check… Chatted it up with fellow runners and met Mike Tebbutt who hooked me up with our accommodations in Kings Beach and we instantly clicked. Also got to meet Rebecca Byerly, a local girl now living in India and filming the documentary “Women of the Mountain.” Kane repeatedly told me to calm down so I must have been pretty stressed in the hours leading up to the start.
We were warned that the first 50 miles of the race would be extremely difficult and take longer than anticipated and boy was that right. It was hot, it was sandy, it was steep, it was technical, it was slow. In hindsight, it is clear I went out too fast yet it took me quite a bit longer to get to the first crew access/sleep station Sierra at Tahoe. During those early miles I wasn’t taking in enough fluids but did not realize it. I was wetting my mouth but was unaccustomed to the dry west coast air and thought I was doing alright. I ran with various runners throughout those early miles (including Victor Ballesteros, the 2nd place overall finisher so I was very clearly out too fast) but settled in with Kent Dozier as the sun went down and feel quite lucky I was able to tag along with him as he not only had a GPS device but had run nearly all of the course in the weeks leading up to the start. We arrived at the Wright’s Lake aid station in the dark and an aid station volunteer asked how I was doing and I said I didn’t feel good but couldn’t explain what was wrong. Mike Tebbutt arrived while Kent and I sat and ate and was quickly in and out so I followed Mike out while Kent dealt with some muscle spasms. Mike started the race conservatively and was moving up through the field. It was a joy to spend time on the trail with Mike, the kind of guy I know I know I’d enjoy spending time with on and off the trail. I sense Mike is quite a bit faster than I am so it was work to keep up. To give you an idea about Mike… we were renting the Kings Beach cabin from one of Mike’s friends and when I said Mike was a pretty good runner to our landlord for the week he responded, “I don’t know about that, he’s just crazy! The dude decided one day to ski around Lake Tahoe and on the third try it only took him 60 hours!” My kinda guy. After a missed turn Mike and I connected with Marc Cangemi and again with Kent. After some struggles we all finally arrived at Sierra at Tahoe, the 60 mile mark. Kane was there to greet me and I think it shocked him. I was disoriented, dehydrated, tired, dirty, a mess. I didn’t quite understand what was happening. I went out too fast yet it still took nearly 17 hours to cover the first 60 miles. That is super slow yet I was falling apart and still had 140 miles to go. What???? I had no intention of sleeping that early on but had no choice. Kane found a spot for me and I curled up and was quickly asleep for 90 minutes. I drank and drank and drank fluids. I ate. Kane forced me to drink more. I began to rebound and took off in the early a.m hours.
I took things really slow and easy and drank as much as I could still trying to get it together. Had a really picturesque climb and then easy descent into a crew access point at Big Meadow, mile 80. This was a critical point for me. I now had my dehydration issues under control but my feet were beginning to fall apart. Blisters on multiple toes and my heels tearing apart with raw skin. Thankfully Kane was able to find Jen from Hawaii and crewing other runners. She helped us doctor my feet, talked another crew member (who’s name I forget) to “lend” me a pair of Injini toe socks and move me out. She gave Kane specific instructions to drive immediately to the next crew access aid station and go to sleep. I was to wake him when I got there. As I jogged off I heard her telling Kane that he’d do me no good if he didn’t rest and sleep at every opportunity.Big Meadow (80 mi) to Armstrong Pass (90 mi) was uneventful other than we climbed to the highest point on the course at 9,700’. I passed one runner who eventually beat me but had to look real close to see if he was moving forward at all or if he was marching in place. 20 min’s at Big Meadow and 30 min at Armstrong Pass and I was back out.
As nightfall was upon us I was again thankful to be with Andre Blumberg, a soft spoken German living in Hong Kong with a GPS device. He kept me on the trail, which again was a challenge in the dark, and we made really good time into the Heavenly aid station at mile 103. Andre completed the Grand Slam in 2013 and we realized we had mutual friends in Traci Falbo (48 hour world record holder) and Troy Shellhamer. Also caught up with Peter Ripmaster, owner of Black Mountain Running Company in NC, as we descended into Heavenly. Mike was heading out as I arrived and since I spent 5 hours at Heavenly (3 sleeping and 2 eating and dealing with blisters) I figured I wouldn’t’ see him again. [I did see Mike again during the race but can’t remember where and said dude I spent 5 hours at Heavenly and you were leaving, how did I catch you. And he just shrugged and said well I just woke from a 4 hour nap]
Kane made arrangements to shuttle his car and paced me the next 17 mile section from Heavenly (103) to Spooner Summit (mile 120). I was so happy. It was dark but seemed easier to follow the markings after 3 hours sleep. My feet kept getting worse but I was moving, had my oldest son with me…. all was good. This was a very runnable section and we moved well. I passed 6 or more runners as we made our way to Spooner. Kane ran ahead to prepare for my arrival and the aid station had it together. They knew I was vegan and had everything ready. Lentil soup, guacamole/hummus rollups…. I was happy. In and out in 35 minutes and on to the next aid station in 17 miles.
I continued to move well passing runners as I trekked up a long climb. Had some beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and got emotional when I realized I was now on the east side of the Lake in Nevada (after starting in Cali on the west side of the lake). I even called my wife and could barely talk when I heard her voice and tried to reassure her that all was okay and I was fine. I hung up and cried like a baby. I struggled on the long descent into Tunnel Creek at a time when I should have been able to make good time. 40 minutes with lots of food and I was back out of Tunnel Creek (mile 137).
I discussed with Kane (and Lyle) that I wanted no talk of dropping unless I was injured or it was medically dangerous to continue. I only wanted to discuss how far it was to the next aid station. I certainly could make it that far. I never had thoughts of dropping but with my feet in such bad shape so early I kept saying I’m not sure this is gonna work out. But in the end I knew I could keep moving so I continued.
Easy terrain through Incline Village but I was slow and didn’t’ care. A KILLER steep climb up power line that I had been warned about but didn’t make it any easier. As night fell on Sunday evening I was alone and struggled. I began to hallucinate everywhere I focused my eyes. I saw all sorts of things but my favorite was a stump that looked like a table full of candles. I decided I’d had enough of “seeing things” and rubbed my trekking pole over the candles and they just flickered. So I moved on! My attempt to sit on a log in the dark and change out my Black Diamond headlamp batteries was probably quite comical (it took quite awhile). At about 11:00 p.m Sunday night I arrived at Martis Peak (mile 149.5).
Martis Peak was quite amazing. The Donner Party Mountain Runners had it together! I was pampered to the nth degree. Food was amazing, small heaters in the tent, a volunteer was assigned to keep track of you and get absolutely anything you needed. Mike, who had to drop at Tunnel Creek because of an ankle injury, cooked up some good vegan chow! Everything was logged on a clipboard and we requested to be awoken in 2 hours. My feet were in really bad shape at this point but after much consultation with our crew mentor Jen and Martis Peak medic, Julia we decided we had to keep the toe socks in place and just put a pad over my heels and tape them. I hobbled out of the aid station but the tape job worked magic and I was able to continue.
Kane ran with me from Martis (mi 149) to Tahoe City (mile 170). This section was truly amazing. We had beautiful views of the lake, huge trees, smooth trails and after a bit of up and down an easy descent into Tahoe City. We’d made the turn from the north end of the lake and were in the home stretch back to the west side. Hard to explain the excitement inside. As the sun rose to the east a storm was brewing from the northwest. It began to rain with the sun shining on us. Kane yelled out “this is rainbow weather.” We jogged about 3 steps and looked to the west and saw the most intense, bright rainbow I’d ever seen. I don’t know if we said it out loud but we both felt it was a sign that I was going to finish this thing! We were ecstatic. A few miles later I heard big noises to our left and Kane yelled “brown bear!” We were pumped, we were moving, don’t know if I have ever been happier.
We made it to Tahoe City at mile 170 and now only had 2 more sections. The thought of whether I’d make it were over. My feet were pitiful but I could keep moving. 29 minutes in Tahoe City and I was out. Reunited with Kent at Tahoe City and Rebecca arrived before I left. But it was on to the final aid station. Julia’s patch job on my feet worked but now they just didn’t like the fact that I was still moving and not sitting… no big deal, just keep moving.
Kent caught me at the top of the long, slow climb and we ran most of the descent into the final aid station, Rideout, together before he moved ahead.
Kane met me at Rideout, prepared to run the last 15 miles with me. Yassine gave us great instructions on the final section and gave an emotional hug to Kane and I as we jogged off. It was hard to keep my emotions under control as we jogged along a paved bike path. As we began the final climb Kane kept the tempo quick. He kept saying, get in a rhythm Dad, stay steady, we have this. I was climbing quickly, happy, crying, focused. We woke Phil Wiley on the side of the trail and Kane encouraged him to get moving… this was it! We crested the climb and hit a saddle and continued to climb. At the top the views were glorious. We were moving quickly… heck Rebecca might be catching me. As we descended back down to Homewood something strange happened. We hit a smooth patch of downhill running and I began to fly. Kane yelled out “hell yeah” and after being so emotional for so many days a calm came over me. All emotion was gone and I was just running. Running faster than I had during any portion of the 202 miles. As fast as I felt like I was running, here comes Phil, who was asleep on a log a few miles earlier, blowing by us. Kane yelled something like “go Phil!” We slowed at the top of the final descent, let Phil finish and began the last steps. As we approached the finish line I grabbed Kane’s hand and raised it in celebration and we were done.
The Tahoe 200 was more than just a long race, more than a bunch of committed endurance athletes, more than the vision of Candice Burt, more than the volunteers…. It was a shared experience that will bind us together for a lifetime.