July 21, 2016

Tahoe Rim Trail - There Are Moments

Mona G, Will C, Yours T, Al C. 
He took the scalpel from the package and held it, hesitantly, over my left foot. As a new volunteer, he was unsure of himself, worried about the pain it might cause. But there was no pain, just a quick lance, lots of fluid oozing, and the blister the size of a grape on my big toe was no more. Another volunteer quickly applied a wrap over the loose skin. It was a team effort at the 50-mile aid station, with my friend Mona G in the middle of the scrum barking out orders.

Last weekend I completed the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 mile endurance run. It was a weekend of firsts. My first 100 miler since completing the Grand Slam in 2014. The first ultra my father and brother came to watch. And the first time I’ve come so close to not finishing.

Pre Nuclear Fuel Rods
I’m not sure if it was the average elevation (8,300’), 20,000 feet of climbing, technical trails, dry-to-the-bone heat, or my new-fangled cross-training program with not-so-much-weekly running, but this race kicked my ass! From mile 50 to 60 I was teetering from faithful survivor mode to DNF zombie mode.

One minute I was swearing to myself that I’d never, ever run another 100 mile race (now a routine), and the next I was rationalizing that every runner needs at least one DNF, and why shouldn’t this be mine! But I knew my Dad was waiting for me at the finish line.  So, with that, I resolved to grind through the misery even if it took me until the 35-hour cutoff.

Marching into 50 mile aid station

In terms of difficulty, I place TRT in front of Angeles Crest and just behind Wasatch Front. It’s challenges are many, but the coup de grace is the Diamond Peak climb, which is presented to runners twice – at mile 30 when the heat of the day is reaching a crescendo, and mile 80 when your body feels like it just woke up in a bed of spent nuclear fuel rods. The beast is 1,850 feet straight up the face of a ski slope laden with sand and an elevation of 8,540 feet. No switch backs, no plateaus, no relief.
Spent Fuel Rods - Mile 80
Questions floated in the balance during this race like so many other meaning-of-life obscurities. Was I born with this need for pain? Or was it nurtured during my early years in catholic school? Why do I push the envelope when most people my age are pushing pencils? Do I need a therapist? Then, in the middle of the night, I ran into my friend Dave B with his pacer high on a ridge. At least I wasn't alone I thought.    

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States, the tenth deepest in the world. Not unlike the highs and lows experienced during 100 mile race, the lake is a picture in contrast, with deep blue waters surrounded by turquoise shorelines and bright sandy beaches. Seeing it from high upon the rim trail as I ran through the forest was something I won't forget.

There are moments. Moments that I hold on to after moving through the mountains all day and all night, under the beaming sun and rising moon, when I’m ready to just sit down on a rock somewhere and say to hell with this, when the raw trickle of endorphins move through my veins and keep me climbing toward the top of the mountain, when the city lights flicker far below to make me feel like I’m on top of the world.

Once making it through the lowest lows, I started to feel up again and began the process of picking off a few runners. Again, it dawned on me that finding my strength would ultimately happen if I had the patience to work with my weaknesses and not let them control or define me. Its a game of patience being in the elements when your body is struggling and your mind is fragile. It's life in one day. You just have to keep moving forward as good and bad happen. 

After climbing Snow Valley Peak (9,000’) for the second time, I began the long 7 mile descent to the finish line. It was a good feeling to have completed the last climb and have only a downhill section to get through. Despite hours of punishment, my legs, surprisingly, were holding up enough to allow me to push the pace when another runner came up on me. With the finish line so close I couldn’t let anyone pass me.

At the finish with RD George R, Will C

When I reached the coveted 100 mile finish line in 25 hours and 17 minutes my crew was waiting. I can’t describe how good it felt to see them and just sit down and not move for a few minutes. Yes, finally, it was over, and another moment was captured.

The TRT was easily one of the toughest races I’ve ever completed. It was also one of the most organized and well-run races and by far the best marked course. During the 25 hours I was on trial, not once did I feel concerned about being on the right trail, a common occurrence on other courses. Whenever I wanted to ensure I was on the correct trail, I’d look up, and within a minute or two I’d see a trail marker. It is a first class event and I recommend it especially for those of you seeking something a little less mainstream with a higher margin of difficulty.

I’d like to give a hearty shout out to the volunteers, all of whom did a great job keeping us runners fed, hydrated and moving on our way. But most importantly I want to thank my crew Mona G, Alfred C and Will C for keeping me motivated during the low points. This was the most difficult day I can remember, and I don’t think I would’ve finished without knowing you’d be there for me at the finish line!

All photos by Mona G. 


Anonymous said...

You left out the part where we are all going back next year.
You for the sub 24,
Dave B for the sub 30 and me for the 50 miler.....

Will Cooper said...

I'm in Mona. But I think you need to be doing the 100 miler! Why settle for only half the pain?

Cris said...

Will, great write up on the race. Way to stick with it when things got tough. I'm very proud of you. You've piqued my interest on this race. Maybe next year...

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Awesome race and report. Sounds like you've found what you are looking for!

Will Cooper said...

Chris, this one would be perfect for you. Lots of climbing, and descents! TP...hope you are doing well over there in Europe. When are you coming to the states for a US race!

Jill said...

The things we do to not disappoint family, huh? (probably more so, ourselves). Considering 50k was my longest run this year, I am highly impressed. Congrats! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the race report. I was lying on a cot at Diamond Peak aid station (mile 80), contemplating my first DNF, when you came and went. I remember your "Get it done" attitude when you got up to leave. Your attitude helped me to get up and get it done.

Will Cooper said...

Anon...that's a huge shout out and thank you for your kind words. We all help each other out there in many different ways...it's what makes this sport so amazing and the challenges so tangible. Good work at TRT!

Iron Knight said...

Will, your experiences are always motivational for me. I am back and training for PCT 50 this year. Hope to see you out there. I am in OC now (San Clemente), let's go run Joe