A few months ago, Endorphin Dude asked me if I would pace him the last 20 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler. I of course was honored. I have paced Endorphin Dude a couple times, and if I could help him finish a difficult 100 miler, I would be happy to. I even studied bad jokes so I could keep him entertained.
I went to Tahoe to do a training run with him. We climbed Diamond Peak, which is a 1700 foot climb in about 2 miles. It is one hell of a climb.
Leading up to the race, I was playing weatherman for Endorphin Dude. I was looking up weather forecasts on three different websites (weather.gov, weather.com, and weatherunderground.com).
On the day of the race, I drove up to Tahoe and arrived at the 50 mile mark (also the start/finish area) around 5pm, about 12 hours after the race start. I found the infamous Doggie Nanny to see if there were any updates on E-dude’s progress. We knew he was doing great when he got to the 30 mile mark, the base of Diamond Peak.
I ran into some other folks that I knew, some Pamakids (former teammates) and some Buffalo Chips (current teammates). The rest of Endorphin Dude’s crew showed up. We chatted, but mostly, we sat on the edge of the trail, cheering the folks coming in to the 50 mile mark.
E-dude needed to be at the 50 mile mark around at 9:45 pm. Around 8pm, we were getting very nervous because he had not showed up yet. I decided to run back on the course to try and locate him and run him in to the 50 mile mark. I was about 1.5 miles out when I got a call from Doggie Nanny that E-dude had dropped out of the race.
He had made it to Snow Summit (they highest point on the course at 9200 ft above sea level) it was dark, he had no headlamp, and he had spent a good chunk of time throwing up. He was done. I was heartbroken for him.
I started walking back to the 50 mile aid station. As I was walking back, one of the 50 mile runners was heading to the finish, but also didn’t have a headlamp. So I ran behind him, lighting the way. Once he finished, I went and found the rest of the E-dude crew, and we waited for Tony.
He got a ride from the aid station captain back to the start, and once I saw him, I knew he wasn’t in a pit of despair. Well… not a big pit anyway. I knew he wasn’t happy about his DNF, but he wasn’t wallowing in self-pity. He was in the pot hole of despair. Turns out he was throwing up most of the way up the climb for Diamond Peak, and it took him nearly two hours to make the climb. It was likely the altitude and the heat that got to him.
Anyway, we all decided to go to Diamond Peak to cheer some folks on and then have dinner. It was about 10pm at this point. I decided to leave my car at the finish line because I figured I could see if somebody needed a pacer. I was planning on running the last 20 miles, why not do it sooner rather than later.
On the drive to the finish, I started feeling pains in my ankle, which I had rolled a few days earlier. I decided that maybe running 20 miles in the dark wasn’t the best thing to do. When we got to the Diamond Creek Aid Station, only a few of the front runners had come through. If a runner could get through the aid station by 11:30pm they had a chance of finishing in under 24 hours.
Around this time, E-Dude’s good friend Jonesy came running through. He started going through his drop bag, switching his trekking poles, getting some food. We were talking with him and he was stressing out his timing. I asked him if he wanted a pacer. Earlier, it was thought that he wouldn’t want a pacer because he had been running the 100 milers solo.
However, he said that he would like a pacer. The course and altitude were tough, and finishing in under 24 hours is a big deal. He was stressing out about the numbers and having a fresh brain (not legs) at his side would be quite helpful. I had to run to the car and get ready. I knew he wouldn’t wait for me, so I had to get ready fast and then try to catch up with him as he climbed Diamond Peak. I decided that my ankle wasn’t all that bad, and hurried to the car to get ready.
I got dressed, got some food (I had a snickers bar at 4pm and that was it), and had E-dude fill my hydration pack. Then I started up Diamond Peak. I ran as far as I could, and then started my power hike up the hill. I couldn’t see any lights going up the hill, so I knew I had some time to make up. Everything was going great until I reached a top of a ski lift. The problem was that I wasn’t supposed to have reached the top of a ski lift so quickly. Even though I had ran Diamond Peak before, I didn’t remember every turn, and in the dark, I missed the arrows for the turn.
Luckily, I knew the route on a map, and I had cell service, and a GPS signal. I figured out where I had missed my turn, and went back down the hill. Then I saw some lights going up the hill, so I knew where I had to go, but I had ran an extra ¾ of a mile, and lost about 12 minutes. I kept on going up the hill. I made it up Diamond Peak, even with the extra distance, in about 55 minutes. Going up the hill, I passed two sets of runners.
During my climb, I tried drinking from my hydration pack, but it turned out that E-dude filled up my pack with some sort of electrolyte drink. It was overly sweet, and about made me gag. It wasn’t his fault because the stuff was clear and the volunteer had told E-dude it was water. Luckily, I had a water bottle with me, and I drank that half liter as I climbed the hill while sipping the electrolyte.
At the top of the hill, there was an aid station. I asked the guy there how long it had been since the runner went through. He told me about 14 minutes. That was a big time gap to make up. I figured I would run to the Tunnel Creek Aid station, about 2 miles away and see where he was. If I couldn’t find him, I would wait for another runner to come through and pace them.
As I was running to the next aid station, I kept getting compliments on how well I was doing by folks who were running towards me. I wasn’t doing well at all, I had lost my runner. I was wearing my “Pacer – I’m with Stupid” shirt and had my Pacer bib, so I obviously wasn’t a runner, so I tried to explain that I was trying to catch up to my runner. I would ask how far behind I was. Most people didn’t know, or I got the “5 minutes” statement.
We all know that “5 minutes” could be as little as 3 minutes or as many as 10.
I did see one guy I knew, and he gave me an accurate statement because he knew Jonesy as well. When I hit the Tunnel Creek Aid Station, another Pamakid and former E-Dude pacer was there. I saw him and asked where Jonesy was. He knew I supposed to be pacing E-Dude and asked what happened. I told him that he had DNF’ed at Snow Summit and that I was pacing Jonesy at the last minute, but had to catch up with him.
He said that Jonesy was only a couple minutes ahead of me, and then practically threw me out of the aid station. He said that he could finish in under 24 hours and to help him. I was at Tunnel Creek for maybe 40 seconds. No fluids, no food, nothing. Just catch up with Jonesy.
I went as fast as I dared in the dark, on trail, and at 8000 feet altitude. And by the time I had run about 6 miles (though only 5 miles of the course), I saw a light ahead of me that wasn’t coming towards me. I knew it had to be Jonesy. I did it! He was surprised to see me because it had taken so long to catch up to him (about 90 minutes).
He told me to catch my breath (which was hard to do at altitude), and then told me of his plan. His plan for me was to remind him of his pace, to keep that pace under a certain limit, and to remind him to eat every 20 minutes or so. We had about 15 miles to go and 4 hours to do it in. While a 16 minute pace doesn’t sound like a very difficult thing to do, it is much more difficult when you are running at night, climbing a mountain, at altitude, and you have ran 85 miles already.
Jonesy had his trekking poles and was using them to his advantage. When we were going uphill, he used the trekking poles to help go up the hill. When we ran down hill, he tossed them into one hand and ran. This was scary, because he would sometimes stop and I had to watch out for the business end of the poles.
The other thing that I found really interesting was the dark spots I was seeing on the ground. It didn’t take me that long to realize that those dark spots were pee. The runners in front of us would just pee where they stood, and often, once they started peeing, they would walk (and pee) forward to not lose those precious seconds standing still.
We hit the next aid station, (Hobart, I think) and I realized that I was really hungry. I was supposed to get dinner after E-Dude went through the 50 mile mark. Then when we finished at the Diamond Peak Aid Station. I had a light lunch, a snickers bar, and a couple bites at Diamond Peak. This aid station (like all the aid stations) took care of me. I grabbed Jonesy’s drop bag, dug out some GU’s (the gels they had on the course were not good), and went and grabbed some food. I grabbed some fruit and they had some broth. It was scalding hot broth, so they tossed some ice cubes in for me. That stuff was amazing.
At this aid station, we came in about the same time as another team searching for a sub-24 hour finish. We were right on the cusp to be able to finish in that coveted time frame. We got out of the aid station pretty quickly.
Then we had to climb to the highest point on the course. Snow Valley aid station was at the top of Snow Summit which was 9200 feet above sea level. It was decent climb and we maintained a pretty good pace. We went through the aid station pretty quickly. They told us exactly how many miles we had left to go. I had been adding some extra distance onto my calculations to be sure we had plenty of time.
We were right on the edge. We had to maintain 12 minute miles for the last 7 miles of the course. Luckily it was mostly downhill to the finish line. We fueled up and took off. We saw another group in front of us. We didn’t have to pass them, but it was definitely something to focus on as we ran down the hill. We caught up to them in a couple miles. Jonesy knew the runner (he knows most of these folks), and it wasn’t the pair we saw at Hobart. They chatted for a few moments and then we passed them. We were flying down the hills. We had a few miles that were less than 9 minutes.
At this time, my headlamps started to die. I had two, just to be sure because I wasn’t planning on running at night, but both were running low on batteries. I just had to keep up with Jonesy and finish the last few miles. I was also getting really tired and sore. I knew better than to complain, I had only been running for 5 hours and 18 miles, not 12.5 hours and 98 miles. But this guy was running me ragged. It also didn’t help that I had already rolled my bad ankle three times.
We hit the last aid station (which was unmanned, just a couple of coolers on a table). We didn’t even stop. With 1.7 miles to go and 30 minutes to 5am, we were pretty confident that we could finish. I texted E-dude (as I had been during the race) to give him updates. We were in full on sprint mode to the finish. We could see the finish line on the other side of Spooner Lake, and we still had 15 minutes to get around the bend.
In the end, Jonesy finished in under 23 hours and 50 minutes. TRT is a brutal course, and only 15 people finished in under 24 hours. It was pretty awesome to be part of such a great accomplishment. And I had nothing to do with it. I know Jonesy would have finished in under 24 hours, but I hope I made it easier for him to do it. He told me that having me there with him kept his stress level down.
We had a nice beer at 5:15 am, and I had an omelet. I was exhausted, but I had to get home to the family. The Dashing Wife was not feeling well, and dealing with the kids was not going to be pretty. I slept for about 30 minutes in the car, then drove down the hill a little bit. I had made some tea the day before and it was still warm (I love my Thermos), and used some of that to perk me up. I made it about 35 minutes, and I had to stop again. I slept another 45 minutes, and then drove home. I got home in time to take a shower, play with the kids a little bit and take a nap with my daughter.
Pacing E-Dude at AR50 made me want to run an ultra race. Pacing Jonesy the last 20 miles of TRT 100 made me realize that I don’t want to do a hundred miler. I was beat up and tired staying up 24 hours and only running 21 miles (remember, I got lost). I couldn’t imagine running 80 miles before that, and I am not nearly as awesome as Jonesy, so I would have had to stay up for 30+ hours. Nope, I think I will stick to 50k as my limit. However, I did tell E-dude that if ran this race again, I would sign up for the 50 miler and run with him during the first half. I am not smart.