Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pacing at the Tahoe Rim Trail, another 50miler

About three weeks ago, Anil asked me if I was free to come to Lake Tahoe on the weekend of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, and pace them (Anil and Rajeev) in the night for 26 miles. It was to be the weekend after my Devil's Backbone 50 miler. I figured that would be a good way to move legs after the 50miler and also taper down for Pikes. What with the San Francisco half marathon lined up for the weekend after TRT, my running distances were half-life-ing quite well -- a damn desirable taper, I thought.

I agreed to pace. Roopa, who was initially going to come along, couldn't join due to running and other commitments. I decided to not drive and instead joined forces with GB (Deepak and Deepu to a lot of folks) and Aruna in SF. It also gave me time to read the just released HP book. Took the train up to the city, got picked up by GB and Aruna, and headed out towards Tahoe, after a brief brunch stop. It was all smooth sailing until we passed Auburn, when all of a sudden the car stopped accelerating. Thanks to good presence of mind by Aruna, who pulled over to the shoulder out of harm's way, and to Geico's towing service, we were soon sitting in the car on a truck and reading Harry Potter, while travelling back to the Nissan dealership in Auburn.

Auburn is a typical central California super-sleepy town. The Nissan service center was closed for the weekend. All rental car agencies were also closed for the weekend. Anu and Bharti who had started travelling towards Tahoe just a little while ago were reached just in time for them to travel our way, so that they could pick us up. All this while there was no guarantee that we would reach Tahoe in time for me to pace Anil and Rajeev. They had started running at 5AM and were expecting to get to mile 50 around 8PM. Too many constraints. So we just cest la vie -d it away, had lunch, and started reading HP7 while we waited.

Eventually it all turned out well, barely in time. Anu and Bharti came. We got picked up. We reached the start area just before 8PM. I changed in the car and ran down to the trail to pick up a pacer bib. And within 20-30minutes from that, Anil and Rajeev had come into the mile50 aid station.

I met Fagan at the mile50 aid station. He was hobbling rather bad. Meredith was helping him, as did I. We helped him change socks and shoes. He had run the first 50miles in 15hours, but had bust his quads in the 2400ft downhill of the last 7miles. Also met Jessi and Shawn who had cracked their races. It was rather nice to land up at TRT 50mile aid station, and run into 4 HCTR folks right away. They told me that MeredithT was also running, but they weren't sure where she was. We got Fagan ready and urged him to get going soon.

Soon Anil and Rajeev had come in and were attended to by the half a dozen minstering angels of our crew. Arul, Gayatri, Anu, Bharti, GB, Aruna were a fantastic crew, and the never-tiring Rashmi was holding it all together. The guys spent some time getting into warmer clothes, cleaner socks etc., had pizza and we left the aid station at 9PM, 16hours into their race. We had 19 more hours to cover the next 50miles, with various intermediate cut-offs in between. Rajeev and Anil were remarkably strong for having covered 50miles already. We started out walking up the hill to the Hobart aid station. The strategy was clear -- walk the uphills, power the straights, and run or shuffle the downhills. After a long-ish climb, we came up to Hobart. It had taken us a little over 2-1/2 hours to cover those 6miles. We ran into Fagan sitting in Hobart. He had taken over 3-1/2 hours to get up there, and was done. He seemed to be in pain, and was waiting for transportation to take him back to the start/finish area. Rajeev was joking with all the aid station volunteers as we tried to spend very little time there.

The downhill from Hobart to Tunnel was negotiated quickly and we set off for the Red House loop. These 6 miles were our best. It had some rather steep uphill climbs, and we kept a very good power-walk pace up them hills and covered it in 2 hours. Mind, I was just starting to run, but Anil and Rajeev had 50miles over me already! By now we were done with 67miles and we met Alan and Pete who seemed to be running together, were done with 85. Then we set out for the long 9 mile stretch to Mt. Rose, where we would meet our crew. This stretch was gorgeous as the darkest hour turned into a glorious sunrise over Washoe Lake. Anil was growing increasingly sleepy by now. As the day broke, we broke for a 15min nap for Anil. Met a few more runners coming back from Mt. Rose, who seemed to express an urgency if we were to meet the cut-off. That woke Anil up, and we ran. We took the downhills hard, power-walked the uphills and ran 3 miles straight to get into Mt. Rose at 6:35AM (cut off 7:40AM).

The entire crew was hanging around at Mt. Rose, waiting for the runners. We quickly changed into daytime clothes. By now, we had been discussing cutoffs and time strategies for a while, and I felt we (Rajeev, Anil, and me) were a team. There was no way I could drop off at mile 76 and let them do the last 24 miles by themselves. Besides, my ankle and shins were keeping quiet, and given that they had 50miles over me, we were moving slow enough to not have tired me out yet. In all, a decision was taken to go back the 24 miles with the runners. The only deal was I had come to Tahoe prepared to run 26miles and at night. For eg., I didn't have any clip2 on me. I had run out of the electrolytes I normally used. Didnt have light daytime clothing. Also had not eaten a lot during the initial running phase. So told myself that I need to be conscious of salt/sugar content and force feed myself at aid stations, to go the 50miles without trouble.

The return unfolded in phases. The first one was the 9mile stretch back to Tunnel. Anil was desperately sleepy in this stretch. We had put in about an hour buffer, and Rajeev had promised Anil a 10min sleep at Tunnel. However, along the way, Anil could hardly hold it in. At one point he sat down, and said I'll sleep two minutes and come. We let him take those two minutes (and exactly two) and urged him to continue moving. From there onwards, I let Rajeev lead ahead, and I stayed right behind Anil, until the end of the race. At another point, he (Anil) actually fell asleep on the trail while running, and seemed like he was running off course. That was when I actually felt scared. Touched and woke him up. Rajeev gave him some coke, and the sudden sugar and the caffeine seemed to briefly wake him up. Sipping coke, we pushed to the top of Diamond Peak, where we had water. We washed our faces, as Anil and Rajeev took a caffeine pill each. From there on, sleep became less of an issue, as we ran downhill all the way to Tunnel.

At Tunnel, Anil took his promised 10min nap and I reinforced my learning from last week that eating solid food is very hard for me at high altitudes. Pikes is not gonna be easy. We did the hill from Tunnel to Hobart at a fast clip and got into Hobart about 45min ahead of cutoff. Then the painful uphill to Snow Valley took for ever, fighting the damn flies, and we left the highest point in the race (9200ft) with 35-40min buffer. The last 7miles were excruciating. In retrospect, and Anil agreed with me later on this, we should have run hard. We had crawled to a slow pace, and the monotonous downhill threatened to sap our spirits. The only thing that kept us going was the knowledge that all downhills eventually have to end. Finally we got to the last aid station, and pushed past the final 2 miles, and ran in the last 100meters hand in hand. It had taken them 34hrs and 11min, and me 18hrs and 11min!

In all, an extremely memorable night and day. I got to pace my first coach (from Asha '03) and one of my first running buddies (Rancho '03) on their 100milers. I'll never forget Rajeev's constant encouragement over emails (and some phone calls) during my first marathon training. I was training alone in Austin, while the team was in the bay area. Rajeev had given me an envelope at my first marathon, with a note and some inspiring stories. Still read it, before my races. I've held very dear, my runs with Anil, Arun (Simha), Amit (Sethi), Anu, Kaarthik and others at Rancho from '03 summer. In particular, there was an 18-mile run in the Oracle trail on a particularly hot day. I had freshly had an ITB injury, and was hobbling and struggling to move, and Anil slowed down, stayed with me (from pretty much the start) and helped me to the finish, and then took one of my fuel belt bottles and went out for 4 more miles. These kinda things form hard to describe bonds, and this camaraderie is one of the prime reasons I keep coming back to the trails. Sunday, I was honored to run in, holding hands, with Rajeev and Anil.

Thanks guys, and CONGRATS on the 100miler!

PS: And a huge thanks to Rashmi and the crew for everything (starting from ferrying me there and bringing me back home).

PPS: There was a darned huge blister underneath my toe. Never realised when it started. I thought I had pebbles in my shoes. I even stopped once and cleaned the socks and shoe and put them back on. Finally turned out to be a rather nasty blister. Anil, the surgeon, stuck a scissors in it and cleaned it up for me. Need new shoes, I guess.


gk said...

awesome reports...both this and devil's

Quizman said...

Great report, Vinod. Your narrative created an imagery that made me feel as if I was at Tahoe.

Outstanding courage and perseverance shown by the three of you, especially Anil.

Arun Simha

Gaurav Agarwal said...

Good stuff dude. You are inspiring me to start blogging again.

But I am amazed at your running back-to-back fifties. Now we need to shrink the week off in between and we get Cactus Rose :D

Rajeev said...


Anil and I have run so many races together that we know each other so well. Having you join the fun was, for me, like having another member of a select team. The 3 of us worked together so seamlessly that the miles went by in a flash and the party was over before we knew it.

Thank you very much for everything you did for us.


Gaia said...

enjoyed reading your experience... the pic!

Rajeev said...

wow that was a harrowing read do you guys do it...amazing, amazing...