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  • TRT Endurance Runs Write-up

    Posted on July 29th, 2016 Michele Sun No comments

    I have first heard about the TRT100 from my coach, who has done so many ultras but this Tahoe Rim Trail is the race that he has returned to many times. I guess it must be one very special race to him. And couple months ago I was asking for book recommendations, and two people suggested —

    Tahoe Rim Trail 100: A Glimpse of Pain. A Taste of Humanity

    I was quite intrigued why Dr. Shah named the book “A Glimpse of Pain. A Taste of Humanity.” In June, I got a clean health bill from my oncologist and was very happy that everything looks good and I am halfway into remission now. No new treatment required, and I don’t have to see my doctors for another 6 months!!!  To celebrate this most awesome news, I signed up the TRT training run on June 12th as a gift to myself.

    Going up to South Lake Tahoe with friends was really fun, we walked around Carson City on Sat and found a Thai restaurant for carbo-loading. Tomorrow we would be running 50K for fun, kind of crazy, isn’t it? Scott was a great dinner companion because he talked about many interesting racing and running stories, and he always tells people “ask her how we met!” 🙂

    The training run that day was re-routed because of too much snow in some sections, so we actually did big chunk of the run on Flume Trail  which wasn’t part of the TRT course. The modified course didn’t matter to me, at least at that point, because I am not going to be in the race anyway. I had so much fun that day running up and down the trails with huge rocks, beautiful wild flowers and SNOW!! Hiking on snow toward Snow Valley Peak was just beyond my imagination. The whole day Jay has run with the snail paced me and took tons of pictures of me with magnificent lakes and forest as backdrop.

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    While preparing for Western States 100 pacing, one of my running friends Ken asked me to pace him at TRT100, from mile 50 to 80. It’s super exciting and a great honor that he asked me, but also a bit scary. Pacing 30 miles is  a huge deal to me, and not to mention that he is much faster than me. I consulted with my coach Dennis, and he believed I am definitely capable of doing it. Ken and I went out for practice run at Portola Valley one night, so we could talk about  his expectations from me as his pacer. A week later, very & most unfortunately at WS100, I had terrible food poisoning the day before the race, and the pacing didn’t go too well on Sat night/Sun morning. At the same time I discovered that my body gets very cold running at night over a longer period of time, even when the weather was hot. For all the combination reasons, I told Ken that I would not be able to pace him at TRT100, but I would help to find a replacement pacer for him. I felt bad that I bailed out on him, but I didn’t want to commit to something that I felt I might not be able to deliver.

    Dennis knew exactly how I felt about the WS100 experience, and how I had turned down the pacing opportunity with Ken. So I was surprised and thrilled when he asked me to pace him the last 20 miles at TRT. I knew all too well that he didn’t need a pacer for a 50 miler (or 80K as he puts it), and his asking was more like an offer to me actually. An opportunity for me to see the actual TRT course, an opportunity to “run toward the heaven” that’s what I told him after that training run, and an opportunity to reset the bitter pacing taste from WS100. I am so grateful for his asking me.

    We didn’t get to do any practice run together prior TRT since he was constantly traveling, but I made sure I kept up with my training while he was away on overseas trips. I kept my weekly & weekend runs consistent, and added trail runs at night at Mission Peak — to mimic the big climbs at Diamond Peak after reading the book. And it turned out my Wednesday night runs did help tremendously on the race day.

    Friday 7/15, we left South Bay a little after 9:00am, and secretly I was worried about his jet-lag and weeks of lacking sleep. Coach is definitely not following the instructions he gave me while I trained for my first 50 miler. But heck, he is super experienced and he has solid foundation to deal with an 80K. We stopped for some yummy meat pies with beers, and got to beautiful South Lake Tahoe and met up with his other running friends at the party house. :-p For sure I was the ultra newbie among them. Even though I would not be pacing Ken this weekend, but it’s very important to me that I send Ken, Kim and Peggy off on the race day morning. I wanted to be there for them, and waking up at 3:30am would be totally worth it. So I offered to drive the four 100 milers to the start in the morning.

    Sat 7/16, alarm went off at 3:30am, and I put on my puffy jacket that coach told me to pack for my finish line drop-bag. Thank you Coach!! The start line was cold, in July!! Thank goodness that there was a tent with gas heater so runners could huddle and stay warm. I walked around under the black velvety sky and soon found Ken, Peggy and Kim. So excited to see my Striders families on race day morning and they looked totally confident and awesome. You can tell they were strong and well trained, and I wished them good luck! 5:00am, game time!

    Soon after the 100 milers taking off, I started seeing 50 milers arriving and so many friends were in this distance. I saw Jay, I-Tao, Jack, Scott, Chia-hsuan, Bruce, Jack, Noe.. etc, picture, picture and more picture. A thousand miles of journey starts with dozen selfies 🙂 I am not even the runner, LOL! When my runner (yes, now coach is my runner) came, I walked with him to the drop bag area so I could recognize and retrieve his bags during the race and when he finished. He looked fresh and relaxed this morning, good sign. And at 6:00am, the 50 milers and 55K took off.

    I drove back to the party house and tried to snooze a bit, but it’s so bright out there and there was some construction going on at the same time, so the nap didn’t happen. I was supposed to meet my runner at Diamond Peak at 2:30pm the latest, per his prediction. So I planned to be there around 1:00pm. I put on my pacer shirt, (yes I actually have couple pacer shirts :-p), Altra Lone Peak, my GU Western States fedora hat, and packed my hydration bag with Roctane Brew & GU Roctane gel in soft flask. Rule #1 – pacer has to take care of him/herself first. I am very lucky that I have learned from the best of the best 🙂

    One of the 100 miler’s father was giving me a ride to the Diamond Peak A/S, mile 30, so I actually got to the A/S around 11:15am. Much earlier than I had planned but  was fine with me; just sit there and watched the strong 100 & 50 milers coming through. Was surprised to see Jean Pommier sitting there with his crew, and my initial thought was “wow, he is super fast,” but then the concern became “he has been sitting here for too long!” Two hours later he walked up to the race people and declared he was dropping from the race. I felt sorry for him, and must has been a hard day.

    I was so excited when Kim came in, and Mike (his crew & pacer), sit him down in a shaded area and offered him nutrition, fuel, checked his bag, gave him more GU gels and GU drink. Kim’s families were here also and little Patrick was just totally adorable. Mike told me Kim was running at a 22hr pace, but the throwing up earlier had slowed him down a bit. But still, if he could keep up the current pace, a 24hr finish should not be a problem. Dan and Mike were his pacers today, and I knew how hard Dan & Mike are in terms of grinding & drilling. Military style — just the way Kim likes it 🙂

    Sitting here among many waiting crews and enjoying the beautiful surrounding, soon I started seeing familiar faces coming through, and I jumped on each opportunity to assist them by refilling their bottles, applying sunscreen, telling them they looked great and wished them luck when they walked out of this A/S. When I-Tao came in like a super star I was so happy to see him, I hopped around like a busy working bee and offered him smoothie, watermelons… etc.

    I-Tao sit on the ground and proceed to clean up his feet, and told me “You are waiting for Dennis, right? He is right behind me, and should be here soon.” I walked to the front deck of Diamond Peak cafe where I could see my runner coming in across the parking lot. I could almost hear the imaginary clock tick tock tick tock, and around 2:15pm I saw my runner’s face and my heart went oh-oh.

    I walked up to him and accompany him into A/S together, and asked “how are we doing?” His voice was low and deep which tells me he was tired, and he replied “I haven’t had any solid food for 5 hours already.” The high altitude has messed up his body and he threw up couple times already; couldn’t take any solid food, no gels, no chips, no potatoes… and had only drunk his usual Ensure and electrolyte. I grabbed a chair and made him sit down, and tried to refill his bottles first. His instructions were quite simple but hard to understand, and I was very sorry that I made him repeat his instructions.

    Again, I think I am truly lucky, no matter road running or trail running I can live on GU alone no problem. I even eat the GU Stroopwafel as breakfast lately:-) I asked him if I could get him anything to eat and drink, and he said no to everything. I told myself “fine, we will try this again later.” I made sure my runner got a cold “car wash” when exiting the A/S. I walked with him toward the Diamond Peak and went “WOW” when I saw how steep the hill was. He said “you haven’t seen anything yet!

    I was very happy to see my runner, but not so sure if he felt the same about his pacer. However I knew the Rule #2what happened at pacing stay at pacing.” I would not take anything personal and I would not get upset. I told him what happened in the running world this morning — Killian finished Hardrock 100 hand in hand with Jason Schlarb, and they kissed the rock together, Jean Pommier dropped from TRT100, and seeing Kim and Lina…etc, things that he had missed while running the first 30 miles. The climb on ski run was brutal and I tried to find stuffs to talk about while gasping for air. I asked him if he preferred having me to run ahead of him or behind, and he said he wasn’t sure and he was too low in energy to run. I said “that’s ok, we will walk.”

    Given the amount of runs we have done together one would think that we have tons of running stories, jokes and even gossips that I could talk to take his mind off this brutal race. But guess what? I am usually the one listening and he being the one talking, and his pacer today has no new story to tell her runner. Most of my fun runs were with him or he already got a full report from me if he wasn’t there. I have never anticipated this would happen when pacing my coach.

    During our climb, I noticed most runners had trekking poles and that made their climb much easier. I had fresh legs and Mission Peak runs were very benefiting today, but my runner hadn’t had any food for over 5 hours now, and the heat wasn’t helping either. But he hiked with very determined and steady pace, and declined my asking if he needed a break during this 1,700 foot climb in just under 2 miles. My runner really demonstrated how tough his mental strength and will power are! This dirt road up the ski run took us to the top of Diamond Peak at 8,540 feet, and the climb is the steepest one I had ever been! At one point my runner asked me to go back down to take a picture of that “WTF” that someone had spray-painted, so I turned around and discovered the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe!

    Before we reached the top of the ski lift where the Bull Wheel A/S was, my runner told me “go order us two beers” Huh?? Beer?? Are you hallucinating? But turned out this Bull Wheel A/S has the best craft beer that I have ever had, and sitting on top of the world sharing that beer with him was just too awesome and made the an hour climb all worthwhile!

    My runner declined any food still, so after the “cheers” we continued our run onto Tahoe Rim Trail for 3 miles heading to the Tunnel Creek A/S. The trail was just as beautiful as I would imagine but my runner couldn’t run at his usual pace, and couple times he told me not to go too far ahead of him. I felt bad that he wasn’t having a good day, and felt worse for myself not being very helpful.

    We leapfrogged with other runners and arrived Tunnel Creek A/S which was  packed with goodies but my runner still couldn’t eat anything; I could only dutifully refill his bottles with water and electrolyte. Good thing was we didn’t waste any time at any A/S, just in and out like he always taught me to. We were back on Tahoe Rim Trail and moving towards the Hobart A/S. He was very tired and energy & morale were extremely low; sometimes I could hear that bullfrog in his stomach. I tried to shuffle whenever I could as I listened to his footsteps attentively. If he run I run, if he walk I walk. That was a very long 5 miles!!

    We got to Hobart A/S and several runners called out “Hey Michele!!!” Usually I would be excited and sociable when greeted by other runners, and all this ultra love is just amazing. But today I wished my runner was the hyper one not me, and my mood was down because of the despair I was seeing on his face. With all the swish and  swosh at this aid-station, I somehow felt we were isolated on an island and there was this silent bond beyond just running between us. I don’t think I will ever forget this very special moment.  Then I saw light at the end of the tunnel — he accepted a small piece of watermelon I offered him. I happily fed him more small pieces of watermelon, knowing there weren’t much calories in them, but at least it’s better than nothing. After a small cup of smoothie and watermelons, we left Hobart and heading into a very cold & windy 3 miles with climb of 1,000 feet.

    We continued our run/hike and my runner started passing me from time to time, and he even reminded me to stop and look at the magnificent views of the lake and mountains. He was starting to sound like himself again. It’s very windy and he had to tell me several times “don’t go too far because I couldn’t hear you.” I honestly told him that I had no story to tell him and I felt bad about it, and he suggested “how about telling me your race in Tokyo?” Ahha, that’s right!!  I am an ultra newbie that don’t have much to share, but I have tons of experience from road races. I started telling him about the magic bananas and AKB48 from Tokyo Marathon, the monkey statue I kissed at Osaka Marathon, and the rude runners at Paris marathon aid-station…etc. In fact I could make up anything and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway :-p

    At one point my runner asked me “can you tell me our last mile pace without stopping (aka tripping & falling)?” I looked at my Garmin and said “19..” He said “do your math, what pace will we need to run to finish 10 miles in 4 hours?” F*ck, I sucked at Math and you have to ask that question now?! I tried my best to calculate in my head and said “12.” Of course it’s wrong and he said “there is no way I can run a 12 min pace now.” I must apologize for being the only Chinese on earth that sucked at Math, but eventually I did figure out that we only need to run 3 miles an hour and we would finish the last 10 miles in under 4 hours easily, easily!

    We got to the Snow Valley Peak A/S and there were some pink flamingos lined up and spinning like crazy in the wind leading into this A/S. The volunteers here were wrapped in puffy jackets and they were totally awesome. I had my runner sit down while I went to get him some broth to keep him warm, but the volunteer insisted on getting it for us. I took this opportunity to refill my own hydration pack and his bottles.  Thank you volunteers!

    Between Snow Valley Peak to Spooner, it’s a section that I truly enjoyed running and I could tell so did my runner. We were running at a faster and happier pace, and he started engaging with runners that we past. Somehow it’s like the reset button was pressed and my runner was slowly becoming himself again — upbeat, fun and very sociable. He started joking with other runners, and called me “spunky pacer” which  I was totally happy about it. I remembered the Weather app said sun would set at 8:30pm, so I put on my headlamp around 8:15pm therefore I didn’t have to wait till too late to deal with it. My runner said “I will wait till it’s completely dark.” We continued the winding & rolling run toward Spooner, and about 10 minutes later at a flatter section he asked me to stop and pull his headlamp out from one of the million pockets. Clumsy me struggled to find the headlamp and to make it worse I broke his sunglasses in nanoseconds. With sunken heart, I continued running a little ahead of him, but felt like a total failure now. I have heard stories about runners breaking down and crying at ultras, but pacer crying during a race must be something new! Didn’t know I would set a PR or PW like that.

    My runner commanded “stop and turn around!” In the middle of this dusky and chilly trail, after my tired runner had run very hard over a very long time, he was giving me confidence boost and credits that I am not sure I deserved. And the scary thing was how he could read me from behind. With the pacer being reset, we resumed our run and from this point forward my training, which I received from him, really shines!

    The trail was dark, technical and it kept descending, and we were flying down like free birds. Each time I hopped over some rocks or roots, my runner (or coach) would say “nice!” He was so happy to see this new developed confidence in me after AR50. Trail was in complete darkness now, and very unexpectedly we heard a voice “runners up!” One guy was standing in the middle of the trail, alone, and he had no headlamp. He didn’t think he would need one at a 50mile race!  My runner invited him to join us and chit-chatted with him, while I set the pace at the front leading the two of them. He was showing difficulty to keep up the pace we were doing, and my runner explained “we are both very confident downhill and nighttime runners;” I hoped this Arkansas runner didn’t feel too bad about himself.  There were many touching and selfless stories in this race that day, and that’s why we all love ultra community!! After we past the Spooner Summit Trailhead A/S, the last aid station, we caught up with some girls with lights walking and this Arkansas runner said he would join them instead.

    The course description said we would be running along beautiful aspen grove and shores of Spooner Lake, but I couldn’t see anything. I told my runner that I think we were very close to the finish, but he said “nope! we still got a long way to go.” I could see the lights and hear the noise, so close, yet so far. I sped up the pace and pushed him hard and wanted my runner to finish in style, and without any communication I think my runner wanted the same thing! I was totally amazed and impressed seeing how deep he dug  and how strong he came back alive from the hell. My runner looked totally awesome when we crossed the finish line, and he was a true bad-ass to me!

    After walking through the finishing area and receiving his finisher plague, I went to get his drop-bag first so he had dry cloth to put on, then I went to get him the well deserved finisher beer. There was this very calm and harmonic atmosphere by the lake, and it’s great to see him looking all happy now!  I had purposely left my car at Spooner Lake this morning, so I could take my runner back quickly without dealing with the shuttle after his finishing the race. This had been a very long day for him!

    Later I learned the DNF rate for this race is about 45%, which is the highest one I have ever seen. Mainly was because of the high altitude sickness, bedside the ultra fatigue. Great job everyone! And I admire my runner’s courage to even toeing the start line, especially he has repeatedly coming back to this challenging race knowing the altitude will eat him alive.

    The next day my runner/coach asked me how I felt about the pacing, and then he told me about “detaching” myself from the runner. This TRT pacing is definitely very different than pacing at WS100 just weeks ago. My WS100 runner was a stranger, someone that I had never met and never run with prior the race. So things are more about the technicality. But at TRT, my runner is someone I am very close to, and I had accepted this pacing assignment with lots of expectations from myself. Even though I was fully aware that he didn’t need a pacer, and he could finish the race without me, but I pressured myself that I should not and could not fail him.

    What is the goal of having you as my pacer?” “To show me how beautiful TRT course is!” “Exactly! And our goal was met!”

    I often think how lucky I am that I am surrounded by so many good people, and I am extra fortunate in this life to have someone who share my same passions and constantly taking me to explore this beautiful world, and at the same time inspires me to push my limits.

    “A Glimpse of Pain. A Taste of Humanity”.

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