By Jaret Seiberg
[See also: Jaret's Photos on Flickr]
I had a great time on July 15 running the Tahoe Rim 50 miler. Okay, I really was supposed to finish the Tahoe Rim 100 miler, which is two loops of the 50 mile course. Technically, one could say that I was one of the 33 runners that DNF’d the 100 miler. I prefer to view it as a solid 50 mile finish.
Either way, this is a course that should not be missed. I have never seen such a beautiful 50 and 100 miler. In between the start and the turnaround, there is nothing but wilderness. Runners cross exactly one road, which is near the start and is a dirt path to get to a fishing spot.
The race directors peg the average elevation at 8,400 feet. The course crosses 9,000 feet several times and drops as low as 6,800 feet. But for the most part runners are pretty high up. The reward for this elevation are views that cannot be beat.
To the west is Lake Tahoe and the mountains that make up the Western States course. One also gets incredible views of Marlette Lake and its rock sidings. To the east are Carson City’s foothills and the Washoe Lake. One starts by running towards Mt. Rose and returns running toward Spooner Lake.
The start is on the shore of Spooner Lake, a state park that is located just where US Rt. 50 summits the Sierra Nevada’s en route to Lake Tahoe. The course follows a dusty, dirt road in the park for about a mile before turning left onto a trail. One climbs about 1,200 feet before a short descent to the banks of Marlette Lake. Most of this was in the dark, though a flashlight was not needed. From the lake, we climbed another 500 feet into the Hobart Road aid station, which is about 8,300 feet.
Then the fun begins. The trail climbs out of the aid station, skirting the summits of Marlette Peak and Herlan Peak. This is where we hit snow for the first time, crossing about a 100 yard long field that has survived despite 90 degree temperatures. At last, we get some downhill, enjoying switchbacks into the Tunnel Creek aid station, which is at 8,000 feet and mile 11.
At this point, we do the five mile Red House loop. We drop 1,200 feet in just more than a mile. Then we begin a gradual climb for the next three miles before starting a very steep, one-mile hike back to the Tunnel Creek aid station.
This is the spot where the 50K racers start their journey home. The rest of us begin a 9 mile section to Tahoe Meadow, which is located at Rt. 431. I mention this because the course essentially covers the trails between Rt. 50 and Rt. 431. There is not a single other road crossing. One is truly in the backcounty.
The nine-mile stretch contains some of the most incredible views. I cannot emphasize enough how special this is. Lake Tahoe looks amazing while Mt. Rose hovers over the course from its 11,000 foot perch.
Getting to Route 431 is mostly an uphill affair. The only sign of civilization were the wires for a ski lift. The trail is mostly a sandy dirt, with snow thrown in from time to time. The rocky sections are similar to the non-rocky sections at MMT. In other words, there were a few rocks. But the rocks are nothing anyone from the east coast would even worry twice about running on.
During this stretch, the 50 milers began catching up. They started an hour behind us, as did the 50K runners. The only 50k folks I saw were either the insanely fast male runners or the way-back-of-the-packers, whom I caught in the final six miles of my loop.
At Rt. 431, one crosses an alpine meadow before coming to the aid station, which is at 8,900 feet. Overlooking the aid station is Mt. Rose and its sister peaks. This is where one suffers through the first of many annoying weight checks. I continue to find it odd that race officials congratulate you for gaining weight and admonish you for losing it. Either way, the best thing about this aid station were the ice pops, which hit the spot on a hot day.
Before finishing up the course, a quick comment on the aid stations. The stations which are inaccessible to cars are amazing. They had many salty foods, soup, sport drinks, water and soda. Some even had Ensure. They also had potatoes and salt. Yet I was a bit disappointed by the aid stations at the turnaround points. There was no Gap Creek like station with made-to-order quesadillas or other atypical aid station food.
The nine-mile return trip from Rt. 431 took about 30 minutes less because of the large amounts of gradual, downhill running. The course dumps you back at Tunnel Creek for the third time.
Here is where I find the course to get insanely tough. We climbed about 600 feet in just more than a mile. This is where my altitude sickness issues really started getting bad. This five mile stretch deposits us back at Hobart Road aid station.
I thought the last climb was tough. But it was nothing compared to the hike to the summit of Snow Valley Peak, which is at 9,200. We gained about 1,200 feet in 1.5 miles. This is where my altitude sickness issues started getting worse. My headache moved to the severe category and my fingers were swelling. I still had control of my balance, but I was beginning to not want to eat.
How they got an aid station up here is amazing. By far, this was the greatest of the aid stations. Between the signs of encouragement that were posted before and after the aid station to their ability to provide food and liquid in such a remote place, it really was an oasis surrounded by a strikingly pretty alpine meadow. The best way I can describe this is the section in the Highland Sky course that goes from the end of the road to the next aid station. The views from this sky-high spot were spectacular. I do not understand how Marlette Lake does not break through the rock-siding and tumble 1,000 feet down to Lake Tahoe.
From Snow Valley, the course goes mostly downhill for the final seven miles to the start-finish area. Mostly is the key word here. We didn’t do that much climbing. But there was enough to keep this from being a breeze.
At this point I dropped rather than start the second 50 mile loop. I’ve asked myself many times why I dropped. Yet I’ve never regretted it. The altitude sickness really worried me. I would get better when the course dropped below 8,000 feet. Yet much of the run is above that height. What really convinced me, however, is the back-county nature of this run. As the medical staff told me, if things got worse between the start/finish (mile 50) and Rt. 431 (mile 76), the only way to get me out was by helicopter rescue. That was risk I just did not want to take.
So I drove back to my hotel, ordered pizza and had a beer to celebrate an incredible day on the trail. My final time was around 12:25 for 50 miles. The next morning I drove to the Mt. Rose trailhead and spent a wonderful 4.5 hours running/hiking up Mt. Rose and Relay Ridge. The altitude sickness hit me again, especially above 10,000 feet. Yet I would get better once I dropped lower.
I cannot recommend this event enough. The views are stunning, the footing is excellent and the volunteers are as helpful as one could want. They even have a post-event out-door dinner, which also is when the drop bags are returned.
Some preliminary finishing data: 87 started the 100 miler. Of those, 33 dropped and 54 finished it. I believe only four men broke 24 hours. The top woman needed close to 26 hours. As Annette commented at the post-race dinner (She came in second woman at the 50K), hardly any women finished the 100 miler. I’m not sure why.
Most of the runners were very friendly. Many also lived above 5,000 feet. When some heard I was from the D.C. area, MMT immediately came up. I was surprised by the fear and awe folks had of our race. Many said they heard it was one of the most difficult 100 mile races in the country. So I guess we are famous!
See also: Jaret's Photos on Flickr