The night before the Tahoe 200, I made a point to read my grandfather’s letter to his parents, dated August 4th, 1945. In it, he explains that he just turned 21 and explains how his life had changed over the past year. He said it was one of the most exciting years of his life…which included adventures, hardships, happy moments, and sad moments. He said this one year had everything that the rest of his life would be made up of. Zoom in and read this one letter if you can. I really enjoyed reading his letters to his folks. At the end of them, he normally would include comments like “please send me licorice candy” or “please send me Old Spice shaving lotion”, or “send me gum drops”. Boy did he ever have a sweet tooth. You would have never guessed during these letters, he was in the middle of WWII(Battle of the Bulge). I read this letter for inspiration.
The morning of the Tahoe 200, I remember feeling relieved and calm. Months leading up to it, I was as nervous and as excited as I have ever been in any running race I had ever done. Mentally and physically I thought I was ready. There was no stopping me from finishing. Bones needed to be broken in order for me to DNF…or they had to pull me from the course.
I am going to try and remember as much as I can between each aid station. All of them ranged between 7 miles and 20.4 miles between them. Let’s start with Barker Pass…..
Barker Pass- mile 0 to 7
Once race director of the Destination Trail series Candice said “go”, we started hiking up Homewood Resort.
It was a nice climb and once we reached the top, had a great view of the Sierra Nevada Mtns. I did not get a picture of this, but they were beautiful. Some peaks still had snow on the tops from last winter. After close to 3,000ft. of total gain, we started to descend and reached A.S. 1. They had the best guacamole role-ups I’ve ever had. What a great sign to come!
Loon Lake- mile 7 to 24
After some more descending, it seemed we gradually started meshing with the Rubicon Trail.(I know this is false. You leave one trail and go to the next, obviously. No meshing!). Most of the race, we ran on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Once in awhile we would venture on to other trails. I don’t remember the names of them….except the Rubicon. It was at this point that I realized how dry and dirt filled the air really was out there. I remember asking someone maybe around mile 10 if we were on the Rubicon and he wasn’t sure. Within a mile, it was obvious. We approached an overlook, which included about 5 massive Jeeps and their tires. I yelled over to a woman sitting by the Jeeps and asked if we were on the Rubicon. “Yep” was the confident reply. She also had a smirk, but also a possibly confused look that runners were actually going onto this trail. A half mile later I took this picture.
For the next few miles, trail runners mingled with big jeeps, coming within feet and inches of each other. Dust and dirt in the air made it difficult to breath. I covered my face with a buff for a good 3 miles. The trail at this point was very technical. It would become one the main conversations of the whole race.
Tell’s Creek– mile 24 to 30.5.
This little stretch was much better. By this time it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining. The trail was dirt, roots, and rocks. I remember taking pictures of the big Jeffrey Pine trees…
Once at the aid station, one of the volunteers, Brandon, helped me. I knew him. He was there to help Jon who was there to complete the race. Brandon got me a cheeseburger and other good stuff. Throughout the race, the aid stations had very good food and good support. I thanked Brandon and continued on.
Wright’s Lake- mile 30.5 to 44
Wright’s Lake included some descents, but it also was almost a carbon copy of the Rubicon Trail. But only this time, night was falling. Whether I liked it or not, the dry air and the dust was definitely becoming an issue. I used my buff as much as possible to cover my face. Even in the middle of the night men and women were driving their big Jeeps on this technical trail. We knew they were coming ahead. You heard them and saw their headlights. You had to get out of the way, “or else”! But truthfully, they were very good and actually shared the trail with us. Some stopped to allow us pass through. At the aid station, I had a drop bag. I used it wisely by putting on dry and warmer clothing. It was cold outside that night. Truthfully, it turned out to be cold every night out there.
Sierra at Tahoe- mile 44 to 62.9
After the aid station, I started to descend on a paved road. By this time it was in the middle of the night. The sky was so clear and the moonlight was so bright, I decided to turn my headlamp off. It was awesome! This picture was from a night or two after. You get the idea of how bright the moon was….
It was at this time that I started to feel burning on the bottoms of my feet. I never really had issues with my feet up until this summer. The burning feeling just started to show up during some runs and lingered throughout the rest of the summer. It took a very long time to get to the bottom of the mountain. This would be a common occurrence as the days would go on. These mountains were big, and long. Getting to A.S.’s started to take longer than I wanted them to. We got onto a trail and ran parallel with Rt. 50. We eventually got onto a road and climbed to the Sierra at Tahoe A. S. where I met my wife Caryn, for the first time. My pacer starting at mile 103, Brett, was also there to greet me. It was a pleasant sight to see both of them! It really lifted my spirits…
Housewife Hill- mile 62.9 to 70.5
This stretch was only about 7 miles long. I do remember having a bit of a mental struggle. A few tweaks and the use of a walking stick made me feel better. I was welcomed at the aid station by Caryn and Brett. After them pampering me, I asked for my hiking poles. I knew I would need them on this next stretch.
Armstrong Pass- mile 70.5 to 88.1
The start of the second day of sunlight was welcoming. It was a cold first night. The weather around the lake would fluctuate. During the time of the race, they were calling for highs ranging from mid to high 70’s and as low as mid to low 30’s. Those lows would actually dip into the mid 20’s on the last night. Much of this 17+ mile stretch was on a gradual incline. Total elevation gain in this stretch was more than 4,300 ft. Continuous climbing was a bit of a relief to the burning of my forefeet. At one point, we were on a decline. I had decided to get some relief, as well as attempted to take a little dirt nap. I was unsuccessful….
We climbed again and eventually crested at the highest point of the race above sea level, 9,716ft. I was expecting the aid station to be towards the top, but I was wrong. We started to descend a somewhat technical trail. At this time, I started to get a bad feeling on the top of my left foot. I did not twist the ankle or anything out of the ordinary. It just started hurting. Once we finally got down to the aid station, Caryn and Brett were there to greet me, fill my hydration pack, give me food. Wait on me hand and foot. I checked my foot, and it wasn’t swollen at that point. I was able to get a bit of rest in one of the sleep tents they had set up.
Heavenly- mile 88.1 to 103.1
This stretch of miles was a turning point for me. It started out very good. I got to an overlook and took these pictures with some very nice people I had met….
Once I started descending, the top of my left foot really started to hurt. Combined with the burning of the bottoms of my feet, and the blisters that had already formed miles ago, the turning point was not a good one. The last 8-10 miles were the start of some of the longest hours of my life. Each step started to become more painful. At one point, I sat on a rock and thought about quitting right there. There was no way I could go another 110 miles feeling like this. I continued down the mountain…extremely slow. I sent a text message to Caryn to warn her that I was in need of a medic. After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the Heavenly aid station, with Caryn and Brett greeting me with smiles. Two medics were there to attend to me…John? and Brian. They were sincere and knowledgeable. I would stay at this aid station for 6 hours. I would sleep for 4 of those hours. I would ice and elevate my left foot, and Brian would work on blisters and taping me up.
Once waking up from a restless sleep, I felt nauseous. This was one of my lowest points. I don’t know if Caryn sensed it, but I was on the verge of just quitting right there on that blowup mattress. Caryn and Brett tended to me. Caryn got me some ginger ale and I eventually got up to go to the bathroom. At that point, I did feel a little better and felt I could go on. Plus my awesome pacer Brett was ready to start with me! It was time to start moving forward.
Spooner Summit- mile 103.1 to 123.5
I was so glad to have Brett on board. I was in need of a change. Something to take the pain away. Brett was the answer. This would be the longest stretch between aid stations…20.4 miles. However, with conversation that included sports, trails, other races, the meaning of life and how fragile it is, and chewing S-Caps, the miles went by faster than they were previously. I still was very frustrated because I simply could not run. The pain radiating from my feet was intense. We had some great views of Lake Tahoe. Here is one of them….rightfully named “The Bench Overlook”…..
Here we are at the aid station. As you can see, the feeling in my feet stretched to my face here. Brett was having a great time! Caryn once again was there to fill up my hydration pack, made sure I was getting enough food and enough attention to my feet…..
Tunnel Creek- mile 123.5 to 140
This section consisted of a nice climb followed by some beautiful views of both Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. The photographers throughout the race would trek in some tough miles so that they could get the perfect shot of the racers. The woman taking this photo was at this spot the entire day. And it was very cold and windy up there….
After a few nice stretches of trail, Brett and I got onto a somewhat rocky/ dirt gravel road. This road led us down to the Tunnel Creek aid station. This was a very long decline. It was now night time for the 3rd straight day. With my feet on fire, the trip down seemed to take forever. Mentally this was one of the longest stretches for me. Brett and I did notice some massive ants. At least that’s what we thought they were. The back legs were shaped like a cricket, though. I think we ended up naming them “crickants”. Brett also pointed out a small scorpion. I took a picture of it….
We eventually approached the aid station, with a few theatrics from another runner. He did not seem to be in the right frame of mind. After the race was over, we had heard he went off trail, was lost, and was being rescued. Scary stuff.
Brockway Summit- mile 140 to 155.5
After a very sub-par aid station at Tunnel Creek(seemed to lack essentials, including help), the next 4 plus miles were on a flat, paved path along the lake. This was welcoming. Even though all I could do was hike, we still made some good time. Eventually we cut across the road and started doing switch backs up a neighborhood. At one point, the markers we were following took us to the base of an incline. Like the Rubicon, this incline left an impression. As we started up, it reminded me of a section of a race back home. The Hyner Challenge has a small section of trail that is straight up, called S.O.B. Well, whoever is reading this and knows S.O.B…. picture S.O.B. but add on 1 mile of it. Also remember to add the 145 miles into the race, and it being at 3am. This incline put S.O.B. to shame. It kept going straight up and up….
After multiple stops with other racers, multiple uses of the F-word, and simply questioning our own sanity, we got to the top of the incline. People were looking at the view. I couldn’t see shit. I was still gasping for air. Of course the kicker here was…..WE WEREN’T AT THE TOP! After a few hundred more feet of less vertical climbing, we finally seemed to crest. It was windy and freezing. There was no room to rest. We had to move to keep warm. We continued on, crossing a stream or two, trying to keep warm. We ended up seeing a snake. It resembled a metal bar. It didn’t look real. I nudged it with my trekking pole and it hardly moved. Because it was so cold and they are cold blooded, the poor thing was probably suffering…..
After a long stretch of declining down a mountain, followed by another climb half way up the next, we reached Brockway Summit. This was where I would bid my friend Brett farewell. A firm handshake, a hug, and a thank you was all I could share with Brett. But his support for those very tough, but memorable 52 miles will last a lifetime….
Caryn and my next pacer and friend, Kristen, greeted us. I spent some time getting my feet worked on, refueled again, and about an hour of sleep in the SUV that we rented. Here’s a picture of us all….
Tahoe City- mile 155.5 to 175.5
After being persuaded to put pants on and multiple layers of clothing, Kristen and I were off…
Within a mile or two, we were climbing and we both ended up shedding some clothes. Kristen even got down to a tank top. The sun was coming up and it was going to be another warm sunny day, just like the last 3 days. WRONG! We knew there was weather coming, but we were expecting rain. It started out as rain, but as soon as Kristen commented that she would prefer snow, it started snowing. It snowed for close to an hour. We both had to laugh. It was hard to believe that it was snowing in the summer time in California……
Kristen was very excited for this trip. She rarely is able to get away from her husband and 2 children. She was lucky enough to have enough airfare miles for basically a free flight. The views did not disappoint on her stretch with me. Between the snow, the moss on the trees, and the vistas, it was great! Unfortunately there was no running involved for the majority of it. We took a very long hike down into Tahoe City, enjoying what the beauty of nature gave us…but with feet on fire. Kristen had asked me during this stretch what I wanted to eat at the aid station. After giving it some thought, I requested Taco Bell Taco’s and french fries. Sure enough when we finally got down to the aid station, Caryn and Brett greeted me with fast food bags. What service!
Stephen Jones- mile 175.5 to 195.1
After being pampered some more, I changed clothes and Kristen and I were off….in the rain. The rain didn’t last that long and we were glad for that. Early on in this section we hiked in an area called Page Meadows. It was a nice area with, of course, a section of meadows. I spotted what I thought was a gray fox. I attempted to get a photo, but it ended up being blurry. Eventually the sun went down and for the 4th day in a row, I turned my headlamp on. We started climbing, again, and ended up hearing running water. I happened to turn my head to the right and was shocked to see a waterfall. We had no idea it was even there but realized if it was daylight, it would have been a nice setting. Kristen was actually able to get a pretty good picture in the dark…
The climb continued on, and on, and on. And it got cold. Real cold. Luckily we both were dressed accordingly. I however, was starting to get into a mental haze. Kristen took a picture or two of the moonlit cold night sky….
Once we finally crested the mountain, it was time to make the very long trek back down. During this trek down the mountain, I started seeing faces and shapes in all the rocks and tree stumps. I kept that to myself until Kristen pointed out she saw a woman/witch face? I was flabbergasted. I thought I was the only one who saw it. After that, I started pointing out other faces. The one face on this flat rock was green, with one eye and a half smirk on it’s face. I was not hallucinating, but I was definitely not in my best frame of mind. Intertwine that with a swollen ankle and feet that felt like they were on fire at each step, and you have a not so happy fella. We finally got off the mountain and now on to the paved path that went parallel with Lake Tahoe. I was swaying back and forth while walking, was seeing more designs(maps?) on the walk-way, and I was being difficult with my pacer Kristen. If I were her, I would have pushed myself into the lake and be done with it. But she did the best she could. She is used to dealing with her kids. She now had a grownup kid to deal with.
Eventually we cut back up into a neighborhood and started climbing again! At one point I didn’t care anymore. I was just going to keep walking no matter what. I had no control over myself…completely vulnerable. Anything could have happened to me and I would have let it happen. It was the least control I have ever felt over myself. It was a very lonely feeling. Luckily Kristen knew what she was doing. We finally got to the aid station. It was probably in the mid to low 20’s. It was very cold and I was very grumpy. Caryn and Brett did the best they could. I was being rude and inconsiderate to everyone. I just wanted to sleep…or run….or both at the same time if possible. I opted for sleeping and eating. The pancakes and syrup hit the spot.
Finish- mile 195.1 to 205.5
Before I knew it, I had more clothing on and Kristen and I were back out to tackle the last 10 plus miles. I gave Caryn a kiss and told both her and Brett I’d see them at the finish. Kristen and I started hiking into the dark, cold abyss…..
While hiking out of the last station, I thought of something. This was it. This was the last 10 miles of the race. I figured I might as well leave every last ounce of my being out on this course, even though I couldn’t run. So I started hiking hard and fast up the mountain. Kristen right behind me. We remember seeing glitter on the dirt road. They were actually ice crystals, but it looked like someone threw glitter all over the ground. I continued to hike hard and just like that, the sun started to come up. As it came up, and when the opportunity presented itself, I started a slow jog. Eventually we got back to the first aid station area, Barker Pass. There was a photographer at this spot and took this good picture of Kristen and I…..
After that, I began to run more. I figured that if I were to do serious damage to my feet, so be it. I was going to give it my all. I started running harder and harder, when possible. Adrenaline can be very powerful. We hiked the uphills, but I ran the the flats. Something I had not done in roughly 150 miles. I began to think of my grandpa, and the letters he wrote. This made me even more determined. We started going downhill towards the finish with a few miles to go.
My adrenaline was off the charts! I was now out of control again. But it wasn’t the out of control that I dealt with earlier the previous night. I knew exactly what was going on. I was running like a maniac. Kristen asked what they put in the syrup at the last aid station. I told her it was the gum drops, thinking back of all the times my Papa asked his parents to send gum drops. At that point I lost it. With tears in my eyes, and basically sprinting down the mountain, I started to hyperventilate. I ended up going through that twice on the way down. I wanted to get a small glimpse of the pain and suffering that my grandfather had gone through in WWII. Of course, I will never know the extent of losing friends in battle. I was choosing to run over the rocks that were on the trail. I felt absolutely nothing going down that mountain. It literally felt like I was flying. I had never felt that way before. After waiting for Kristen to catch up a few times, we started the final descent together. I could see the finish line and I just went. I crossed the finish line just shy of 95 hours. The first picture is with my pacers. The second picture is with medic Brian, who really helped me and encouraged us throughout…..
I had done it! I grinded out a 200 mile race the way I thought I couldn’t, by hiking MOST of the last 110 miles. I learned so much about myself on this race. I had a lot of lows at this race. But I had game changers with me. I had two amazing pacers to get me through those last 110 miles. I appreciate them more than they know, and I owe them big time!
I also have the biggest game changer of them all, my wife Caryn. She kept me on the most steady path imaginable. She was there through it all and never complained! She drove over 800 miles on the car that we rented to follow me. When it was all done, I got the feeling she was lacking more sleep than me. I am looking forward to treating her to a Nashville vacation for her birthday and a big thank you from her very much appreciated husband!