For me, my journey to running the Tahoe Rim 100 actually started 11 months earlier, on August 3, 2008, when I completed my first marathon. The thought of running 26.2 miles was crazy to me at the time, but still sounded fun, and I wanted to soak up a new experience and at least have a new story to tell. I did have a blast that day, and soon after started hitting the trails north of the Golden Gate Bridge as an outlet for a stressful but fun career with a hot internet startup here in San Francisco. A couple months after the marathon I ran a 50k followed a month later by a 50 mile. I was hooked, no doubt about it. All I could think about was getting onto trail before work, after work, on weekends, whenever. I loved logging miles with a smile on my face, getting lost on new trails, and sharing laughs with my running friends. Nothing made me happier.
Fast forward to July 18, 2009, 50 weeks after that first marathon. I find myself toeing the line at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile, 2009′s USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championships, standing behind a row of amazing runners, guys like Jon Olsen, Ian Torrence, Erik Skaden, and Jamie Dial whose running careers I really look up to via amazing running stories in magazines and on blogs. I couldn’t help but chuckle and say to myself “no matter what, today is going to be one badass adventure.” I felt good with my training, my gear for the day was in order, and my crew consisting of my girlfriend Larissa and good friend Sarah from PCTR were ready to help at the 26, 50, and 76 mile turnarounds. The rest of my plan was simple. Run with a smile, have a blast out there, and soak up the experience. Your first 100 only happens once.
The race kicked off at 5am and I settled into a mild, comfortable pace, running and chatting with my buddy Zach Landman who was also running Tahoe Rim as his first 100. Several weeks earlier I logged a great training run on these same trails with friends Will Gotthardt, Caitlin Smith, and Thomas Reiss. Thomas was at the end of his training for the 50 Mile World Cup in France and was running on heavy legs that day having paced at Western States the night before. We ran at a steady pace that was much slower than usual but comfortable. I remarked to Will that “I feel like I can run at this pace forever.” I had no idea what that pace would result in time-wise but instantly I knew that this was what I wanted to hold as long as possible in the hundred miler, no matter what was going on around me with other runners. My goal was just to finish, and hopefully under 24 hours.
Back to the race.. After catching up for a bit, Zach and I cruised the uphill towards Marlette Lake. The lake looked absolutely amazing in the early morning light as we descended on some fun single track. I was worried though and remarked to Zach, “dang man, we are way too close to Skaden, Rob Evans, and Sean Lang right now.” I was running the pace I wanted to be at but seeing those guys up ahead was pretty worrisome for me, I was afraid we may be going out way too fast, only to crash hard miles into the race.
Eventually Skaden and Evans pulled away, and guys like Jon Olsen, Ian Torrence, Jamie Dial, and David James were even further ahead. I thought Olsen would probably start hard, and if anyone wanted to match him, more power to them. I had no intention of being close to any of those guys as I thought it would be a recipe for disaster (for me). Zach and I continued past Hobart Aid Station, and cruised into Tunnel Creek. We were already about 10 minutes ahead of a 10 hour pace for the first 50 miles but that was fine in my mind as the tough climbs of the 6.3 mile Red House loop were our next segment and would naturally slow us down. Zach was quick out of Tunnel and he and another runner remained about 30 seconds ahead of me most of the loop. I caught up to them on the last steep climb, as I hiked the steeps really well all race. As I came up behind I mockingly cracked to Zach “hey a real man would run this.” Zach let out a quick laugh and said something to the effect of “yea Rivers but I want to finish this race.”
Red House really was not bad at all if you are comfortable speed hiking steeps throughout long runs. We resupplied back at Tunnel Creek topping off water and grabbing some energy gels and then headed off on the 9 mile section north to Mt. Rose (the turnaround at miles 26/76). About a mile and a half from Mt Rose (roughly mile 24.5) Jon Olsen came cruising towards me, already making his return trip back to Spooner Lake and the 50 mile turnaround. I let out a big yell for Jon as I was really pulling for him and was hoping he would have a good day. Jamie Dial came cruising by soon after and had a big smile on his face, it cracked me up and I gave a yell for Jamie too.
I finally popped out of the meadow and into the Mt. Rose aid station, 26 miles into the race. It was great to see Larissa and Sarah, and Jasper Halekas was there as well (TRT100 CR holder) and he said I was doing a good job. “Whoa,” I thought, “Jasper just told me good job, thats pretty cool.” Sarah handed me a new Gel-Bot loaded with gel and water, I grabbed a couple extra gels and an avocado wrap and headed back for my 24 mile return trip to Spooner Lake and the 50 mile turnaround. I cruised along, doing my best to keep pace while eating my avocado wraps. I knew the good fats would be a lifesaver for sustained energy later in the race. I passed Zach about a mile in and this was the last time we would run together on this day. He was looking a little stiff, but I hoped he was hydrating and eating well and wished him luck in my head.
The next 23 miles were fun but I was running by myself so just focused on having a good time and congratulating the 50 mile and 50k runners who were taking on their own challenges for the day. I saw my buddy Shan Riggs making his way out to Mt Rose, Shan was looking great and would eventually take 2nd place in the 50 mile. I continued on over Herlan, Marlette, and Snow Valley peaks and eventually hit the 6 mile downhill back to Spooner Lake and the 50 mile turnaround. I was feeling great and running at a steady pace until I suddenly heard a runner crushing the downhill behind me yelling out “dude you are killing it! way to go!” It was Mark Gilligan on his way to an eventual win in the 50 mile. Mark cracked me up big time and would do it again later in the race.
Shortly after I ran into Jon Olsen who was walking it in, having a broken bone in his foot and stomach issues that forced him to sit it down for a while at Snow Valley aid station. Jon seemed pretty bummed but I told him he showed a lot of heart out there and was pretty inspiring, and he said I was running great and looking fresh which was really motivating to hear. Shortly before Spooner I passed a couple teammates from The Endurables who were running the 50k. Ken was running his first ultra of the year and was doing great, and John was running his first ultra EVER and was rocking it. Seeing those guys was also motivating and helped me cruise into Spooner Lake and the 50 mile point right around 9.5 hours after the start, a full 30+ minutes ahead my planned 10 hours for the first 50 miles.
Coming into the aid station was awesome as people were cheering loud and I saw a lot of familiar faces including other teammates from The Endurables who had already finished the 50k race. I quickly found Larissa and Sarah and sat down to quickly switch into slightly larger shoes. Larissa taped a good chunk of skin back to my big toe, I threw on a fresh pair of comfy Drymax socks that my friend Rick Gaston had given me while hanging out at Western States 100, put on the the Wildcats, grabbed another fresh Gel-Bot and an avocado wrap, and continued my way on. I picked up my buddy Ken Parnow as a safety runner (think pacer who was to stay behind you), we high-fived (I’m pretty cheesy), and I let out a whoop to really enter full cheese-ball status. I was smiling big and having a blast.
Ken and I chatted as I started trying to eat the avocado wrap but the midday heat was making it really uncomfortable to consume the solid foods. I did my best to keep the wrap down by taking big sips of water. We were 7 miles from the next aid station, Hobart, and before I knew it, we had only run about two miles and I was out of water. “This is not good man” I told Ken, I was feeling awful from the wrap and the heat, was out of water, and was a full 90 minutes from the next aid station at the rate we were moving, taking into account the climbs we had ahead. I was really worried this blunder was going to cost me a chance to finish the race if I became too dehydrated to continue on in the hot afternoon heat. For the next 90 minutes I just went into total conservation mode, doing my best to keep a steady pace while not dwelling on the possible bad scenarios that could play out. This was tough, and miles 52-57 were the most difficult of the day for me.
We somehow reached Hobart Aid Station in one piece and I took a few minutes to get re-hydrated for the climbs up over Marlette Peak and Herlan Peak ahead. Hobart was a zoo with a lot of 50 mile and 50k walking wounded, and I was pretty distressed about my hydration and just wanted to get the hell out of there and back on the trail. Ken was grabbing a few more things so I yelled that I was going to continue on and he should just come catch up with me. I began the climb up Marlette Peak but never saw Ken as I looked back. “Damn,” I thought, “Ken may have got mixed up in the zoo of Hobart and exited onto the wrong trail,” easy to do as it is at a ‘Y’ of trails. Sure enough thats what happened, but fortunately Ken eventually made his way to Tunnel Creek and found a runner in need of a pacer and they ran together back to Mt. Rose.
While heading up Marlette Peak I ran into Thierry, my The Endurables teammate who was running the 50 mile race, making his way back down with about 15 miles to go to the finish. “Hey man you are doing great” I yelled to Thierry. “Thanks you too, and just a heads up, they are out of water at the makeshift aid station between Tunnel Creek and Mt. Rose.” This saved me. Had Thierry not told me that, and the volunteers at Tunnel Creek not confirmed, I would have attempted that 9 mile section on just one water bottle; possible yes, but with high likelihood that it would be slow, and not fun.. at all.
After reaching Tunnel Creek I made my second trip down into the Red House loop. I recovered my energy on the downhills, ate and rehydrated on the long, flat sections, and reached the aid station at about 3.5 miles into the loop feeling in good shape again. The aid station caption was dressed in a caveman outfit which I got a good laugh out of. He said I was looking great, was in 5th place, and was not far behind 4th and 3rd, both of whom were looking a little rough. Wow, I thought, I am feeling really good, maybe I will be able to catch at least one of these guys in the next 35 miles before the finish. I headed out, making my way eventually to the last tough climb. It still was not bad, I hiked it strong, and used it as a chance to throw down more energy gel, some salt caps, and finish off my water bottle.
Zach Landman was coming down as I was heading up the last stretch. Zach was looking like he was running through some rough stuff so I gave him a big yell and told him he was doing great. In my head I knew he was looking like he was at a low point in the race so I took motivation from it, thinking that if Zach was pushing through while not feeling good then I could definitely keep up my pace while still feeling great on the day. At the top of the climb back at Tunnel Creek I saw two runners, one of whom was looking like he was somewhat on a death march at the moment. I told him he was doing good and wished him luck while passing and heading into Tunnel Creek.
The 3rd place runner had just arrived at Tunnel Creek as well and I instantly recognized him as Ian Torrence. “Holy crap” I thought, as I grabbed sleeves, a headlamp, and an extra bottle out of my drop bag, “this is not good, not good at all. If I pass Ian out of Tunnel Creek I just know he is going to eventually run me down. I am going to have to run with the feeling of being hunted by one of the best ultra runners ever, a guy who I’ve never met but have read a ton about and whose career I really look up to.” “Shit,” I thought, “Ian runs with Hal Koerner, Eric and Kyle Skaggs, and all the other super fast Rogue Valley guys out of Ashland, Oregon, if I pass him now I am going to absolutely get my ass handed to me and I’ll show what a rookie I am.”
I headed out of Tunnel creek, having filled an extra bottle I stashed in my drop bag, excited to get to mile 76 to pick up Larissa as my safety runner for the last 24 miles of the race. I focused on keeping a steady pace but I could not help but look over my shoulder every couple minutes, expecting to see Ian right behind me, grinning as he easily cruised on past. About half an hour before reaching Mt. Rose, Erik Skaden and his safety runner Mark Lantz came running towards me on their way back to Spooner, just about 22 miles left for Erik on his way to a repeat win in the Tahoe Rim 100. I gave Erik a big yell and told him he was crushing it and he did the similar with a big smile. As soon as we passed I heard him ask Mark “any idea who that is?” I’m not sure what Mark said but I just laughed in my head as it didn’t matter, I was just some guy running his first hundred, totally caught up in the experience and having the time of his life.
Just before reaching Mt. Rose, Rob Evans came running by with safety runner Jasper Halekas. Again we yelled congrats to one another. I assumed if Rob asked Jasper the same “who is that guy,” at least Jasper actually knew I was just some guy running his first hundred. Rob seemed in chase mode running after Skaden and they quickly disappeared as I headed into the Mt. Rose aid station.
Here I was, 8:30pm at Mt. Rose, the mile 76 turnaround, I’d now been running for about 15.5 hours. I surprised everyone as I popped out of the trees and into the parking lot that was serving as the aid station. Mark Gilligan once again cracked me up instantly, “dude no way! you are crushing it, this is so awesome!” I laughed as I made my way over to get weighed in. Brian Wyatt was there and had a HUGE smile on his face and seemed super pumped with where I currently was in the race and with how I was looking. Brain got me some soup broth as I needed some calories and salt. The thought of solid food was completely unappetizing but a couple cups of soup hit the spot. We ran back to get a fresh Gel-Bot from Sarah, grab my main headlamp and a long sleeve and on the way I noticed Hal Koerner while he said “congrats man, you are doing great.” I said thanks but in my head I was half astonished, half shitting my pants. The back-to-back winner of Western States and probably the best American 100 miler just told me good job. Wow. WOW.
Just like that I headed out, Larissa as my safety runner behind me, embarking on the last 24 miles of my first hundred miler, in third place. Third freakin place. Not long after leaving the aid station Ian Torrence came cruising by, and we both yelled good job and keep it up as we passed. I figured I had about a 10 minute lead assuming Ian also stayed at Mt. Rose for about 5 minutes. Larissa caught me up on news from the day. I was pumped to hear that Shan took second in the 50 mile but bummed to hear that Zach and Sean were having a tough go of it in the 100 but at least they were still in it as far as she knew.
“Hey guess what” I told Larissa as we cruised down into the meadow, “Hal freakin Koerner told me good job, can you believe it!” Larissa laughed and replied “that’s because you ARE doing a good job, we are all amazed. And oh, by the way, Hal is there waiting to pace Ian back to the finish.” Right then I had a little bit of mental overload. I was screwed, so screwed, not only was Ian Torrence going to hunt me down during the last 24, his buddy and training partner Hal Koerner was his freakin safety runner. I was deuced, I knew it. All I could do at that moment was make a joke. “So your telling me” I said to Larissa, “that your counterpart behind us, running with Ian freakin Torrence, is Hal Koerner who just won Western States 3 weeks ago.” “Yep” Larissa replied with a laugh, “do you think if you beat Ian that means I beat Hal?” We both instantly cracked up as that joke was exactly what I needed. I knew I was running well and feeling good but I still thought there was no way I was going to beat Ian even though I was ahead by about 10 minutes. In my head the race was not suppose to play out like this. I was just going to be the guy running all day with a big smile, hoping to finish his first hundred under 24 hours. I run and train with my buddy Nathan Yanko, girlfriend Larissa, and our fun Bay Area running club The Endurables. Ian trains with Hal Koerner, the Skaggs brothers, and Rogue Valley Runners, probably the best trail running crew in the country. Hell, Ian was the guy I picked to WIN the race if Jon Olsen dropped, and if I ran smart and my very best I thought I might, just might have a chance at breaking the top 10, best case scenario, period.
We turned on the headlamps as it was now dark and continued on knowing that as long as we didnt do anything dumb, I probably had at least 4th placed locked up, and would definitely get in under 24 hours, probably even 23. After a couple hours we got back to Tunnel Creek, refueled, and said bye to Geri one last time, thanking her for all her help and motivation all day. “You are doing so great!” Geri yelled excitedly to me. Half delirious I responded “I’m just runnin on love, runnin on love.” I was telling the truth but she seemed to get a good kick out of it. I told her to tell Zach good luck and to try and get him to eat something for the last 15 miles as Geri told me that he said he had been puking throughout the last 30+miles. Zach’s toughness just motivated me even more.
I continued on with Larissa right behind me. When we reached Hobart aid station Larissa loaded some more gel in the Gel-Bot, I put down some more soup, and then we started out on the last major climb of the race, up and over Snow Valley Peak and the 9,000′ elevation mark one last time. We made good progress but at the top I asked Larissa to turn off her headlamp and take a few seconds to look back and see if she saw Ian and Hal. “No sign of them” she replied.
At Snow Valley Aid Station we topped off our bottles one last time, I threw down one more cup of chicken broth, and we set out on the decent to Spooner and the last 7.3 miles. Larissa quickly said “Brett you are doing great, you should run this last section as fast as you can and drop me. Your goal is to drop me. I’ll try to keep up but if not I will make it back fine.” I picked up the pace and once I got off the peak the trail became much more runnable I started absolutely bombing the downhills, running them like a madman in the dark, headlamp firing light ahead so that I could find my way. I am unsure of my split but am positive I averaged sub-8′s. As I got about half way back to Spooner I looked at my watch and realized that if I continued to hustle I had a chance to possibly break 21 hours, but it would be close. At some point I clipped a toe and hit the dirt, laid out belly down on the trail. No bother, I quickly got up, brushed the nozzle of my bottle off, and continued on, solely focused on reaching the finish line. At the Spooner Summit Aid Station, mile 98.3, I heard some cheers from the volunteers and yelled out by bib number to them as I ran past. “Just 1.7 miles to go” I thought to myself, “I am really going to do this thing!”
I could see lights across Spooner Lake and continued on, pushing the pace and giving it all I had left for the finish. Finally the finish came into view and I let out a “whoo!” yell. Instantly I heard Sarah’s voice as well as my buddies Dom and Randy say “thats Brett!” as they could not see who the runner was in the dark. I saw the time as I ran the last 30 yards and yelled out “Are You Kidding Me!?” I could not help it, I was in shock of the time, how good I felt, and the place I was finishing in. I crossed the finish in 20:50.40, good enough for Third Overall. This was my first 100 mile race, this was The Tahoe Rim Trail 100, this was the USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championship Race. I crossed the finish in under 21 hours and was in third place, I was amazed with how I had just run.
I instantly started hugging all of my friends who came out to see me finish. After a couple minutes Larissa came running through and people started cheering while she yelled “no no, I am not a runner, just a pacer who got dropped!” Again we all laughed as I ran up and planted a big kiss on her. After weighing in one final time I walked over to congratulate Erik Skaden and Rob Evans on their 1-2 finish and to introduce myself as we had never officially met. They were both super nice guys and I hope to log some miles with them again. Rob and Jasper laughed, saying that they were seeing my headlamp for about the last 15 miles and were running like they were being hunted. They finished a strong 4 minutes ahead and I had no idea they ended up being so close. After about an hour of hanging out, laughing, congratulating, and telling stories, we all said goodbye and Sarah, Larissa, and I got back in the car to drive back to the cabin we were staying at. As we got in the car the alarm on Larissa’s watch went off, it was 2:50am on Sunday, exactly 24 hours after we had woken up on Saturday. What a day, what a day.
THAT is the story of my first 100.
An enormous thanks to Larissa Polischuk and Sarah Spelt for all of their help crewing for me. I could not have crossed the finish line without the two of you. Your help was amazing. Thanks to Ken Parnow for running with me during what proved to be the toughest section of the race. Thanks to Geri Ottaviano, Abby Fuller, Shan Riggs, Mark Gilligan, Brian Wyatt, and my The Endurables teammates for their help and motivation during the race. Thanks to my friends at the finish, that was so awesome to have people there at 2am, amazing. Thanks to all the TRT100 runners that were so motivating during and after the race, especially Zach Landman, Jon Olsen, Ian Torrence, Erik Skaden, and Rob Evans. Thank you Race Directors David Cotter and George Ruiz as well as all of the volunteers who helped to make the race possible.
Thanks to all the people I have shared miles with over the last 50 weeks. Randy Katz, thanks for convincing me to run that marathon and for not giving me too much grief for canceling climbing to instead go run trail. Jim Vernon and The Endurables thanks for getting me involved in trail running and showing me what the Bay Area REALLY has to offer. Nathan Yanko, its been a helluva last 6 months running together, I can’t wait to crew and see what you do at Headlands Hundred in a couple weeks, and eventually get back to exploring new trails all around the state. Finally my parents and family, thanks for raising me to pursue life outside of normal, boring “tv society.” Running 100 miles over mountain peaks is fun, especially if you keep smiling while having a good time, caught up in the adventure of it all.
Visit Tahoe Mountain Milers for information on the Tahoe Rim 100
Full Race Results can be found Here
Zach Landman’s Race Recap can be found Here
Shan Riggs 50 Mile Race Recap can be found Here