But just be aware of what you are getting yourself into.
A couple of months ago we were asked if we wanted to spend a lovely long weekend in September at Lake Tahoe. Mrs Notthat immediately answered "of course!" And just like that, we were going to be a small part of the insanity that was the inaugural Tahoe 200 trail race.
Lake Tahoe is circled by the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is 165 miles long and filled with scenic wonder and rocks. And climbs - lots of climbs. A fairly popular pastime is to hike the TRT, with several people attempting FKTs (Fastest Known Times) each year.
One person who was very familiar with the trail, Candice Burt, decided it would be an awesome idea to hold a race on the TRT, although there was one thing missing; a nice round number. As in 200. And thus was born the Tahoe 200.
Parts of the TRT go through wilderness areas, which are nearly impossible to get race permits for, so there were going to have to be some deviations from the TRT in any case. Tacking on a few miles here and there allowed her to come up with a very challenging 200 mile (202 miles officially, although most are sure it was a bit longer than that) course that was largely just a big loop, with a few short out-and-back bits for logistical reasons.
|Click this map to see it much larger.|
Starting at mile 60.4, at the Sierra at Tahoe ski area, runners were allowed a pacer, and crew could meet the runner at the designated aid stations (there were eight of them along the rest of the course). A unique thing was that there were four aid stations designated as "sleep stations." These places would have something soft the runner could lay on and blankets to wrap up in to keep warm. (The runner could sleep at any aid station, but these were just better equipped to handle it. There was a 100 hour race cutoff, along with intermediate cutoffs at each aid station. Just about everyone would nap several times during the race. Except Victor.)
|The section I paced, from Tahoe City to Rideout, expanded to show a friendlier elevation chart for that section. That's still a lot of climbing though.|
Last year at HURT, we shared an apartment with Tawnya, a runner we had met at several Bay Area trail races, who was taking her first shot at the HURT 100. Her and her husband, the equally nuts Kent, had both entered the lottery for the Tahoe 200 (yes - there was so much interest in this race that it had to have a lottery and wait list!) figuring that one or the other would get in, which would mean the one that didn't get in could support the other.
Except they both got in. And each needed their own support crew. And someone very brave that would watch over their kids (around a half-dozen of them at last count) while they ran around the lake. MrsNotthat and I ended up being part of Team Tawnya.
|Gotta love these pre-race mug shots. And Tawnya purposely picked that number; hopefully most of you will know why, while the rest of you need to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.|
|Definitely worth the trouble, plus I won first in my age group, and not by default! (I beat four others.)|
Karen had paced her here from Sierra at Tahoe (mile 60.4).
|Team Tawnya at this point. Sadly, Karen had to leave us and head home.|
|Heading out of Big Meadow with Dwight pacing.|
|We had clear skies the whole time we were up there, with a small exception on day three. The huge moon at night was great, although it did overwhelm a lot of the stars.|
|"All Day" Ken and Geoff getting some rest before heading out.|
It was funny how we looked like some kind of traveling circus - a group of about 20 to 30 vehicles migrating from aid station to aid station, each waiting for their runner to come in, which would cause a brief flurry of action, followed by more waiting. We all got to know each other a bit, and everyone was there to help each other as the race went on.
|"Yes, we have a toilet. It's a 5 gallon bucket out behind that tarp." This was better than nothing, which is what we had at a couple of aid stations, but wow! I would have hated being on bucket duty. Or bucket doody, as the case might be.|
|Tawnya being filmed as she laid down in the back of our van to get a bit of rest before heading back out.|
|Total time spent here was a bit over two hours.|
Shortly after the sun came up, Tawnya and Dwight (with the film crew) arrived.
|Twelve hours of pacing through the night will do this to a guy.|
A relatively important bit of information was that neither Mrs nor I had ever paced anyone before. We were both a bit nervous about this and really did not know what to expect. Our number one job was to get Tawnya to the next aid station without getting lost. Other duties included reminding her to eat/drink and to keep feeding her positive thoughts while preventing her from dwelling on how monumental of a task was still ahead of her.
|Another task of the pacer - don't let her forget her sticks! Oops!|
|Photo by Sam, a mile or two from the Spooner Summit aid station.|
|Arriving at the Spooner Summit aid station.|
|NASCAR has nothing on this crew.|
|An impromptu changing room.|
|Total time here was just under 90 minutes.|
For the crew, this became another opportunity to eat at a real restaurant. It was also an opportunity to do some math and figure out how close we were going to be cutting the 100 hour cutoff. Tawnya had built up a bit of a cushion, but it was not all that big, and we were a bit concerned that it wouldn't take much to go wrong for it to evaporate completely.
So we left the restaurant determined to get more efficient with the aid stations; she would be either sleeping, eating, or stretching - the social time needed to be eliminated.
The one thing we hadn't counted on was her speeding up. Somehow that seemed wildly unlikely.
But Kelly managed to get Tawnya to Tunnel Creek sooner than we had anticipated, and vowed to get her to the next aid station ahead of schedule as well. Total time spent at Tunnel Creek was a bit over an hour and a half, with most of that time sleeping.
I need to mention that Tunnel Creek was actually a lot of fun. We were totally surprised to see these two goofballs, not only working here, but in a position of authority!
|Ace looking awfully perky for as long as they had been awake here.|
|I do NOT want to know the story of that pair of underwear.|
|Bernie the Small Wolf is not as fierce as he looks. Probably.|
Kelly managed to get Tawnya in ahead of schedule, and suddenly our buffer was building back up. It would feel like we were allowing Tawnya to sleep an awful lot, but that seemed key to getting her moving well on the trails; an hour nap would be rewarded with more than an hour saved in trail time.
Total time spent here was just under an hour. There was "only" a 50 miler left to do and Tawnya was starting to smell the barn a bit.
It was Grace's turn to pace now - the next aid station was Tahoe City at mile 170.7.
The aid station in Tahoe City was in the Save Mart parking lot along the main road. That meant there would be no shade and a lot of noise. Since I was pacing next, I stayed here after they left, and caught a bit of a nap in the relatively quiet woods (except when a runner came in).
|Tawnya did a lot of stretching at each stop, and I suspect that had a lot to do with how she was able to avoid any cramping or muscle issues.|
Grace got Tawnya here ahead of schedule again. By now there was no worry at all about her finishing in under 100 hours. In fact, there was now some concern that she would finish very early on Tuesday, which would be inconvenient for the kids to meet her there.
This also meant that I had no time pressure in getting her through this next 16.5 miles. I just had to keep her on the course through the night. We could do 30 minute miles and everyone would be happy with that.
|Diane took this shot of us getting ready to head out. Total time here was a little over 90 minutes.|
A couple of interesting things: It wasn't obvious where we needed to go to get out of here, so there was a designated volunteer to guide us through the parking lot. Also, a friend of Tawnya's, Janette, was here. She had started the race but had to drop at mile 60.4.
The runners were required to carry a huge amount of safety gear (the 12 pack of beer seemed a bit excessive, but Tawnya went for Bud Lite, which reduced the weight a bit). For most of the runners, this was their first experience having to carry a pack that was much heavier than they were used to, and that ended up doing in Janette. But without the pack, and after a day of rest, she was raring to go, and wanted to walk out with us for a bit, just to get some miles in and visit. Since you are only allowed one pacer at a time, this was a bit of a concern, but it was decided it was OK since she wasn't a pacer (yet - more to come on that angle).
|We started on a paved bicycle path and in the fading daylight.|
So I dashed back across the street and grabbed one. I should have grabbed two though. She drank it right away and was ridiculously perky for someone that had been moving for over three days now.
The paved path soon gave way to a proper trail.
This race was billed as a graduate level ultra. This meant that, while it would be well marked, it wasn't gong to have as many confidence ribbons as you might be used to. The good part was that there really weren't many intersections, so there weren't many opportunities to get off course. And all those intersections were very well marked.
(Tawnya did run into a case fairly early in the race where someone thought it would be funny to move the signs around and point runners the wrong direction. Since she had spent some time previewing the course, she realized quickly what had happened and was able to correct it without adding too much distance.)
|This is going up that first small climb. The real climb is still ahead of us, waiting for it to get dark.|
The signs and ribbons were all highly reflective, which was AWESOME once it got dark.
|If you look hard and use your imagination, you will see a great little waterfall in the center.|
As we were going up that climb, it started to get significantly colder, so we stopped to put on warmer clothes. It was then we noticed a pair of headlamps coming up at us - it turned out Janette had found another runner to officially pace, and they were making great time. Once they passed us, Tawnya took it personally, and suddenly had a burst of speed going up that hill and I had to really work to avoid being dropped.
After a bit though, that burst wore off. This is where a second espresso drink would have been magic. Instead, I was following along behind her when I heard her say that she had just fallen asleep. While hiking up this hill. Next to a sheer drop off.
The weird thing was that I had no idea - she wasn't wobbling or stumbling; even sleepwalking she had better form than me. I wasn't sure I believed her, but I started really watching, and then she said it had happened again.
The problem was that we were not in a good place to rest. It was cold and windy with nothing even vaguely flat around. So I just started talking to her more, promising that once we finally finished this climb, there would have to be a place to rest a bit.
|REALLY hard to see, but that's a moonlit Lake Tahoe down there.|
After a couple of miles of this, it was time for a pee-break, which Team Janette took advantage of and passed us back. The rest of the course was a fairly easy downhill, although it was severely rock-infested, so you could not lose your focus at all. The good bit was there were no more cliffs to worry about falling over.
Eventually we staggered into the Rideout aid station, mile 187.2. Even with all that had gone on, we had managed 24 minute miles and arrived a bit ahead of schedule.
From here, there were only 14 miles left. She could sleep for eight hours and still make the cutoff. About three hours after arriving though, she headed back out, this time with Sam pacing, and was ready to get this thing done!
|Sam took this shot. The sign says 7.5 miles to go. The sign post says "please don't hurt me."|
After a bit of sleep, Mrs Notthat and I headed to the finish line at Homewood. It was all a bit unreal that this event was nearly done.
And right on schedule, down the hill they came.
|Navigating the finish line. That's her husband, Kent, with the black jacket and orange visor on. That's Candice, who's twisted idea this was in the first place, in the lower-right.|
|A few more steps and you are DONE!|
This is all of Team Tawnya (minus Karen), her husband Kent, a mass of kids, and the film crew. (Actually, there really were others helping with the filming, but most were sleeping at this point.)
And that's about it.
For the first running of an epic 200 mile race, this went really well. Out of 90 runners that started, 60 finished, which was WAY more than expected. (I had thought it would be more like a 40% finisher rate.)
One thing that helped was that the weather was great. It got warm during the day and cold at night, but neither extreme was abnormal and most were well prepared for it. There were some widely scattered light showers on the morning of day three, but they caused no issues.
There were a few late course changes and the moving of the Martis Peak aid station that led to a bit of stress (the section I paced was one that had been changed a bit; I had brought a map, but it was the old course, and when I asked at the aid station for a map with the new course, all they had was the same one I had - the changed bit was well marked on the trail though).
The most grumbling I heard was related to the Aid Station Formerly Known as Martis Peak and Rideout aid stations not having bathrooms available. There were a few scattered instances of an aid station running out of something (spoons, cups, cheese), but that all seemed pretty minor.
All in all this was a great event. It has taken me several days to get back to normal (I don't do well without my normal sleep patterns, and this was wildly outside of my normal sleep patterns), but I'm mostly fine now. The runners I have talked to seemed to recover much quicker than I did (Tawnya is pacing a runner at the Headlands 100 tomorrow!).
So should you accept if someone asks you to crew/pace at this race? You bet, but make sure you understand what that will entail. Tawnya did a phenomenal job setting up this crew - we all got along well and managed to have a great time out there. Granted, the pre-race planning took most of the guesswork out of this, so barring something very unexpected, there was nothing to stress about.
Thank you Tawnya for inviting us along on your adventure. What you and 59 other runners accomplished was astonishing!
That's it - move along…
PS: You can see more of my pictures here.