Trail Running in Texas & beyond

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

The Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, 2012, a mental tumbler fell into place and I knew it was time to run a 100 miler.  Endurance running is mostly whether you can mentally wrap your head around the activity.  You don’t so much as decide to run a hundred as one day you just know you are are ready.  While there are several great races in Texas, it always seemed inevitable that my first 100 would be a mountain race.  It gets the mind engaged and you need that while piling up the training.  So I choose a course that has over 4 vertical miles of elevation gain:

elevation profile

(we do this profile twice.)


I entered 2013 in pretty solid shape.  Bandera came the second week of January and I simply had a terrible race.  Part of it was tweaking my back on a muddy day but I also feel like I gave into the conditions too easily.

I started back up in early Feb and early March saw one of my best races to date with a 5:06 at the Nueces 50k.  I also ran reasonably well at Hells Hills through 34 miles (5:45) before deciding that I was not interested in running one more lap and stopped shortly thereafter.

Around late March or early April I flipped my training over to a polarized approach.  The theory was impressed upon me many times (hard on the quality days, very easy on the other days) but it wasn’t until I adopted a heart-rate monitor that I was able to figure it out.  It was quickly apparent that I was running too hard on the easy days.  With the polarized approach in place, I found that ramping up the miles became much more doable, I wasn’t feeling worn down, and the quality workouts were improving.

The miles increased on plan through end of May leading up to the Dirty30 (50k) outside of Golden, Colorado.  I chose this race because it was in the mountains and was equal to or greater than Tahoe in terms of average altitude and average ascent / descent grade.  As a bonus, I could visit some good friends.  While not a fast day, I enjoyed the race, ran well enough, and felt it was exactly what I needed.  The following day I hit my first 14er.  That may have been a mistake as the net effect of that weekend, on top of a high volume 3 week period, was that I felt like a laggard the next 10 days or so.  A DNF after 30k at Caption Karl’s Pedernalas Falls continued my good race / bad race cadence that I had going dating back to Cactus Rose.  At least that set me up for my next race to be a good one.  I had some solid runs peppered in the last few weeks so I knew I was coming around after that short training bonk period.

The TL;DR version:


As you can see, lots of mid-30 to mid-40 weeks with a bump up to 50s and 60s here and there but not what you would what you would call consistent, high volume training.

Pre-Race / Travel

As expected, the TSA security people took quite an interest in my self-bagged Tailwind sports drink:

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Had an outstanding breakfast at plow in SF.  Very likely the best potatoes ever.

Drove to Carson City, weighed in, dinner with fellow Texas runners, and hit the hay.


5 am comes and we are off.  One bonus of traveling from Central timezone is that I was able to get to sleep early.


(picture via the TRT100 facebook page)

Determined not to go out too fast, I settle into the mid-pack as we climb up towards Hobart.  The morning was pleasant but warmer than normal.  It was a preview of the day to come.

The early views are fantastic.


(via the awesome photo set by Mountain Peak Fitness / Joe Azze)

As I exit the first aid station, I link up with Reece and we chat away.  He provides some great feedback on how I can improve the Rocky Raccoon start / finish aid station experience next year.  Reece is wise and keeps us on a relaxed downhill pace so we didn’t trash our quads early.  I am thankful to run these miles with someone who is both an experienced 100 mile runner and someone who had been on the course before.

I wasn’t wearing my watch so it was nice to find out that I was pretty much on schedule as we enter Tunnel Creek.  I think I wrote on my race plan 2h 30m for my wife, but my first, more detailed plan had 2h 20m.  Anyhow, we were there at 2:20 and after re-stocking supplies, I am off to the Red House Loop.

I lose track of Reece.  I get it in my head that he was out front as I head down a long, steep descent.  I probably hit the downhill too hard.  I feel it in the quads.  Where is Reece when I need him?  Overall, the first pass through the Red House loop is uneventful.  As I crest the finial climb I see many of the Tejas runners who were running the 50k and 50 miler.  They all look great.

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(With David Jacobson at Tunnel Creek Aid Station.  Mile 11 for him, mile 17.5 for me.)

Next up is the section that most don’t really talk about in the reports.  It doesn’t have a memorable name like Red House, isn’t as imposing as the “slightly stupid hill” aka Diamond Peak ski slope, nor is as beautiful as Snow Valley.  However, this 13 mile section played a pivotal role in my day as I didn’t run it well on either loop.

By the time I hit Diamond Peak, it is getting real warm.  Down right hot even.  I heard into the 90s up on the ridge, possibly warmer in spots.  Record temps for the race.  Single digit humidity and UV factor at 12+.   I fuel up, weigh in for the second time (no issues), and decide to take the hiking poles and hike the ski slope.   It is slow.  There are cramps.  Yup, this sucks.

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(me as I make my towards the Diamond Peak slope)

Stumble off the slope, pack away the poles and off to Tunnel Creek.  The map lies about how far it is between Bull Wheel and Tunnel Creek.  The heat is on.

While my weight has been steady at all the check-ins, I feel behind on hydration.  The goal here is to finish.  A silver buckle.  Sure, a 26 hour time would be great but a finish is the priority.  I decide that the only way to stay solid is to be patient and take my time at aid stations.  Beware the chair and all the bs.  Hobart is first time I see a clock since Diamond Peak.  It is 2:30 and I tell myself I will head out at 2:45.  I am gone by 2:44.

Snow Valley is the best part of this course.  I haven’t seen a picture that does it justice.  I hang out with the boy scouts for a bit and trade high-fives.  I would rather push the pace but I remind myself that I promised to give Scott something to work with when I pick him up at mile 50.  Down, down we go.  Stay relaxed, don’t trash the quads, have fun.

I arrive at mile 50 about 45 minutes behind whatever mythical schedule I projected in advance; before realities of running 50 miles in the heat, with elevation, and altitude have set in for this first timer from the flat lands of Texas.  Hot and dirty.  Spirits are in good order.  It is mayhem at the start / finish line.  I catch up with my friends who finished the 50k, change my socks, re-stock supplies and pick up Scott.  I want to change my shorts but with the all the action, I’d rather to be out of there and back on the trail.  It seems like we were there longer, but only 12 minutes pass by before we are headed down the road.

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(Scott and I, before we head out)

I am thrilled to have Scott with me.  For the last 9 hours I have pretty much run alone.  I like running alone but having someone to chat with definitely helps pass the time.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t much company at that moment.  He was itching to run but I wasn’t going anywhere fast.   I focus on a good steady hike.  Others pass us by to my dismay but I am in no position to go with them.  The leg cramps are still working their way out of my legs.

Hobart greets us with strawberry Ensure smoothie.  Unicorn tears.  I head out before carnage of the other runners in the tent gets to the head.

I could have swore that it was downhill to Tunnel Creek.  Guess not.  At least the sunset is magnificent.

At Tunnel Creek, Scott eats the aid station food so I don’t have to.  Friends are made while we take our time.  Scott is happy to talk to someone since I am not holding up my end of the conversation.

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(This isn’t us, but the dude in green kneeling down is awesome.  Wish I knew his name. via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

Everything is stretches out on the second time through.  The descent into the Red House loop is longer, the climbs steeper.  Slow motion.  I play leap frog with Barbara Olmer.   She kicks ass.

Tunnel Creek visit #5 contains chicken soup, Desitin for the chafing, and more kind words from the aid station volunteers.

I had it my head that Bull Wheel was the peak on this next section.  While it is the top after climbing up Diamond Peak, on the way out it is only about half way up to the high point.  I kept telling Scott the turn to head down to the lodge was just “up here”.  I doubt he was listening to me after the 3rd or 4th false alarm.   To my surprise, we catch a few people on the descent into Diamond Peak lodge.  Everyone is suffering.

Mile 80.  Wiped out.  I am seemingly losing pace with every step.  There are small blisters on the feet and chafing ‘down under’.  New socks, new shorts, Desitin, ginger beer, and vanilla coconut water coffee and I am off to tackle the hill I fell apart the first time through.  Despite how I feel, it doesn’t even cross my mind that I could drop here.  Perhaps, I am too tired to contemplate anything other than forward progress.

Phase 1 of the hill is the first mile and 600 ft climb (or so) is steady.  About the time we hit phase 2, something clicks.  The lake is silver as the nearly full moon floats above.  Power hike, turn around and exclaim “that is fucking outstanding!”, repeat.  We hit the top in under an hour, faster than the first trip through 50 miles prior.

Still not running well, even though it is ‘downhill’ to our final visit to Tunnel Creek but we jazzed about our trek up the Diamond Peak slope.   We actually exceed the split I had projected when doing my planning.  We say our goodbyes to Tunnel Creek and get a move on.


(a welcome sight in the middle of the night.  via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

Daybreak sustains the momentum we found on the climb up Diamond Peak as we head towards Hobart.  There are no smoothies to be found at this early hour so we press on to Snow Valley after shaking the sand out of our shoes.  There is truth in the energy the sunrise brings with it.


(sunrise via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

10 miles left and we find ourselves running as we make our way to Snow Valley.  There is a heathy climb up the last 1.5 miles but we maintain a solid pace.  I want to be in and out but decided to sit and empty the shoes again before making the long downhill descent.  I tell the boy scouts they are the coolest troop in the world, they give me a full cup of lemon sorbet.  We linger just a bit.

A pair of runners that we passed on the previous climb are in and out of the aid station ahead of us.  That lights a fire and we hustle out.  Until the climb up to Snow Valley, I wasn’t really thinking about passing people.  Place simply doesn’t matter, only whether if you did your best on the day that was given to you.  But as we head out on those final 7.5 miles, catching those ahead provides a distraction on which to focus.  In the first mile, we catch the 2 runners who slipped by while we were in the aid station.  As the downhill grade eases a bit, we find ourselves moving better and better. In actual pace, Scott says we were doing 9 minute miles but it feels faster than that.  We catch our breath every 4-5 minutes and then crank it up again.   2 more runners come and go before we bottom out on the far side of the lake.  There is a mile and a half left.  We jog / walk / jog for a bit when Scott mentions that it is 5 minutes to 9 am.  20 miles ago, there is no way I thought we’d be close to 28 hours.  15 miles ago, 28:30 seemed reasonable.   We were too far to make 28 hours but may as well give a try.


It pleases me to no end that the best picture taken of me ever while running is at mile 100.4 as I attempt to run away from Scott.  Picture by Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness.


My final place was 40th out of 209 starters.   The finish rate is usually around 70% but this year only 118 of 209 finish, a 56% rate.  I pick up 30 spots on the second loop.  On the first loop, I ran the last 15 miles (miles 35 to 50) in 4:05.  On the second loop, miles 85 to 100 were covered it in around 4:20.  Glancing through the stats pages, I ran that last 15 miles about as fast as those who finished between about 8th and 20th.  That is nice to know for future races but there are zero regrets about this run and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I suspect finishing any 100 is an epic experience but being able to finish the way Scott and I did was magical.  A friend asked me if it was surreal.  There are very few experiences in life that truly qualify as surreal.  The elation as you run down a mountain after 26+ hours on your feet definitely qualifies.  It doesn’t seem that you should be able to do and yet it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Success is never the act of the individual.  I would have never toed the line if it wasn’t for the support of my lovely wife.  I doubt she expected to find herself up in the mountains, crewing a 100 miler, when she encouraged me to go run with Della, our dog, 3 years ago.  Joe Prusaitis and the Tejas Trails crew provide invaluable amount of experience and unending encouragement.  Spend any amount of time with them and you can’t help but want to run further.  When I thought about a pacer, there was only one name on the list.  There was no question that I’d finish the day Scott agreed to pace me.  The race was a celebration of all the miles – the hill of life repeats – we banked together leading to the run.

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This is one of the great buckles in ultra running.  Handcrafted, nickel buckle with a 1 ounce pure silver coin inset.  Here is a video about the history of the buckle and how it is made.  Damn straight I am going to get a belt and wear this bad boy.

Misc / Gear

Tailwind was my primary fuel source all day.  It was prefect.  No upset stomach.  Good energy.  My favorite mix turned out to be about 2/3 orange and 1/3 unflavored.  I am going to ride this combo for races as long as I can.  On a hot day it was awesome not to have to force down gels or solid food.

Salomon SLabs 5 hydration pack.   After 28 hours, I didn’t have sore shoulders.  Salomon is pricey but still the best pack out there.

Hoka Mafate 3 shoes.  The Mafates remain my old faithful when it comes to races shoes.  This course doesn’t demand this much shoe but I went with a shoe I knew I could trust.  Same goes for the Injinji socks.

The rest was more or less interchangeable.  I would forego the compression shorts in the future and stick with less material on the legs.  I had raced a lot in them in the past but I think they are going to find their way out of the rotation.

The feet may look horrible to a non-ultra runner but they survived fairly well:

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I can’t leave you with that image so here are some more from Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness:

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(last image via Michigan Bluff)

4 Responses to “Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report”

  1. […] Ben Phenix’s race report. […]

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  2. Nncy Marks says:

    You ROCK..what a awesome first 100 miler..that buckle is Way Coolio..loved your blog..even got a tear in my eye… congrats to you Ben….:)

  3. Amy says:

    Congrats on your finish!! Way to persevere. It was not easy out there!
    BTW, Noé Castañón is the volunteer at Tunnel Creek. He’s a tough runner himself and a trail angel when volunteering.