by Lauren Cortjens, DC, CCSP
Trying to put into words the amazing race that just happened is a rather daunting task. 200 miles is an incredibly long distance to remember every feeling, every emotion, every blister, every turn, sunset, or sunrise. Every down time seems to be overcome with all the times we spent laughing and delusional on the course. It all seems to blend together as soon as you cross the finish line, but I’m good with that. It somehow makes all the bad moments fade away, leaving me with only the good memories, feelings, and, god forbid, thoughts that I might do it again! There are certainly memorable moments though! The Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run was an epic one for sure, but it had its successes and failures along the way too, just like all 60 of the finishers of its inaugural year.
Out of 90 starters, 60 finished, leaving this race with a relatively low attrition rate. Most drops were because of medical, a couple just couldn’t go on, and I heard of one guy who said he “Just wasn’t having fun”! Really!? Ok. Whatever! This race was a test of will and might, not so much your endurance or physical ability. Sure, you had to train hard for months, but the will to keep going when you just didn’t want to get out of the chair at the aid station or weren’t “having fun” went far beyond physical ability. I had only done one 100 mile race on a flat course before I attempted this beast. But I also think it had a lot to do with the reasons I run and the people that made me go on.
The first 60.4 miles were not accessible to crew, so we were on our own with 3 aid stations until we got our crew and pacers. The first section from Homewood to Rubicon proved to be my biggest test of the whole entire race. With temperatures rising to the mid to high 70s, the unending amount of fine black dust, and the altitude, my body began to feel the taxing nature of the course. I even ran out of water and filled up in a stream, only to find the aid station not even 100 yards from there! But it was too late. I sat down, and began to feel loopy. I couldn’t tell the workers what was wrong or what I needed. Words were blending together, so I laid down in the shade with the workers giving me water and any kind of food they thought would help. Then it came… I jumped up and ran to the woods and puked my absolute guts out! Someone came to rub my back and give me water, and then I stood up, and didn’t feel dizzy or disoriented anymore! I felt amazing!!! So I packed up my pack, thanked the workers profusely, and after 35 minutes at the first aid station, I headed on my way! Except for seeing my training partner struggling on the next section, and staying with him for a little bit, the next two aid stations came without incident.
The first crew station came with much relief. I had my Husband, an ex step-father-in-law, mother-in-law, and my 2.5 year old son there to cheer me on and help me with anything I needed. They met me at each accessible aid station through the race, helped me with my pack, my feet, my recovery, and food, and then kicked me back out on the course. My son being there was something that I ran for each time. But I also had one of the best pacers ever, with which I would not have finished even ½ of this race had he not been there! Ben Light from Utah showed up at mile 60.4, the first station we could have pacers, and this race turned into a fun journey in the woods, not a daunting 140 more miles to go!
His first words to me were, “Hey! Do you know how awesome you are!” And that was the entire race. We began singing songs and verses from The Lego Movie to pass the time. He would tell me stories of climbing and running above 7k feet in Utah and how much he knew I would love it. We developed an instant friendship and worked together the whole time! We had a great time running through the woods and had great spirits, up until we were almost done with the first half of the race. Coming into Heavenly at mile 103, course markers were few and far between. We would go around the ridge to see the lights of the city, just to go back over it and lose site of that comfort, again and again. We then came to an area that we thought we would be going downhill, but after 6 racers were stuck in the same place, and a call to the race director, we headed up the mountain just in time to see a course sign. Another racer was sitting at the top, unsure of which direction to go. But we followed the arrows, and then there was nothing. No flags to mark the course, no lights, nothing. Ben lead the way as I was getting lucid and going out of my mind, just wanting to get to the aid station that seemed to be still so far away. I needed sleep and a hug from my Husband. I had found out that my friend Jason had to drop due to signs of Rhabdomyolosis at the 3rd aid station, so having him there at mile 103 was amazing too! I gave him a hug and asked for advice. He is a veteran Ultra-runner, so as I woke up from my 20 minute nap and couldn’t stop shaking, he assured me that it was normal and that I was doing great! He had always been my inspiration so to have him tell me that was pretty cool.
At this aid station, Ben took a break and thought he was done for the race since he had to leave on Sunday. At that point, I picked up my friend Dani, who has such a cool personality! Her ADHD and my fleeting attempts to stay awake were a great match on the course through the wee hours of the morning. We sang songs about staying awake, shared stories, talked about the world, and even stopped to do our business in the woods, just in time for the next runner to come up on us… Oh well! Thinking this station was 14 miles and not 16, Dani got a little frustrated when we still had not gotten there. But, alas, we arrived and she headed out for some much needed rest. It was here that I found out that Ben had postponed his trip home and wanted to run more with me! I was so excited! He wanted so badly to get in 100 miles and was having such a great time doing it! And again, his first words, “Do you know how awesome you are!”
The next couple stations went by without much fan-fare. We ran out of water coming down into Tunnel Creek but were going downhill and only had about 3 miles left. I was having a really hard time eating much of anything and didn’t want anything sweet anymore, or so I thought. My throat and tongue were so swollen from dust and all the sugary running food so my Husband and other crew member packed my bag with normal food. After eating a whole XL pizza between Ben and I, we headed out as the sun faded. And in passing a full-on rave at the top of the climb for this section that seemed like a hallucination, getting into the Martis Peak aid station was a welcome site. We were both cold and tired, so we ate a warm quesadilla and crawled into the Hummer crew car for about an hour nap. I requested normal running food again with some beef Jerky since the normal food was even harder to swallow. I woke up from the nap in a flash, wondering why we had slept so long, but was assured by Ben that we needed it! So after getting all our gear back in order and warm food in our bellies, we headed out once again. About 8 miles out from Tahoe City, I began weaving on the trail and was pulled over by Ben for a RUI and forced to sleep for 45 minutes. He covered me up with his jacket and I immediately went to sleep. I wasn’t going to fight it since I knew I needed one. But that’s why we have pacers, to be the sane voice amidst the increasing chaos.
Once I woke up from the power nap, I was good to go! We began singing songs and busted into uncontrollable laughter by the time we got into Tahoe City. The slightest comment would put us in stitches with laughter and it was awesome! We came strolling into Tahoe city and Ben looked like absolute CRAP! He had not shaved in 4 days, and had slept minimally, and after all, he had just run 99.8 miles… 69 more miles than his longest ever run! He was my hero, and I told him how awesome HE was! By this point, my entire crew, including my friend who had to drop was there to help and they were amazed at how much better I looked than Ben! Jason helped fix up my feet and my crew got my pack together. And after a greasy bacon and cheese quesadilla, my Husband and I headed back out to finish the last two sections.
I was booking it until we hit a seemingly endless hill to the top of a ridge (5 miles). So after making it to the top, we took a break, put on warmer clothes, and then made the 5.4 mile downhill trek to the last aid station. I had a pretty bad blister on the inside of my right heel and the balls of my feet were absolutely killing me, so it was more like a bunny hop on my poles all the way to the bottom. But the last aid station was a welcome site where a medic took care of my blister and put some extra padding my forefeet. We then set out for the very last section of this entire crazy journey, just trying to stay warm. Temperatures had dropped to the low 30s by this point and we just couldn’t keep warm! A 7.4 mile steep jeep road straight up the mountain ended with a slight downhill break, then small climb to the top of the ridge. We paused for a second, I amazed at my non-runner husband for doing this, and he for the fact that he was almost done ☺ (This was his first distance ever over 13.1 miles) The last section, 3.4 miles of a Blue Diamond ski hill, was not what we wanted to see at this part of the race. I would much rather have been going uphill! But we could see the lights of the finish line and the faint sound of cars on the highway in the distance. As we sang songs about how stupid this part of the course was and how much we wanted to punch the race director in the face as we crossed the finish line, we couldn’t help but realize what we had just done. As we came around the last curve, my son who wanted me to carry him across the finish line met me. But I didn’t mind, it was 3:19 am after all and he was the best thing I had seen all day!
After 89 hours and 19 minutes of running, I was handed my belt buckle and congratulated by the race director and medical director (who had doubts about me completing the race at check-in) and we headed inside to get warm. There wasn’t much in the way of a post race party, seeing that it was so early in the morning but I did get one dude to take care of my feet for me! As we sat there, we watched a couple other racers come in, one including Ras Vaughan, an ultra-marathon legend! Then we made the moves to head home after I felt like I could walk a little. But to my surprise, Ben, the ultimate pacer, offered a piggyback ride to the car, which was a fantastic end to an epic weekend. We all smiled and laughed the whole way there!
To those that said I couldn’t do it or had doubts, here ya go! I did it! But I did it for me. My son is my ultimate motivation in life and I don’t want him to ever say that he can’t do something. “Can’t” is a bad word in our house. But, there is no way I would have done this amazing had I not had my crew behind me, and for that, I am eternally grateful. They kept me going in my darkest times and made me feel so loved and cared for. I am in awe every single day that there are such good people in the world that will drop everything and come to your aid. I am also in awe of the other 59 people that finished! It’s an elite club to be a part of and I’m honored to be one of them. I said that I would never do this again, but the thought certainly hasn’t completely left me…
“Do you know how Awesome you are!”
Here is the Tahoe 200 experience as recorded by Kerry Ward….