The alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. Everything was set out and ready the night before, so it was easy to get dressed, grab my coffee, my pack, and head to the car. It was a quick 20 minute drive up to Spooner Lake State Park. As I ate my peanut butter sandwich and sipped my coffee, I could feel the warm breeze coming in from the slightly rolled down window.

We quickly found parking in the lot around 4am. We sat for a while and reviewed where we would meet each other. I felt calm, but excited! There was nothing left to do, but get out there and run… 100 miles. We eventually made our way over to the shuttle and then to the start line. The start line was filled with heat warmers, coffee, anxious runners, and excited families, volunteers, and crew! After the national anthem played, it was time to embark on the Tahoe Rim Trail 100!

1-30: Quick kiss to Mike and at 5am, I hit the trails. With plenty of headlamps to guide our way, I never had to turn on my headlamp. Which was great! I had been concerned about the battery life and figured this would be a great way to keep it fresh for the night, later on that day. Up and down we went, in and out of aid stations. The first sights of Lake Tahoe, the awakening smell of the tall pines, the stars, the sunrise, the moon, the bluest blues you’ve ever seen. Every turn and every twist was more beautiful then the next, and I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Before I knew it, I was running into Diamond Peak (30 mile aid station). It was noon by now and the sunshine, blue sky day was keeping my spirits high.

30-50: The wall at mile 30 is a 1,700ft climb in under two miles. It’s one of those hills that gets steeper as you get higher and continues to test your patience as it turns and continues to climb relentlessly. It never ends. The reward: insane views of Lake Tahoe and an aid station at the top. In and out and I was on my way back.

Hobart is your first aid station on your way out, so when you hit it on your way back, you feel so close… but you’re not. 10 miles are still on tap until you hit the 50 mile halfway point, not to mention a climb up to Snow Valley Peak, the city’s highest peak at 9,214ft. Followed by a strong descent into the Spooner Lake Trailhead and then around the lake into the 50 mile aid station (also the start/finish).

The 50 mile is where this race sees the highest dropout rate. Of course! How cozy it is to be back by the parking lot with your family and friends?! Who in their right mind would want to go round two?

After about 20 minutes (a long time) at the 50 mile aid station, it was time to get back out there. Going out for another 50 felt daunting, but I didn’t sign up for anything less than 100 miles. It was time to get tough.

50-80: Heading back out took some self-talk. I was feeling down mentally, people had made space along the trail now and I was alone. And, I knew I’d be alone for a while now, perhaps until mile 80. Not to mention, I was worried about my blisters. What if they broke and got so bad, I had to stop. That was enough of that-I had to quickly move on from the pity party.

A few hours passed quite quickly, despite the nausea and stomach cramps hitting harder ever since leaving the 50 mile aid station. Before I knew it, it was dark. A look at the watch, 8:50 p.m. Dark?! Already? I was hoping to not turn on my headlamp until at least 10pm. Heading into Hobart, I was hoping for something to settle my sick stomach. Not sure if it was everything I dabbled in at the 50 mile or just an over indulgence of GUs throughout the day, mixed in with the very hot temps, or just the fact that I’d been traveling through the woods for 14 hours now, but my stomach wasn’t getting any better and made it hard to take in calories.

Heading into Tunnel Creek, I was met by the most amazing trail angel. He asked me all the right questions and helped me with my upset stomach (Starbucks mints, who would have thought). Guided me in refueling and prepared me for that relentless 6.3 mile Red House Loop, which starts off descending 1,000ft, 2 shallow creek crossings, and back up 1,000ft at night. He walked me to the trailhead and relit my spirits. My confidence resurfaced after that Tunnel Creek stop and I am forever grateful for that trail aid station angel, whose name I believe was Nick! Thanks, Nick!

Up and out of Red House Loop, I checked back into Tunnel Creek and headed out where my next aid station after Bull Wheel would be Diamond Peak – mile 80! Making my way to that Diamond Peak arrow (pointing down to the descent) felt like days, years, decades. I made up plenty of songs to keep myself company in the starstruck silent night. One foot in front of the other, headlamp bobbing, I was making my way.

There was the arrow pointing down to Diamond Peak! Yes, four miles and a loss of 2,000ft until the 80 mile aid station. Out of water meant it would be difficult to eat what was in my pack. Still dealing with an upset stomach, I slowed on the GUs. Instead I stuffed a handful of salt and vinegar chips in my mouth, being as careful as I could not to drop any on the ground for fear the bears might follow me. Making my way down the mountain bike trails, I thought of fresh water, all the things I would eat at mile 80. It was close to 5 a.m. as I made my way into mile 80 at Diamond Peak.

What a sore sight Diamond Peak was! I thought I was in bad shape. Lots of people wrapped up in space blankets, either deciding to call it quits or taking a quick nap in order to regain their strength and get back in the run. Warm rice soup, refill of gels, ginger ale, water, electrolytes, coffee, and we made our way out of mile 80.

80-100: The sun began to rise now and the huge smile resurfaced on my face. Quick stop at the aid station and I set the pace through the next section. Back to Tunnel Creek and the day was moving. I felt so attached to Tunnel Creek by that time, it was almost sad to leave all the volunteers who had helped me get in and out of there throughout the weekend. I felt so grateful to that aid station and every aid station.

Moving on to Hobart, I started to feel overwhelmed. Not sure what did it-perhaps, low on calories, not sleeping, not enough caffeine, or again just rolling through 85 miles of nonstop, but I began to doubt everything. I was doing the math and became a bit frantic about finishing. PSA: Don’t declare yourself a mathematician or expert on planning after 27 hours and 85+ miles. That overwhelming feeling, subsided slightly as we quickly approached Hobart. And, then ever quicker into Snow Valley. The climb up to Snow Valley at 9,214ft sucked, but I expected that!

Out of Snow Valley, you’re on the mountain for a while still, exposed to the sun, the wind, and the once again never-ending downhill. It was hot! I mean, 100 degrees hot. And, whoever is saying, oh you’re up in the mountains, it’s cooler up there-it’s not. At this moment it was hot as hell and I was-once again-out of water! Every switchback, every twist, every turn, I felt the heat, I felt the hot breeze, I wanted water. My feet were bursting out of my shoes, my back ached. I was losing it.

We rounded Spooner Lake and made our way across the bridge. There it was! The blue arch at the finish and we were through! Right away I saw George “Squirrel” the race director and thanked him for making my dreams come true. I told him how much I loved the course, then told him I was from Chicago and the whole finisher’s tent erupted in laughter! Being that this race was at an elevation of 7,000-9,214ft with close to 20,000ft of climbing they asked me, “What were you thinking?” We all laughed and I told them the obvious, go big or go home!

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Ashley Nolan is a Chicago based road, trail, and ultra-runner. Her love for endurance sports began in triathlon while training for and completing the Ironman distance. Since then she has completed several ultramarathons spanning from the 50K to 50 Mile distance. You can find her training on the Lakefront Path or up in Wisconsin on the Ice Age Trail.

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