Lake Tahoe is an amazing place. I spend as much time there as I can. The lake itself is stunning, but there is also a ton of great hiking and running on the adjacent trails. The first time I heard of the Tahoe 200 race, I immediately wanted to do it. But the race was cancelled due to COVID in 2020 and wildfires in 2021.
I entered the lottery for the 2022 race and was surprised when I received an email saying I was in. I figured I would end up on the waitlist again, as I had the year before, prior to the the race being cancelled.
This year's version of the race would be different due to the impact that the fires had on the course. First, it would be moved from September to June in an attempt to avoid fire season. Second, the course would be run as an out and back, about 100 miles each way, instead of one giant 205 mile loop around the lake.
I thought this second change would be good for me because it meant fewer drop bags due to going through all but the 100 mile aid stations twice. It also meant you figured to see a lot of other runners once they turned around and started heading back.
I planned to train in earnest for this race but life got in the way and I was in nowhere near the kind of shape I hoped to be in as the race approached.
Training (or Lack Thereof)
I did get some training in on the actual course. My wife had a conference up at Lake Tahoe in early May. That gave us a chance to hike part of the course close to Heavenly. It was both beautiful and decently runnable, which I appreciated.
My wife found this shirt while shopping in South Lake Tahoe one day. She was pretty convinced I was going to get eaten by a bear during the race!
I took advantage of some free time to get some more work in on the portion of the course leading to the Heavenly Summit, but I could not make it all the way to the top due to heavy snow. I kept my fingers crossed that the snow would melt in time for the race.
I took another trip out to Tahoe City, California later in May to check out some of the course in that area. I decided to make my first training run a night run, heading south on the trail from Tahoe City around midnight. As my headlamp hit the ground, I began to see my light reflecting off of something. At first, I thought the reflection wad due to pieces of broken glass, but it turned out to be spiders, as you can see by the photo below. I made a mental note to myself not to stop and take any naps on the this part of the trail. I didn't make it too far on this run because I encountered a decent amount of snow and a lot of water crossings, which I didn't relish navigating at night. After all, I didn't want to injure myself before the race even began.
The next day, I headed north from Tahoe City towards Brockway Summit to check out that part of the trail. It was beautiful and some parts were also decently runnable.
When I got back to Las Vegas, I tried a night hike with my Kogalla light so I could get used to it. Getting a better lighting system was one of my main takeaways from my Moab 240 effort. The Kogalla is so much better than a regular old headlamp, as you can see in this video:
I enjoyed some really great views on this night time hike up the Flagpole Loop in South Summerlin, including an amazing view of the Las Vegas Strip. It was definitely a reminder that I need to do this hike at night more often.
Several people in the Tahoe 200 Facebook group had mentioned the Powerline section of the course and how we would have to go both down and up it due to the out and back nature of the course. Many mentioned how difficult it was and how going down would be way worse than going up. I knew I had to try this section of the course prior to the actual race. I wanted to know just how bad it was before I had to experience it for real. So I flew back up to Tahoe and headed north on the Brockway section of the trail.
As I got closer to Incline Village, Powerline came into sight and I could immediately tell it would be a dramatic and difficult downhill. The good news is that the view prior to the descent was breathtaking - one of the best in all of Tahoe. The very narrow trail snakes underneath a powerline. Hence the name. It is very steep, dropping about 1000 feet in the course of a mile. It is made more difficult by the terrain, which is mostly sand, dirt and loose rocks, many of which do not provide anything approaching sure footing. Were it not for my hiking poles firmly planted in the ground with every step, I would have fallen several times. Honestly, I am not sure how I didn't break my hiking poles with the amount of pressure I was putting on them to stay on my feet.
The descent was very hard on my feet and quads. When I finally got to the bottom, I continued about a mile on the course, which was on a road through a neighborhood, before turning around to go back up. I was determined to power through the uphill. I wouldn't go all out, but I wouldn't stop either. That one mile took me 45 minutes! I told myself to make sure I didn't do this section of the course at night time. It was hard enough in daylight.
A video showing the amazing view from the top:
Strava data that shows how dramatic the uphill and downhill were:
That was the extent of my training. Not anywhere near adequate for a 200 miler at altitude in Lake Tahoe. Nevertheless, I committed to be at the starting line and give it my all. I didn't ask anyone to crew or pace me because, to be honest, I didn't like my chances of making it far enough to really need either a crew or pacers. And I didn't want to line all of that up only to disappoint those who might have volunteered to help. This would be a solo effort. Realistically, I put my chances of finishing the race at somewhere around 15%.
My flight from Vegas to Reno was delayed and I barely made it in time to get my rental car. I arrived at the rental car desk 5 minutes before they closed and they gave me this Jeep monstrosity:
I headed to Tahoe City where I would be staying a couple nights before the race started. The photos below show Lake Tahoe during the day and at night from the balcony outside of my room. Amazing with the full moon at night!
There is a really nice paved path that follows the lake in Tahoe City. As I walked along it the day before the race, I was tempted to sabotage my race with beer, pizza, and pretzels. Ultimately, I held out, but barely.
I headed over to Homewood to check in the afternoon before the race and to leave my drop bag for the Tahoe City Aid Station. You could feel the excitement and nervousness in the air. I was able to check out the very beginning of the course, where we would be going straight up a mountain at the Homewood Ski Resort. This was going to be an adventure for sure! They also take your pre race "mug shot" at race check in. I was hoping I would make the finish line to get a post race mug shot as well.
I stopped to get some Lake Tahoe time in on the way back to Tahoe City. Looking across the water, I spotted Heavenly, which would be the turnaround point. It didn't look that far away, but we weren't going to take the most direct route either.
I took it easy the rest of the day, mentally preparing myself and hydrating. I went to bed early and hoped I would be able to get a good night of sleep.
Fortunately, I slept very well, even waking up before my alarm. That almost never happens for me the night before a big race. I arrived at the start about 2 hours before the race began, mostly because I wanted to be assured I could find a parking spot out on the road rather than pay $50-$100 a day to park at the resort. I left my drop bags for the Brockway, Tunnel Creek, and Heavenly aid stations. Interestingly enough, they did not allow us to bring these drop bags at race check in the day before because the bears would get into the bags if they were set up at the aid stations too early!
Once I was able to get my GPS tracker attached to my pack, I went back to the car and rested my eyes for awhile before heading out to begin this adventure. It was chilly outside for sure, but I knew it would warm up. I could feel the nervous tension in the air as start time got closer and closer. About 15 minutes prior to race time, I got out of the car and headed for the start line, just in time to hear final instructions, including repeating after the race director that if anything bad happened to us out there, including death, it was our own damn fault. I was really hoping that wasn't foreshadowing of what was to come.
A couple photos as we waited for the start:
One of the other race participants had made an Excel spreadsheet that allowed you to enter your speed and it would then autofill all the other information. I entered a speed that would have me finish in around 90 hours. I saved these two photos on my phone so that I would have all of the information I needed at my fingertips to be able to check my progress. Why 90 hours you ask? Well, I had to be in Carson City for an interim legislative meeting at 9am on Tuesday morning, so finishing in 90 hours would give me a chance to get a few hours of sleep before that meeting. Not ideal, I know, but I didn't have any other choice. Because I had to be at that meeting, 90 hours was really my cutoff, not the 100 hours that represents the official race cutoff time.
Segment 1: Homewood to Stephen Jones Aid Station (10.4 miles)
Then, all of a sudden, we were off and running. There were a lot of spectators lining the course as we worked our way up the first hill. That was really cool and motivating - lots of cowbells and words of encouragement out there! Here are a few professional photos from the start:
Because we basically started by literally climbing a mountain, I decided just to hike the beginning rather than run it. Most entrants did the same, but the people at the front started running right away. I knew it would it would be a long time before I would see them again, if at all.
As you can see, I went with the infamous plaid shorts and the Red Rock Running Company donut shirt. They were both pretty big hits, drawing plenty of complements along the way. I like to wear them for two reasons. 1. They make it easier for the rescue helicopter to find me. 2. They bring smiles to the faces of other runners, which is always one of my goals in every race I run.
I had never been on this section of the course before and the views were spectacular. There was, however, quite a bit of snow that slowed me down. It wasn't overly difficult to navigate, but you had to be a little bit more deliberate with your footing to be sure you didn't find a soft spot and sink down into it. I used my hiking poles quite a bit to test the firmness of the snow. Some photos from this first section of the course:
When we arrived at the Summit of the first big climb, it was very windy and cold. I had fingerless gloves on (so I could check the GPS on my phone when need be) and my fingers instantly became numb. But, again, the views were out of this world. A bundled up race photographer awaited us at the top and took these two photos of me:
The way down from the summit was a bit dicey in parts because of the snow. I was with a group of about 5 other runners when we encountered a large bank of snow on a steep downhill section of the trail. Looking at it, I very much doubted that any of us would do anything other than fall on our rear ends and slide down the slope. With the exception of one guy who miraculously powered through and somehow stayed upright, I was correct. We all fell and slid down, soaking our shorts in the process. But we all escaped relatively unscathed, so that was a bonus. We all commented that we wished someone had been there to record everybody falling. That would have been some funny footage.
I was able to run some of this section of the course once it flattened out a bit. But many runners passed me and I really wasn't passing anybody. I tried not to worry about it too much, but it was also a bit disconcerting to already be towards the back of the pack this early in the race. That happened to me at Moab and was clearly a harbinger that I would not finish the race. I was hoping I could pick up the pace, but I also knew my lack of training was going to be a factor.
Although this segment was slower than I would have liked, I wasn't too far off of my goal time of reaching the aid station. I didn't have a drop bag there, so my main concerns were filling up my water, eating some food and doing whatever I needed to do to avoid blisters and chaffing. I stayed at the aid station for about 15 minutes and then headed out, about 20 minutes after my projection of when I would leave. Not bad for the first segment, though I would have preferred to have been ahead of schedule to give myself a buffer.
Segment 2: Stephen Jones Aid Station to Tahoe City (20.5 miles)
I jogged most of the dirt road leaving the aid station, meeting and talking with a handful of other runners along the way. This would be a very long section, over 20 miles and I had hoped to make good time. But I didn't.
My feet and legs really began to hurt, more than I thought they would at this juncture. It was getting harder for me to run. Part of this section of the course is on a paved path that follows the lake for a few miles. I thought that would be a good place to jog and make up some time. But my legs just didn't want to cooperate. I was only able to jog at about a 13 minute mile pace, which isn't that much faster than fast walking. A few of us also missed a turn off and went about a half mile out of our way and had to backtrack to get back on the course. That didn't help physically or mentally.
Once we got back on the trail, it was apparently that someone had messed with the course markings because they were few and far between, meaning that I had to consult the GPS on my phone way more than I would have liked, which slowed me down as well. There were a few wrong turns along the way that cost me more time.
In addition, there were a number of water crossings due to the melting snow. Nothing too serious, but they all forced me to slow down in an attempt to keep my shoes and feet dry. In retrospect, that really shouldn't have mattered to me, as I had a fresh pair of shoes and socks waiting in my drop bag at the next aid station. You live and learn.
More and more runners passed me in this section, leading me to believe I was probably near the back of the pack. But, as always, the scenery was amazing, including waterfalls!
The photos below show an example of one of the water crossings. Again, nothing too serious, but slow going for sure. When my Mom saw these photos, she commented that she didn't know what kind of obstacles I had to endure. Well, I didn't know I would be enduring them either until I was out there in the thick of it! But, at that point, there is no turning back.
As I approached the Tahoe City Aid Station, I had seriously fallen off my anticipated pace. I arrived more than 2 hours later than I projected. I was tired and, to be honest, I wanted to quit because my feet and legs were screaming, but I also knew I needed to press on. I wouldn't forgive myself for throwing in the towel after 30 miles.
I spent at least 30 minutes at the aid station, maybe longer. I drained and taped up a blister on one of my toes. I changed my shoes and socks, filled up my water, ate a hot dog, used the restroom, and mentally readied myself for the next section, which would be entirely at night, as it was starting to get dark out. To that end, I unpacked my Kogalla light in anticipation of a long night.
As I was leaving the aid station, one of the volunteers asked me if I was going to put anything warmer on. She advised me it would be pretty cold that night. I told her I ran hot and that I would be okay. And I headed out. I was hours behind where I hoped to be, so I knew I needed to pick up the pace, but I wasn't sure that my body would cooperate and I didn't like my chances of making up any time in the darkness. But at least this was a section of the course that I had mostly done previously in training. That being said, I knew nothing would look familiar in the darkness.
Segment 3: Tahoe City to Brockway (19.2 miles)
I had done a part of this section of the course in training, but I had not done it at night. I got about 20 minutes of light before I had to turn the Kogalla light on. Leaving the aid station, you basically just start climbing. So that is what I did. And it got really cold really fast. In fact, it started snowing. Here is a video of the snow:
This segment was a long, lonely one. I went the last 6 or so hours without seeing another runner. Although I stopped to put on a light jacket, I was very cold the entire night. So cold that I didn't even want to stop to get warmer clothes out of my pack. I just kept moving forward, trying to stay warm. I couldn't feel my fingers most of the night.
After a very long night, the sun finally came up. The sunrise was beautiful. I was hoping it would bring some warmth, but it really didn't. I was chilled to the bone from the night trek.
I finally made it to the aid station around 6:30am. The cutoff was 8am, which meant I had to be back on the trail in 90 minutes or I would be out of the race.
Priority number one was getting some sleep because I began to hallucinate once the sun came up. Rocks and trees started to look like animals. Fortunately, there was a sleep tent. And I had it mostly to myself because I was one of the very last runners to make it to this aid station.
So I wrapped myself in 3 blankets and laid down on a cot, trying my best to sleep. I was tired, but I was also very cold. I shivered as I tried to get warm and sleep. I laid down for about an hour and probably slept about 20 minutes, but that was enough to reset my mind and stop the hallucinations.
When I woke up, I had a decision to make. Drop out of the race or press on, knowing it was unlikely I would make the next aid station by the cutoff time. I decided to press on. 200 miler legend, Michael McKnight, was working this aid station and he was super helpful, asking me what I needed and encouraging me to press on. I changed my clothes, got my gear together and resolved to keep going. After all, Powerline awaited me in the next section of the course!
I ordered up a cheeseburger on the way out and I left the aid station about 15 minutes before the cutoff time. Onward I went.
Segment 4: Brockway to Tunnel Creek (14.9 miles)
Hot, greasy cheeseburger in hand, I headed back out for what I knew would likely be my last segment. But I was going to give it everything I had. I felt good for a hot second before the wear and tear of the previous 50 miles got to me. It was slow going and I was stopping a lot to regroup and recharge. Not a bad place to stop and take in the surroundings.
I knew I was in trouble when the sweeps (who stay behind the last runner) caught up to me about 8 or 9 miles into this segment. Their presence almost certainly meant I would miss the cutoff. They had to wait for me and we started to hike together. They stopped to eat a snack and I kept going, knowing they would catch up to me at some point since I was moving so slowly. And right when I arrived at Powerline, wouldn't you know it, it started to snow! Check out this video:
The snow wreaked havoc on my phone's GPS. This caused me to somehow get lost halfway down Powerline. And I got really lost, even though I had done this portion of the course in training. When I consulted my phone's GPS, it showed me in the middle of Lake Tahoe. Not helpful!
I wondered around in circles for a bit and asked a couple of bikers if they knew where I was supposed to go. They really didn't. Then I started to get text messages from my friend James, who had been following me on the live tracker. He told me what I already knew - I was off course. We texted back and forth until he confirmed that if I kept going straight, I would get back to the trail.
But going straight entailed a lot of bushwhacking on hardly discernable trails that took me through a series of ravines. By the time I got back to the trail, I had added another 2 miles and around 40 minutes to my race. One of the sweeps finally caught up to me and said he knew I had been lost but also knew he would find me eventually. He made me feel better by telling me he understood why I had gotten lost because the course markings were difficult to find on that section.
Once we course corrected after Powerline, it was clear I would miss the cutoff. No chance now. Yet I still had a few miles to go on a paved bike path before I would reach the aid station, official be out of the race and try to find a way back to my car.
My friend Thelma and her husband surprised me by jumping out of their car to cheer me on when I was on the bike path. It was a very touching gesture, as Thelma had given me a map of Lake Tahoe a couple of years earlier and had been very encouraging when it came to this race. She loves Lake Tahoe and it shows. I was disappointed to tell them that my race would be ending soon, but they were as encouraging as could me, congratulating me for making it this far.
Once I got to the aid station, my race officially ended. I think I missed the cutoff by around two hours. Some of the folks there were chuckling about how lost I had been earlier in the day, as they had been following me on the race tracker as well.
The problem I had now was that I needed to find a way back to my car, which was about an hour drive from where we were. I checked rideshare and they only wanted $350 to take me back! One of the race volunteers said she could get me to Stateline. From there, I took a bus into Tahoe City and then rideshare to my car.
Although I was very tired and wanted to take a nap, I had about an hour drive in front of me to get to Carson City, where I had booked a hotel a couple hours prior. To help me stay awake, I stopped at a gas station and loaded up on snacks for the drive. I stopped at Capriotti's in Carson City for the biggest and most delicious Philly Cheesesteak I had ever eaten. I savored every last bite.
Once, I got to the hotel, I took a very long and very hot shower. It took a lot of work to scrub the dirt from my legs and feet. Then I went to bed and full into a very deep sleep.
Once I woke up and got moving the next morning, I began the journey to collect my drop bags. I started by driving to the Heavenly (100 mile) aid station. Many of the runners were still sleeping, as the cutoff time was a few hours out yet. From there, I headed to Brockway. That station was preparing for the first place runner to approach on the return journey. I had one more stop at Tahoe City. When I arrived there, they told me that a bear had tried to steal one of the drop bags the night before, but they were able to save it before it got away. I was glad it wasn't mine!
Amazingly enough, the first and second place runners finished within 6 minutes of one another. They both finished in under 57 hours, but were that close to one another and the lead changed in the last 10 miles as well. That is amazing!
240 runners toed the start line at the race. 101 of us did not finish. That means 139 of us did. The winning time was 56:43:43. The final finisher's time was 99:32:48.
I had hoped to make it at least halfway, to Heavenly. That didn't happen but I am proud that I didn't quit on my own. I sure wanted to, but I didn't. Ultimately, I couldn't make the cutoff at Tunnel Creek and that is where my race ended. Even had I not gotten lost for about an hour, I still would have been too slow to continue. That is an outcome I can live with.
That being said, I am sad that I missed out on the rest of the course. I will go back up to Lake Tahoe as soon as I can to complete the two segments I was not able to attempt. I have kept the GPS course downloaded on my phone for that exact purpose.
I am at peace with how this all played out. But I think this was likely my last 200 mile race attempt. Unless I can find more time to adequately train, I don't see how I would be able to finish one of these very long races. Perhaps I can volunteer at future ones and that will allow me to be part of the action in a small way.
In any case, here are the Strava details:
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.