Written by Krissy Moehl.
Twelve people that are capable of running 20 plus miles at a time, and can tick off 70 miles in two days? That can put all of their selfless energy into one person’s endeavor? That can manage two nights without sleep, drive in unfamiliar territory, haul gear, prep meals on Simba’s tailgate (my Honda Element), and to have the time of their lives? I am! This is not a typical list of requirements you would see on any application, and I couldn’t have created this criteria beforehand, or envisioned the incredible flow their energy created. But I knew I couldn’t possibly fathom my Tahoe Rim Trail FTK (Fastest Known Time) endeavor without them.
The 170 mile (165 – 175 depending on the source) Tahoe Rim Trail is a beauty. It’s a single track path with an incredibly runnable grade that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe, California and was just completed in the last five years. The west side of the lake utilizes the iconic Pacific Crest Trail before jumping into the Desolation Wilderness. This section of high alpine terrain is scattered with brilliant blue lakes flanked by granite boulders and sloping walls. The beauty of the picturesque landscape will wholly envelop those lucky enough to pass through. When you exit the PCT on the ridge above Tahoe City, the local paths then connect through town and then around to taste the eastern Sierra Mountains. The trail then skirts both flanks of the eastern ridgeline for unbelievable views of Lake Tahoe and an expanse of the high desert stretching east over the plains. It then journeys high and enters the Mt. Rose wilderness to top out on Relay Peak before “cruising” the final 60 miles to the finish. A short description of a long endeavor. A two year goal finally becoming a reality.
This endeavor took planning, flexibility, physical preparation, and also a certain amount of luck. On September 26, everyone was scheduled to arrive at our base camp in Big Meadow with my parents and their RV. It was fast approaching, and all was finally coming together after three weeks filled with doubt. My return from an amazing month of training and traveling in Europe landed me on my parents’ couch for a solid week. Extreme nausea coupled with a complete cleansing of my bowels, laid me flat. Meanwhile, emails of support and encouragement for the upcoming TRT FKT attempt were flooding my inbox. Messages from my final key crew members, as well as necessary financial support from sponsors kept me focused. Yet I repeatedly asked, “How could my digestive system completely revolt against me when everything else was coming together so perfectly?” I emailed my crew,“My stomach is my beast.” I was hesitant to ask them to travel to Tahoe if this key component wasn’t cooperating. I can run, but I’m equally well known for my eating. When the rest of the field has lost their appetite, I continue to power down quesadillas, Bloks, soup, burritos, avocados, and Clif Shots. As long as there are options, I can eat. But now the nausea was winning even when I tried to force down a saltine cracker. How was I going to eat when I was 50, 100, or 150 miles into this run? Where would I muster the energy to run 170 miles when my current trek from the couch to the bathroom required a nap afterward?
I implemented Flora probiotics, amino acids, the BRAT diet, and Pedialyte. I binge watched Friends to laugh and stay positive. And most importantly, I continued planning for our Tahoe trip. I love maps, spreadsheets, lists, highlighters, and clipboards. The more I can detail, visualize, and plan, the more prepared I feel on run day. This high level of planning requires a lot of time, which proved to be a great distraction! At first, the plan seemed impossible. This gave me the desire to make it happen. A seven day hike earlier in the summer gave me a huge appreciation for the sub-two day endeavor. There is magic in experiencing a place with speed, especially after seeing it at a slower pace.
Earlier in the summer, I flew to Maine to help crew and pace Scott Jurek in the final week of his Appalachian Trail FKT. I learned some valuable details about long trail efforts through watching him sleep deprived and pushing every aspect to achieve his goal:
(I scheduled the crewing locations, with spreadsheets, so the two crews would leapfrog to jump ahead and sleep)
This last point was key. My crew chose my fuel, my clothes, and carried my gear. I limited my responsibilities to setting the pace, and doing what I was told. Period. It was my goal to be the best listener and “yes” person that I could be. My crew were my decision makers so I could focus solely on the running goal. During the FKT, I needed a crew that knew me better than I knew myself.
My stomach came around! After two weeks of careful attention to healing, forced downtime, and a week of strategic refueling, I attempted a final test run while visiting friends in the San Francisco Bay area. A four hour run, eating every 30 minutes, was my final confidence builder. I knew it was worth giving the FKT a shot. I emailed my crew one last time, “Let’s do this!” On September 27, a full day of planning at base camp was my final purge to them. My shoulders lightened as we discussed my last preparation thoughts. My starting line was an actual dance party!, and with a few motivational words from Ma Moehl, I began to run at 11:00am. Jeff Fisher, Gina Lucrezzi, and I started across the Big Meadow parking lot with goose bumps flushing my skin in the early afternoon warmth. I would not be back for two days. Four miles an hour was my goal. From the start, I aimed to stay at this pace even if it felt slow. Knowing my body from 16 years of endurance events, I’m aware that I am not fast, but I can maintain a consistent pace for a long time. This would be the test of exactly how long. The four mile an hour average allowed me a bit of a cushion on the record (49:17 held by Tahoe local, Amber Monforte), but I wanted to finish in less than two days.
Paced by Jeff and Gina: Looking back, each section of the TRT took on the personality of the pacers that joined me. Their individual experiences colored the time on the trail. We rolled into the Echo Lake Convenience Store to meet the crew. A quick stop in the pit toilets and the one just-in-case-but-hope-I-don’t-item was needed. I was honestly baffled. How could my period start now as I was launching into 170 miles of running? It was five days late, so couldn’t it have waited just two days more? I quickly stopped dwelling on it, returned to my crew, and brought them up to speed with our latest addition to the checklist while I devoured watermelon and they packed additional snacks to go.
Paced by Darcy & Jenn: The afternoon heat caused us to drain our packs faster than anticipated. As we gained the ridge, Darcy sped ahead to check on filtering more water. I couldn’t help but check on Jenn. “Did you have enough water?” “Are you eating?” “Are you too hot?” “Do you have a jacket for the cooler evening hours?” “Does your pack fit okay?” She quickly put me in check. “Krissy, if you check on me one more time this FKT is done. We are taking care of you, so stop worrying about me!” That night’s sunset did not disappoint. We slipped into the evening darkness just headlamps flickered ahead. Monica and Kathleen communicated with a few hoots and hollers, and then they darted ahead to alert Jeff and Neil of our arrival. Roughly 15 miles into our 30-mile section, and right at dinner time, I was treated to moose meat mac-n-cheese in the middle of nowhere. But first, I had to hide behind a tree with baby wipes and another tampon. This was going to get old.
We pushed on with me sandwiched between Darcy and Jenn as we navigated the dark forest. The cloud cover and tall trees dismissed any light from the nearly full moon. We had to depend on our headlamps and voices. I thought my eyes were starting to play tricks on me when I saw a blue glowing circle ahead. As we moved closer I also saw red circles, then purple and pink ones a little further up the trail. I was right on top of the decorated tree when it clicked: glowing bracelets! Gina and Jeff had colorfully decorated the last quarter mile of the trail to announce our arrival at the next crew stop, Barker Pass. From here Gina and Jeff paced me to Tahoe City. We took a wrong turn in the dark but soon found our way, and dropped off of the PCT down towards town.
The Tahoe City plan was to eat, change clothes, sleep, eat, and leave before sunrise. My shoes and socks were being pulled off while I ate quesadillas. In between bites, I changed my shirt and sports bra, and put on a beanie and down coat. Once I finished eating, I hid behind Simba’s doors to clean up with a few baby wipes and deal with my period again before changing shorts and slipping into bed. “Wake me up in 45 minutes, please”, I requested as I snuggled down into my sleeping bag. “You are way ahead of schedule, are you sure you don’t want to sleep more?” “Just 45 minutes please.” And I was asleep before I closed my eyes. Boggess rocked my feet through the tailgate window and I realized I had been dreaming. More quesadillas were prepared, and I was soon waking from my sleepy haze. It was well before sunrise, but I was ready to be back on the trail with Boggess and Neil. Our departure was marked by the entire crew singing. I can’t remember the song!, but my whole body smiled. I felt so lucky to have this crew around me.
Paced by Jeff B & Neil: The transition from night to day was so subtle; like a dimmer switch slowly getting brighter. It was long after the sunrise that I remembered to take off my headlamp. Taking in the terrain underfoot became much easier as I stayed sandwiched between pacers for most of the run. I felt my appetite increase ten-fold. It was time for breakfast! There is a beautifully runnable section of terrain after the climb leaving Tahoe, and the miles seemed to click quickly in the golden morning light. I continued to avoid using caffeine, especially now in daylight, so we explored our packs for interesting calories. As we neared the next crew spot at Brockway Summit, the trail paralleled the highway and finally climbed up to the roadside. A surprise visitor, Betsy Nye!, poked her head down the trail. She is a good friend, amazing ultrarunner, and the first female to set the TRT record. A super kind soul with the friendliest hug, and a wonderful laugh.
At the crew stop, I was wowed by the sight of a take-away container filled with a massive breakfast burrito on the hood of a truck. Before I could raise my hand, Darcy steered me to my chair – “you have your own!” in the knowing voice of “I know you want to eat everything in sight!” This was probably the most fun crew spot yet. I was feeling good, and mostly just hungry. While I indulged in the extra calories, I listened to the crewing stories. I love getting the tidbits of the crazy stuff that happens while I am out running: convenience store shopping, underwear swimming at the lake, expensive burrito purchases, bantering on text messages, and posting photos to my Instagram account.
Paced by Kathleen and Monica: We headed out towards the Mt. Rose Wilderness area where there is a completely different kind of beauty in the open and exposed landscape. I crossed the 100-mile mark, and then felt like the wheels were starting to come off. My left foot was screaming in a weird spot just behind the ball of my big toe. It was the middle of the day, but I felt sleepy. I was completely quiet with these two women that usually have me non-stop chattering. Something wasn’t right. They did their best to keep me moving, whether walking or running, and encouraged me to keep eating. I had to deal with my period once again. Pretty inconvenient on the trail. Fred, Betsy and Jenny Capel (another previous TRTFKT holder) joined us, and put me in front of the 6-person pack to set the pace. Food was continuously handed forward, and the constant positive reminders powered me through the climb up Relay Peak. I had to let my negative visions disappear, and just enjoy the chatter and energy of everyone behind me. Popping out on the highway at the Mt Rose Summit crew spot, I tried to shift gears now that I was through section five. I still had 60 miles to go, and this attitude wasn’t going to get me there. When I sat in the chair, the crew put bacon and avocado quesadillas in my hands, and went into full force. There was an ice bucket for my sore foot, a leg massage with arnica gel, acupressure on my foot to release the tightness, plus ginger ale and a full spread of anything else I wanted. I noticed the women were up close and hands on, while the men stood back a bit making food and prepping gear. The system was working. I was smiling. This whole thing was going to turn around and I think they knew it before I did.
Jenn and JB Benna were there to meet us. JB had previously held the self-supported record of the TRT. I focused on him as he talked me through the remaining miles. He had also been demolished during his attempt but then he totally rallied. It was possible! We decided it was time to pull out all of the stops. I was favoring my very painful foot, so I tried a few Ibprofen to ease the inflammation. The frequency of my bio breaks had continued, I was communicating lucidly, and I hadn’t used caffeine yet besides cola at a few aid spots, so the crew okay’ed Jenn Love and Fisher to load me up on Espresso Expedition Trail Butter and caffeinated Clif Shots. I walked out of the Mt. Rose parking lot with the full support of my crew. During the short pavement section before the trail, every single person walked alongside, cheering and pumping me up. 60 miles! We were almost done! I continued with my pacers and Fred, and had to laugh that 60 miles was closing in on the finish. Again, I felt so lucky. At my absolute lowest, the crew didn’t let me drop any lower. Their insistence, suggestions, jokes and encouragement set me straight.
Paced by Jenn and Jeff: Section 6 was marked by the beauty of the sunset, and the conversation. The sky was on fire with color, and our view with the exposed ridge seemed vast. Fisher chimed in with my pace. It was nice to have that beta again. I had been averaging 4.2-4.5 miles/hour and now I was about 3.8-4 miles an hour. I wanted to push that average up, but it really depended on the terrain. This was a long section before seeing the full crew again, and we worked hard to stay alert and focused as the darkness fell. As we climbed Snow Valley Peak, I again felt slow, sleepy, staggering… The wind howled along our high point, and we had to put on our Houdinis to keep warm with my slower pace. My hazy brain started to wonder if the altitude was a factor. I tried talking it through with the J’s. With fatigue from a multi-day effort and covering over 100 miles, I was more susceptible to the diminishing returns of the altitude. Jenn turned around to shine her light on me; I had paused to lean on my poles for a second. Fisher was behind me talking to Gary who had once again rode in to supply us with hot soup and eats. As soon as we dropped to about 7000 feet, I started to feel the positive difference. I was welcomed into the crew spot at Spooner’s Summit with warm, fatty pizza courtesy of Ma and Pa Boggess. We filled our packs, and tried to move quickly. I was now a bit behind schedule and we didn’t want to waste time sitting still.
Paced by Darcy, Gina & Monica: “Are those owls? Look at their eyes…!”. We focused in the same direction and simultaneously realized they were not. “They are cubs!” I think all three of us yelled the revelation.
Darcy blew a whistle and Gina yelled. We all waved our arms wildly, and stood tall. Darcy took my poles to extend her frame. Then we started to back away. I wanted to keep an eye on the trees and cubs, but neither would allow it. Gina found the biggest branches she could and continued to yell to the bears. Oddly, I didn’t feel fear, but curiosity. We crawled up the embankment on our left to parallel the trail. I recalled the weaving nature of the terrain so we kept a keen eye on straying from the trail below. Darcy was blowing her whistle non-stop, while Gina and I were banging sticks together, and continuing to talk loudly to the bears. The off trail terrain was slow; there were downed logs to clamber over, and twiggy underbrush to navigate. We kept our bearings until Darcy made the decision to move back down to the trail. The whole encounter could have lasted 15 or 50 minutes. It’s crazy how time is irrelevant under that kind of stress.
“You’ve got the record Krissy!”, Darcy and Gina exclaimed. “But I want to break 48 hours,” I said stiffly. As we left the meadows and started the climb, we saw a sign that read: 26 miles to Big Meadow. But hadn’t we already run at least three miles from the last crew point? Instead of a marathon to the finish, it was actually closer to a 50k plus some serious climbing! Gina stepped out front while Monica and Darcy fell in behind. Everyone focused. It seemed the record belonged to all of us, as we all focused everything to make it back to Big Meadow before 11:00am.
At 46 hours in, the four of us climbed over the last pass. My overactive bladder required yet another bio break. We all lined up along the trail overlooking the lake to squat. I wish Fred had been there to capture the surreal moment of the early dawn light casting beautiful colors over my crouched, laughing friends. This final view of Lake Tahoe filled my whole being. I looked into Monica’s eyes and exclaimed, “I’ve gone all the way around THAT lake.” This was my last glance before moving south and away from the lake, into the mountains, and onto the finish. It is an unbelievable memory looking back across the lake, seeing the landmarks along the way, and recalling everything that had taken place in such a short time period.
I ran up the little hill out of the aid stop as if I was just starting a morning run! The trail started to swoop and switchback. The delirious laughs we had shared while hiking in June sung back at me through the trees. I was starting to hallucinate. The visions were so grand, that I was convinced “TRT” was carved into the trees. I made Gina stop so I could trace my finger over the “carving”. She assured me it wasn’t actually there. Then an indescribable emotion manifested itself as happy tears, disbelief, gratitude, and laughing in wonder. We were flying and it wasn’t my imagination. We were making a six minute pace for the last four miles. I tucked in-between Gina and Darci and tried to solely focus on my breathing. When I let my mind wander, I thought of the magnitude of that lake, how impossible this seemed three weeks before on my parents’ couch, the inspiring views through Desolation Wilderness, and the constant energy of the crew that helped me. I would then feel my chest tighten with emotion, so I would gulp, smile, exhale, and keep pushing the pace until the trail ran out.
I ran more miles in the two days of the Tahoe Rim Trail FKT than I had for the entire month of September. It’s possible that my brutal sickness actually set me up for success. A few lost pounds increased my strength to weight ratio. Forced rest allowed all of my summer training to resonate in my body. My mind focused my body on the goal rather than my normally hyper-active social schedule. Everything fell into place for this event; a highlight of my 16 year running career. It was such an incredible gift to experience a state of flow where every aspect works perfectly. It is one to appreciate, and to strive for even when the odds seemed stacked against the situation. It was planned for, and executed by my wonderful crew. Someone may break this record time, but they will be hard pressed to put together a crew that comes close to my dynamic dozen.
Krissy Moehl has launched a training manual this winter titled Running Your First Ultra. Grab a clipboard and your running shoes, she has provided everything else.
Shot Bloks were the constant chew under the tongue and in the cheek.
Bacon became the secret weapon.
Mac-n-cheese with moose meat was devoured in Desolation Wilderness, hiked in and cooked
by the enthusiast crew.
Surprise breakfast Burritos at Brockway Summit.
I wish I’d counted all of the Clif wrappers.
Bacon, avocado & cheese quesadillas at Mt. Rose with an ice foot bath turned my frown
Pizza, kindly delivered by Ma & Pa Boggess.
I skipped the mashed potatoes with 9 miles to go – I could smell the finish line.
With two miles to go I took my last Clif Shot.