This picture pretty much sums up the challenge that lay ahead of us.
A couple of days ago, on the way to Mammoth Lakes, we took Tioga Road that goes past Tuolomne Meadows and then reaches the top of Tioga Pass. From there, we descend towards Lee Vining.
This is the same road that we’re going to be walking. Except in the opposite direction. So I’d already had a glimpse of what I’d signed up for. When I estimated the number of hours when I signed up for the event, I thought 4 hours. On day 3, I wasn’t so sure.
The Tioga Pass Run/Walk is advertised as 12.4 miles and “one hill”. The walk/run had 3,162 feet of elevation gain in 12.4 miles: Tioga Pass is at 9,945 feet above sea level and Lee Vining is located at 6,781 ft.
The weather is cool when we start, and we’re about a mile in before we’re all warmed up. After a slight uphill, there are around 2 miles, where the terrain flattens out. I try to warm up my legs by attempting a brisk walk on this stretch.
After mile 3, the uphill climb starts. My pace begins to get labored.
We have some shade thankfully. Anytime I look up, I see the road snaking up.
Mile 3-6 is where the fun starts. I mean the pain.
What is it about running/walking that attracts so many people I think?
At around 8:30 am, one hour into our walk, the runners are already crossing us. I see around 3 lean, mean monsters powering up the slope! They’re probably aiming to finish under 2 hours. I will be happy if I can complete this mammoth attempt in double that time.
At this point, I’m not feeling too optimistic. My legs are tired. Though I’m not a very fast climber, I usually find a good rhythm I can maintain for a few hours when hiking. Not today.
At mile 6, I also start developing a blister around the ankle (just at the point where I’d had my surgery a few years ago). I knew that would be a problem and the only thing I could do is try and ignore it.
Difficult though, considering the fact that it chafes every time I put my foot forward.
Two women (they must have been in their 50s/60s) see my discomfort at mile 6 and realize I’m in need of some encouragement. One of them shares her salty treats which I gobble up. And then the other gives me a handful of peanut M&Ms, which I also munch on greedily. You meet some amazing people on the road. They are really sweet and talk to me for nearly 5-10 minutes and then set off. I am really inspired by their steady pace through the walk.
I knew it was going to be a long struggle ahead. But I’d finished 1/2 the distance and mentally, I had to tell myself that I need to continue for another two hours. I try not thinking about the steeper sections where my pace would drop even more. I continue, with the husband keeping step behind me. Without him for company, I would have definitely taken a ride back downhill.
I struggle with everything after this point – the painful blister, legs with no energy in them (I could feel that terrible empty sensation of having nothing) and the altitude. We are at 9000 feet at this point and have 500+ feet of climbing left.
I’m not exactly sure how I survive mile 6-9. It is not my finest hour. At the mile 9 rest stop, the two women there offer some more encouragement. Along with gels and endurolytes. I am open to ingesting anything that will help me at this stage.
From this point, the road flattens out a bit. I pick up my pace and feel some blood circulating in my legs again. Husband counts down the last few miles. We meet one of the organizers on the route who says, “just another mile to go.” Yay!
A final push towards the end point. I can see the cars line up to pay the toll at the booth at Tioga Pass. When I stumble towards the race organizers (who are by now wrapping up the party), they’re possibly even more relieved than I am! I think it took me 20-30 minutes beyond the time I’d estimated, but I am just happy to have crossed that finish line.
I definitely paid the price for choosing two tough races this year. I don’t think I was adequately prepared for either. The only silver lining is that I survived both.
(Next: After this effort, my next event is a 26 km run at the Bangalore Ultra on November 13. I first ran the Ultra in the 2nd year in 2008. This is the 10th year of the event and a good one to wrap up my year with! After that, I rest till 2017 🙂