There are many aspects that go into organizing an endurance race — the logistics of the course, permits, lottery registration, aid stations and more. But for George Ruiz, director of the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, his overarching motivation is helping the individual runner find the strength to cross the finish line.
“A hundred miles will strip you to your rawest form,” Ruiz said. “When you get to that point, you have to find a way to pick yourself up and finish. You have to want to finish. It doesn’t happen by accident.”
That’s why the aid station at Tunnel Creek — where hundred-mile runners often visit during the overnight hours — is staffed with veteran runners.
“You can keep going during the day, but at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, it’s hard to keep going. Literally everything on your body hurts,” Ruiz said. “You have to really want it, because there are too many reasons to stop. Those veterans can help talk them through it. It makes a big difference.”
Ruiz, 60, began running in his mid-30s on the Prison Hill trails near his Carson City home. Starting with a 5K race, he then set a goal for a 10K. He kept going until he was running marathons and then 19 hundred-mile races, including Western States Endurance Run and the Tour du Mont Blanc in France.
After discovering the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, he ran all of the distances — 50 miles, 50K and 100 miles — several times.
“It’s one of the greatest trails in the world,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to be able to run on it. It’s just an unbelievable trail and it’s in our backyard.”
Ten years ago, he became assistant race director under David Cotter, who founded the run in 2001 with Kevin Bigley.
This is his seventh year as director of the run, which is July 15 and 16, beginning and ending at Spooner Summit.
“When I became race director, I had already done several hundred-milers,” Ruiz said. “I saw some really well-organized races, and I saw some races that were horribly organized. I took the best of everything I saw at other races and integrated it into one race.”
Running his own business, Ruiz Insurance, since 1994, helps him have the discipline and organization for the logistical side of the race.
However, he said the main reason for his success has been the consistency of volunteers who coordinate aid stations and coordinate registration. Through a partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Sports fellowship, interns help staff the aid stations and the finish line.
“It’s a tremendous asset for the race,” Ruiz said. “It’s awesome.”
Since taking over as race director, Ruiz has instituted a requirement where runners must complete eight hours of trail work.
“It represents more than 2,000 hours of trail maintenance around the country,” he said. “I love that. Runners run and run on trails. As stewards of the trail, we have to give back.”
He’s seen that shift in his own community.
“There’s been a tremendous trail-building effort in Carson City as well as in Carson Valley and Reno,” he said. “There were hardly any trails around here when I first started training.”
The race sells out every year, with 600 names being chosen by lottery from about 1,100 applicants.
He’s not surprised at the number of people vying to participate in the run.
“It’s freedom,” Ruiz said. “It’s so different than running on the road. Your mind has to be engaged, you’re really aware of your surroundings, every foot plant. You become part of trail you’re running on and the beauty around it.”
Finishing, he said, makes all the pain a worthwhile endeavor.
“You gain self-respect because you made that commitment,” Ruiz said. “It’s going to be easy to stop, but you’ll regret it. When you finish, it’s the greatest high.”