Wednesday, October 12, 2016

2016 Lake Tahoe Marathon Race Recap - South Lake Tahoe CA

Official Time: 4:46:15
Placement: 75th place overall, 6th in my age division
Results: Here
Race Website:Here
Weather: low 40's at start, upper 50's / low 60's at finish.
Garmin RouteHere

19:17A little bit of climb here, but felt easy
39:39Brief pit stop in the woods here.
59:37Some rolling hills here. Still feeling okay but a little winded
69:36Suddenly realized here that this race was going to be a tough one.
89:10Quite a bit of downhill.  Hopefully getting a bit of a second wind
913:18Hill of death here.  309 feet of climbing
1012:14Another 244 feet of climbing
1110:30Mix of up and down.
1210:14Some up hill but finally taking in some downhill running
1312:03Another round of climbing
148:44279 feet of decline. Fastest mile of the race
1510:00More downhill but I don't seem able to work with it
1711:07Fairly flat at this point. Tired and just felt drained
1911:28The death march begins
2211:49Just shuffling along
2412:30The longest final miles ever.
2611:44Knowing the end was near I somehow picked up the pace
26.626:468Finally finished.
Total Miles: 26.62 - 4:46:15


Last year when I visited Lake Tahoe for the first time I spotted a bike trail that circled the lake.  Seeing the tree-lined paved trail looked like an idyllic and beautiful run.  I immediately imagined myself logging a ton of miles along this Sierra inspired trail.  I made a bucket list item to actually spend some time there and either bike it or run along it.

After my trip, I went home and started to search around to see if there was any sort of marathon that would at least give me a reason to run it and knock off California off my 50 states list.  I quickly found the Lake Tahoe Marathon, a multi-day running event that features a marathon and ultras that coincidentally ran along the bike trail.

Best of all, the race is held in October, where the weather is cooler and the scenery was promised to be awesome.  How could I resist?


I rolled into town on Saturday afternoon, checked into my hotel (Harvey's) and quickly headed across the border to California (about 100 yards) and picked up my bib at the host hotel.  It was pretty easy and a small time affair.  They had some gels and shirts for sale, but overall it was an easy in, easy out.

They added a nice touch with personalized and unique bibs.  While I thought the design was a little effeminate it was cool and it'll be a bib I'll hang onto.  You definitely won't find this one at any other race.

For dinner, I walked across the street and ate at the cafe at Harrah's.  I had a large plate of spaghetti.  Spaghetti is a good carb source, but I've found that I don't necessarily run that well after eating it.  It seems a bit heavy for me, but it was good and it wasn't a gut buster.

After eating, Shari and I killed some time in the casino and I went to bed fairly early.  I set my alarm for a little after 5 AM so that I could walk back over to the host hotel and pick up a bus by 6:15 AM.

I slept extremely poorly.  The anxiety from the race as well as some mysterious noise in my room kept me up for half the night.  I figure I got about 3 hours, if that, of actual sleep.  Every 5 - 10 minutes, a damper in the bathroom ceiling would slam shut.  At first it happened very irreguarly, but as the night wore on, it got worse and worse and more frequent.  Awful.

I got up before my alarm went off, prepared my stuff and headed out to catch a bus.  I was one of the first to board the bus and met a woman from Nampa, Idaho.  It was nice to have someone to talk to, as the bus ride was LONG.  I am not exactly sure how long it took, but going 30 - 40 mph for 26 miles takes a while.

The Race

I had less than an hour to kill before the race and I wound up cycling through the bathroom (one of the advantages of riding in the front of the bus is that I could hop off and use them without a wait).  I made small talk chatting with people who were running 3 marathons in 3 days, which I thought was insane.

The photographer for the event snapped a picture of me standing near the Lake Tahoe shoreline.  He wanted to see my bib, which was attached to my shorts, which were covered by my sweat pants.  I had to drop them, hence my smile.

People milling about before the start

The race starts in Homewood California, a sleepy little beach-town dotted with shoreline cottages and A-frames.  It appeared that most people were away, as their houses looked empty and closed for the winter.  It was nice to sit by the lake and enjoy the view.  I was comfortable and not too terribly cold.

The race director made a few announcements regarding the race and thanking everyone for coming out.  However, he did warn everyone that this race wasn't easy.  A lot of people shy away from "hard" marathons and this race was clearly one of them.  I sort of smirked to myself and figured I could get through it.

After the national anthem and some bag pipe playing, 8 AM rolled up and we were on our way:

The first few miles of the race are stunning.  It is run along the bike trail and you are surrounded by tall pines.  There was some color in the leaves, but the Lake Tahoe area seems to be primarily pine, so there is less color than you'd think.  I really enjoyed the first couple of miles as it was fairly flat and the gentle ups and downs made it an interesting course.

I had to make a pit stop at mile 3.  It seems inevitable that in the early miles of the race I need to use the rest room.  Unfortunately there wasn't one available, so sensing a good opportunity I managed to drop off the course briefly for a pit stop.

I found that my breathing was labored and I remembered I wasn't running in Salt Lake anymore.  I thought that perhaps being that I lived at 4300 feet that I wouldn't be affected by it.  But I was wrong.  Even a small hill caused me to slow down and I found myself breathing harder than I should have been.

After a few miles we left the bike trail and ran on the side of the road.  There was very little traffic (probably the residents as the road was reduced to one lane at Emerald Bay).  At this point the hills got more serious.  I remember talking to a fellow runner and telling her that I felt like I was at mile 15 -- not mile 6.  That is NOT a good sign.

The fun began around mile 8 or so, when I was greeted with an ominous sign.  I had heard rumors about the hill from hell and I was about to experience it first hand:

Shot from where I have run from

Almost there

This 500 foot hill brought my pace to a stand-still.  I knew I was going to get a bit of a respite once I reached the top but it was hard work.  Many people walked it, but I shuffled up as best as I could.  I am not sure if the strategy paid off and if I expended too much energy as I was making about the same pace as the walkers.

At the top, you are starting to get close to Emerald Bay, which is definitely the crown jewel of the course.  You have reached the high point and you can see the beautiful bay below:

I really tried to enjoy the views but in the back of my mind, I knew I was really struggling and that caused a bit of a panic.

Going into the race I knew this race was going to be a challenge.  The altitude and the hills made it a challenge and I knew realistically that unless I had a fantastic day, I was not going to finish sub 4:20.  Still I had had hopes that my long runs would work and things would come together.  But I had totally underestimated what it was going to take.

Studying my split once I crossed the half marathon, I realized that I was at 2:10.  The hardest part of the race was over and I had downhills and flats left.  But I felt pretty warm (the sun was out but the air temperature wasn't extremely hot) and to be honest I was considering throwing in the towel.  The race director's words were starting to haunt me: this race was hard.

I buckled down and did what every marathoner has done when they know the chips are down:  put one foot in front of the other.  The finish line would eventually come.

After getting past Emerald Bay you run a few more miles along some twisting curves before settling onto the bike trail.  This is where I dreamed of running and today it was more of a nightmare.  I was in desperation mode.

My legs felt heavy and it was a challenge to get any momentum going. I just didn't have any energy.

I was surrounded by half marathoners, who had started the race two hours after us, who were walking.  I really wanted to find a companion and just walk with them.  I did get a lot of support from them as they urged me to continue running.

But my pride got the best of me and while I was shambling (more or less), I managed to put one foot in front of the other.  I was making progress -- and it was faster than walking.

The final 4 miles or so, are on the sidewalk that line the main thoroughfaire.  It also occasionally ducked into a subdivision or two.  It was interesting to see the residential areas and there was only light traffic.

My only complaint about the final miles (and the course in general) was that you were running through the entrances of strip malls.  There was some in and out of traffic -- some of it marshalled -- but to some extent you were at the mercy of the traffic.  Luckily, people were understanding and I never lost any time whatsoever to the multitude of intersections I ran through.

Final stretch was through an apartment complex
I was thrown for a loop when the final stretch sent us through what looked to be an apartment complex.  Seriously.  It didn't last long before taking us down to the beach where thankfully I was able to finish.  I was just incredibly happy it was just OVER.

Do I look tired?

The way I felt about my performance


Me on the California side sporting the shirt

Shari was there to greet me when I finished and quickly fished out a Coke for me.  This settled my nauseated stomach faster than anything.  I walked around and eventually sat down.  I had a brief wave of sickness pass over me, but luckily it was short lived.

A lot of other people were suffering too.  I had finished with a ton of the half marathoner walkers so the finish line area was pretty congested.  I hadn't seen many marathoners but I was just happy to finish.

The finish line was a little sparse on food and drink at the end.  They had water and sports drink.  They also had bananas, protein bars and some pretzels.  I had hoped there would've been sodas.  There were some food vendors selling food, but I wasn't in the mood to eat.

They had ample medical services and I was briefly checked out.  I guess the folding chair I had decided to sit in was technically in the medical area.  I spotted another guy in the tent with an I.V. sticking out of his arm.  So it was a tough day at the offices for a lot of people.

The aid stations were super plentiful.  They had promised one every 2 miles or so.  I got way more than that.  It seemed like there were a ton of aid stations -- maybe at least one every mile.  They were serving Ultima, which I had never tried before.  I had packed my own Tailwind and a few gels as well.

I wasn't a fan of the Ultima drink.  Reading it now, it appears to be calorie free and it wasn't my favorite flavor.  Due to the high altitude and it being fairly warm, I went through a LOT of fluids.  I don't think I've ever drank this much during a race.  But every aid station I took something and I went through my 28 ounce canister a few times (I filled it up more than once at the stations).  And I still felt dehydrated.

The volunteers were simply awesome.  They had plenty of drinks ready and were there to cheer you on.  They were mostly young people too - so major props to them.

The organization was also pretty spot on.  From race communications, to packet pickup, to having bathrooms available at the start, to course safety, the race director had it down.  Also the price was fairly reasonable, considering the lengths they had to go through (I think I paid in the low 100s)

While I seem to be done on this race, nothing could be further from the truth.  I loved the course.  I just wish I could've enjoyed it more but I was really struggling throughout.  The views were just outstanding and there was plenty of variety.  I just suffered almost from mile 1 on wards.

Would I run this one again?  Probably not.  It was just extremely difficult for me and I have a hard time separating doing a race for the experience and racing it.  While I sort of left myself off the hook in terms of racing it, I had certainly expected a sub 4:30 was in the cards.  I would, however, run the half again and I'd definitely want to run for fun on the bike trail again.  The course was just that good.

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