Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lake Tahoe Half Marathon

This morning I took part in a Fall tradition here in Lake Tahoe – The Lake Tahoe Marathon events. After several years at the Marathon, and one year at the Triple, this year I thought I’d take my first go at the Half. Most of my friends gave me some justifiable ribbing about not returning to defend my title at the marathon, but I had other plans. Truth be told, I know the likelihood of ever winning that race again is slim, but I also know I’ll be back. I love that marathon!

I have another marathon coming up in a few weeks, and while I considered running the full at LTM and just “going easy,” I knew it would never happen. Well, at least I know myself. I’d convince myself I was just going to go easy, but then I’d get to the hills and start getting all competitive or something. Yup, that’s exactly how it would go down. So I decided that the safer “training run” route was to stick with the half. I could run as hard as I wanted and I knew that I would still have plenty of recovery time before my upcoming marathon.

On Saturday, I’d warmed up for the event with Jamie during a trail run in the Desolation Wilderness. It was predicted to be a very summer-like weekend, and it did not disappoint. A rugged trail run in the high-country, followed by a swim and a nap on the beach at Sand Harbor, was the perfect first half to my weekend.

Sun rise over Emerald Bay Saturday morning on my way to the trailhead into Desolation

Sunday’s race didn’t start until 10:20 A.M. so that we could finish with the mid-pack of the marathon. I’d planned to park at the starting line in Rubicon, at mile 13 of the marathon, instead of taking any of the various shuttle options. This allowed me to sleep in and get a few things done around the house in the morning. Not only was it a bit strange for a pre-race routine, but apparently all that extra time is not good for my brain. I was in a bit of a sour mood, and I spent more than a few moments contemplating skipping the race all together. Why on earth that sounded like a good idea, I’ve no clue, but fortunately I snapped out of it in time. I know from experience that such a choice would only serve to make my temperament even more acidic. Idiocy averted, I pinned on my number and headed down the West shore.

A Scottish bagpiper entertained us, until a man with a shotgun sent us barreling downhill onto the course. I stayed reasonably back from the front line so that I wouldn’t start too fast, but I took note of some of the women jack-rabbiting into the distance – one in a blue sports bra and white cap and one in a black tank top. If I ever caught up to them, I’d know I was near the front. Then, I settled in and tried to figure out how to pace myself for a half-marathon.

My splits can essentially tell the story of the elevation profile. Anything close to a 7-minute mile was downhill (miles 1, 2, 6, 8 and 9), close to a 9-minute mile was uphill (miles 3, 4 and 7), and close to an 8 was either mixed (mile 5), or it was flat and I was really tired (miles 11-13).

Mile 1: 6:45

Mile 2: 7:01

Mile 3: 8:50

Mile 4: 8:33

Mile 5: 7:29

Mile 6: 6:40

Mile 7: 8:31

Mile 8: 6:23

Mile 9: 7:08

Mile 10: 7:10

Mile 11: 7:43

Mile 12: 7:31

Mile 13: 7:30

Thanks to Turi for the following photo sequence on the Hill from Hell, at miles 3 and 4 of the half-marathon. This hill was a lot easier with only two fast miles on my legs, rather than the 15 already incurred by the full-marathon runners.

I fell in right away behind a woman in a red t-shirt that I guessed would be a great person to pace off of. She looked to be a few age groups above me, and the well-defined muscles in her legs screamed “fast!” I knew there were women ahead of us, but I wondered if she might not end up winning the event. She just had that look. I tucked in behind her up the big hill, and tried my best to hold on. She pulled away a bit, but was still within range when we reached the top. I’m typically a strong climber, so the fact that she’d made ground on me on the uphill was telling me that it wouldn’t be easy to pass her.

Miraculously I managed to do just that on the ensuing downhill. I figured I’d see her again on the next uphill, so I didn’t get too confident. I just kept plugging away, and enjoyed the intense beauty of Emerald Bay.

I downed a GU even though it was only about mile 5 or 6. I figured my stomach wouldn’t be interested much farther along than that, and breakfast felt like a long time ago. Somewhere through here I spotted Turi moving through the pack of marathoners. I was surprised to see him, so I wasn’t totally sure it was Turi, but the Running ‘Round Reno shirt confirmed it. It’s always kind of a boost to see a friendly face out there, so I was stoked.

Heading up the hill on the other side of Emerald Bay, we passed the 10K start line. That meant only about 6 miles to go. I was starting to feel it a little bit at this point, but I have to confess that it was an intensely enjoyable kind of pain. Running up that hill, I was focused on a girl in a white tank top who I was pretty sure was in the half marathon. She was running too fast to be in the marathon, and all the 10K and 5K runners were well ahead of us. I decided that with only 6 miles to go, I had nothing to lose, and I was going to enjoy pushing myself a little bit. I worked the uphill to gain here, feeling the lead as it built heavy in my legs, gazing on the crystal blue of Lake Tahoe, feeling the sun radiating on my shoulders, and smiling all the while. I reeled her in bit by bit, but I just couldn’t quite pass her. No matter. I’d thoroughly enjoyed giving it a go.

I finally saw blue-sports-bra-white-hat girl in the distance, and the white-tank-top girl and I were both catching up to her. I flew down those steep switchbacks on the South side of Emerald Bay like I never have before. Yes, I was passing the cars. (Okay, maybe that’s not saying much since those are 10 mph hairpin turns, but still, I was having a blast!)

I never did catch either one of those women, but I really enjoyed giving it my best shot. The last 3.5 miles of this course are completely flat, and I’ve always found them to be a total sufferfest during the marathon. It’s amazing what a difference is had by running only half the distance. They weren’t easy, but they didn’t feel nearly as bad this year. I made my annual quick gaze upon the brilliant spawning Kokanee salmon during a creek crossing, and headed in along the bike path to the finish.

The way these events are timed means that many race distances are finishing at once. It’s a little confusing, (as in last year, when the officials weren’t sure if I was finishing the marathon or some other race), but it does make for a very lively finish line, which is fun. Based on the women in front of me (blue-bra-white-cap, white-tank-top, black-tank top, and of course last year’s winner, Sarah Raitter) I figured my best-place-scenario was fifth. I’ll take it!

I was gathering myself for a little chill time on the beach when a marathon finisher claimed her recognition of me from my blog. How flattering! (She’s in training for her first ultra at Helen Klein in November. Good luck, Erin!) This came as a small irony in the wake of recent questioning from a fellow blogger as to whether I was ever recognized randomly from my blog. My answer, of course, being “no.” But she was also the second person that weekend to give me a shout out from the blog. I won’t even try to explain how the first guy to recognize me was the exact same guy who recognized Donald at Glacier Point a few weeks ago, which is what prompted the question about getting recognized in the first place. Has anyone else noticed that this running community is smaller (in a good way) than we give it credit for? I love runners!

My finish time of 1:38:51 felt more than acceptable. Given the fact that my PR for the distance is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:35, (on a flat course at sea-level) I was happy to be under 1:40 here. I did indeed end up as 5th place woman and 17th overall. (Complete results here.)

My recovery routine consisted of a good soak in Lake Tahoe, a hot dog and a beer, and a stretch-out on the sand in the sun. Wow. I probably could have stayed there all day, but I could feel my crabbiness still simmering just beneath the post-race glow. I high-tailed it out of there on the first shuttle before official results had been posted.

Back home, a long dog-walk and a much-needed nap preceded a solid night of homework. After a soothingly beautiful taste-of-summer-in-fall Tahoe weekend, it was time to get back to reality.


  1. Great Job out there, Gretchen. Yeah, I'll bet that hill would feel a lot different at mile 2 than mile 15! Anyway, glad I got to see you - or at least hear you as you whooshed past. :)

    (And the salmon pic is up on my blog now too, if you want to snag it...)

  2. Really nice race report, loved those signs heading up the hill.

  3. Whoop! A 1:38 at altitude is snappy, girl!

    (Do you still hate me? ;)


  4. Trail half marathon, hot dog and beer - that's the life!

    I'm just getting used to people who read my blog anonymously seeing me at races - and trying to decide whether or not to say hello to me. It's cute watching them struggle.

  5. What a day! Great work out there, putting down some hurt and taking 5th, very cool! I almost forgot it's the end of September after reading your description of the weather. Totally jealous in Chicago (where our weather is currently crapilicious)!

  6. Nice work! Subtract 5 minutes for altitude and you have a new PR. ;-)


  7. Turi - Thanks, and great job to you, too! Thanks for the photos too. You took a ton, and they were great!

    Kovas - Thanks. Those signs do help you mark off the elevation gain, that's for sure!

    Meghan - Are you trying to call me speedy in order to get back into my good graces? Stick around Cali, girl, and maybe we can hang out or something. ;)

    Steve - You're funny - 'watching them struggle.' Heh. Rumor has it I'm easy to recognize (perhaps it's the wild hair?) so I think anyone just comes up and says hi if they know who I am. Still, it's a rarity. When you see those people sturggling, you should just go up and say hi first. :)

    Paige - What qualifies as crapaliscious for September in Chicago? It must either be really cold, or hot and humid. Neither sounds appealing to me. Y'all are tough cookies!

    Scott - Thanks. Hmm, I like your formula there. A PR it is! ;) And congrats on your win this past weekend, too!

  8. Whoo hoo! That's a great time Gretchen! Only 20 minutes faster than my best time for that distance. Which was a flat course. Zowie! :) You rock!

  9. Crapalicious in Chicago in September = rainy, cloudy and cooooold!

  10. Great race report, as always. I especially love the way you celebrated.

  11. Hi Gretchen....
    The infamous "Erin" who spotted you after the race! I think it was the blurry image of you zooming past me, just like your blog header =)
    Congrats on a great race and thanks for the 'shout out'

  12. Amber - Hey, thanks! :)

    Paige - Ah, yeah. That does sound crapaliscious. I won't share about how good our weather is right now.

    Anne - Thanks. It's tough not to enjoy yourself with such a great finish line area!

    Erin - Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Also, thanks for saying hi out at the race. Great job on your finish, and good luck with the rest of your training for HK!

  13. Congrats! I loved reading the play by play.