Monday, September 26, 2011

Feels Like Home: Lake Tahoe Marathon 2011

Lining up on Commons Beach for the start.

The decision to run the Lake Tahoe Marathon was not as easy as one might think. After all, it’s local, it’s beautiful, and it’s only a marathon for goodness sake!

I put my name down for it in August to give me a little motivation and something to look forward to. It worked for a little while, and my running picked back up a bit. But then school started, and everything fell off the menu but the weekend long run.  Long, meandering days through the mountains, thick with wildflowers even in September, streams running high, a little mud but no more snow. Wonderful!

Just not really the best training for a road marathon.

After winning several races in 2009, including this one, it hasn’t escaped my attention that I’d yet to return to any of them. I was absolutely intimidated about showing up as a “former winner,” and doing so in less than top form wasn’t terribly enticing.

So, I could either let my pride get in the way and skip the race, or I could just show up, not worry about it, and have fun. I have to admit, I’ve missed racing, and even though I felt sheepish about my lack of training, I was looking forward to the event. I love races for the exciting atmosphere and camaraderie of other runners. And in this case, it's pretty tough to beat the setting.

RD Les Wright introduces Sean as a previous (4 time??) winner. 3 seconds after this shot Sean dragged me up there to get the same treatment.

Look! We're totally matching with our Montrail apparel and orange colors! Do you think Sean knew he had that tag sticking up out of his visor all day?

I received all kinds of words of support heading into the race, which was nice, except that I felt the need to explain to everyone that I would be slow. Without exception, they all called me a sandbagger. Yeah, well. I guess I deserve that. Anyway, my predicted finish time for myself was 4 hours. Decidedly slower than my 3:34 from two years ago, but still faster than my other 3 races here.

I greeted friends on the start, and I actually had to smile and wave to the crowd when Les, the RD, pulled me up front and introduced me as a past winner of both the marathon and the Triple. Oh God! Fortunately, Sean was there to share some of the spotlight.

Turi is totally ready to rock!

I checked in with Turi to see how his ankle was doing. This was his goal race for the year, and I knew he’d been training hard. A recent injury had sidelined him for the past two weeks, but I had my fingers crossed that it merely meant he’d gotten in a solid taper.
And we're off!

We headed off from Commons Beach in Tahoe City to the west shore of Lake Tahoe. The course follows the shoreline of the lake most of the time, and the views are constant. I spent a lot of time taking pictures this year. It was a great way to enjoy my surroundings and not think about trying to run fast.

I shared a few early miles with my friend, Helen. We talked running websites until she finally decided she needed to slow down. I applaud her wise pacing! She went on to hit her goal time perfectly, by the way.

Helen - blurry but having fun! When I accused her of being geared up like an ultrarunner with her Nathan pack, she owned up to bringing guns to a knife fight. Ultrarunners like to be prepared for anything!

I ran for a while with Crystal from San Diego. When I came up next to her, she said, “Oh, you’re the past winner!”

Aw, man!

“Yeah,” I admitted ruefully. It did turn out to be a good foray into conversation though, and I really enjoyed chatting and running with her for a while.

The girl on the left in the pink is Crystal from SD.

Views like this are consistent through the first half of the race.

This woman on the left ended up passing me on the big hill which was kind of a bummer since I consider myself a hill climber. Not so much today.

Little known superhero Endorphine Dude! Powering through day 3 of the triple!

These signs always crack me up. Just in case you weren't sure if it was scenic - the government has now declared it to be so!

Cloudy skies made for perfect temperatures all day.

Hippies at Meeks Bay pass out water.

Peace, love and glittery hair.

I did a relatively decent job of pacing myself I think, running about 9-minute miles early on, picking it up a bit in the middle, and then slowing it down again on the hills. I didn’t feel nearly as strong on the hills as I would have liked, and the downhills just killed me. The descents on this course are really the hardest part. They’re steep, and they come late in the race – one at mile 19, and a good, long one around miles 21 and 22. I was simply incapable of pushing the pace on them this year.

Starting the downhill into Emerald Bay.

Sugar Pine!

Looking across Emerald Bay at the hill we would soon be climbing.

Standard view of Emerald Bay with Fanette Island and Lake Tahoe.

I love running down the spine of this ridge with lake views on three sides.

Superhero aid station!

Pretty sure they were handing out super powers in those cups.

I did feel good about rallying to an 8:40 pace on the last three, flat miles of the race. Without fail, these are always the hardest miles of this race for me, no matter what my pace has been. This year was quite possibly the best I have ever felt here in the last three miles. Of course, that’s not saying much, but I’ll take it!

The best part about the finish is its location on a sandy beach. I walked into the clear lake water and gave my legs a good, cold soak while inhaling the surrounding beauty.
I spent time hanging with friends on the beach, including Helen and Sean, who both had strong races. Turi smashed his PR by I forget how many minutes, posting a 3:41, and we definitely celebrated that one. YESSSSSSS!!
Turi and I sport our sexy "Top 25" finisher's windshirts.
I recently had a conversation with my friend Charlie while trying to choose a spring marathon to run together. She declared a marathon to be on the list of things she was still too scared not to train for. Apparently that doesn’t hold true for me, which is not at all a sign of my toughness, but rather an indication of her superior intelligence.

In the end though, it was another treasured day in this beautiful place I call home. I’d tell anyone else that 3:56 is something to feel proud of on this course, so I guess I have to believe it for myself, too. I won’t lie: I worked hard to squeak out that sub-4. I might have wondered why I should bother pushing for a time when I knew I’d be so far off my course PR, but I know myself better than that. Once I hear that gun go off, it's tough not to go for it. And it’s been so long since I’ve pushed myself in any arena. It felt good. Really, really good.

Post-race soaking grounds.

Thanks to Les and his team for another beautiful year at the lake!