It seems very wrong to write about an experience at Lake Tahoe and to not have any pictures. We're talking about one of the most beautiful places on Earth and no pictures. Sorry, but with my location and schedule, it's not happening at the moment. For some pics, go here and here. Liz took some great shots.
So going into this marathon, I knew that I wanted to run with my sister Amy and my father. Running together with my family, particularly a marathon, has always seemed very right. My training reflected the type of race I was going to run. I only ran three days a week and didn't do any speedwork. However, the speed just doesn't sit on idle. It's there. If you've read some of my previous training runs and looked at my beautiful brown salt-encrusted eyes, you'll know that I trained hard and fast on my long runs. On a flat course, I still think I could have run a sub-3:10. On this course, probably a 3:25 or so. But that's not why I wanted to run the Lake Tahoe marathon. I was running it for the experience. What I found is that running a marathon for the experience and to run it with your family is probably a richer experience than running it for myself and for a PR.
We arrived in Tahoe on Thursday. We went two whole days early in order to get acclimated to the 6500 foot elevation. I later found out that it takes 6 weeks to become properly acclimated.
I'm not going to bore you with the non-marathon activities. Yes, we stayed in a casino. Yes, we went to a buffet. Yes, we took the paddlewheeler to Emerald Bay and it was amazing. Yes, we had sushi the night before as required by Mike F.'s marathon laws. Liz can tell you all about our adventures with Zane in restaurants. He just wasn't having it. Let's go straight to the race.
Wait, I will tell you about our Friday drive of the race course. I knew the west side of Tahoe was pretty hilly and I had seen the elevation profile. I've been to Tahoe a number of times in the winter and have driven that road in order to get to Squaw Valley. What I had not done is actually drive the road and consider what it would be like to run it. Maybe driving the course in advance was a mistake. The last 13 miles are painful. Up and down and up and up and up and up and up and up and then down and then up and up and up some more, followed by the downhill to the finish. What made me the most nervous was where the up was located. Between miles 15 and 21 is not where you want to see massive uphill. It was like Boston, but steeper, longer, and at 6500 feet.
So back to Saturday morning. My dad, Amy, and I, along with Liz, Zane, Kevin, and my mom all boarded the buses. The marathon had a spectactor pass that you could purchase that allowed you to take the buses to the starting line and then take to three points along the course, as well as the finish line, to support your runners. It was pretty cool and very helpful. More on this later. We arrived at the starting line about 30 minutes before the race started. Only about 400 runners. Amy, my dad, and myself get ready and then bam, we're off. Only 26.2 miles to go.
The first 10 miles are amazing. Right on the shore as the sun is rising. People were stopping and taking pictures. When the event organizers tell you that it is the most beautiful marathon in the world, they are not joking. We see the family at mile 1.5, mile 4, and mile 7.5. It was great to see them. High fives to Liz. Waving to Zane. Hearing my mom encourage my dad. Everyone is having a great time. I'm acting as the mule and carrying everyone's gels and making sure we're on pace (not too fast, not too slow). Our goal is to run a sub 5 hour marathon. My dad ran it last year in 5:05.
It was tough at first being a pacer. My body just wanted to scream and run and go, go, go, go, go. That tapered up rested feeling had me ready to just hammer down. I held it back. Our first six miles or so were right around a 10 minute pace. Probably a little fast, but after seeing that road yesterday, I wanted to book a little time, as I knew that some of those miles would be in the 13 and 14 minute range. We just ran, talked, joked, and enjoyed it.
At about mile 9, I had an issue. I needed to use the facilities. Fortunately for me, I saw one of two port-a-johns about a 1/4 mile ahead. I told my dad and Amy that I was going to use it and for them to just keep going. I sprinted out ahead, which felt very, very good, did my deed and then sprinted until I caught up to them again. I was surprised at how far ahead of me they were. It took me a little bit to catch them. Once I caught them, we started to space out a little bit. I could tell that Amy was a little winded and that my dad was raring to go. I gave my dad three gels and told him to go and that I'd stay back with Amy. He went. Up a short, but steep hill, then down, them bam, there was the mother of all hills. Two miles long with an average incline of 8%, with some sections being even worse.
It was brutal. This was around mile 15 and we were in the thick of the 1/2 marathoners. I didn't see a single person running up the hill. Everyone walked, except my dad, who we could still see, and me and Amy. We went slow, but we ran. Amy then told me that she could see that our dad had started to walk. I told her that I'd be right back and to not stop running. I ran up to my dad who was about 200 yards ahead of us, gave him a pat on the back, told him he was doing great, to keep running, and to let his arms do his work. You pump your arms and your legs can't help but follow. He was running again at this point and I told him I was going back down to Amy. On my way down, people looked at my like I was nuts, which I was. Once I got back to Amy, I told her to keep her head down and to just focus on my feet and to keep her arms pumping. We kept running. But like I said, this was a 2 mile hill. It was massive. I saw my dad begin walking again. I knew we were near the top, so I charged back up the hill and repeated what I had done before. I ran with him until I could tell we were near the top. We could also hear the spectators from the spectator bus. I told him that this was it, then it was some sweet downhill and to just take off. That was the last time I saw him until the finish line.
Back to Amy. This is the second time that these people had seen me go up and down. It was actually pretty funny. I heard a few "God bless you"s. I told Amy to not waste any energy talking and that we were almost to the top. A couple of minutes later, we crested the hill and there was my mom with water to dump on us and Liz, Zane, and Kevin. It was good to see them. The hardest part was over. Liz was screaming. It was great. Just 9 miles left.
Going down into Emerald Bay is something I'll never forget. We had just killed ourselves getting to the top and to then be going down with that view was incredible. Amy and I talked quite a bit. We couldn't believe how well our 58 year old father was doing. We totally knew he was going to smoke his goal time of 5 hours. We knew this because although we had a view of at least 2 miles of road, he was nowhere to be found. We knew there was one very steep hill left, but it seemed like the worst was behind us.
Technically correct, but I had forgotten about those last few miles. As we chugged up the road that led out of Emerald Bay, we kept running. Once we came to the top at mile 20, we both were feeling good and sped up a little. The most scenic and tough parts of the course were over and we thought we had this race in the bag. We were slightly wrong. At about mile 22, that wall. That soreness. That fatigue began to set in. Amy had only decided to do the marathon about 4 weeks ago and although she is an avid runner, it's hard to fake the last miles of a marathon without the mileage under your feet. Me, I'd never run for this long before. I'm a 3 hour guy. My dogs were barking and I just wanted to get off of them. To make matters worse, we were diverted off of the main road onto the bike trail that somewhat follows the road. Except that it has a lot of little turns that bug the crap out of you when all you want to do is go straight.
We slowed down and kept going. Amy never stopped to walk. 1 mile left and we're sharing the path with tons of people. 1/2 marathoners, bikers, people out for a walk. Then we hit 26 miles. .2 to go and we can see the finish line. Nobody is talking. We just want to get done. We saw my mom. We saw my dad. We finished. 5:00:45 for Amy and 5:00:49 for me. Then, we went to the beach and just relaxed. What a great run. I think I've found my calling. Now to find a way to make it profitable.
Oh and my dad. 4:44. Amazing.