I headed into Saturday’s Cal-Neva Marathon expecting the easiest run of the three marathons I’m running in three days for the Tahoe Triple. The race might be the least difficult of the three, but it was far from easy.
I iced my legs in Lake Tahoe twice on Friday, stretched, took some ibuprofen, carb-loaded with an all-you-can-eat pancake feast at Denny’s and got a fair amount of sleep, so I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. When I got to the start line, I had a “here we go again” mentality. Running marathons is what I do. Time to do it again.
During the pre-race instructions, we were told that it would be downhill for the first seven miles and then flat for the next 12. We’d hit a hill near the finish. Fair enough, I can handle that, not that I have much of a choice.
It was chilly at the start and with an elevation of 6,830 feet, it was pretty oxygen-free, too. Sure enough, we were running downhill right away, but I didn’t have any zip in my step. I wasn’t really sore (well, maybe a touch in my hamstrings), but my speed just isn’t there right now. My stride is strong, but my turnover is weak. It’s part of being beat down from fatigue, plus I’ve taken it easy during training in September because my schedule for the month is challenging for me (one double, two ultras, one triple, five marathons starting at 6,400 feet or above, seven races total) and I just need to get through.
I couldn’t run very fast, but I had the feeling I’d just pound away consistently and finish another race without much issue. During the early downhill stretches, there were some uphill portions that were a little tough. Not ridiculous, but I saw a man who was in fifth place at the time walking up them and we were only five miles in.
There also some uphill portions between miles 7 and 19, including a pretty good climb somewhere around 15 or so. I was running in fourth place from about mile 11 on and didn’t see anybody ahead of me until about 15, when I spotted the third-place runner about a quarter-mile up. He was taking walk breaks periodically and I was gaining on him.
I finally got on his heels by about 17, but I couldn’t pass him. He was faster than me when we were running and when I’d catch him on his walk breaks, he’d start running again. I just kept chipping away and he couldn’t fight me off and we started leapfrogging each other at about mile 19. At that point, I really wanted third place and I hoped I could keep it close because I knew I could outkick him. I had no idea how fast he could kick, but I knew I’d get him if it was close.
He was a really nice guy named Ryan, from Minnesota, we chatted a bit since we were so close to each other. He passed me and I started to fade at around 22 and got about 1/4 mile ahead of me again. There was a pretty tough climb at about 23 and I started to close on him as he took walk breaks. But when we crested, there was a long downhill section and I had nothing. Normally, that’s where I’m strong. But I couldn’t go to well and it was too early to kick.
I thought I had no chance at him, but I started to go at 24.75 anyways. No sense leaving anything out there. So I kicked and started to move pretty well. That’s tough to do when you’re well above 6,000 feet! I was gaining on him and he was taking walk breaks. And I gained on him and gained on him some more.
He knew I was coming and started moving a little bit, too. I closed the gap and really thought I was going to pass him. I wasn’t exactly sure where the finish was going to be, but I was right on him. I had closed to maybe 20 yards or so and I was closing fast. And there it was. The white chalk line. We were done and I was at the finish until about one second away.
If the race was 50 yards longer, I would have had it. Oh well, I guess I had to settle for just a marathon! But it was a lot of fun racing hard at the end like that. I was pretty out of breath at the end, but I was telling him and his crew how much fun I had in that race. I have no doubts that we were each about two minutes faster than we would have been if not for the other. We really pushed each other and it sure is fun to race to the finish.
I went 3:36:12, obviously good for fourth overall. I talked to the winner, who went 2:57, and he’s a 2:30 marathoner. So that made me feel good about my efforts. I knew the Tahoe Triple would be tough because it’s three marathons in three days. But either of these two races would make for a tough weekend. I rode Sunday’s course after the race and it looks even tougher than Friday’s run. This Tahoe Triple is three brutal races in three days.
After the first two legs, I’m fourth in the overall Triple standings and that’s where I suspect I’ll end up. But there are no guarantees of anything for anybody out there. Sunday’s race will be tough, so I’ll go out there and do my best. That’s all I can do!
So, for the weekend, two down, one to go. And for the year, 45 down (and a couple of ultras), only 16 to go!
Me and Ryan after the race. Two down!
Using the lake for an ice bath after the race.