I headed into Sunday’s Lake Tahoe Marathon, the third and final leg of the Tahoe Triple, dreading the final challenge of the weekend. I don’t fear running marathons, but I don’t enjoy pain. And I knew it would be close to four hours of pain.
I had heard that the course had a reputation of tough hills and when I drove the course on Saturday, I was able to visually confirm that reputation. There were two good climbs after mile 15. One was about two miles long and gained a good 700 feet, and the other was less than a mile and probably gained 300-400 feet. Those hills are tough at sea level. Tackling those up near 7,000 feet is something else.
So, I had some apprehension heading into the race, but at this point, I just run through pain for 26 miles on a weekly basis. I expected that to be the case today. Before the race started, my hamstrings felt pretty tight. I felt fairly good aside from that, but I’m more used to fighting through quad pain so I was a bit concerned.
Mentally, I planned on taking the first four miles as a warmup and then pushing a little harder when I felt loose. My goal for the day was to break 3:45. I also had outside hopes of capturing third place in the Tahoe Triple overall for the weekend. I entered the day in fourth place, trailing third place by about 10 minutes. I felt confident that I could run well, because if nothing else, running marathons through pain and fatigue is what I do on a weekly basis nowadays. I don’t have speed, but I can edure.
So, we took off and I didn’t feel great, but I moved fairly well. At a solid effort, I was turning 7:50 miles, which is a decent pace for 6,300 feet. I settled into a groove and felt decent by about four miles in. I caught the third-place runner by about mile 6 and we chatted for a bit. I asked him what he typically runs and he’s a 3:10 runner with a 3:04 PR, so I knew I was competing with the right caliber of runners.
By mile 7, he had to let me go. He told me he was shooting for a sub-4 because he was feeling pretty beat up. He ran the Triple four years ago, so he knows how he handles the breakdowns. I figured that if I ran my race and stayed strong, I’d have a pretty good chance at third place.
The first half of the race wasn’t tremendously challenging, other than the altitude. Some rollers up and down, but we stayed fairly level in the 6,300-foot range. I hit halfway right around 1:45, which I was pretty content with. The first hill, which they call the “hill to hell” came a little after 15. I knew it was a beast, but I just told myself that I only had five miles left in the triple. It’s all downhill and flat from 20, so I just wanted to get myself to that point.
The hill was a killer and the sun started peaking out. I ran the whole thing, because once I take walk breaks, I’ll shut down mentally and convince myself that more walk breaks are okay. A little before I got to that hill, I passed the runner who was second overall in the Triple. He had 25 minutes on me, but it was a pretty good confidence boost — I knew I was running well.
Between the first and second big hill in the second half, there’s a big downhill and I took it pretty hard. I wanted to get my turnover going and keep moving as fast as I could towards the finish line. As I told several runners over the weekend, the faster you run, the sooner you’re done! My left hamstring started to get pretty tight and my right knee started to hurt. I get tendinitis flare-ups in that knee occasionally, and it didn’t surprise me to feel it after 70 miles of racing on hills in about 50 hours.
The second hill was very steep, but I told myself that once I peaked, I was done for the weekend. My legs would turn themselves for the last 10K! I got to the top, and we were right where we started the first day. I had run around the entire lake! I had a pretty good view at that point and it was kind of mind-boggling that I had run all the way around. I try to think of running a marathon as 26 one-mile laps, and I know how my body reacts as the race progresses. I try not to think about how far I’m actually running.
Anyways, the last 10K starts with a pretty steep downhill and I did all I could to move my legs as fast as possible without losing my balance. I was moving at about a 6:50 pace — the faster I run, the sooner I’m done!
I was looking like I was in pretty good shape for a sub-3:40, which would have been an amazing day in my book. Times are relative to the course, and for my ability, a sub-3:40, especially on day three, would have been pretty nice. But I hit the wall hard at mile 23. From about 21 on, I was really wanting the race to be done, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move my legs. I had been turning at about an 8:00 pace on fairly level ground and that dropped to about 10:00/mile.
I tried to take shorter strides and increase my turnover, but that barely worked. I also started to feel pretty nauseous, but there was nothing I could really do. I just needed to get the race over with. I got near the finish area and saw the finish line about 3/10 of mile ahead and did my best to kick. My 3:40 was long gone, but I had a chance at staying below 3:44. I crossed the line in 3:43:50 and was finally done! The guy who started the day in third place in the triple standings went 3:58, so I took third overall out of about 100 or so people who entered.
For the first time in a long time, I was actually very happy with my effort and output for a run, really more for the series of runs over the weekend. This wasn’t a course I could be blazing fast on, but I felt like I ran hard all three days and really pushed through and battled. By the end of this race, I was completely beat up. It’s been an exhausting month from a racing perspective and I completely ran myself into the ground. I told people before the race that I’d give it my best and I know I did that.
It’s incredibly satisfying to leave it all out there and I know that I did that. Now, I just need to find my legs within the next seven days!
46 down (plus a couple of ultras), only 15 to go! Next up, St. Charles, Mo.!
Done, done, done! I was too tired to stand for my finish-line picture. Please forgive me!
Some of us lunatic triplers before the start of the race.
Me and a friend of mine named Katie before the race. She’s an Operation Jack supporter and will probably comment on this race recap.
Me and Katie after the race.