Wednesday, October 03, 2007

09/27/07 Tahoe Triple Day One

That's me at the overlook of Emerald Bay on the west side of Lake Tahoe. It was taken about an hour before the start of Day One... so about an hour before the whole Quadzilla thing commenced. (If you haven't read the introduction to the Quadzilla, it is probably a better place to start. Go ahead. I'll wait.)

I was pretty relaxed when that picture was taken. That's really interesting considering the information (and lack thereof) we were provided the night before at the Triple dinner. The Triple's website had made it clear that having a crew would be beneficial... but except for the ride situation, it seemed doable without a crew. Which was a good thing because I didn't have one. However, at the dinner we learned a few things. Although the website had mentioned aid stations every 4-7 miles, we learned that these would be water only. No problem for me; I brought lots of Perpetuem powder and electrolyte capsules. We also learned that the first two days would be run facing traffic on open roads, and that the roads would be quite busy. AND that in some places, the shoulder we'd utilize would be about two feet wide. Yikes.

Then it came time for the organizers to explain the course. Despite the scary facts in the last paragraph, this is where things got dicey. The course was explained in terms of place names. Things like "you'll pass Zephyr Cove". This is a fine way to discuss a course with people familiar with the area and people who have run the roads before. But for the rest of us, they might as well have been talking Swahili. So I raised my hand and asked if/how the course was marked. The first chipper answer was "run next to the lake". Okey doke. Except not all of it is literally next to the lake. It was finally explained that all turns... and there weren't many... would have 1) markings on the ground, 2) a cone, 3) and a person. Keep this in mind for later. I have a huge fear of getting lost in races, and as I sat at the dinner listening to place names that didn't mean anything to me, I got nervous. Someone else asked them to clarify the locations of the water stops. I dutifully wrote these down. Keep this in mind for later as well. After all this, two previous winners gave us fun descriptions of the course's ups and downs. Sounded hard. We also learned about running through town during morning rush hour. "Watch out for people turning out in front of you; they will not see you." Defensive running! Cool.

So anyway, back to the start. I was relaxed. And given what I just wrote, I do not know why :-).

I met some new people, and I talked to a some Maniacs. Mostly I tried to pretend I wasn't cold... but it was 34 and I was cold. The moon was full and fabulous, and it looked like we'd have a blue sky day. Plus there was no wind. This made it much easier to pretend it wasn't cold.

Shortly before the start, I met up with a Maniac husband/wife team who I know from lots of races. John goes by the interesting nickname of "Coconutboy". Once upon a time, this made me want to call Sherry "Coconutgirl". More recently, I've learned that officially her nickname is "MMM", though I've never been sure whether that is supposed to be pronounced "Em em em", "Muh muh muh", "3-M", or "mmmm" (as in, "that's good!"). Ah well. Mr Coconut was doing the triple... apparently he's an old hand at this triple. Mrs Coconut would be his support crew for the first two days, and then they planned on running together for the third day's bigger marathon. Mrs MMM Coconutgirl offered to take my stuff and give me a ride after the first two races.

Thank you, Coconut Family. That was extremely nice of you. Really and for true.

About 10 minutes before the start, I was off in the trees doing God's work when the organizers started screaming at everyone to get to the starting line for the group picture. Alright then. Picture taken, I saw the race director whip out a shotgun. For some reason (altitude? lack of coffee?), it didn't process that he was going to shoot this gun. But it was time to start, and he raised the gun and BOOM.

No, really. I mean BOOM.

I was temporarily deaf, but we were off.

The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is about 72 miles. 3 marathons is 78.6 miles. This means we'd repeat 6.6ish miles during the process, and it was all right here. Around M0.4 of Day One, we encountered the M20 marker for the third day's race. Our first 6.6 miles would also ultimately be our last 6.6. Well, mostly. At about M3 after some screaming switchbacked downhill (oh won't this be fun at the end of day three!), we cut over to a bike path. And somewhere in here, we came across some arrows painted on the ground. Hmm. I remembered the instructions about arrows, cones, and a person. This only had one of the three, so I went with the old adage "when in doubt, if the bigger path is straight, go straight". I went straight. About two miles later, off to my left, I saw people running. They merged back onto the bike path... these were faster people who had once been in front of me. It was clear that they had followed the arrows. And when they saw that others had not, they were not happy. Uh oh.

Now, the first two days did not have markers every mile. Matching other aspects of this race (limited-to-no support), there were only markers every 5 miles. When I hit M5, my watch showed that I had probably run 5 miles. So I was fairly sure I had made the right call regarding the weird turn.

Around M7, we turned left onto a busier highway that went through the town section of South Lake Tahoe. This was the section we'd been warned about. It was morning rush hour and nobody was looking for runners going against traffic. Yikes. I waited at traffic lights and I dodged cars. A few runners passed me, but I didn't care.

Somewhere around M12, we turned off this road onto a smaller road that went behind all the casinos in Stateline, Nevada. By this point, I could see one person in front of me. I came to an intersection that had left-turn flour arrows on the ground and a cone. But no person. The runner in front of me had gone straight. Crap. What to do? As I stood there, two other runners (Maniacs Steve and Ed) caught me. We decided that this turn had two of the three proper indicators, and we took it even though the guy in front of us did not. About half a mile later, we encountered an aid station. We had chosen wisely! This station was manned by Maniac, many-time Triple winner, and ultrarunner extraordinaire Sean. He was the person who had described the courses' hills and today's traffic in great detail at the dinner. I asked him about the arrows I'd seen much earlier in the race. It turns out they were for the big race on Saturday. I was supposed to ignore them and go straight. I had chosen wisely there too! Wow. I was 2 for 2.

I should have known that this was tempting fate. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On I went. Somewhere between M13 and M14, the course merged back onto the highway and the big uphills started. M15-20 would roll, but would generally be up. M20 to the end was THE HILL. All up, all the way, somewhat steep, heading up to 7500 feet, and all on a teeny tiny shoulder with big trucks screaming right at us. Sounds like fun, eh? (Have I mentioned that I spent the weekend with a few Canadians?) This hill would bring us to the Spooner Summit... the end of day one and the start of day two.

These miles were brutal. I like hard races partly because I like hills. And the views of Lake Tahoe were pretty (though not nearly as nice as what we'd get on day three during the regular marathon). But the traffic was absolutely nuts, and it beat me down. I passed a few people, and a few others passed me. It was too hard to run with someone and have a conversation because of the narrow road.

Water station at M18. They told me it was M17. Whoops. Marked M20 right at a small tunnel, which was very cool to run through. Great mountain views as we started towards the summit. Great aid station at M23. I threw some trash in the person's (Maniac Barefoot Todd's) trash bucket and moved on. I'd later find out that he had this bucket because it had come flying off a Sparkletts truck at 70 mph. Nice.

By my watch, I knew I was somewhere near M26 when I encountered a highway intersection. I could tell that I was near Spooner Summit. There were no arrows, no cones, and no person. Well, hmm. To my left, about 30 yards down the road, were some random cones and a portapotty. No people down there. The runner in front of me had gone straight.

Rememeber: "when in doubt, if the bigger path is straight, go straight".

Ok. I went straight too. My luck had run out. This was wrong. As I crossed the intersection, I saw several cars turn left. No one said anything to me. Honestly, I didn't go very far. I saw the guy in front of me stop at a construction site to ask the workers something... it was clear he had a bad feeling about going straight. I ran a little more, but my watch let me know that something was wrong. I should have been done, but there was no finish. I turned around. The other runner had too. We turned at the intersection.

Sure enough, about... uh... 0.2 miles over the crest, there was a parking lot entrance and some runners milling around. This was the finish.

I had probably run 27ish miles. Grrrr. 4:27. I'll get back to that time in a second. I asked other runners how they knew to turn. Many of them said that the turn was marked (!!). A few said that they too had missed the turn. I went back out to look. No, it absolutely was NOT marked... at the highway. It *was* marked at the random cones I had seen 3o yards down the road. What the heck? I assume that most people who negotiated this turn had either done this race before OR followed the person in front of them. It just so happened that the person in front of me went straight. Whoops.

I was a little upset... though not quite as upset as it looked to others around me. My emotions were just amplified because I had been running for 4 1/2 hours. I had no real time goals for these races... but I did think that the first would probably be the fastest. I was somewhat discouraged by the 4:27, even if it would have been 4:20ish without the wrong turn. I felt beat up. It was hard to tell whether I was physically beat up from the hills and the altitude, or mentally exhausted from the traffic. Or both. Probably both. All I could think was "it's gonna be a looooong weekend", but mostly it came out as, "dammit, I missed the turn!"

Coconutboy? That man ran a 3:53! Goooo Coconutboy!

Later that day, I fell asleep in the bathtub (ooops), and I ate a lot. I was pretty stiff and kind of gimpy. I do not recommend the coffee shop at the Horizon Casino.

And did I mention that I missed a turn? Heh. Ah well, I could have missed two other turns. 2 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose.

Next up: Day two, which would turn out to be an easier day in terms of hills, but a harder day for other reasons. Stay tuned.

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