Sunday, October 07, 2007

09/29/07 Tahoe Triple Day Three

There I am on the beach before Day Three's race of the Tahoe Triple. Yes, that's snow. If you've just stumbled in, haven't read previous reports, and the term "triple" sounds odd... then you should probably start with the introduction to this weekend. Then, read the reports for Day One and Day Two. Are you still awake? Alright then. Day Three.

I think my tone in the writeups for the first two days is a bit down. I keep going back and forth on these races. I really don't mind running races that are basically self-supporting. And the scenery at Lake Tahoe is spectacular (though the weather on the second day was poor, so we missed it). However, the oncoming traffic really managed to do a number on my head. Plus, The Triple was very expensive... not even factoring in travel. The races themselves cost $275. From talking to the organizers, I don't think this is a case of greed; I don't really think the week is a profit-generating venture. I assume that getting all the political entities and jurisdictions to agree on allowing the races is just a big gigantic pain. The small number of triplers means that the price has to be high to subsidize the pain. With a week of hindsight and introspection, ultimately I'm ok with what I paid.

Now, I wrote all that just to get to this: Day Three was night-and-day different from the first two days in terms of support. Day Three was the REAL Tahoe Marathon. Lots more runners, a lane of the road for runners to use, and great aid stations every two miles. I don't think I'll run The Triple again, but I would totally come back to run this marathon again. It contains three things that I love in my marathons: hills, views, and... yes... great support.

Our race started at 8:30a. 8 hours and 29 minutes before... at 12:01a, 19 hardy souls (and maybe a few more if there were DNFs; I can't tell from the results) started the 72 mile ultra. All the way around the lake. In the dark for the first seven hours. In the picture at the top of this page, I'm standing on snow and grimacing about the cold. All of that snow and some ice fell during the night as the ultra folks were doing their thing. That's hardcore!

And what's harder-core? The Super Triple. Two of those 19 folks had done the first two marathons as well. Originally, eight people were going to run the Super... but six didn't start. Two did. Both finished! Let's just skip "harder-core" and call this "hardest-core". In the snow and the ice, too.

Though I did get a nice night's sleep while these 19 people were questioning their sanity, my day started pretty early. As with the first two days, Day Three's race would be a point-to-point... this time, starting in Tahoe City on the west side of the lake. It would wind down the west side of the lake, past our Day One starting point at Emerald Bay, and end at a place called Pope Beach. So, we had a shuttle ride to the start, and the organizers utilized the scenic route for this. We went up the east side of the lake, around the top, and back down to Tahoe City. For the little group of Triple folks, this was great. We got to travel around the courses we had run the previous two days. Nice, though perhaps unintended, touch.

The ride took almost an hour, and that was plenty of time to reflect on the previous two days. But what really was going through my mind was something else entirely... the coaching we'd received at the introductory dinner: Day Three is the hardest of the three races.

Day One had started with a shotgun blast that scared the beejeezus out of me. This was missing on Day Two. But it was back for Day Three.


We were off.

Two things were immediately different about this race. First, there were tons more runners. This marathon is still a small-ish event compared to regular marathons. But compared to the first two days of The Triple, this race was huge. The other different thing was much more important and scary - we were running in slush and ice. I slipped a few times, so I slowed way down. My goal for today was simply to beat my time for the first day. I figured that even though today's race was supposed to be harder, Day One was very hard *and* I lost time that day on my little detour. But as soon as I started playing Kramer on the ice, I slowed down and my day's goal was pretty much out the window.

The first 13 miles of this race rolled. Up and down. We had some good views of the lake and lots of nice country road running through rural neighborhoods. I talked to a few people, but I honestly don't remember the first half of this race very well. I think most of the ice was gone by M8. By M12, I was running with a small group of Triplers, including a Maniac we call "Ice Burg".

The start of the half marathon was a little bit strange. They started essentially at the halfway point of our race. And they were supposed to start at the two hour mark of the full. Their start was a little bit up a different road, and they merged in with us around our M14. AND they apparently started ten minutes late. The effect on our little group of Triplers... who had hit the halfway point right at the two hour mark... was that we were overtaken by a sea of half marathoners who wanted around us.

"What happened to our little run in the country?" I asked no one in particular.

It was here that I kind of missed the novelty of a teeny tiny race. It was now a big race to the finish, and it was about to get very, very hard. M15-20 are what earns this race the "hardest of the three" status. Two hills. Up from M15 to about M17. Screaming downhill from M17 to M19. Sharp uphill to M20 and the Emerald Bay overlook where this whole thing had started on Day One. And some amazing scenery through this whole section - definitely the best of all three days (And really? All FOUR Quadzilla days. And really really? Some of the best scenery of any race anywhere).

As we trudged up the first hill, the organizers did a couple fun things for us. First, there were signs to encourage us. As we approached the top, each 100 feet of elevation gain had an associated name. This included "Purgatory" and "Heaven" (which was, of course, the top). This first hill is what separated the rest of the Triplers from me. Off they went. Ice Burg was speed walking... and he was pulling away from me and my running-in-wet-cement pace.

The second thing that the organizers did was really cool. A little caravan of vehicles pulled up next to us. From the sunroof of the first vehicle popped... the race director! He said hello to everyone and welcomed us to "the hills from hell". He took some pictures, and off he went. Behind this vehicle was a pickup. In the bed was a man and his music. A nice, professional music player (as opposed to a boombox) with big speakers. I've encountered "music stops" in many races. Sometimes these are cool... drummers, for example, are ALWAYS cool... but usually these are overrated. As runners, we're not next to a music stop long enough to listen for more than a minute. Then we're out of earshot. But pickup guy? He drove up the hill with us, just a little faster than we were running. We got to listen to his music for about 10 minutes. THAT'S COOL!

Alas, he was playing "Walk This Way"... a curious choice for runners trying to get up a hill :-). But the beat was nice, and it was kind of a funny joke without being defeatist. Besides, lots of us were basically walking anyway.

I flew down the switchbacked downhill. And then it was time for the second hill. I walked most of it. I celebrated getting to the top and M20... which meant I had circled the lake... by going to the bathroom. Weee. I'm a wild man. As I started back up, a friend caught me. We ran a little bit together.

The last 10k of the course repeated the very first 10k we had run on Day One. Mostly downhill, and quite steep for the first couple miles. I was hoping that I'd make up some time in this last section. It didn't work out that way. This was at roughly 7000 feet and I'd already run 72 miles in the last three days. No matter what I tried, it was impossible to run faster than a 9:45/mile pace. Argh. Only impossible for me, though. About M23, Maniac Brian... the only other person attempting the Quadzilla... blew by me. I really wanted to run with him, but my body had a different idea.

The last two miles took forever in brain time. The last mile in particular was strange. To get back to our hotels, this race required another shuttle after the race. This shuttle was back on the main road. The course took us down towards the beach - and so as we all pushed towards the finish, people were streaming back the other way to get to the shuttles. It was a weird dynamic.

But I finished. A friend of mine was working the finish line, but I wasn't coherent enough to talk to her.

4:27. Yuck. And at the very end, I was 27 seconds slower than Day One. While I didn't make my completely artificial goal of beating my Day One time, I was pretty darned close. Considering how I felt in the first miles of ice running, I was okay with this.

Besides, I didn't have time to be anything else. I had juuuuust enough time to find my bag, walk back up to the shuttle, ride the shuttle, change clothes, and drive back to the Reno airport to make my flight. I did those things. And I ate some cheetos.

As much as the first two days hadn't really excited me, the third day made up for it and then some.

Next up: The extremely small Gateway to the Pacific Marathon next to the nuclear power plant in Elma, Washington. The last piece of Quadzilla.

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