Monday, October 02, 2006

The Beautiful Lake Tahoe Marathon

I had planned to do the Tahoe 72-mile Ultra this last Saturday, but wasn't able to completely shake my cold from the week before. My symptoms were all above the neck and I have been running short distances all week, but I feared an all-night run could drop that virus right into my lungs and take me out for a month (a move dumb enough for a Darwin Award, I'm sure). After conferring with my crew, we decided it was best to do this ultra another year.

(Morning at Commons Beach for the Lake Tahoe Marathon start;
click on any photo to get a full blown version on Flickr)

The gorgeous Lake Tahoe weather beckoned me to at least race another distance, and there were plenty to choose from. This was "Lake Tahoe Marathon Week", featuring a wide range of events such as kayaking, distance swimming, cycling, design-your-own triathlons, extreme golf, runs from 5k's to ultras, relays, the Tahoe Triple (3 marathons in three days), and even the XTerra National Championships. No surprise that everyone was in town for the fun! I opted for the 11th running of the Lake Tahoe Marathon, which ran from Tahoe City to South Shore down the west side of the lake.

(The Lake Tahoe Marathon draws participants from all over the world,
such as Zdenek Danko from Czechoslavakia)

The Tahoe 72-mile Ultra had started at midnight, and by the time I got to the marathon start at 7:15am, Sean Messiner had already gone by, leading the ultra by about 1.5 miles (quick math on his pace - that was 46 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes - whoa!). As we warmed up, Pam Reed, Sam Thompson, and a few others came by and started down the last 26.2 miles of their all night runs. About 400 had signed up for the marathon, and we all gathered ourselves on Commons Beach in Tahoe City to kick off the start. The elite women led off the pack at 8am (30 minutes ahead of the men, with an extra $500 bonus if they crossed the finish line first), just as the sun warmed the temperature to the optimal high-50's. We cheered on Chris, the sole crank chair participant, a few moments later.

(Race Director Les Wright poses with the elite women at the start)

Tahoe Triple racers were facing the last of three marathons in three days, and most of them looked really good as they stretched out on the grass. They recounted similar stories about the races so far - the first marathon had the biggest hills, the second marathon had the challenge of getting up the day after a marathon, and the last day was "let's just get through this". All of them were clearing having a good time.

(Tahoe Triplers Jon, Brian, and Michael head into their last day)

As the gun went off for the 8:30am start, a pack of six quickly went up front and set a blistering sub-6 minute pace. Considering we were at 5,400' feet and climbing, only elites such as Tony Torres, Johan Oosthuizen (leading the Triple with two sub-3 hour finishes already), and John Weru had a shot at keeping this pace and getting the $500 prize. I settled in around 15th or so, running about a 7 minute/mile pace. I figured I would make the most of the 9 miles of flat running, and slow down if my coughing became too much to bear.

I paced with Mike Miller (Sonora, CA), whom I had met at the AR50 earlier this year. He was running his 10th Lake Tahoe Marathon (only missing one of the 11 runnings to go to a family wedding), and had 10 "Top 25" t-shirts to prove it. In his races to date, he had six age group wins and finish times from 2:52 to 3:15, even finishing second overall one year. As we ran along the shoreline, he let me know what was ahead, and that at our pace I should be able to get a coveted "Top 25" shirt for myself. How cool would that be! But first things first - this cold bug was hanging on, so I didn't want risk getting more sick. Even if I couldn't go fast, I could enjoy the scenery along the way.

(Tunnel of trees on the course, courtesy of Martin D. at seemartinrun)

Mike and I cheered on each ultrarunner as we passed them, and began seeing a few of the 20-mile power walkers that had started earlier this morning. We stayed on pace as we alternated between the road (northbound traffic was blocked for the most part) and a bike path along a nine mile section of McKinney Bay. Locals came out to cheer us on, with more than a few brandishing their Halloween costumes. I ate a few Clif Blox every 30 minutes, and just had water at the aid stations. We hit our first section of hills at Sugar Pine Point, around mile 10.5.

(Pebbles gets a lift from power-walking Mom and Dad as we head up the hills)

The layout of the hills was perfect for warming up - slow rollers, than a small climb, then the two biggies at mile 15.8 and 18. The small climbs helped me survey my leg- and lung-readiness. We worked our way through the first set of hills and hit the halfway point in 1:30:11. We were certainly making good use of the flats!

(Mike Miller tames Purgitory)

As we tackled the first big "Hill from Hell" at Rubicon Bay, I started wheezing a bit and slowed down to a jog. Although it's just an 800' vertical foot climb, it's spread over 1.5 miles and climbs to a lung-pumping 6800' ft, which is enough to tame the "unacclimated" like me. Mike had no problem at all, and set off to hopefully win the Veteran's category (50+) and continue his streak. I slowly climbed my way up to the "heaven" aid station at the top, where hilarious volunteers danced to rock tunes and gave out water by the quart.

(One of the wild volunteers waves as I head down to Emerald Bay at mile 17)

The reward for making the climb was the most breathtaking views on the course. Miles of Lake Tahoe were within sight. As we ran down around Emerald Bay, you could see the course winding ahead (uh-oh...looks like one more big climb). We got close enough to the water to see Fanette Island, complete with the stone Tea House.

(Views of Emerald Bay and the road ahead)

I kept my comfortable pace heading around Emerald Bay, enjoying the serenity and clean mountain air. The temperature began rising into the 60's, but the lake breeze kept me cool. All in all, it was a great day to race. As I looked behind me, I could see the wave of 1/2 marathoners working their way down the hill.

(Two power walkers volunteer to get a photo next to Fanette Island)

At mile 20.5, I crested the last hill and began bombing down towards the finish. The hills are pretty steep here, and I was glad that my trail-tested quads were trained for a beating. I hadn't done a long run since Sophie was born last month, so I was pleased to see I had some energy left for the last 10k. Who knows? Perhaps it was the thought of Sophie waiting for me at the finish that kept me going!

The last few miles were a slight downhill, giving my legs a reprieve. We weaved along a bike path into Pope Beach for the final stretch. I passed Eric Herdman and his pacer who were coming in for second place for the 72-mile Ultra; they asked if I was a 72-miler, and were clearly willing to sprint it out if I was. No worries, mate - just the marathon today.

I crossed the finish line in 3:17:29, good enough for 10th place. The crowd cheered like crazy, and then I realized they all thought I was the 2nd place Ultra finisher. Oops! I guess the announcer didn't get the update. Luckily Eric was right behind me and set the record straight. Sean Messiner, who had won the ultra in 10:27 (80 minutes ahead of Eric), saw me at the finish and looked fresh enough to do another lap of Lake Tahoe.

(Tahoe 72-mile Ultra winner Sean Messiner and me at the finish)

Mike Miller had hung on to win the 50+ age group in 3:12, and came over to meet Sophie and Christi. He's such a great guy! I caught up on the rest of the race and found out that Tony Torres had bested his 2nd place finish from 2005 with a 2:42 win (and biggest cheer, thanks to his huge support group). South African Johan Oosthuizen came in at 2:46 for second, easily winning the Tahoe Triple with his world-record triple marathon time. Lisa Butler came in a few minutes behind me to win the women's marathon title.

(Christi, Sophie and me at the finish line)
I collected the mountain of shwag (wind jacket, medal, license plate frame, and Top 25 finisher t-shirt - SWEET!) and met up with the family to get some food and soak up the sun. It was very cool to have Roger (Christi's dad and my almost 72-miler crew), Christi ,and Sophie at the finish line. That's three generations of support! We drank beer (and formula) and watched as hundreds of smiling runners trickled across the finish line. It was a beautiful day to be running any distance, and I'm glad my cold didn't stop me from joining in on the fun.

(the hardware, photo courtesy of Martin D. at seemartinrun)

My thanks to Les and all the volunteers of the Lake Tahoe Marathon that made this such a great experience. I'm looking forward to trying some other events next year, and hopefully be ready for the 72-miler!

- SD

[Note to bloggers - I'm linking to Flickr for my pics for this race write up, and have "geo tagged" them with Yahoo's new feature. Blogger does weird things to my photos, so I was already looking for a better alternative. My pal Paul Levine and his team are definitely on the right track!]


  1. Nice work, Scott. Sorry we didn't have you at the 72 Mile Ultra, but we were glad you made it for the marathon!!! You're the first person we have ever heard say "I'm sick so I'm just going to do a marathon".


  2. Nice job with the marathon. The pictures are greaat. Sometimes I just wish I could stop during a race to smell the roses.

  3. Hey Scott,

    Great Job, really. I've been lurking on your blog for several months now--it's the best I've seen, really high quality stuff. I check it every morning over coffee.

    I ran my first ultra on August 4 (skyline) and I'm doing Firetrails 50M this Saturday! Just started getting a cold myself, so I found your Marathon story inspiring!

    We're neighbors by the way, so I suppose you have probably passed me a time or two up in the Mid Pen. Open Space Preserves--I train primarily at Windy Hill, Russian Ridge, Skyline, Coal Creek and Monte Bello.

    Thanks again for a very enjoyable blog.


  4. Thanks, great recap, and congrats to 10th place! Also congratulation to Sean for his win at 72 and to Van Phan for taking 2nd at Triple!

  5. Thanks for the kudos, Matt. Drop a line if you want to go running sometime! You can meet Rocky, the fastest trail running pug this side of the Mississippi. ;-)

    Olga, thanks for pointing out that Van Phan got 2nd. She's had an amazing season!


  6. Hi Scott,

    Great summary of the race! I brought my camera along on the race too, maybe some will enjoy seeing additional photos here:

  7. Great blog with good interesting informations.
    Thank you. I have bookmarked it.
    Greetz Jonathan R.

  8. Martin D -

    Great Tahoe photos! Looks like you had a fun race too. Thanks for letting me link to a few.


  9. Reading your blog makes me wantt ot get back to training for trail marathons again after a 2 year bout with road bikeitis - it's consumed my world. How I went from a fanatical trail runner to a roadie I have no idea.

    Good luck on the remaining races.


  10. Scott - by the way, I added a link to my blog for my readers. I know there are some trail runners among them.

    drop me a line sometime if you need to pick up some trail running gear - kcard AT backcountry DOT com


  11. Congrats on your great finish, especially given the upper respiratory infection, and bigger congrats on Christi--very adorable, excellent job! (okay, most of kudos to your wife...)

  12. Scott- I have never been to Tahoe but now want to go next Summer. What part of the lake would you recommend for accommodations that are close to the trail for biking and running? It looks like there are quite a few choices for areas to stay since the lake is so large. I had no idea that there was an offroad trail like that around the lake. looks awesome. thanks!

  13. Jennifer -

    It all depends on what you want to do with your "non trail" time. If you like to gamble and see shows, South Lake Tahoe is probably best. If you want something a little more small-townish, I prefer Incline Village (a bit more expensive, but great access to the Flume Trail, beaches, and far less crowded). If you need cheap, then the north shore is probably best. If you like the cabin feel, then Homewood, Sunnyside, and Tahoe City on the west side probably have the best places. No matter where you go, you can't go wrong.

    The pic is a bit deceiving on the trail. There are bike paths and dirt paths on many sections of the lake, but it doesn't go ALL the way around. There is the Tahoe Rim Trail that goes all the way around on the mountain ridges (not on the lake), which is amazing. So no matter where you stay, you can get some of both.

    Hope that helps.


  14. Thanks Scott. It does help. Incline Village will do it for us so I will look for a rental there. Really enjoying your site and the photos help me increase my list of future travel destinations!

  15. Scott, Thanks for including me in your blog. It was great running with you on a wonderful fall Tahoe day! I encourage all runners to sign up for next years event.See you soon at the next ultra.

  16. Hi my name is Kristin and I am a student at UNR. I was wondering if you would be able to help me out with my journalism paper by answering a few questions for me about tail running? Let me know at

  17. hi friends , amazing for you


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