Saturday, September 13, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cal-Neva Marathon

Today, I ran the Cal-Neva Marathon.  This was the second race of the Tahoe Triple.  On paper, this is the easiest of the three races, but the first two times I ran it, I struggled.  The first half of the course is downhill, so you can run it fast if your legs aren’t too sore.  If you’re banged up from day one, the downhill can be uncomfortable.

The course is point-to-point, starting near Spooner Lake, running around the north end of Lake Tahoe, and finishing in Tahoe City.

Like yesterday’s race, this one was lightly supported and didn’t have many mile markers.  I used my Garmin watch, so I would know where I was on the course.  I also ran with a water bottle, since the aid stations are about four miles apart.

We started in the same parking area where we finished yesterday.  Normally this is used for watercraft inspections.

We were starting at a high elevation, so we had to descend roughly 1000 feet to get back down to lake level.  We would descend gradually over the first seven or eight miles.  After that, the course had very little net elevation change, but there were two long hills in the second half.

I once again had to get up early to catch a bus to the start.  I was expecting the weather to be just like yesterday, but it was colder in the start area.  That may have been because of the higher elevation, or it may have been because we weren’t as close to the lake.  The bus dropped us off before 6:00, and the race didn’t start until 7:00, so I had a long wait in the cold.  I was OK with my warm-up clothes, but I waited as long as possible before taking them off and checking my gear bag.  I made a last minute decision not to wear gloves.  I knew my hands would be cold, but I expected to warm up after a few miles.

Before the race started, I ran a short distance through the parking lot.  I didn’t feel any stiffness or soreness.  Sometimes on the second day of a double or triple, you feel fine until you start running.  If my legs were going to be sore, I didn’t want it to be a surprise.  They felt fine.

When the race started, we turned out of the parking area and onto Highway 28.  We immediately started running downhill.

Because we started a distance from the lake, our views in the early miles were mostly of the forest.  After a few miles, we started to get glimpses of the lake between the trees.  My hands were almost numb.  Fortunately, it warmed up quickly as we got closer to the lake.

Although we were mostly going downhill, there were a couple short uphill segments.  Going downhill, I could comfortable run between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile.  My uphill miles were between 8:30 and 9:00, and they took more effort.

Besides the trees, we also ran by rock formations like this one.

Eventually, we were alongside the lake, and had views like these.

I knew the long descent would end when we got to Sand Harbor, so I kept watching for the Sand Harbor peninsula.

After sand harbor, the road leveled off.  My pace slowed to about 8:30, but it still felt tiring.  I was feeling the effects of the elevation much more today.  My goal was to break four hours, which I had never done in this race.  I needed to average about nine minutes per mile, so anything faster than that was encouraging.

After another two miles, we had our last view of the harbor at the northeast corner of the lake.

At ten miles, we left Highway 28 and followed Lakeshore Drive through Incline Village.  For the next few miles, we wouldn’t see the lake.  Instead we were surrounded by tall pine trees and resort properties.

The half marathon finished in Incline Village.  As I passed the halfway mark, I was pleased to see that my Garmin was still tracking closely with the official distance.  I only needed to average 10 minutes per mile in the second half to break four hours.  That proved to be more difficult than I thought.

Shortly after the halfway mark, we returned to Highway 28, which we would follow all the way to Tahoe City.  As we left Incline Village, I got my first view looking south across the lake.

My fourteenth mile took about 9:30, and I didn’t feel like I was holding back.  At 14 miles, I began the first of two long hills.  It wasn’t very steep, but it was nearly a mile long.

I forgot to check my pace on that mile, but that’s just as well.  If I had been much slower than 10 minutes, I would have been concerned.  My next mile was mostly downhill, and I ran it in nine minutes.  That was reassuring.

At 16 miles, I crossed the California state line and ran past the Cal-Neva resort.  For the rest of the way to Tahoe City, I would run through small resort towns every mile or two.  The second half of the course didn’t have as many views of the lake.  The resort towns were my scenery and gave me a sense of progress toward the finish.

At 17 miles, I saw a port-o-potty and made a bathroom stop.  Although I stopped for less than a minute, my legs were stiff when I started running again.  I worked as hard as I could to regain my early pace.  Even with that effort, my next two miles were 9:45 and 9:35.  While that was fast enough, I was concerned.  There was a long tough hill later in the race, and I didn’t know how much it would slow me down.  I wanted to have a few extra minutes in the bank.

At 20 miles, I was relieved to see an aid station.  My bottle was almost empty.  After filling it, I knew I had enough water to last me to the finish, but the full bottle made me feel weighted down.

Just before 23 miles, I reached the last tough hill.  It was steep, but I didn’t think it was as long as the hill at 14 miles.  It was.  That hill took a lot out of me, but it was followed by a long steep downhill.  My next mile split was 9:57.  I had gained enough time on the downhill to make up most of what I lost on the uphill.

I now had just over 24 minutes to run 2.2 miles, assuming my Garmin was accurate.  It was still too close for comfort.  I pushed hard, and ran the next mile in nine minutes.  I was tiring, but I kept running hard.  Five minutes later, I saw the city limit sign for the Tahoe City.  I knew I didn’t have to go very far through town, so I was now confident that I had enough time.

I was looking for familiar landmarks.  At first, I didn’t see any.  I wanted to see this sign.

When I got there, I didn’t see the finish line.  I asked someone on the sidewalk where the finish was.  “She said keep going straight.  There are signs.”

I saw a sign and kept running.  After another two blocks, I saw where to turn.  I entered a parking lot and saw the finish.  It turns out the finish line had to be moved because of construction near Heritage Plaza.  Despite the extra distance, I finished in 3:56:41.  That was a course PR by nearly 30 minutes.

Within minutes of finishing, my legs felt stiff and sore.  That doesn’t bode well for tomorrow.

After eating a few post-race snacks, I looked for my gear bag.   It wasn’t there.  In my haste to check my bag within minutes of the start, I put it in the pile of bags that was getting delivered to the half marathon finish.  My bag was in Incline Village.  It was warm enough that I didn’t need it immediately, but I would need it for tomorrow.

The volunteers were very helpful.  Someone in Incline Village delivered my bag and two others to Tahoe City.  They were there before the first shuttle left.

Because it took longer for the first shuttle to fill up, and because of the longer drive back to South Lake Tahoe, I didn’t get back until two hours after I finished.  Despite the delay, I still took an ice bath in hopes of alleviating my soreness.  I’m not optimistic.

Two down.  One to go.  I expect to be slow tomorrow, but I can live with that.  I’ve already broken four hours in two of the three races, and that’s better than I expected.

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