Cal-Neva Lake Tahoe Marathon

1st place – 2h58m, 8th October 2016      /     Sand Harbor, NV to Homewood, CA

Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. So, when I heard they do a 3-day marathon weekend, I was in. I decided to do the Saturday marathon, the Cal-Neva which went across the northern side of the lake.

The Build Up

Race prep not ideal – flying into Reno at 1am on Friday morning, lack of sleep, working Friday, then a restless Friday night. The altitude and the fact the air is so dry makes your nose and throat dry out. Anyway, this was a “bonus” race for 2016 as I’ve done tons of races this year and hadn’t trained specifically for a marathon anyway. But the lake was too beautiful a setting not to do it.

So, in bed after 9pm as I had to be up at 4am for breakfast. The bust was at 5.15am (a yellow school bus) which dumped us at Sand Harbour in the cold darkness at 6am. Gloves, hat, hoodies, black sack – all trying to keep me warm. I had a base layer and light gloves for tune run – it was above 0C by 8am and would rise to 5C by 8am and hopefully 11C by the time I finished.

The start at Sand Harbor, a chilly 7am

The start at Sand Harbor, a chilly 7am

The Race

Les, the race organiser, sent us off with his shotgun (balancing his phone in the other hand). There’re were only about 50 of us racing, with many doing all 3 days, including some Spanish guys who’d won the day before. My target time was set at 3h05m – 20 min off my PB but given that 2000m altitude slows you down by about 10 mins and the fact I hadn’t trained with a marathon in mind, I wanted to be conservative.

That was the advice I’d gotten from everyone – the altitude can leave you breathless even on a small climb. Our first 1½ miles was at jogging pace together – until we got past some roadworks onto a closed road. So, I could really only “race” 40km. The road was familiar as I’d stayed along north Lake Tahoe during Thanksgiving 2014.

We ran across the north of the lake

We ran across the north of the lake

We ran on the hard shoulder for the entire race, with lots of traffic, so not ideal, but drivers were nice and the margin was ok. My watch beeped at 5km intervals and I was under my 3h05m pace, so eased off; as I decided I could push on the 2nd half if I felt good. There were 3 gradual climbs on a largely flat route, which hugged the shoreline on your left. Passing through small towns, with beaches, ski rentals, caravan parks and stunning views of the lake and forests.

Halfway at Carnelian Bay came quickly – I felt good. I was leading out on my own, passing walkers early on but nobody to push me. With no HRM (I forgot it) I figured it was sub-marathon HR, in the 150s bpm, only puffing a bit on the climbs. The sun was up but the air was still fresh – I only took gloves and hat off after 30km in Tahoe City.

I didn’t eat a lot – my brekky was ½ avocado on a bit of bread, salmon, cheese, with porridge/nuts/blueberries and a coffee. On the run, I’d a few dates and took 2 isogels in the 2nd half as I dropped my dates/nuts by mistake. My body didn’t feel weak – I felt strong and trusted what Barry Murray had shown me about ketosis and fat adaptation.

I do believe my body was operating largely on fat stores for most of the race, based on (a) my HR being sub-marathon pace, (b) my pace being consistent and (c) negative splits, running the 2nd half a bit quicker.

Running on the hard shoulder - the lake & forest views were stunning

Running on the hard shoulder – the lake & forest views were stunning

For the last 10km I upped the pace as thought a sub 3hr was on. My HR crept up as lactic acid built up. With 5km to go I was pushing. Then a state trooper blocking the closed road for the finish appeared. Hands in air, under the finish line. Wahoo! I’d won the marathon in 2h58m.

The Finish

The friendly volunteers had a great spread of fruit, chocolate, drinks, including the promised “cold beer and hot dogs”. After a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the lake, I relaxed amongst the half and full finishers. Such a nice atmosphere – everyone cheered over the line.

Then we took the yellow school buses back to base. We passed stunning views along Emerald Bay – the route for tomorrow’s marathon. Tempting me to sign up for that half marathon was a girl from San Diego, who was doing all 3 halves’. I was really considering it, but glad I decided to relax and explore on Sunday.

Great stage for a band in South Lake Tahoe

Great stage for a band in South Lake Tahoe

Recovering was great, enjoying a Cali burger and a beer in South Lake Tahoe, while sitting in the warm afternoon sun. Quite a change from less than 12 hours ago, but totally worth it. Les and his team do such a great job – everyone is so friendly and welcoming. In one of his many emails to “A+ and C- students”, as he called us, he mentioned that this is a “PW course, rather than a PB course.” Good advice in terms of setting expectations and making the vibe more collegiate and inclusive. (PW = personal worst)

The finishers medal and trophy are huge, the medal shaped like Lake Tahoe to remind us of the route. The technical t-shirt we got is really nice – a painted picture of runners on the lake. We also got a handy sports bag.

P.S. While the course was about 1km short of exact marathon distance, my 2:58 time would be higher, but I think it’s just about offset by the “go slow” for the first 2.4km which we did slowly together. I lost about 3 mins there alone, so reckon I would still have broken 3hrs. So not a “PW” – a minute insider my debut time at NYC Marathon 2011. So on that front Tahoe beats New York!

Strava activity

Nice to get a winners trophy - in the shape of the lake

Nice to get a winners trophy – in the shape of the lake

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