Lake Tahoe 10K

This weekend I ran the 10K event at the Lake Tahoe Marathon series.  This is by far the largest and most involved event I have run in.  With events from 5K through the 72 mile lake run, it was big and drew entries from around the globe.  For all my whining about lack of preparedness prior to this race, by Thursday it hit me:  I am SO totally prepared for this 10K.  I wasn’t going to set a land speed record, but I would be a confident middle of the pack finisher.  This enthusiasm and excitement was only fueled at the expo on Saturday when I picked up my fabulous eggplant wind shirt and meandered among the booths and other runners.  This was going to be fun!

The 10K starts at Inspiration Point overlooking beautiful Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe.  It is a beautiful and majestic landscape with about six parking spots for a few hundred runners and volunteers.  Enter the shuttle bus.  Plush pimped out shuttle buses would pick runners up at the Horizon Hotel and Casino in South Lake Tahoe and transport us to our varying races.  PERFECT!  Not only was there plenty of parking but loads of restrooms and Starbucks as far as the eye could see.

The only problem was that we had to be lined up and ready to go about three hours before our race and the Horizon is an hour and fifteen minute drive from the house.    Actually, with my level of excitement this wasn’t a problem at all.  I sprang out of bed at 4:30 in the morning READY TO RUN.  Poor Bill was perhaps not quite so excited, but dedicated supporter that he is crawled out of bed and into the car.  We arrived in plenty of time and then it happened…the 10K shuttles (and only the 10K shuttles) were delayed.  An hour.  Plenty of time to pee a few more times at flush toilets, right?  RIGHT!  Yes, I was that maddeningly excited.

Eventually, we loaded up onto the cushy buses and set out for Emerald Bay.  If you have never been to Emerald Bay, you may not know that the road from Camp Richards to Inspiration Point features hairpin turns at high elevations with steep drop offs and no guard rails.  It is a two lane road and our bus used about 2.5 lanes to navigate those turns.  Despite the fact that we frequently felt like we were dangling over the edge our very GOOD driver got us situated safely.

My view on the shuttle bus.

Even with the late drop off, I had about 90 minutes to kill.  It was too early to really start warming up and it was too cold to socialize much.  So the first two busloads of people pretty much just stood quietly, looking out at the pristine blue waters of Tahoe.  About 20 minutes later, every pit toilet and porta-potty in the vicinity had a line.  Apparently when runners can think of nothing else to do, we think of peeing.

Crowd Milling Around

After awhile more buses came and an aid station for the marathoners was erected.  The trailer to toss our bags in showed up shortly thereafter followed by even more buses.  In no time, the air was filled with idle chit chat and the sound of runners sprinting up and down the blacktop.

A view through the trees.

And then a bagpiper wandered down to the start line.

Yes.  You read that right.  A bagpiper.

It’s like they I was coming.  Of course, I called my dad waiting down at the finish line to inform him of this unusual find atop a mountain.  He jokingly asked if it was Shaun, his instructor whom we had just been in Scotland with last month.  The piper came to lead us to the 10K start line and low and behold who was it?  Shaun.  Of course.  And after the national anthem, he played us Oban style down to the start line.  I have to admit here, I did a little name dropping.  When the girls around me were tittering about how cool it was there was a bagpiper here I said, “That’s Shaun.  I was just in Scotland with him last month.  He is really cool.”  I stopped right before I could blurt out “and I ran a hill race while I was there” because you know that just would have been taking it too far.  Hey, I am a slow runner.  I have to have SOMETHING I can brag about, right?

Led by a Piper

Anyway, we were led to the start line by a bagpiper and it was immensely cool.  We counted down and the gun was fired and I didn’t flinch for the first time ever.  Nope.  I ran.  Well, I tried to run.  There was lot of traffic and despite my strategic positioning in the middle of the pack because well, I am a slower middle of the pack runner and that is where I belong, I had a lot of hopping, side stepping and passing before I was able to open up and actually run.

The first part of the course is a sharp downhill.  Read super steep.  Fortunately, I had been warned.  Kate had even given me great strategy and thus, I gently loped down the hill at a nice manageable pace.  And for the second time this month, I had no argument with myself the first mile. Far from it, in fact.  I felt great and was very comfortable.  I even snapped a couple photos while running.  The views were spectacular after all.

RUN! RUN! RUN!

When the course evened out into rolling hills after the first couple miles, I felt strong.  No significant wear and tear on my shins or knees from the steep incline.  I didn’t feel overworked or stressed and was actually still steadily moving through the pack.

I did run into a little trouble when I started waving my arms in the air like I just don’t care to a song on my iPod.  The older gentlemen who had been pacing with me slowly turned his head to look at me with an expression that clearly said, “OMG I am running with a crazy woman.”  I put my hands down just as slowly, smiled and proceeded to sing in my head.  Or so I thought because I suddenly realized I was enthusiastically saying, “When I say WOLF, you say PACK” and pointing my finger at the guy next to me (he was supposed to say PACK, duh!) I got the same look again…this time from an even older gentleman.  That’s right.  Here I am running a 10K that I felt unprepared for a week ago and now I am so comfortable and having so much fun that I am singing and dancing on the side of a mountain.

Moving through the pack with me was a really nice guy in his early to mid-thirties who seemed to have my same strategy:  keep it moving, baby.  He also didn’t seem to mind my newfound flamboyant running style.  Instead, as we found our stride he looked over, smiled, gave me the thumbs and said, “It looks like this race is just you and me!” with the same my same level of humor and enthusiasm.  His name was Mark and Marke and I became good friends.  We didn’t say a lot, except to give bear skat warnings and the ever appreciated, “You got this!” at the start of every hill.  We did prove to make a good passing team, or rather; we were very good at strategically using each other to get through small crowds.  We went our separate ways in the last mile, but he made those middle miles a lot more fun and a lot easier for me!  Thanks, Mark!

As an aside, one of the things I really enjoyed on this run was the themed aid stations.  Each aid station was meticulous decorated with lots of encouraging signage while costumed volunteers passed out hydration materials and the like.  Their enthusiasm and support was so welcome and very entertaining, particularly the middle school super heroes of Metropolis 2.0 and the Great Gatsby-esque crew at Valhalla.  Whether I took provisions or not, I made a point of thanking all of them because frankly, they just made me smile!  Between the bagpipes, views, weirded out old guys, Mark and the aid stations – I was having a good time!

Eventually, I approached the finish line.  Or rather, I approached what I thought was the finish line.  It is really a half mile long chute that makes sure you get to the finish line.  This little psych out took out more than one of us as we made our final approach.  It messed with my brain just long enough for me to realize that I actually had a lot of energy left which led to this one thought:  “Huh, maybe I should have run a little harder.”  This is also the second time in a month this thought has crossed my mind approaching the finish line.

And so I ran.  I even stretched out a little bit and passed a few people.  And then I heard my mom cheering for me.  It’s the first time she has seen me run as an adult and so I threw my shoulders back and pushed a little more.  And then I heard my dad playing the small pipes and then I zoned in on the finish line and flat out ran, being sure to flash my best, “Fat chicks rock!” grin with two thumbs up at the photographer as I blew into the chute.

Three minutes later, I was chatting it up with my family and other runners while peeling my shoes off to dash into Lake Tahoe with my awesome finisher’s medal around my neck.  I felt absolutely amazing.  I even wanted to run a few more miles.  My goal was to finish in 75 minutes.  I finished in 70, shaving 10 minutes off my previous best 10K time.  My pace was very consistent throughout the race.  And I wanted MORE.

This is where it hit me that I really am mentally and physically at the point where I am ready to seriously take on the challenge of my next running goal:  a half marathon.

Chilling in Lake Tahoe

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