Race 3: Emerald Bay Half Marathon (Trifecta 1)

This is me in happier times the weekend before at the Half Moon Bay Half. Oh HMB, how I missed your stellar organization, traffic control and attention to detail.

Okay, it’s true. I did seriously consider mugging a guy for his pancakes. Seriously, who gets pancakes to go? Or better, who gets pancakes to go and wafts their delicious goodness towards hoards of half starved back of the pack runners making their way through the land of orange construction cones at a snail’s pace because there is yet another backhoe in our way?

This really did happen. I decided to admit to it after watching one of the marathoners dive into McDonald’s only to emerge with a Big Mac. Clearly my pancake mugging tendencies were absolutely warranted and totally acceptable. Or something.

I have to admit that of the three races, this was my least favorite. In fact, I should probably warn you that you might notice a subtle undercurrent of snark and sarcasm throughout much of this race report. If you are new, I promise that most race recaps are not at all like this. Really. This was just a really bad day.

It is possible that this is in part due to the rather disappointing and every so frustrating bib pick up expo fail on Thursday which resulted in increased paranoia over catching the pre-dawn shuttle bus. I wasn’t just paranoid because I have a natural proclivity for anxiety over such matters resulting in recurring nightmares of missing my starts because I couldn’t find the shuttle. No, my normally irrational fears were actually justified by a complete lack of direction regarding said shuttle buses. Simply put, we knew there were shuttle buses. We knew they would theoretically show up at one or two locations. Now, just exactly how we get to those locations remained top secret until around let’s say 9 PM when most of us were desperately trying to get some semblance of rest because we needed to be up at 4 AM.

If it sounds like I am whining, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am because I was equally frustrated that I drove 90 minutes where I was given a bib, had to beg for a drop bag and oh yes, could not book a spot on the reservations only Sunday shuttle because the volunteer just didn’t want to deal with us. No, I’m not exaggerating. That was the exact quote. After being shuffled around, directed, redirected and completely confused we (meaning a small group of Trifecta entrants) were told that if we wanted shirts and such, we’d have to come back 8 hours after our Friday race OR come to the Saturday expo after that race.

Unfortunately, the poor start turned out to be a fairly accurate predictor of what I not only categorize as the worst race of Race Week 2012 but quite frankly, the worst race I have ever participated in. Sad but true.

As always, I laid out all my stuff the night before. This is your last chance at seeing my pretty bib because it was pretty trashed by Sunday.

I started the morning well enough: After a fitful night of sleep wrought with nervousness, I woke up plenty early and began my pre-race routine which involved showering, getting dressed and eating not one but two whole wheat mini bagels slathered in Nutella and peanut butter. I also slammed a 20 oz sugar free Red Bull because it was 4 AM when I hit the road.

I arrived in plenty of time, but since the host hotel didn’t see fit to allow runners to use their public restrooms until after 6 AM I wandered into Harrah’s who was more than happy to accommodate me. Yeah, Harrah’s! I met up with a random group of runners in the same awkward situation as myself in the basement of the casino and we set about attempting to locate the mythical transportation center without any sort of map, direction or signage.

It turns our rag tag band of misfit runners were the first to arrive which of course only added to our mob mentality that clearly we were in the wrong place. Eventually, however, more sleepy runners made their way from Harrah’s, past the host hotel and into the empty parking lot in freezing temperatures because the transportation center’s warm heated interior is not available until some normal hour of 8 or 9. We waited then waited some more. And just as mass panic was about to ensue because of a prevailing feeling that 80+ runners had somehow shown up all at once to the absolutely wrong location a flock of yellow school buses glided into the parking lot.

We made a rather slow and fortunately uneventful drive up to Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay where we were promptly blinded by interior bus lights and dropped in the middle of the two lane road into oncoming traffic.

Again, I’m not exaggerating. You have never seen runners skitter so fast into pitch black darkness as the moment when a car crested the hill in this remote area, barreling directly at them. I peed myself a little. And then we all laughed because somehow this seemed pretty fitting.

Off the bus, out of the road and finally in the safety of the vista point we used cell phones and head lamps to light our way to various benches and perches where we could enjoy a communal sunrise. And suddenly, all the anxiety and frustration of the night before was gone. It’s just a stupid shirt. We’ll get on the Sunday shuttle. We are here to run.

How can you NOT be happy looking at this?

From here things did get better. We took some fun group photos and the awesome photography staff offered to take individual shots of us getting ready to run. There was truly an abundance of bathrooms with absolutely no lines. We event started right on time. See? It’s not all whining.

Now I know this will come as a shock to you: I am a bit of a social butterfly. I made friends quickly at the top. By the time we were queuing up and I found myself gathering with a group of similarly paced runners, busily discussing our prior adventures and our hope for the challenge that lay ahead. We laughed. We joked. And yes, we even commiserated a bit on the Misadventures of the Emerald Bay Half Marathon. So when the shotgun (literally) went off, we continued the conversation as we carefully kept to the right, widened our stance and prepared to battle a steep downhill.

One fellow in particular had inspired me with his tales of weight loss and 40 half marathons this year. He was neither obnoxious nor pretentious, but rather a wonderful spirit and dedicated runner who truly worked hard and enjoyed this. He and I became fast friends and I dubbed him Washington Keith. His first name is indeed Keith but as I had already met Arizona Keith on the shuttle, he became Washington Keith for the entire weekend. I even introduced him to other runners as Washington Keith as the weekend went on. Sorry Keith. You will always and forever be known as Washington Keith to all of us.

Anyway, Keith and I had a similar strategy and a similar pace. We also shared a similar distrust of the guy smartly giving us mile times that didn’t line up with our respective GPS watches. We may be slow, but dammit we weren’t THAT slow. I am sure you can see where this is going: Running Buddies for Life! Well, for at least the next 5-6 miles anyway.

We chatted all things running while admiring gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe and the perfect weather. I loved hearing about all his exploits at various races. He gave me some great ideas on races I want to add to the calendar. Most of all, chatting with Keith kept my mind off the nagging feeling that something was horribly wrong with my right shin. I haven’t had an issue with shin pain since I returned to running in a crappy pair of ill fitted shoes picked up in the discount aisle of the neighborhood big box store. It was a horrifying pain, the sort of pain that makes you want to immediately gnaw your leg off at the knee or at the very least walk.

I suspect WK was fully aware of my problem as he reminded me more than once to relax my stance and roll my feet. I am pretty sure this is in response to what I like to call dead foot. You know, where you are slapping your foot on the ground like it really isn’t a foot but rather some dead weight appendage you have no control over? It was that bad. I silently prayed the Running Gods for relief. I promised that I would always stretch and devote at least twenty minutes to my foam roller every day if I could just get through this.

Check out that elevation change in the first couple miles. I have actually run it before and despite my strategy, managed to almost kill myself on it.

Miraculously around mile three as the course began to gently roll as opposed to nose dive off the side off a mountain and I finally reached that magic moment where I am all warmed up and ready to play the pain dissolved and disappeared entirely. Thank you, Running Gods! Thank you. I’ll get right on that foam roller. Seriously, I will!

Soon we departed from the highway and onto a nice paved bike path which then brought us back to the highway and down to a little area we like to call the Y. Why? Because it is a funky Y shaped junction of Highways 50 and 89. It was fairly easy going and rather uneventful transition, except that the only sign of the aid station at the junction was a puddle of water and a couple discarded cups. Apparently there had once been an aid station, but now there wasn’t. Now, while I wholeheartedly recommend carrying at least something with you just in case, if there is supposed to be an aid station there should be an aid station. It proved to be particularly problematic because so many of the runners weren’t running with water at all and the next aid wasn’t on the map until mile eight. Not cool. I hugged my Camelback a little tighter and offered a few bucks to a couple fellow runners so they could run into a nearby convenience store to grab a drink.

This is where things get really ugly. You might want to stop reading now because if you thought I was a bit of a Negative Nellie or Downer Debbie, you probably aren’t going to like this.

The last six mile of this race just flat out sucked. Not my performance, mind you, but the race itself. Once on Highway 50 heading back toward the state line to the finish in the middle of South Lake Tahoe, we were firmly planted on a sidewalk. The only problem was, the sidewalks had been removed, grated and were roped off with caution tape while construction crews poured new concrete. This put us on the road where traffic has being tightly constricted by road construction, pushing the cars right onto the narrow shoulder. We found ourselves running in a brand new concrete slanted gutter for a couple miles, dodging traffic, breathing car exhaust and my favorite – getting stopped by a backhoe tearing up the sidewalk AND gutter. We did eventually get back on the path, which was a crumbling mess and clearly why it was under construction.

But then we quickly ran into a new problem… Have you ever had to stop during a race to wait for a stop light? I have! And I understand this wasn’t an issue of timing. Must faster runners than I had the same issue. You see, we were running into downtown during rush hour traffic during sidewalk AND road construction with no traffic control at all.

This is a pretty big event. This was a pretty big issue to be having.

Perhaps not as big as the next issue…

After playing the jump from the gutter to the path back to the gutter again several times, there was a small hand written sign at an intersection that pointed to the left and said, “Triple Marathoners this way.”

The only problem? This was actually the half marathon turn to the finish while the marathoners were to continue through town.

Any guesses what happened? I am happy to report that blatantly ignored the sign and made it to the finish line without incident but as I was coming in from one direction, other halfers were coming in from the opposite direction because they had continued on straight through town only to realize they had probably missed something and come back.

And here I was complaining that the course came up anywhere between 13.4-13.6 miles on GPS watches as far as the eye could see in my little band of runners. I could have run 14 miles like these folks.

Did I mention the finish line was a small sign next to a table with water and snacks? There wasn’t a clock with the time nor were official results available. We did get our medals. And we did get great free photos from the amazing photographers. I don’t need all sorts of fanfare and excitement but having my official time was actually really important to me.

Look closely…it actually shows the route you ran on the lake. LOVE THIS.

The medal was awesome though. And I beat my target time. Score! I also discovered peanut butter cups backed into a cookie crust at the Nestle Tollhouse restaurant I stopped in at to grab a bottle of chocolate milk. Heaven! That alone made the race worthwhile.

I so enjoyed that nice clean bathroom with flushing toilets at Mile 6.  It was FANTASTIC.

Official Time: 2:57:12 :: 13:32 pace (13.1 mi) – Target time: 3:00 hours, Mission accomplished!

Final conclusion on the race: Worst. Race. Ever. This is my least favorite race of all time. From bib pick up to shuttle bus schedules, lack of traffic control to the incorrect signage this race was poorly organized and therefore not a lot of fun. And lest we forget, the first aid station was gone before many of the runners made it through. Add to it five grueling miles through construction traffic breathing car exhaust and it just wasn’t fun. The only way I would run this one again is as part of the Trifecta or Triple. You know, only because I had to.

Final conclusion on my performance: I didn’t handle the start as I had planned which led to some misery for the first few miles, but once I warmed up, I felt great. I was profoundly pleased with myself for deciding to run with a fully equipped Camelback because due to a lack of aid stations and the road conditions, I would have been miserable otherwise. Go me. Most importantly, I felt strong and comfortable after the race. No injuries, no major issues.

Mileage to Date: 29.3 miles

Mileage Remaining: 26.3 miles

Next up: Nevada Half Marathon