Relay races are a little bit different. You get to be a spectator and a competitor in the same race. In this case, the race is a 72 mile circuit of the roads around Lake Tahoe, so much of the day is spent riding in cars and standing at the roadside studying your watch. “Are we gaining on our rivals?” Oh, and there’s some running to be done!
LMJS entered three teams: Mens 60+, Mens 50+ (featuring yours truly for the first time) and the charmingly titled “Starlets and Studmuffins” mixed team. These teams usually finish in that order, largely because the masters teams look beyond the club when recruiting. Last year, the three teams finished within a few minutes of each other after more than ten hours of running, so of course there was some lighthearted trash-talking. “Don’t forget your flashlights, guys!”.
I had leg 4 (of 7). 12.3 not-too-hilly miles. After enduring the potty-line at the handover point, I set off up the road for a warmup. I hadn’t got far when my team-mate Bud came into view. Eeek! I hurried back to the handover chute in time for him to tag me.
So what is running above 6,000ft like? A lot like sea-level, but slower. The business of breathing intruded. I experimented with a 2:1 breathing rhythm (two steps in, one out) which delivered plenty of air, but was really hard work. I ended up with a deeper version of my usual 2:2, with a forced exhale. On some of the downhills, I slipped into 3:2, which was unexpected. Giving my poor breathing muscles some relief, I suppose. It’s funny how our bodies know what to do.
Pace-wise, I was about 30 seconds slower than I would expect to be on this terrain. Some other runners reported bigger slowdowns, so my aerobic-heavy marathon training seemed to work well for this.
After running along the lake shore for about three miles, (Deep blue water, turquoise shallows) I started uphill. It was only a 200 footer, but seemed bigger somehow. File that under “Altitude effects: Hill magnification” I suppose. There are no lane closures in this race, and just here the track was a narrow bike lane next to a crash barrier. I hoped the oncoming drivers were careful, and they were. Many of them slowed down and waved, which was nice. I waved back to these total strangers.
While going downhill, I left Nevada. “Welcome to California” said the sign. “…and here’s a nice downhill for ya!”: my imagined addendum.
I had elected to carry my own water, but our team captain, Jack Z, and his wife Marie supported me anyway, meeting me every few miles with encouragement. Their “When will he get here?” calculations were based on a slower pace than my 7:46 average, so I tended to catch them on the hop. At one point, Jack rushed out of a café with a cheery wave. Some of the other support teams were giving me whoops, too.
The 12.3 miles passed quickly, thanks to these little diversions. I discovered that Bud and I had cut the 60+ team’s lead from 14 minutes down to 1. We had hopes of catching them, but injury problems cost us some time, and they beat us by 8 minutes. We did get second in the mens 50+ category, out of four teams entered. My first plaque. Our time was 10:09:22. The S&S team didn’t catch us, so the usual LMJS finishing order was preserved.
After effects: I did not run fast enough to get any muscle soreness, but it wiped me out. All I wanted to do next day was sleep. I did get some sunburn which probably exacerbated that. Oh yes, and I had to straighten out my drink bottle, which was squashed by the return to sea level.