Tahoe races boast beauty, bruising hills | SierraSun.com

Tahoe races boast beauty, bruising hills

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

With sweat stinging my eyes and another mile of leg churning left before conquering the “Hill from Hell,” I asked myself why.

Why am I putting myself through this again?

The answer came as I crested Inspiration Point and ran down the spiny ridge that separates Emerald Bay from Cascade Lake. With an impossibly blue Lake Tahoe spread before me, and the autumn sun glinting off of snow-flecked mountains in every direction, I felt like I was floating above Big Blue. My pace quickened and I remembered ” running Tahoe Marathon races are both some of the most challenging and most rewarding events I’ve ever completed.

On Saturday, I ran the half marathon. I finished the full marathon in 2005, but this year, with a 1-year-old daughter keeping me busy, I didn’t want to bite off more training than I could chew.

The choice was perfect ” just the right amount of muscle-burning hills to make me train hard.

And enough autumn beauty of quaking aspens and early snow to make the event a fond memory long after my legs forget the pain.

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Whether you run the full marathon, the half, or one of the triple or super triple events, everyone seems to agree that the “Hill from Hell” ” a near 2-mile, uphill slog to D.L. Bliss State Park on Tahoe’s West Shore ” is appropriately named.

Climbing roughly 520 feet, the hill is posted with signs that flash words like “Purgatory” and “Heaven 100 feet” that goad runners into pushing up the last few turns.

After cresting the “Hill from Hell,” runners brace for the last climb up Emerald Bay, the halfway point of the half marathon, and the beginning of a steep descent to the aspen-lined road leading to Camp Richardson and the finish.

Along the way, enthusiastic volunteers handed out water and encouragement in steady doses.

An hour and 40 minutes after beginning near Rubicon Realty on the West Shore, I limped across the finish line at Pope Beach. Spectators lining the finish cheered, and soon I was draped over a massage table getting my legs kneaded into relaxation.

The finish is always the highlight of a race, but at the Tahoe Marathon the endpoint at Pope Beach is an amazing location to sip a beer, watch the lake lap up on the beach, and feel the lactic acid drain from your legs.

I hobbled around the finish, collected a “Top 25” windbreaker and watched the hundreds of runners smile with a mixture of pride in their accomplishment and relief to finally be standing still or sitting on the beach.

As a mild breeze blew in from the expanse of Lake Tahoe and chilled my sweaty body, I smiled also. And although it’s much to early for my legs to concur, I swore to myself I’ll be back for more next fall.

David Bunker is the assistant editor at the Sierra Sun. Reach him at dbunker@sierrasun.com.