After a disappointing race in Boulder where I felt extremely sick on the run, I was super excited to visit and race in the Lake Tahoe area.
We flew from JFK to SFO with the last flight and drove to Tahoe, which ended up being a very long trip, with an arrival at 2am plus the 3 hour time difference. Unloading the car in the night made for a refreshing activity, the temperature being 30F / -1C. After a short night at Squaw Creek, we decide to explore the lake, 10 miles from Squaw Village. Well, they didn’t lie, the colors are magnificient. The lake is incredible, and we decide to rent a boat to explore under the shining sun.
We chill out by the pool in the afternoon after some shopping in Tahoe City, but as soon as the sun sets behing the mountain, the temperature drops very quickly…
The next day we continue exploring, this time at King’s beach and by renting kayaks. Awesome. Apart from the chilling water temperature … With envy we drive by the houses along the shore at Dollar Point.
The day before the race we run the Ironkid race family style. At this altitude of 6000 ft / 2000m, you really feel the thin air. The kids get their first medals and it is time to drop the transition bags, and drive to King’s Beach to drop the bike (this is a two transition area race, logistically painful …). Lots of traffic, make it back in time to have a drink with my friend J-B in Truckee, and start thinking hard about my race attire given the massive changes in temperature from early morning to 2pm. I decide to play it safe with full winter gear for the first bike loop. Shoe covers and all.
Race day. It is a very early start as I have to drive to T2, take shuttle to King’s Beach (45mn), before setting up in transition, where I hear that some athletes had the gear bag destroyed by bears during the night !!! I guess I was right not to leave food in my transition bag on the beach the day before … It is COLD, near 35F, and we all find shelter in the main buildind adjacent to the transition area on the beach, where we will be allowed to dry up after the swim. Unfortunately there is this inevitable moment when we have to leave the warmth of the building for the chilling morning air, and quickly I find myself testing the water temp before the gun goes off. Doable, it seems …
Off we are. Water is indeed super cold, but with the neoprene socks it is ok, apart from the hands – we feel the high altitude ; breathing is tough between the temperature and the thin air. The highlight of the two loop swim is the sunrise above the mountains. Magical. Exit in 1 hr 05 mns.
T1 lasts 10 minutes. Full gear change, three layers at the top, plus shoe covers, hat and gloves. Atmosphere is surreal, with some people almost ready to give up because they can’t warm up. The first loop on the bike will be cold, with a huge section in the shade, downhill… Anyhow, I leave T1 super warm, and expect to drop clothes quickly. First part of course along the lake is gorgeous, with a couple of tough hills, however we soon it the downhill section towards Truckee in the shade, people are freezing and I am so happy for the time lost in T1 and my bulky ridiculous outfit.
We reach this totally cowboy town of Truckee before head back towards the lake, with this huge mountain standing in the middle. Temperature rises slowly, and I hit the base of Northstar mountain, famous for its ski slopes, pretty excited. With my winter gear I sweat a lot, but keep the gear because of I know Inwill freeze during the downhill section at 50+ mph … There is this totally crazy aid station of fake cops, with “interesting” dresses, I would say on the suggestive side. Like any climb, tougher and longer than expected, but every thing ends and the downhill section is freaking dangerously fast. Back in T1 for the second loop, each hill seems steeper, and the racers of the 70.3 can smell T2 10 miles away… I throw away my jacket and get my sandwich at the special needs station. The day before I was thinking 6 hours on the bike was doable while driving the course. Well not for me today. Once I reach Truckee, my pace slows down considerably and I suffer on the second big climb. Passig near T2 for the last stretch, I feel cramps at these small steep hills the Tahoe area is full of, and as I make my turn towars T2 with 3 miles to go, I know the marathon will be long. Bike 6hr 27mn.
At Squaw Valley village, the ambiance of the 70.3 racers close to the finish and the spectators pump me up. Because I suffered disproportionately in Boulder, I suspect that I have poor altitude acclimatization capabilities, and true the run starts slowly and will only get slower. First 5 kms are done in 32mn, when I pass alongside my hotel room and dream about stopping. I get the chance to se my supporters for the first time. Next 5kms are run in 37mn, when we hit the shaded bike trail towards the lake. 42minutes for the next 5kms where my stomach hurts and I have to walk a lot. I hit the half mark in 2h43 (seriously ?) and swear to go faster on the second half, which is a long stretch back to the finishline plus a demoralizing small loop around the resort. The trail is very nice, reminds me of Mt Tremblant, this region is beautiful and I am sad not to enjoy it more. 1hr20mn later for 10km I hit the 30km mark, start pickup the pace as the sun starts disappearing behind the mountains and temp drops, I almost throw up several times and swallow my pride as I start the last section, running away from the finish line when I should turn right to cross it!
The second loop is a mix of resignation mixed with the necessity to move forward, as pure walking would even be worse psychologically. I get the chance to see my supporters a second time, this time I do not try to save seconds !
I still need to run to the bike trail, for the turn around (I definitely kissed the turn around mark) and get into the groove of finishing my 13th Ironman. The sun sets on the valley, and for the first time in my tri career I get the infamous light sticks .. won’t make it before sunset.
And one step at a time, one kilometer at a time, I reach the finish line, so energizing, so tantalizing, the reason you always come back.
Race time 13hr 13mns. What a day !
Bye Tahoe … This was the last edition of Ironman Tahoe …