Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places to visit/escape to. I have looked into other races there, but due to the elevation climbs I knew I would need a lot of training before attempting such a race. So when I learned of the Inaugural Rock Tahoe Half Marathon, which would primarily be a downhill course, I was in! This is a somewhat lengthy recap, but as this was an Inaugural event in an excellent vacation destination, I wanted to be sure to capture the “nitty gritty” and hopefully encourage other folks to check it out!
LEADING UP TO RACE WEEKEND
From the get-go I was impressed with how organized everything was. They had a free training plan available, and if you followed Rock Tahoe on Facebook they often posted encouraging videos and such to get you excited about the race and sent emails to keep you motivated with your training. There was also a Virtual Goody Bag you had access to ahead of time with various local coupons and discounts on things like Rock Tape and Pro Compression socks. Worth checking out, especially if you’ve never been to the area.
ARRIVAL AND EXPO, FRIDAY, JUNE 19
The host resort for the Rock Tahoe Half Marathon Weekend was the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
They had discounted room packages available for the participants both at the Hard Rock and other neighborhood hotels. We were fortunate to have free lodging at a friend’s place about 30 minutes away so I did not experience the Hotel myself, although I’ve had friends stay there and really liked it. After this year’s race day experience, I plan on staying at the Hard Rock for next year’s race, but I’ll get into that more later.
The Details ($$ = additional cost):
• Packet Pickup and Pre-Race Expo @ Hard Rock (2:00-10:00 p.m)
• Pre-Race Dinner Special @ Riva Grill ($$, but racers received 15% off)
Coming from the California Bay Area, our drive up to Tahoe took 5 hours (normally 4, but had Friday traffic). I thought it was really great that the Expo stayed open until 10pm, so I was able to work almost a full day, and still make it to the Expo that same day.
TIP: If you can afford to come in an extra day or two early, I highly recommend it. While there is much to see, and therefore the risk of spending too much time on your feet pre-race, an extra one or two days to allow yourself to acclimate to the elevation could be really helpful. I saw several folks getting intravenous fluids post-race, and I imagine the elevation played a part in that for many of them.
We arrived at the Rock Tahoe Expo shortly before 9pm, and while it was clear that some of the vendors had gone home, there were still many folks there and plenty of merchandise available for purchase. They also had remaining merchandise available for purchase at the post-race expo, very smart! For those who like to partake, Tahoe Blue Vodka was giving out samples, and Sierra Nevada Brewing had a table as well ;).
The pick-up process was quick and easy. You grabbed your bib first, which also had “hanging tickets” for your finisher’s shirt, pool party entry and free post-race beer. You also received Pool Party entrance for 1 guest.
TIP: Personally, while they seemed sturdy, I was too afraid I would lose the tickets mid race, so I detached them race morning and stashed them in my handheld, which worked great.
Next you grabbed your Swag bag (yes a real bag) which was for you to use for bag check if you liked. I did not realize that was the intended use until I was already at the race the next morning, so I did not get to make use of it. From what I observed though, it worked well. The bags were a sturdy material and had a nice “luggage tag” as well.
Inside the bag was a collectible Hard Rock Cafe Dixie cup, which both made me laugh and get excited, since I collect Hard Rock glassware (granted this wasn’t glass, but was very cool). Ideally we would have made it to the Expo earlier, and grabbed dinner after, but I was very thankful the late pick-up was an option. Once we were done we headed to the house and crashed as soon as we were able. Race morning was fast approaching.
The Rock Tahoe Half is a point-to-point course, starting at 7,045 ft and ending at 6,230 ft. It’s on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe starting about 13 miles north of Stateline. The first 10 miles are run on Hwy 50. The last 3 miles veer off onto the primarily paved portion of the Round Hill Pines trail. You briefly wind yourself back onto Hwy 50 as you come around the front of the Hard Rock Casino to the Finish Line.
RACE MORNING, SATURDAY, JUNE 20
• Shuttles departed from Hard Rock starting at 5:00AM
• 7a.m. start for walkers/joggers projecting 3-4hr finish times. (5a.m. shuttle was required)
• 8a.m. start for under 3hr runners
I had originally chosen the 7am early start since I guessed the temps would be warm in the latter hours and wanted to get ahead of the potential heat. I also knew I wouldn’t be faster than the 2:40 limit. (They actually held people back if they took the early start but were going to finish in under 2:40).My choice to do the 7am start turned out to be very fortunate, since I ended up with an injury before the race and had to walk the entire thing.
The down side to the 7am start was that we had to be on the 1st of the 3 shuttles (school-type buses), which left Hard Rock at 5AM. This meant I’d had a very late night, and was up at runDisney early!
I have to give major props to the Rock Tahoe organizers for the pre-race support! It was cold and quite a bummer having to wait 90 minutes at the starting area before the race began. However, they provided ample snacks and even brought hot coffee, which was well received!
My only race morning suggestion would be, that if they could have shifted the shuttles 30 minutes later, it would have been much nicer (but of course I don’t know all the logistics they had to deal with).
ON THE COURSE
A few months prior to the race I found myself with an obnoxious hamstring injury, and ended up getting a cortisone shot in my bum just two weeks before race day. My doctor wouldn’t let me run, and wasn’t excited about me walking the race, but gave his okay so long as I ONLY walked. Yes Sir. I promise.
So there I was on race morning, facing some awesome downhill slopes, and I was not allowed to run a step. At first the hill was steep enough that I thought the people running full speed down it were crazy. But as the course leveled out a bit it was killing me not to be able to fly down the hill with everyone else.
Thankfully, by choosing the earlier start time I found myself in excellent company. There were many folks doing a variety of run/walk intervals and folks who were solely walking. I managed to match pace with a lovely young woman from Vegas who also had her own medical situation and was strictly walking the race. She and I stuck together for about the first six miles, which really was a blessing for me. It distracted me and helped me keep my word to my doctor.
The other huge benefit to solely walking Rock Tahoe was that I was able to truly take in and absorb the beauty of my surroundings. I was even able to post some videos to Periscope without fear of launching my phone down the side of the mountain.
It had been very chilly waiting for the race to start, and I was still on the colder side the first 3-4 miles, but I had my jacket with me and was very comfortable. Had I been running, the weather would have been absolutely perfect. The tree-lined course and mountain gave ample shade for the first half of the race, and even when the sun was high in the sky, it was very rarely in your face.
Our first glimpses of the Lake were wonderful and it was exciting to watch it grow larger and larger as we descended down the highway.
The first aid station was not until just before mile 3, but after going down those first 3 miles, it was evident that there was no safe place to set up an aide station before that. From that point forward there were ample aid stops every 1.5 miles or so; 9 altogether not including the finish area! All of the aid stations had Nuun for electrolytes, water, oranges, Tahoe Trail bars, some fig newton like things and port-a-potties! The race folks also had a contest going on where the participants got to vote for their favorite aid station after the race. The winning station received a prize, or could designate a donation to charity.
Rock Tahoe was my first time doing a point-to-point race, and also my first time starting BEFORE the elite runners. This led to a very interesting dynamic mid race. We were about 1hr 25 minutes into the race when the lead runners began passing us at mile 5. You don’t need to use any math to realize these guys were FLYING. Unlike some out and back courses where seeing the Elite group pass you can be somewhat deflating, this was exhilarating! It was so impressive watching them fly past, and cheering them on! It also meant that when I finished later on, there was still plenty of people around. It wasn’t quite the normal back-of-the-pack experience where they’ve shut down most things and almost everyone has gone home.
As we continued on I did my best to just enjoy my surroundings and appreciate where I was.
My hamstring/hip did start to bother me some toward the end, but thankfully the cortisone shot definitely seemed to be helping. While I was definitely growing tired, I was pleased at how good I felt overall, especially considering the minimal level of training I had been able to do. One of the considerations in the back of my mind was the 4 hour course limit. Under normal circumstances this would have been no problem, but this was my first time solely walking 13.1 miles and I wasn’t sure if my hamstring would allow me to maintain the necessary pace.
Here are some shots from the portion of the Rock Tahoe course that left Hwy 50:
The latter portion of the Rock Tahoe Half Marathon was pretty warm and I could tell I was getting tired. This was evident when I tripped on a pothole at mile 12.4 and rolled my ankle. Ugh. Thankfully I didn’t go all the way down and finished walking with minimal pain. When I crossed the finish line at 3:47:32, it was one of my proudest race moments and one of my favorite races to date! I had maintained a steady pace, was well under the 4 hour limit, and overall felt really good.
As mentioned before the finish area still had plenty of people around, cheering you on, which was a great feeling. Once across you received your medal and turned in your ticket for your finisher’s shirt. They had some protein milk drinks available as well as water and Nuun. You could line up for a finish line photo with a nice backdrop. I made sure to stop at the Medical Tent to get ice for both my hip and my now sore ankle. Thankfully after 15 minutes of ice I was feeling pretty good. Oh I forgot to mention there was a coupon for a free beer as well, although I was too hot and thirsty to partake, there were many enjoying their post-race libation.
I loved the medal for the Rock Tahoe Half Marathon. It was a hefty medal with a Guitar spinner in the middle. The ribbon had some neat graphics as well. Definitely on par with runDisney bling, in my opinion. What do you think?
One of the best pieces of Swag was the free race photos that they posted directly to Facebook for you, including finish line and backdrop photos.
The Rock Tahoe Half Marathon was a wonderful event, especially considering it was an Inaugural one. I can’t wait to see what they do next year. I signed up for next year that same afternoon. So, who will be joining me?