This weekend, That’s Fine Track Club, an Oakland-based running club, won a fifth-straight victory at the 54th-annual Lake Tahoe Relay, a 72-mile footrace around California’s largest alpine lake. Born from a coach whose only compliment was a gruff mumble of “that’s fine… no faster,” the That’s Fine Track Club is an association of runners who want to run fast, try hard, and have some fun. The club fielded two teams of seven runners, who each negotiated relay legs ranging from 9 to 13 miles in a clockwise lap around the lake.
Lake Tahoe Relay gives you a first-person tour of white-capped mountains framing sapphirine waters so blue you might think you’ve fallen headfirst into a Bierstadt painting. But don’t let the scenic vistas fool you: with the racecourse hovering around an altitude of 6,300 feet, the sun is glaring and the air is mercilessly thin. It can be hot, windy, and dusty. If you are not ready, Lake Tahoe Relay will eat you alive.
So here are six fine tips for surviving Lake Tahoe Relays, gleaned from five trips around the lake at 5:45 pace.
1) Take Your Race Seriously, But Like… Not Too Seriously
As the country’s oldest distance relay, Lake Tahoe Relay is a venerable tradition dating back to 1959. Numerous Olympians and professional runners from all over the world have brought their finely-tuned fitness and ripped bodies to this race.
We are not those people.
So we try not to take ourselves too seriously. We wear garish shorts, rock out on portable speakers, and toss some beer in the cooler. And don’t worry, this is in keeping with the original spirit of the event. Apparently, the first Lake Tahoe Relay was just a bunch of bros from San Jose State who got drunk on New Year’s Eve and decided to see how quickly they could run around the lake. So, there you go.
2) Rent a Van
As a non-profit event, there are not many bells and whistles at Lake Tahoe Relay, like aid stations, or water stops, or traffic-safety controls. Teams have a significant logistical burden dropping off runners, picking up runners, and making sure folks are hydrated during their leg. Our advice? Rent a van.
Sure, it might be easier to have a couple cars ferrying racers back and forth around the lake, but why make things easy? With everyone in a single sliding-door chariot, you will be together for the highs, the lows, and the new inside jokes you will inevitably develop. Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend a day crammed in close quarters with six sweaty runners?
3) Run for Your Teammates, Not Yourself
Take a moment and imagine this situation: your team car is miles up the road, waiting for you to arrive. You are alone, wheezing obscenities as you run along the lake’s hilly coastline. Actually, you are not completely alone if you account for the trucks, SUVs, and camper vans filled with oblivious weekenders whizzing past with inches to spare. As vehicular death rushes by every few seconds at 50 miles an hour, as your legs buckle beneath your heaving body, as your spirit descends into the pit of your stomach for an extended investigation of your upper intestines, you may very well think to yourself: “Hey there, self. Hope things are well. But I think we find ourselves in a deeply distressing situation. Why are we doing this again?”
At this moment, dear reader, you will be tempted, nay, you will be utterly enticed by your body to stop. It will plead for a break as it weeps lactic acid through your bloodstream. In such a moment, the mind begins to think in cosmic terms, to question one’s meager life and its place in the universe. You may wonder what is all this effort for? Why not just stop?
Yet you must not stop. You must run hard, indeed harder, because there are six other folks depending on you. You must dig deep for your friends because they dug deep for you. And girded with this circular reasoning, you will put your head down and drive on like a demon.
4) Don’t Forget to Take in the View
When you are out there grinding away in the midday heat and wondering how your friends roped you into this, you will probably forget to take in the pretty sights. So, uh, I guess, try to remember to look around? Or maybe you can look at the scenery when you are done running and retching up your breakfast? Why did we include this tip, anyway?
5) Champagne Showers for Everyone!
Whether you finish first or fifty-first, you should definitely celebrate your achievement. Running 72 miles around Lake Tahoe is no mean feat! So make sure you visit the BevMo near the finish line and pick up some sparkling wine. Pop open some champagne and spray it on your anchor leg so that she or he finishes in frothy splendor. You deserve it.
6) Wasn’t There Something About Fireball in the Title?
Oh, right. We usually save the fireball until after the race itself. But at that point, yes. Drink all the Fireball.
Photo credit: Matt Duffy, John Williams, That’s Fine Track Club