The 178-mile run winds through downtown Reno, west to Verdi, past Stampede and Boca reservoirs, through Truckee, around the rolling tree-lined hills of Lake Tahoe, down into the Carson valley, through Virginia City and back to downtown Reno. Exhausted from reading that? Sure you are. I was exhausted after running it, even though I only ran about one-twelfth of the course — about 15 miles. The adventure into the unknown was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating.
On June 4, with iPods properly secured to our arm bands and our game faces on, our team of 12 relay runners stood poised at the start line to send off our first runner with a cheer. A little less than an hour later, we all stood perched at the handoff point just five miles up the road, ready to catch the bracelet from runner one and send off runner two.
I was runner three and as we stood there poised for the handoff, the butterflies inside seemed to get a new burst of energy.
Anyone who has read my column before knows that I am no stranger to running, although on busy weeks we may be nothing more than loose acquaintances. But this was different. This was a 178-mile commitment.
As the miles rolled beneath our feet and the hours went on, it was time for my leg at Lake Tahoe — where the Hill from Hell awaited.
Go time was 8:45 p.m. As I ran along Highway 89, the twilight on Lake Tahoe shimmering to my left, I recognized an old nemesis beneath my feet. Runners in the September Lake Tahoe Marathon and Half Marathon affectionately call the climb immediately before Emerald Bay the Hill from Hell — a climb of 520 vertical feet in the space of a mile and a half.
“This can’t be it,” I thought.
The torturous hill comes early for those running the Lake Tahoe half marathon, which is what I did in September. The foe is significantly more formidable for those who are running the full marathon and encounter it halfway through their race, already exhausted from a very long run.
With daylight quickly disappearing into inky blackness, I put my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
“I conquered you once, I can do it again,” I kept thinking as I ran.
Then, the bright lights came toward me. No, it was not the arrival of a netherworld. The lights came from a little sports car driven by my in-laws. Oh man, I was so glad I hadn’t given in and they didn’t catch me walking.
They slowed down and cheered for me while my teammates waited up ahead. What a relief it was when the road dipped down into Emerald Bay where I handed the band off to the next runner.
My next leg of the run was a little after 4:30 the next morning. Bleary-eyed from a night with no sleep, I clumsily grabbed the wrist band from runner No. 2 and took off into the sunrise.
Coming down into Carson Valley, the mind was willing but the legs were weak. The butterflies basically were gone by now. I just had to push forward. A 5-mile run, when you have a van full of friends cheering you on, is hard to wuss out on, even at 4 in the morning.
Twenty hours ago, I had jumped into a race that would take me places I never dreamed I would go on foot. Was I scared? Yes. Was I drop-dead exhausted by the end of my endeavor? Oh, yes. But had I lived life to the fullest? The wide grin on my face as I ran into the checkpoint shouted a resounding yes. It was a wild ride, but it was exhilarating.
Sarah Cooper is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.