By Kevin Searls
It's been several weeks since the 53rd annual Lake Tahoe Relays, but another year and another trip around Lake Tahoe for the HOKA ONE ONE Aggies.
As I was driving up to meet this year's team, my thoughts turned to all the Aggie brothers and sisters with whom I have shared the fun of being part of this race for the past 25 years.
When I first raced, it was a pretty consistent group of Ron Richardson, Matt Yeo, Jeff Townsend, Tom Cushman, and Tim Minor. Over the years the names have changed, but the tradition has lived on. As Ron, Matt and I always said, the hardest part of the Tahoe Relays is getting 7 healthy people to the starting line.
As in years past, health would be an issue as Robert Grove was injured and unable to race. Looking to defend our Mixed Masters title from last year, we needed someone to take Robert Grove's place. Long time Aggie Denis O'Halloran (age 62) stepped up to take Grove's spot. The rest of the team would be the same as last year (Noreen Searls, Erich Ackermann, Katy Manning, Mike Parrot, Dolores Bergmann, and myself). With a new race director, new start location, and all new legs of the race this year, I didn't know what to expect. The one thing I did know was that the race was still 72 miles around the Lake.
Race day: Saturday morning, 7 AM start, and a cold 40 degrees. But at least there were no snow flurries like the night before.
Coming off an injury which kept her out of the Centipede in this year's Bay to Breakers, Noreen ran a solid leg one (from South Shore to Cave Rock), and handed off to Erich Ackermann in 21st place. "Ack" volunteered to run the hardest leg of the day: a half marathon from Cave Rock up Spooner Summit and then the long down hill to Sand Harbor (7:20 pace @ 7,000').
Katy Manning took the hand-off in 17th place (after Erich managed to pick off four teams) and headed to King's Beach on her 10 mile leg. The former Cal Poly All American ran a very strong leg, keeping the HOKA ONE ONE Aggies in the lead for the Mixed Masters Division.
Denis and Katy met for the first time in the exchange zone. Despite being the eldest member of the team, Denis covered his 10 miles to Tahoe City at the fastest pace of all his teammates, running an outstanding leg at 7:18/mile pace.
Leg five went to Mike Parrott. This leg goes from Tahoe City to Meeks Bay. The day started to heat up and some tough hills are always a challenge in getting to Meeks Bay. Mike didn't disappoint and kept the team in the top 20 overall.
Dolores Bergmann was up for the challenge of racing leg six again this year. Leg six is a constant uphill leg to Emerald Bay, but not finishing at Bliss Park like in years past. She had to go down to the bottom of Emerald Bay and climb back up for the exchange on the south side. Dolores did a great job with a strong split at 7:40 pace.
I ended up with leg seven. Not my first choice, but team-wise it was the best leg for me to run: 11 miles from Emerald Bay back to South Shore. The start of leg seven is beautiful. There are incredible views of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake. As I got down to Camp Richardson, there was quite a bit of traffic from the Renaissance Fair. The day was getting hotter as my teammates gave me water so I could try to cool off. I hit South Lake Tahoe Blvd. and things got ugly. Running the first 8 miles at 7:15 pace were followed by a struggle for the final 3 miles. I think I was running above my fitness level in the beginning and paid the price in the end. Finally, I crossed the finish line to the high fives and cheers from teammates, family, and fellow Aggies.
We defended our Mixed Masters title, circling the lake in just over 9 hours, finishing in 19th place overall. Another year and another trip around the Lake!