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The Lake Tahoe Marathon: Slow down and enjoy the journey

Roseann Keegan
rkeegan@tahoedailytribune.com
Roseann Keegan / Tahoe Daily TribuneCharlie Johnson, 67, of Modesto, Calif., has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. On Sunday, he completed the Tahoe Triple - three marathons around Lake Tahoe in three days.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The sign on the side of the road said it all: “Welcome to the hill from hell.” A few turns after that, another sign welcomed us to purgatory.

I was ascending toward D.L. Bliss State Park Sunday during the Lake Tahoe Marathon. The signs made me laugh and helped my morale as my pace slowed from 8-minute to 12-minute miles and spiraled downward from there. But nothing boosted my spirits like the guy in the shiny blue-and-gold cape, pumping his arms up the hill liked he was headed into battle. That was Tony, a “Marathon Maniac,” a group of runners around the world who run up to 52 marathons per year.

I also spotted the Yolanda Holder, the “Walking Diva,” on her way to finish her 83rd marathon of the year. She’s hoping to break the Guinness World Record of most marathons run in a calendar year. The record is 100, reached by a woman from Italy in 2002. Holder was walking the Tahoe Triple – three marathons in three days, concluding with Sunday’s big event.

I first spotted Charlie Johnson on Friday as I was commuting into work. With the assistance of a walker, he was beginning the climb into Zephyr Cove during the Emerald Bay Marathon, the first event of the Tahoe Triple. The 67-year-old Modesto, Calif., resident has dystonia, which prevents him from standing up straight.

“It’s going pretty good,” Johnson said Sunday, a few minutes before the third and last marathon of the weekend.

Then there’s the kindness of strangers. A woman beside me had a friend following her by car, offering support in the way of water, food and encouragement.

“I want one of those!” I yelled, motioning to the woman’s rolling support crew.

“Can I get you anything?” her friend yelled from the driver’s seat. I didn’t, but I was touched that she offered.

The many spectators along the course helped, too. A young boy was high-fiving the runners – I was afraid his mom was going to yell, “Germs! Swine flu!” but she let him slap hands with as many people as he wanted.

The entire affair began on a high note when I stopped for coffee before boarding the bus for the starting line in Tahoe City.

“Are you doing that jog this morning? Because your whole look says ‘runner,'” said the man behind the counter, breaking into a pose with jazz hands. “I hope you win.”

I came far from winning – an hour slower than the first woman, in fact – but the Lake Tahoe Marathon isn’t a race most people run for the win. It’s a bucket-list event, one to slow down to enjoy. And if you don’t slow down, the hill from Hell with make you anyway.

A special thanks to Marco and the staff of the Hard Rock Cafe for accommodating hungry and thirsty runners for an impromptu post-event party.


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