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Picture-perfect setting, turnout for Lake Tahoe Marathon

Steve Yingling

It’s only the beginning.

With postcard-blue skies and a touch of snow in the surrounding mountains, the Lake Tahoe Marathon was camera ready on Sunday.

“(This) was my 20th marathon and it was the most beautiful marathon,” said Pam Merrick of Portland, Ore. “It was great to run a marathon for fun and the scenery.”

But as impressive as Lake Tahoe’s beauty was to visitors, it couldn’t top the interest in the area’s premier running event – 1,200 entrants in the marathon, half marathon, 5K and 10K.

“We’re rolling now. The word is going to get out, the community will jump in pretty soon and will make this another Fourth of July celebration in October,” said race director Les Wright.

With arguably the most beautiful backdrop of any marathon anywhere, Wright has transformed a baby into an adult in one year’s time. After absorbing a small financial loss with 350 entrants in his inaugural marathon in 1996, Wright has already turned his new business interest into a money maker.

“The financial rewards are puny. I may make $5,000, and that’s not much for a full year’s work,” Wright said. “It’s all planting the seed and waiting for the crop to come in in three years. I’d like to make a full year’s salary on it eventually, and a lot of people need money in the community like clubs, organizations and teams.”

Wright, who operates All World Travel Agency when he isn’t marathoning, can begin to upgrade the marathon once the entry list exceeds 2,000. And once 3,000 runners is realized, he may start offering prize money and seek TV coverage.

Right now Wright could use a vacation, considering all the legwork he did during the past year. Wright frequented many other marathons across the county, gathering the best attributes from each to make his an immediate success.

“I was like a gypsy hawker out on the streets, barking out, ‘Lake Tahoe Marathon, the most beautiful in the world,'” he said. “You go to work and keep working. You get out and meet people and they spread the word.”

One acquaintance, a Japanese writer who ran Sunday’s marathon, may pay the biggest dividend. Having authored a book featuring the world’s top 100 marathons, the writer feels Wright can benefit from a Japanese influx like the Honolulu Marathon has.

“He told me this is much better than the Honolulu Marathon and if I set up a booth at the Honolulu Marathon I’ll have 25,000 here in 10 years,” Wright said.

Of course, if 25,000 marathoners ever descend on Lake Tahoe, Wright would need the U.S. Forest Service to leave town for the weekend.

“We could probably do 5,000 people at Pope Beach (the finishing area) and you’d have to keep the (finishers) moving out of there,” Wright said.

What a nice problem for Wright – too many runners.

“We might have to limit some events, too,” Wright cautioned. “What’s nice now is that it has all the events … something for the whole family.”

As for fixing what has already become popular, Wright intends to widen the finishing area at Pope Beach and alternate the starting point between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe in coming years.

Whatever changes Wright makes, the runners are certain to come back. Not one complained about the 21-degree temperature at the start.

They’re hooked and well they should be.


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