By Erick Studenicka
Special to Nevada Momentum
ELY, Nevada – Regardless a runner’s place or time at the annual Take it to the Lake Half-Marathon Run, everyone inevitably leaves with a taste of success.
That’s due to the fact that every entrant in the 13.1-mile race gets a heaping helping of Success Summit on the rural course that runs north to south on Nevada State Route 486. The race’s namesake destination, Cave Lake, may be the ultimate goal for participants, but it is really the high point at Success Summit – elevation 8,968 feet – that literally and figuratively looms over the runners as they ascend and descend the mountain gap on the way to the welcoming finish line in Cave Lake State Park.
The Take it to the Lake Half Marathon is White Pine County’s only annually contested half-marathon race. First held in 2012, it was one of the first events organized by the Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts. The race proved popular from the start, drawing 70 runners to the inaugural contest.
After some experiments with the course in recent years, EOE president Nancy Herms finally decided on the current point to point course that starts in Duck Creek Valley at 7,415 feet of elevation, climbs to 8,968 feet at Success Summit, and then finishes at 7,292 feet of elevation on the shores of Cave Lake. (The accompanying Take it to the Lake 10-kilometer Run eschews the ascent to Success Summit; runners in that race start at the summit and enjoy the 1,600 foot descent to the finish line.)
All 13 miles of the course are on 33 miles of State Route 486’s backcountry, unpaved roads (out of 65 total miles) on the Success Summit Loop, which circles from just north of McGill, Nev., down to Cave Lake State Park and then back northwest to Ely and McGill on paved U.S. Highway 93.
Despite having to overcome the logistics of a rural point-to-point, Herms said it’s worth it. The north side of Success Summit is an oasis in the Schell Creek Mountain Range replete with stands of pine, fir, spruce and thickets of aspen that were just beginning to color up during this year’s race in late September.
“It’s just beautiful on the climb to the summit.” Herms said. “I love running through the various plant and tree communities as we climb upward.”
The name of the race is no exaggeration either – runners can really, truly “take it to the lake” just past the finish line and jump into Cave Lake if they wish. Those who do receive a special prize from race organizers. (Lifeguards are present and race organizers recommend waiting a few minutes after running before swimming to avoid stressing the body.)
Just getting to the start line can be a challenge for some, as runners gather at 6 a.m. in near-freezing temperatures at Cave Lake State Park to be transported to the start line. Most entrants are silent during the ride as they contemplate the intimidating ascent and descent in reverse, left wondering which portion of the race will prove more painful — the uphill or the downhill?
Once up and over Success Summit the easy way via motorized vehicle, the roughly 30 runners entered in this year’s half-marathon gathered at the start line in Duck Creek Valley to begin their trek back to the now-distant Cave Lake. (Over the summit to the south, another 40 runners were preparing for the 10-kilometer and one-mile kids’ run.)
After the obligatory “Get set, go!” the grassland of the valley quickly gave way to the greenery of the shrubs and bushes alongside East and Timber creeks for the runners. As we ascended, the scenery helped keep my mind off the fact that I was barely crawling along at 10 minutes per mile up to Success Summit.
Between miles 5-7, the scenery was fantastic, with each higher thicket of aspen proving to be just a little more colorful than the last. The scenery almost helped me forget that my pace up at 8,000 feet had slowed to more than 11 minutes per mile. At the seven mile mark near the summit, I was exactly 77 minutes into the race; decades ago and 8,000 feet lower, I once ran an entire half-marathon in less time. I felt firsthand the humbling grade of Success Summit.
After cresting the summit, I reminded myself there was still a lot of running to do with six miles remaining until Cave Lake. I put aside the negative thoughts of my unsuccessful pace in the first half of the race that left me in sixth place and focused on post-Success Summit success.
I did feel much better on the switchbacks down into Cave Lake State Park and started running sub-8 miles on the 1,600 foot descent. I knew no matter the pace on the downhill, it was going to hurt the next day, so there was no reason to hold back.
After moving into second place among men, I was humbled by the course once again. Herms had warned me about a short but steep hill near the campground by Cave Lake. It was short in comparison to Success Summit, but it was strategically placed within a few hundred yards of the finish line.
So, with Cave Lake and the finish line in sight — and with my legs shot and not responding to my pleas for them to work — I abashedly walked Campground Hill and relinquished second place to Jamie Cogley of Ely.
Up ahead, Burton Hilton, 39, of Ely — the White Pine County assessor — won the men’s race in 1 hour, 56 minutes, 4 seconds. Sarah Somers, 37, of Pioche, won the women’s race in 2:00:32.
Somers had driven more than 100 miles with her friend Kathi Hunt of Panaca to compete in the race. But despite the distance from her hometown, Somers said she loved the relaxed vibe of the Take it to the Lake run.
“It actually felt like a local event even though we live hours away,” Somers said. “It’s our first time running in White Pine County and it’s awesome — we usually have to travel to southern Utah or Las Vegas for running races.”
With the exception of the Fears, Tears and Beers Enduro bike race that began in 2006, there was a dearth of competitive outdoor activities in White Pine County before the EOE began the Take it to the Lake series in 2012. Today, the recreation calendar is now quite full in the region. The Fears, Tears and Beers bike race is still contested each June and is now a fundraiser for the Great Basin Trails Alliance. The alliance hosts the Race the Rails cycling race every September, when cyclists race an historic steam engine from the Northern Nevada Railway. Cyclists are shuttled uphill to the start and head mostly downhill from Ruth into Ely. The EOE also runs its annual Bristlecone Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Race in January — the longest running Nordic event contested in Nevada (first contested in 1983), and it’s presently the state’s only cross country ski race.
The next EOE event is the Jack O’Lope 5-kilometer run set for 4 p.m. Oct. 26 at Steptoe Park in Ely. For information, call 702-994-5722.