Annual DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay set for Saturday | TheUnion.com

Annual DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay set for Saturday

Bill Rozak
Tahoe Daily Tribune

LAKE TAHOE — Teams of runners will circle the basin this weekend while competing in what organizers say is the oldest distance relay race in the United States.

The annual DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay has had Olympians compete, and it's one of the few races of its kind to allow high school students to participate, which draws the best known high school team in the country: McFarland.

The predominantly Latino high school in California's central valley became a household name in 2015 when Kevin Costner starred as Jim White, the former head cross country and track coach in "McFarland, USA."

White helped guide the public school to one state championship after another.

The 54th edition of the relay race will begin at 5 a.m. Saturday, June 9, with runners starting and finishing at Lakeview Commons for the first time.

"Last year, the start/finish line was moved to the beach," said Sean Sweeney, race director. "While everyone loved the opportunity to dangle their sore feet in the water and relax, it was missing something. We wanted the race to embrace the community just as much as the lake. So, the start/finish will now be in the beating heart of South Lake Tahoe and will still showcase the splendor of the lake and give access to the beach."

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Teams of seven runners will divide and conquer the 72-mile loop, with each competitor biting off about 8 to 12 miles.

Runners will leave Lakeview Commons and head against traffic toward Stateline and Zephyr Cove before climbing to Spooner Lake and turning left on Nevada Route 28 toward Incline Village. The runners will continue through Crystal Bay and Carnelian Bay and into Tahoe City before turning left onto Emerald Bay Road / California 89 and heading back to the South Shore.

Both the Nevada and California highway patrols will assist with traffic control in keeping the approximately 500 runners as safe as possible. Runners who don't finish by 8 p.m. will be asked to leave the roads for their own safety.

New to the event this year, is a single runner ultra-marathon that covers the entire distance and teams of two splitting the distance, alternating as needed.

In 1959, a couple of runners from San Jose State College thought, "Hey, I bet you we can run around Lake Tahoe!" said Sweeney in a press release. What started out as a gag over the New Year's holiday, evolved into the race it is today.

With the help of Robert E DeCelle Sr., chairman of the American Athletic Union's (AAU) long distance running committee, the Lake Tahoe Relay was officially born in 1964. It was during that time that DeCelle saw the Lake Tahoe Relay as the perfect opportunity to run and train at altitude. He therefore sanctioned the Lake Tahoe Relay through the AAU, hoping to give potential Olympic runners a chance to get ready by training at elevation as well as have a good time. The record times set by the Olympic team in 1981 (6 hours, 16 minutes) still stands.

The name of the race was changed from the Lake Tahoe Relay in 1971 after DeCelle was killed in Vietnam.

The cost to enter the race is $100 per runner with high school teams receiving a sharp discount with the total cost at $254.

"We see the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay as our opportunity to help our youth get inspired," Sweeney said. "Heck, it was a crew of college students in the first place that helped create the oldest relay race in America. This is their chance to experience the mountains while building camaraderie with their friends. We want to give the next generation of active youth a positive outlet through running."

For teams planning on competing the following year, signing up by the end of June puts the price at $55 per runner.

Proceeds from the race will be used for helping underprivileged kids who don't have the financial means to play sports, Sweeney said in the press release.

Registration is open at http://www.laketahoerelay.com. There is no race-day registration available. The final chance to register is from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 8, at Revive Coffee and Wine, just a stone's throw away from the start/finish line.

For more information, contact Sweeney at 530-545-0509 or email runtahoe@outlook.com.

Bill Rozak is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister paper of The Union based in South Lake Tahoe.

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