Yakima River Canyon Marathon 2019 Race Report

I’ve had my eye on the Yakima River Canyon Marathon for 4 or 5 years. It occurs on the last Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April. Since I usually run the Race to Robie Creek in mid-April, I haven’t wanted to run a marathon shortly before it and jeopardize my Robie time.

This year I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon. I trained hard all winter and my training went very well. I started thinking about whether my training would be best directed at Boston. The Boston Marathon is a hard course to set a PR at, as I found out in my first attempt. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Since it’s a destination in an awesome area, it’s hard to rest properly and avoid touring and walking around leading up to the marathon.
  • The race itself requires walking to the buses, walking from the buses to the waiting area in Hopkinton, and walking from the waiting area to the start line.
  • Since it’s the Boston Marathon, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment and run a stupid race. Been there, done that.
  • The Boston Marathon course is somewhat challenging, with early downhill and late rolling hills.
  • The weather is completely unpredictable. Will it be 90F (2012) or 34F (2018) or somewhere in between?

I also just want to enjoy Boston and have no pressure. Because of those reasons, and some others, I decided to use my training this year to focus on running a good race at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. That would leave me with 16 days to recover and see what I can still pull off at Boston. My wife, Cyndi, also ended up signing up for the Half Marathon at Yakima.

Yakima is about a 5.5 hour drive from the Boise area. We left late morning on Friday and went straight to packet pickup at race headquarters in Selah. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon race organizers put on a full weekend event for those interested. We decided not to participate in the spaghetti feed since we had our 6 kids with us (2*$10 + 6*$5 = $50 for spaghetti) and we aren’t the most extroverted people anyways. Instead we ate a McDonald’s (kids) and Subway (adults), which is always a safe, consistent choice before a marathon. I’d been eating all day, so a 6″ was great for me along with a few fries I taxed from the kids.

We went to a nearby hotel and let the kids swim. I did a couple laps in the pool and sat in the hot tub for 20 minutes or so. I find hot tubs very relaxing before a marathon, but I try to limit my time.

My sister-in-law met us at the hotel, which was great. She took most of the kids to her room so that Cyndi and I could get some rest. I got to bed around 10pm. Success!

I woke up at 2:30am by chance and ate half of my PB Honey sandwich. Then I slept until 5am and finished it off. By 6am I was on the bus and finishing my Lemon Lime Gatorade. It was chilly, but near the starting line there was a hotel with a clubhouse that runners could hang out in. I talked to one runner on the bus ride, but I was pretty introverted otherwise. There were lots of Marathon Maniacs at the race (they were having a reunion) so I heard some stories. I think there was a guy there that had run 1400+ marathons. There were definitely a few people that had done hundreds. Crazy.

The starting line was about a quarter-half mile from where we were. This made for a nice warm-up. A lady sang the National Anthem and the gun fired around 8:05am. I wore a tank top and gloves, which I ditched after a couple miles.

Getting Started, Miles 1-5: 6:32, 6:33, 6:39, 6:37, 6:40

Why is it so hard to not go faster than target pace at the beginning of a marathon? I was looking at my watch ever few seconds and doing everything I could to SLOW DOWN. It felt so easy. I was able to keep my first mile to 6:32, which was a success. My target pace for the first half of the marathon was 6:40, but I was willing to be in the 6:30’s if I felt good.

Two fast-looking guys took the lead during the first mile, followed by a third man. Just ahead of me a group of 3 people formed, two ladies and a guy. I thought about going with them but they were definitely going faster than 6:30, so I let them go and trailed behind them.

This group continued to build a bigger lead from me, but I stayed within the boundaries I had set. Around mile 2 or 3 another guy passed me and then went passed the group after the third place guy.

The first 5 miles of the marathon are ran on country roads outside Ellensburg. We actually enter the beautiful canyon around mile 5. The rest of the race follows the Yakima River through the canyon on a 2-lane highway. The canyon is green with grass and sparse trees. It has rocks, bluffs, and hills surrounding it. There are birds of prey and pretty vistas. Traffic is pretty much closed down, except for an occasional car passing very slowly.

Meeting Steve, Miles 6-12: 6:34, 6:32, 6:36, 6:38, 6:40, 6:35, 6:41

Right at mile 6 is the first notable hill. Actually, there are two hills about 40 feet each back-to-back. The group of three ahead of me began to break up. One of the ladies fell back and another charged ahead. I took the downhill portions of the hill pretty fast, so I passed one lady and caught up to the guy.

His name was Steve and he was very friendly. We started chatting and ended up running the next 7-8 miles together. He was from Seattle and had done 40+ marathons. Even though he was 50 years old, he was keeping right up with me. It was a pleasure to talk with him. I don’t think I’ve ever hung with someone for that long in a marathon before. We talked marathons in general, Boston and Yakima in specific, and various other things.

It was nice to pass the miles with someone and not worry too much about how I was feeling. He was pushing a little harder than intended, both with the previous two ladies and with me, but it was definitely within his range. I was right where I wanted to be, running mostly in the 6:30’s, pretty close to my target of 6:40.

During this part of the race, runners will probably really notice the road curvature. The road winds back and forth along the river, but the road is also slanted, so you’re never really running on flat terrain. Fortunately there are enough curves that the angle of the road alternates between angling down to the right and angling down to the left. It didn’t bother me a ton, but I could see it aggravating knees/ankles in some runners.

Around mile 10 my quads were feeling pretty heavy, but there wasn’t much I could do about it besides plug on.

A Kiss for Cyndi and Leaving Steve, Miles 13-17: 6:37, 6:43, 7:03, 6:15, 6:41

As Steve and I approached the Half, we could see the Half Marathon runners corralled up ahead. We joked with each other about not breaking into a sprint as we got pumped up by the large, cheering crowd. I’m pretty sure most marathoners have made that mistake before.

Since we were the ~6th and 7th marathoners through, the Halfers were cheering pretty loudly and it was fun. They were going to start their race in 3 or 4 minutes. Cyndi, who was waiting to start the Half Marathon, separated from the crowd to give me a high five. I stopped and gave her a quick kiss, which led to an “Awwwww” from the crowd. It was fun to see her and wish her luck for her race.

At mile 14 things got serious again. We could see the first big hill ahead: a 140ft climb over a half mile. We started plugging up the hill. It isn’t terribly steep, so my pace didn’t go much above 7:30 for any part of the hill. I started to separate from Steve during the climb, and I knew I’d take the downhill pretty fast. I wished him luck as we approached the top.

As I sped back down towards the level of the river, I noticed the lady ahead of me was slowing a bit. Steve had said that she told him she’d be happy with a 3 hour marathon, so it was likely that she was going too fast to maintain. I caught her around mile 16 or 17. She was still going pretty strong and would end up getting 1st Female.

I was feeling good at this point. There were no major alarms going off. I was trying to keep the pace in the 6:30’s.

Last Stretch Before the Final Hill, Miles 18-21: 6:15, 6:35, 6:38, 6:43

A few miles back, I had also seen the 4th place guy seeming to slow down. I felt like if I had a strong race I’d be able to catch him in the last few miles. Sure enough, I closed on him around mile 18 as he began to fade a bit.

There happen to be some tiny rolling hills in this section of the marathon. Most of them go by unnoticed. I realized this when I myself really pushing to maintain a 6:40 pace in miles 19-21. It didn’t seem like my legs were that tired yet. I determined that it was a combination of some slight uphill portions and a steady headwind that we had encountered throughout the race depending on which way the road curves were headed. I really wish it had been a tailwind. Fortunately it was pretty light. Maybe 5-8mph at its strongest.

I was saving a little energy for the last hill while still trying to keep my pace.

A few fast half-marathoners passed me. It was nice to have some of them to keep me distracted.

The Bigger Hill, Miles 22-26.2: 6:49, 7:33, 6:08, 6:25, 6:10, 5:56 pace

Finally during mile 22 I could see the big hill. It was definitely long and steady. It rose about 275 feet over a little more than a mile. I dug into the hill the best I could. I was past the spot I’d normally hit the Wall, so my confidence grew as I ran up the hill.

The nice thing about a hill at this stage of a marathon, is that it gives your legs something different to deal with. To some degree I appreciated this change of slope.

But even more, I appreciated the downhill! The final downhill is long and fairly steep. I went fast and tried to make up for the slow uphill.

After a half mile of downhill I felt my right hamstring start to tighten into a cramp. I slowed down in time to keep it at bay, although I was a little annoyed. I was sure to grab some PowerAde at the next station to get all the fluid and electrolytes I could.

I continued charging down the hill and I was able to maintain a fast past for the last flat portion leading into Yakima. I couldn’t believe how much energy I had going into the finish. It was by far my best marathon finish ever.

I ended with a time of ~2:53:55. This was my second best marathon finish ever, and my best on a course without significant downhill (my PR was at the Big Cottonwood Marathon). I was very pleased with my time; I beat my primary goal by about 1 minute.

I celebrated with the other runners as they came in — especially Steve. He ended up around 3:05 and the 1st lady was close behind him.

Cyndi finished the half marathon in about 2:05, which was great for her coming off her 6th childbirth in July.

After cleaning up we got some KFC (hard to beat after a marathon) and went to a park with the kids for a while. The weather was great in Yakima, which polished off a good day before driving home.

I would highly recommend the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. The organization is good, the scenery is excellent, and the course is fast.

Now it’s on to the Boston Marathon in 16 days. In the meantime, recover recover recover recover recover…

Zeitgeist Half Marathon 2018 – 2nd Overall

Today I ran the Zeitgeist Half Marathon for my 7th time. It’s a great race and I enjoy running it just about every year.

This year I was joined by Cyndi, my father-in-law Jerry, my sister-in-law Kara, and our friend Joe. Cyndi ran with me last year when she was 4 weeks pregnant. We had our baby in July and Cyndi was able to run again this year just 3.5 months later. She’s pretty amazing.

I wanted to continue my trend of Zeitgeist course PR’s this year, but I wasn’t sure if it was plausible since I ran in the SoJo Marathon two weeks ago. During the two intervening weeks I did my best to recover and maintain some speed, but my legs had felt tired ever since the marathon. The time for me to beat was 1:22:54 from last year.

We arrived at about 9:15 for packet pickup. We picked up our numbers and I was happy to see that I got #1 again (probably because I got 2nd last year and 1st place wasn’t running again). It was chilly, but as the starting time drew near it warmed up. I ended up running in a tank top in weather that was ideal. We started right at 10am.

They gave me an awesome bib

I went out at ~5:50 pace and held a little under 6:00 for the first mile. There was one high school runner with me for part of it, but I didn’t think he would hang on for very long.

After mile 1, another young looking runner caught me and passed me. He was another high school runner from Mtn Home. He and I ran together for a mile when another runner, Andrew, caught up to us. Those two charged ahead and beat me to the top of the first hill at mile 3.1. I didn’t want to burn out on hill.

I sped up on the downhill and tried to push hard. I passed Andrew and then the MHHS runner and built a small lead as we headed through the flat portion in Hidden Springs. I tried to keep the speed up even on the flat portion and I was hitting about 6:00/mile, which was about my target pace for that portion.

However, once we started up the little hill after mile 5, Andrew and MHHS runner passed me again. Evidently I just didn’t have the power for the hills like these guys. I hoped they would burn out later on in the race.

Unfortunately they extended their lead to about 1 minute by the time we reached the top of the big hill. On the way up the hill I sneaked a few peaks to ensure that I didn’t have any runners coming up behind. I didn’t see anyone and I was feeling good enough that I figured I was in contention at least for a top three finish.

Part of my plan to PR was to really attack the downhill, so once again I kept the effort up on the downhill to keep on PR pace and to try to close the gap with the two guys ahead of me. Due to the curves and the 1 minute lead, it was a couple minutes before I saw them. Eventually I could see that Andrew was extending his lead and I was gaining on MHHS ever so slightly.

My first mile down the hill was at a 5:32 pace, and my next two were sub-6:00. I was very happy with that. The last downhill portion is 3 miles long. At mile 10 I estimated my finish time to be ~1:25, which was a little disappointing. I didn’t think I was that far off my PR time. But a mile later I realized that I was estimating my finish based on 7:00 miles (close to my marathon pace) instead of ~6:15 miles (my half marathon pace). I realized that a PR was possible.

The course levels out at mile 11, but I was committed to a strong finish and a better place than 3rd if I could manage it. I was hurting but I ran the 12th and 13th mile at a 6:08 pace. I passed the MHHS runner when he paused for a drink at the last aid station. He sped up and caught back up to me but I could tell he was slowing down again. I put everything into trying to get a gap between us as I was worried he’d bury me in the last tiny but steep hill at mile 13. When I got to the hill I charged up and got light-headed. I then charged down into the finish (still light-headed) and ended up beating him by 40 seconds.

I was very happy with my last 5 miles and with a course PR of 1:21:45, beating my next best time by 1:08. That was the strongest finish I’ve had at Zeitgeist, thanks largely to the MHHS competitor to push me. 1st place finished about 2 minutes ahead of me. He had an impressive last few miles.

After chatting with some of the other finishers for 10-15 minutes, I doubled back on the course and did a cool-down to find my family. They all did well. Cyndi ran the whole course (no walking on the hills) which was her goal, and quite a feat given our 3.5 month baby.

Jerry got #1 for his age group, 70+. He was happy about that. I hope that I can still run when I’m 70+! He also beat Cyndi, which might be the last time that ever happens.

At first I was a little disappointed that I had only gotten second. Part of that was that I was in first for part of the race and I thought I could break away, but then I got passed. However, I quickly became really happy with my performance. Last year (2017), I PR’d in every distance I ran, from the 5K to the marathon. This year I haven’t had a single PR, and I didn’t get a course PR at my other perennial run, Robie Creek. This race was a course PR which means that maybe I have improved a little over last year and all my hard work wasn’t for naught. Also, I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost the Eye of the Tiger, and my strong finish was something I could be proud of because it took some guts.

One fun thing about doing a course year after year, is that you can put together a table like this:

Year Time (pace) Place Notes
2011 1:45:44 (8:04) 126 My first Zeitgeist
2013 1:39:56 (7:37) 35 A month after my first marathon in 4 years
2014 1:35:09 (7:15) 18
2015 1:28:44 (6:46) 8 Had some calf issues
2016 1:25:19 (6:30) 1 My best 1st place finish ever
2017 1:22:54 (6:19) 2 Faster time but worse place 🙁
2018 1:21:45 (6:12) 2 Course PR; marathon 2 weeks earlier

It’s awesome to be able to look back and see the progress I’ve made after countless hours of running and many early mornings. I’m worried I’m plateauing, and until this race I thought maybe I had already peaked, but hopefully I can stave it off for another year or two and eek out a little more improvement.

Post race photo of me, Cyndi, and our newest addition

SoJo Marathon 2018

My wife and I had a baby over the summer so I didn’t sign up for any fall marathons due to schedule uncertainty. I kept up my training for the most part and stayed in good shape and injury free. As fall approached, I wanted to run a marathon to get another finish in the bag and test my fitness.

I settled on the SoJo Marathon, located in South Jordan, Utah on October 20th. This would be a 5+ hour drive from my Idahome, but Idaho has slim pickings when it comes to marathons.

The SoJo Marathon course looks pretty decent on a map, although I think it turned out to be more challenging than I expected. It starts at 5500 ft, then drops to ~5130 by mile 3, only to climb back up to 5500 by ~mile 6. Then there’s a bunch of downhill dropping all the way down to 4300 ft by the finish line, with an occasional roller mixed in.

Packet pickup was available the evening before and the morning of the marathon, which was nice for those coming into South Jordan from out of town. There is also a half marathon, 5K, and kids run.

I caught one of the buses on marathon morning to the starting line. The start was pretty laid back — located in a neighborhood next to a park. They had a couple heaters going in the ~40F weather. I was bundled up and feeling pretty well. I hoped for 2:55:00ish.

My cousin happened to be doing this marathon, so I found her and we chatted for a while. This was her first.

SoJo Marathon Miles 1-4: 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 7:11

The SoJo Marathon started at 6:45. I took it easy on the first little uphill and tried to run loose on the downhill. It was steep enough that I focused on not restraining myself but also tried not to get caught up in the early race adrenaline. My initial miles were in the 6:30’s. I slowed down for mile 4 since I knew a hill was coming up.

I had the unique experience of thinking I had just started mile 2 and then looking at my watch and seeing I was past mile 3. That’s never happened before.

I met a nice guy named Josh Hernandez who was shooting for ~2:50. He was wearing a Boston shirt. We ran together for a mile or so and eventually he pulled ahead. I met another guy named Jon Harrison shortly after. He was shooting for a time similar to mine. He said he was mostly a trail runner and did Ultras.

SoJo Marathon Miles 5-7: 7:07, 7:53, 6:52

The hill was pretty large, although it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. We had a headwind which I didn’t appreciate. I slowed down to almost an 8:00 pace for mile 6. I didn’t want to burn out early in the race. At mile 7 I believe my average pace was around 7:00/mile, which seemed about right. Josh and Jon both pulled ahead of me.

SoJo Marathon Miles 8-11: 6:15, 6:32, 6:26, 6:48

Then the downhill really started. It was really steep at first and I took advantage of it. I passed Jon back up on the steep part. Then it was a gradual downhill which was pleasant to run in. I saw some deer which is always nice during a race.

Through mile 10 we were in the outskirts of the city. Right at mile 10 the SoJo Marathon took a left turn and started a series of turns on big roads in the city. Mile 10 was the most poorly marked turn, but the course was well marked in general.

SoJo Miles 12-16: 6:45, 6:44, 6:50, 7:03, 6:36

Now the SoJo Marathon course settled down and was pretty flat. The big, long roads were somewhat monotonous, but I was feeling pretty good and staying positive. It was nice to pass half way, and I did so in about 1:29:30. This was a little disappointing as I wasn’t feeling that a negative split would be very feasible. My plan had been to be somewhat conservative for the first half and then see what I could do the second half. I didn’t feel like I had been overly conservative.

Josh was now out of sight and I figured he was on his way to low 2:50’s. Mile 16 had a decent drop which I utilized to run a 6:36.

SoJo Miles 17-22: 7:16, 6:45, 6:56, 7:21, 6:59, 6:56

During mile 17 we passed the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. It’s situated right on a hill, which meant we also got to go up a steep hill. I passed a marathoner right at the bottom of the hill who struggling. At the start he said he was going for 2:50, but I think this was his first marathon and he was a little unprepared. Oops. Been there, done that.

The ~75 foot hill was a challenge, but at least we got to run down it as well. However, on the way down my legs weren’t quite moving like I wanted them to. Thus began a slow slide into the wall. There was a very gradual hill during mile 20 which again slowed me down, and around this time another runner passed me. I ran with him for a bit and it was nice to talk to someone at least. But I was dragging more and more and I told him to not let me slow him down.

SoJo Miles 23-26.2: 7:08, 7:15, 7:40, 8:04, (7:44)

Luckily there was more downhill during miles 23 and 24 because I was starting to hurt. I was definitely hitting the wall and watching my shot at even a sub 3:00 slip away. It was disappointing, but there wasn’t a lot I could do.

At mile 25 we entered a running path. I was passed by a few more runners, including the top female with about a mile to go. I held on pretty well but I was really looking forward to the finish line when it finally came.

Is there anything more relieving than crossing the finish line of a marathon? It felt so good to stop running. Official time was 3:02:59, which earned me 11th place.

Post Race Thoughts

I was pretty disappointed with my time. I really thought I was capable of 2:55, and that I had a shot at 2:50. I’m not sure what went wrong. Sleep was good, nutrition was ok, training was good. I think I may have underestimated the course difficulty. Josh and Jon both ended up finishing just a minute or two ahead of me.

I think my time will be good enough for Boston 2020, but it might be right on the edge, so I can’t depend on it (I’m not sure I’ll want to run it anyways). I still did get another marathon under my belt and it’s always a good experience to run it and finish, even if it’s not what I hoped.

The SoJo Marathon organization was good. The first half of the course had some great views, including sunrise over the city. The second half was nothing to get excited about. I think the only reason I’d run it in the future is if the timing is just right. That said, I’m still glad I ran it. It was my 21st lifetime marathon/50k and my second this year.

Next stop: Boston 2019.

Hood to Coast Relay 2018

Before this year, my father-in-law had run in the Hood to Coast Relay 19 times. His birthday is in late August, which is right around the time Hood to Coast takes place. So this year he put together a family team for his 70th birthday and 20th Hood to Coast. I got to run Leg 5 and I had a great time!

Hood to Coast is a 199 mile relay that begins at the base of Mt Hood and ends in Seaside, OR. It starts with some steep downhill on a highway in the forest, continues through some smaller towns amidst farmland, then into Portland, along the Columbia River, through windy forest roads, and finally onto the finish line at the beach.

Hood to Coast is truly the “mother of all relays”. It boasts 1200 teams, and triple that many team applications. It has some elite teams sponsored by Nike and others that finish at just over 5:00/mile pace. Hood to Coast is the relay that inspired the creators of the Ragnar relays.

Our kids had already started school before the race, so we waited until Thursday after school to head from Idaho to the Portland area to meet up with family. The drive went pretty well and we pulled into town around 11pm, so we basically went right to bed.

The next morning we woke up and I hopped in with Van 1 to head to Mt. Hood. It was quite chilly and breezy at the base of Mt. Hood, but it was a fun atmosphere. This was my 4th big road relay, but it was my first time in Van 1. It was great to be there at the start as we started our journey across a large chunk of Oregon. My father-in-law, Jerry, ran Leg 1.

Photo op at the starting area at the base of Mt Hood

Jerry handed off to Cyndi for Leg 2.

Jerry passing to Cyndi

The first few legs of Hood to Coast are pretty steep downhill. However, I was running Leg 5 which had a decent amount of uphill to it. I was targeting a ~6:30 pace for the whole race, so I figured I might take it easy on my first leg. I ended up feeling pretty good and hitting a 6:23 pace. All three of our volunteers were on my leg, so that was pretty fun. Two of them were handing out water and the third was at Exchange 5. Overall it was a nice first leg.

I handed off to Monte, who was 2-3 minutes late to the exchange thanks to a long line of traffic. I promptly drank my first chocolate milk, which I now believe is the secret to keeping my stomach calm during a relay.

We met up with Van 2 at Exchange 6. They were excited to be starting their first legs. We had some spectators who met us there as well. Also, we substituted a few runners in and out. Since it was Jerry’s 70th birthday, he wanted to give a some of his 34 (?) grandkids an opportunity to run, and they couldn’t all handle three legs. Also, Cyndi had just delivered a baby ~7 weeks earlier, so she only ran one leg. This isn’t exactly up to regulation, but we weren’t exactly a competitive team.

All the team and spectators at Exchange 6

Van 1 stopped for a while at a nearby Wendy’s and we met up with our volunteers there. My daughter, Paisley, was now in the van in Cyndi’s place, and we each had a baked potato. That was probably the nicest meal I’ve ever had during a road relay. After relaxing for a while, we endured rush hour traffic through Portland to get to Exchange 12.

Paisley would be running Leg 13, but since it’s on the river front (with a river front type of crowd mulling around) and it would be getting dark, I ran with her for her 4+ miles. It was a nice and easy pace, so it felt pretty good. She was super nervous to take the hand off in front of the big Exchange 12 crowd under the overpass.

Paisley getting ready to take the hand off
Paisley nervously awaiting the hand off before Leg 13

She had a nice finish and was really excited to be part of the relay team.

I gobbled a Kind bar and a breakfast bar to refuel before my next run.

Jerry ran Leg 14, then Tyrel ran Leg 15, then Christy ran leg 16. The Hood to Coast traffic was starting to back up considerably at some of the exchanges. We had to wait a long time before Christy could get out of the van to meet Tyrel.

It was back to me for Leg 17. While I was waiting in line at the Honey Bucket, I had a nice conversation with a Marathon Maniac. He said he was getting too old to run, and he had lost count of how many marathons he’d done.

I was a little nervous for my third run in the last 12 or hours. It would be my longest, and I wasn’t sure how fast I’d be able to go. Fortunately it was a nice temperature with little wind and I ended up feeling just fine. I went faster than expected — hitting 6:10/mile (excluding the annoying 37 second stop I had to make at a crosswalk right before the end).

At this point I really wanted to take a shower, and there was one at this exchange, but we had to move to Exchange 18. It annoyed me that all the showers were basically unavailable to the 5th and 6th runner in Van 1.

I don’t remember Exchange 18 very well, except that Van 2 complained that we had kept them awake by texting at each of our exchanges. I asked them if they were familiar with “airplane mode” and I also reminded them that at Exchange 6 they had complained that we didn’t give them enough information. It was pretty funny to me, although I do feel bad they didn’t get to sleep as much as expected.

We made the drive to exchange 24. When we got there we were all very tired. It was foggy and dark and this would be our one chance to sleep. We had planned on having a big tent set up, but there was a miscommunication and it didn’t work out. I ended up just placing a tarp on the ground and rolling out my pad and sleeping bag on top of it. None of the other people in my car came with me, so I just set my alarm to make sure I could find them before it was time to go. There was some risk of getting lost in this huge, dark exchange.

I was able to get a couple hours of decent and much needed sleep when it came time to wake up. I went to the car and found the rest of our runners packed inside. In a previous relay race I learned that sleeping with everyone in the car is a bad idea, so I’m glad I wasn’t squished in there as well.

Eventually our other van arrived and we found them despite the lack of cell phone reception. I didn’t even see their runner come in because I was getting ready to get back in the car. Christy started running just before 6am, right as dawn approached.

Jerry and Tyrel both ran about 6 miles. Traffic was getting bad, and Jerry had to wait a few minutes for Tyrel to use the Honey Bucket. Tyrel had a strong run and passed loads of runners that were slowing down on their final leg. Paisley went really fast on her run, and traffic was such that I jogged the last half mile with her at a 7:30 pace.

I then reset my watch and headed out for Leg 29, my most challenging leg: a 6 mile run with 566 ft vertical. I hit it really hard. I was trying to pass as many people as possible to keep up with all the people Tyrel passed, but that didn’t happen. I passed a couple dozen people, but overall everyone was pushing hard up the hill. At the top of the hill there was a small of people cheering, including my van. That made this leg extra fun. I pushed hard down the hill as well and I came in at a 6:11 pace, which I was very happy with.

Monte took the baton and our van headed to the last big exchange before the finish. There were tons of people, and we had been running faster than expected, so we spread out to find our other van and give them a heads up. I eventually found them and they were surprised to see us. They had been battling traffic and had only been at the exchange for 30 minutes or so, so they weren’t thrilled to see us. They got going and Van 1 was very happy to be done.

Some of us took a much needed shower at Seaside and then spent some time at the beach waiting for our team. We all finished together and we celebrated with a delicious seafood lunch.

The team at the finish line

I’ve learned a few things during previous relays that helped make this one my most successful in terms of comfort level:

  • Drink a big chocolate milk immediately after each leg you run
  • Have a good plan for warm, substantial food
  • Don’t try to sleep in the van at major exchanges. Bring a sleeping bag and use it.
  • Backpacking gear can be very useful

Relays aren’t exactly my favorite type of race, but they can definitely be fun and challenging. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future, and I hope Hood 2 Coast is included in that.

Nisene Marks Marathon in Aptos, CA

We decided to do a family reunion in Aptos, California this year since my brother lives there and we love the beach. I suggested a weekend that conveniently coincided with the Nisene Marks Marathon.

The Nisene Marks Marathon takes place in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This is a beautifully lush redwood forest located just outside of Santa Cruz. The marathon has some significant elevation changes — totaling about 3100 ft up and down. It’s a small event, with only 37 finishers this year. Both the elevation and the size make this marathon much different than most of the races I’ve done in the past. I typically do road races that are either pretty flat or downhill.

Friday was the last day of school for my kids, and my 5th grader had her final “graduation” assembly and ceremony. We left straight from that for the ~10 hour drive from Idaho to California. We picked up some great pre-race nutrition along the way, In-N-Out. We arrived at about 10:30pm Pacific Time, which felt like 11:30pm coming from Mountain Time. We immediately went to bed and I was dreading waking up the next morning for the race.

Fortunately the race was scheduled to start at 8am, which is a bit later than most marathons. They also had packet pickup in the morning, which was convenient. I grabbed my bib and studied the map a bit while I waited. There were a few people I talked to and/or listened to, including one guy who had run ~250 marathons. He’d done all 50 states and was working on doing every marathon in California. Dang.

We started running the marathon about a minute late and the small field of ~40 people quickly spread out. I was running with 3 other guys for the first couple miles. One of them was a runner from New York who was doing his first marathon. He was a college runner and said he’d been training for 80 miles per week, which is more than I’ve ever done. However, I noticed he wasn’t carrying any water. I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but I was carrying my own water bottle since the aid stations were pretty spread out. It turned out to be more of an issue than expected.

About 2.5 miles in there were some cups at an aid station, so I grabbed one. Based on the map, I hadn’t expected water for another mile, but no big deal. A couple of the other 3 runners I was with didn’t grab any.

Two of the runners got a bit ahead of me and the other was several yards behind. I let the two go and tried to run my own pace. My pace was showing low 7:00’s, but with a steady climb that seemed fine to me. It felt about right.

Shortly after mile 4 the big climb started. The two runners in front of me immediately slowed down so I passed them and moved into 1st place.

The climb was pretty tremendous (for me at least). I’m not used to trail marathons. The race had started around 70ft above sea level. The big climb started around 350ft and would reach about 1800ft before turning around. I tried to just keep working at the hill without going to hard. My pace ranged from ~8:30/mi to 10:00/mi depending on the grade.

My left foot started to get irritated at one point so I stopped and loosened my shoe. Still no one caught me, although I could see another runner on some of the big turns.

The scenery in Nisene Marks was great, although it didn’t change a whole lot on this part of the course. We were running through a dense forest with big redwoods. It was very green and almost completely shaded.

Speaking of shade, based on the map I was expecting for an aid station around mile 6. Didn’t happen. Also nothing at mile 7. I was out of water in the bottle I was carrying and I was beginning to worry a bit. Finally at mile 8 I came around a corner to surprise an aid crew. They didn’t have any cups ready, but after opening a big jug we were able to fill up my bottle. There was a turn-around ahead, so I knew I’d get more water soon.

The turn-around was at mile 9.6 according to my watch, which was about a mile earlier than the map said. It turned out that my watch wasn’t very accurate in the forest, so I’m not sure where the actual turn around was.

On my way back I got to see how close the guys behind me were. They weren’t back very far. It was also fun to see other people coming up since I was their first sign that the climb was almost over. I was surprised that my downhill miles were only in the mid 6:00’s to low 7:00’s, but it was on dirt and I was trying to save some energy for the second big climb.

There was more water at the bottom of the second climb, which was around mile 16 by my watch. Once I started going up again I knew it was going to be taxing. My legs were pretty tired and I had not consumed enough water. It was fairly warm even though the trees blocked the sun.

At this turn we moved from fire road to single track in dense foliage. It was a well-used trail and there were lots of marks to keep us on the right path, but it was dense, hilly, and very steep in some parts. We had bottomed out around 250ft and we would top out at over 1100ft.

Some of the climbs got too steep for me, and I had to walk a couple of them. My pace had deteriorated quite a bit, so I figured someone would catch me sooner or later. I started to pass some half marathoners as well as some day-hikers.

Fortunately there was an aid station around mile 20 at the top of the hill. I gave a volunteer my water bottle and another volunteer said, “Only fill it half way so we don’t run out!” He filled it all the way anyways and I moved on.

About the time I started my descent, the next runner caught me. I sped up and stuck with him for a half mile or so, but it was clear to me that I wouldn’t keep up for long. I asked him how far back the next person was and he said we probably had plenty of room. I wished him luck and he moved on.

The last few miles were pretty grueling. I was just trying to finish the race so I could get a drink. My watch was off so I wasn’t sure exactly when it would end. I looked back a few times to see if I could spot any other marathoners, but I didn’t see any.

Finally I came around the last turn and finished. I considered running another 1.5 miles to make sure it was a full marathon, but after running about 150 yards, I realized that was stupid and I was finished.

I ended with an official time of 3:33:00 and confirmed with another runner that my watch was indeed off (his showed ~26.2).

I talked with the race director after and let him know that the water was an issue, especially since the map showed there would be aid stations every few miles. There were only 5 total, and the last one ran out of water a while after I went through it.

Besides the water issues, the Nisene Marks Marathon was enjoyable. For someone that doesn’t run in forests very often, it was a different experience. It’s a small field of runners and mostly on dirt road and trail. The elevation is challenging. I had a good time and I even got a pullover for getting 2nd overall.

After the race I grabbed a hot dog and some chips, walked to my car, and went to the beach to spend a couple hours playing in the waves with my family.