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…