Big Cottonwood Marathon 2017 Race Report

A text conversation with my wife:

Cyndi: My college roommates want to have a reunion in Utah on the weekend of September 9th. Could we make a trip that weekend?

Blake: Sure, sounds great.

Two minutes later…

Cyndi: Did you find a marathon yet?

Blake: Two. How’d you know?

And that’s how I ended up signing up for the Big Cottonwood Marathon. I had thought about doing Big Cottonwood before, so I was happy that things fell into place to do it this year. Besides, I didn’t have any big races to look forward to after the Boston Marathon, so it was nice to sign up for this one. This would be my 17th marathon (18th counting the 50k).

Big Cottonwood Marathon is one of Revel’s races. All of their races have one thing in common: Gigantic downhills. Big Cottonwood is no exception. The full marathon has a net elevation decline of 5255 feet. It starts just under 9700 feet and follows a canyon down into the city. There are two relatively short out-and-backs during the course, but otherwise it’s pretty much just running down the canyon.


We arrived in the valley on Friday afternoon and after visiting my grandmother we headed to the expo. The expo was well done. Getting my number and packet was efficient and easy. They had an area to exchange shirts for a different size. There were a bunch of booths to entertain my kids with free stuff. And there was a nice place to take photos at the end.

Note happy kids with race swag

We checked in to our hotel and went swimming with the kids before Cyndi went to the first phase of her reunion and I put the kids and myself to bed at about 10pm. I had gotten a full 8+ hours of sleep on Thursday night, so I wasn’t too concerned about sleeping well. That was fortunate, since Cyndi got back to the hotel at about 1am and after that I tossed and turned until it was time to wake up at 4am. I ate my peanut butter honey sandwich and started drinking my Gatorade while getting ready to catch the bus. Cyndi drove me to the bus and I hopped on. I chatted with a lady on the way up. It was her first marathon, so she was excited. I was too.

I think the bus dropped us off at the Big Cottonwood Marathon start area around 5:30am. That gave me about 1.25 hours to use the Honey Bucket a couple times, relax, and get ready to run. I was anticipating a very cold wait for the start so I was well prepared with warm clothes. It turned out to be about 45 degrees, so really not too bad. I never really got cold. We were right on top of the mountain. The marathon would go down the west side of the mountain and I could see a town in the distance to the east.

I made my way to the start line and we were off right at 6:45am.

Miles 1, 2, 3: 5:37, 5:55, 5:57

No, I’m not lying: My first three miles of the Big Cottonwood Marathon were all under 6 minutes per mile! Not because I have some new secret training regimen, but because it was blistering downhill. My Garmin captured elevation losses of 497 ft, 256 ft, and 299 ft for the first three miles, respectively. During the first mile, I turned to a guy near me and said, “Wow. This is really steep.” A little while later I asked him what time he was going for to make sure I wasn’t out of my league. He said he was shooting for “2:40. 2:38.” I didn’t plan on finishing that fast, but I didn’t feel like I was killing myself yet. He actually ended up winning.

It was really nerve-wracking to be breaking 6 minute miles. On the one hand I didn’t want to burn myself out by starting too fast (been there, done that). On the other hand, I didn’t want to fight the downhill, as that would just wear down my quadriceps even faster. So I tried to stay relaxed and make sure my breathing was under control.

Miles 4, 5: 7:25, 5:57

After finishing mile 3 the course does a short loop near Brighton ski resort. There’s a little uphill section on this part of the course, so I was careful to slow down and take it easy. After screaming down the first three miles, it was hard to slow down and not go fast up the hill. Fortunately I knew it was coming and had planned ahead. A few other runners caught up to me and some passed me, but once we made the turn and started heading back down I passed them right back. I figured I was around 10th to 15th place at this point, but I was actually something like 7th or 8th.

This little section reminded me that I was running around 9000 feet elevation. I could feel a little shortness of breath and lightheadedness. I was happy that we were quickly descending into thicker air.

Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon
Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

Miles 6-11: 5:56, 5:59, 6:05, 6:24, 6:36, 6:38

The downhill continued and I got into a nice rhythm. I started doing the math and realizing that I had a good shot at a PR and potentially even breaking 2:50:00 for the first time. However, I was very concerned that this downhill would destroy my quads and I would fall apart at mile 20. I knew this happened to a lot of runners in previous Big Cottonwood Marathons and in similar downhill races. Moreover, I was very uncertain of my pace. I continually self-assessed to make sure I was staying relaxed and not spending too much energy, despite the fast pace.

I had my Garmin 235 on, and through much of this section it was telling me that my heart rate was over 170. I really didn’t feel like it was that high, although I knew that it’s tough to tell in the middle of a race. I expected and wanted a heart rate in the low 160’s.

A few of these miles weren’t quite as steep, so I slowed my pace a bit to compensate. Again I could feel the elevation a bit. I made sure to get enough liquids and I was refueling on Jelly Belly Sports Beans (courtesy of my sister-in-law who got them for free) and my traditional Honey Stinger Waffle at mile 10.

About this time we also passed the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon starting line and volunteers were busy picking up Mylar blankets.

Around mile 11 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

At mile 11 I finally caught up to a guy in a red shirt that I had been following throughout the race. He was breathing really hard. I almost told him that he was breathing too hard and he needed to take it easy, but I wasn’t sure that would be appropriate. So I said “good job” and moved on. I looked him up after and found that he bonked at mile 19 and finished about 13 minutes behind me. I know how that goes.

Miles 12-18: 6:32, 6:13, 5:48, 6:07, 5:53, 6:27, 6:22

The course started getting steeper again after mile 11. It also had some fun curves to run around. And the views were spectacular. The amazing views actually started at the beginning. There were some impressive rock faces and cliffs that towered above us puny runners. There were several sections that had avalanche warning signs and I could see why: on one or both sides of the canyon there were steep mountains that rose high above the roadway. I had to remind myself to look around and enjoy the scenery every once in a while and I’m glad I remembered to. There was also a creek along much of the course and I could hear the water rushing down the canyon. The vegetation was plentiful, green, and refreshing.

I crossed the half around 1:22 and realized I’d need a 1:28 to break 2:50. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was curious to try. I knew I still had some serious downhill to bank more time.

Around mile 14 I noticed that my right quadriceps were really tight and getting sore. Once again I worried what would become of me when I exited the canyon.

We started passing the half marathoners. There were lots of them, but since we had a whole lane to run in there was plenty of room and it wasn’t a problem. I said “good job” to many of them until I started to get too tired.

At this point I had maybe one marathoner in my sights, depending on the turn. I didn’t look back so I wasn’t sure how close the next runner was behind me. I just kept running my own race and trying to prepare mentally for the flatter last few miles.

Miles 19-23: 6:29, 7:16, 7:09, 7:05, 7:24

At mile 18.5 the marathon course turned right while the half marathoners continued straight. There were finally some spectators now that we were out of the canyon, and that was a nice boost. Some of them were excited to see marathoners since it had mostly been half marathoners coming through so far.

After the turn the course flattened out. I was bracing for The Wall, but it didn’t come! Instead, it felt quite nice to run on flat terrain and even a little uphill. This was a turn-around section, so I began scanning the other side of the road for the first runners. I didn’t see them come through until just before mile 20, which meant they were only one mile ahead of me! That made me really happy as I expected they would be a good 20 minutes ahead.

My stomach felt about how you would expect a stomach to feel after 20 miles, but I forced down a Gu and some water and Gatorade. The sun was out now so I started dumping water on my head as well.

I counted 6 people ahead of me, but when I made the turn I saw what seemed like 50 runners right behind me! I still tried to focus on my own race, but now I was running scared and I tried to dig a little deeper so I wouldn’t drop from 7th to 30th over the last 5 miles.

Sure enough, I soon heard footsteps. There was a cruel little hill during mile 23 and a guy passed me near the top of it. He was 49 years old and I immediately had a lot of respect for how strong he was running at this point.

Miles 24, 25, 26, and 26.2: 7:03, 6:46, 7:24, 6:15

The guy that passed me provided a nice benchmark to measure myself against during the last 5k. He slowly pulled away, but his strength gave me a little extra encouragement.

Mile 25 had a steep downhill and it hurt. My legs were now in full rebellion. Happily, I wasn’t in total meltdown mode like I have been many times before at this stage of a marathon. That said, I was counting down every step until I could stop. I continually did pace calculations to figure what I needed to do to break 2:50. This kept me pushing to keep the pace as close to 7:00/mile as possible.

I could finally see the finish line with about 0.6 miles left. I was slogging and just trying to get there. There was a great crowd at the finish which was nice. I looked for Cyndi but couldn’t find her.

Suddenly with about 100 yards left I saw another marathon come up to my left trying to pass me! I put on a burst of speed that I didn’t know I had and raced to the finish line. I couldn’t believe that was left, and I was a little chagrined that I was apparently slacking off for the last mile.

Sprinting to the finish line
Because I saw this guy.

I only wish that runner would have challenged me about 50 yards sooner as I might have finished 2 seconds faster, but I ended up with 2:49:01, which made me very happy! That was an 8 minute PR.

Post Race

Cyndi was at the finish and found me pretty quickly. She was excited and congratulatory for my good race. Apparently I miscounted, because I ended up getting 6th overall and 1st in my age group. That definitely exceed expectations.

They had pizza from Papa John’s, soda from Sodalicious, and protein pancakes at the finish. An excellent selection of food. They also gave us wet rags which I placed on my head for a good 20 minutes.

My body hurts. Just let me sit.

After the race I sat in the hot tub at the hotel (I know it’s a sin after a marathon but it felt so good) and swam with the kids a bit. Then we had some delicious Kentucky Fried Chicken, because when else can I justify extra crispy KFC? Then we had some amazing ice cream at Leatherby’s after playing at a park with Cyndi’s roommates’ families.

Getting some delicious ice cream at Leatherby’s after the race. Don’t worry, I shared with my kids.

Revel knows how to put on a good race. The Big Cottonwood Marathon was fantastic. The organization was superb. The course was fast and scenic. The aid stations were well stocked. The website results and (free!) photos are best-in-class and were up within 48 hours. I emailed them for a couple of different things and received responses in under 12 hours. I had a great experience and I hope to run another one of their races soon.

4:54 Mile!

Date: August 18, 2017
What: 1600M Time Trial

I’ve had a goal for a while to break 5:00 in the mile (like I used to do regularly back in my high school days). Last year I ran a 1600 meter time trial with the Mountain View Cross Country team and finished in 5:06. This year I had another shot at it.

The head coach and assistant coach at MVHS were my coaches back in 1998 and 1999 when I ran cross country in high school. Every year they do a time trial at the beginning of the cross country season to see where their runners at. They invite alumni that want to join in the fun, although only a few tend to hear about it.

Only four alumni showed up. One was a really fast runner that ran in college and was actually pacing the varsity team. I knew the two others pretty well as I go to church with one, Jacob (who just graduated this year), and I’ve done a couple training runs with the other, Parker. Then there was me.

My training this spring was very distance-oriented. I put in more miles than I ever had before, but I did fewer intervals than I did last year. However, I have done a lot of tempo runs this year. I had a few weeks of interval training leading into this time trial, but I was concerned I would have a slower time than my 5:06 from last year. I wanted another two or three weeks to train. I had also been traveling in Seattle the previous couple nights and I did a 6 mile run in Seattle that morning. It was pretty easy, so I wasn’t too concerned about that.

The run was scheduled for 9pm and I showed up a while before to warm up and get ready. Parker, Jacob, and I were all excited as were all the high school runners. There were three heats of 1600’s. Varsity boys were last, varsity girls and JV boys before them, and everyone else first, although it was left to runners’ judgement which heat each person decided to run in. I opted to wait to run with the varsity boys as I figured I could hang with many of them.

I lined up on the very outside so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way, and we all launched off at the coach’s signal.

I tried to be careful my first lap and not burn out. Everyone else went out really fast. By 200m into the race, I was in dead last out of about 15 runners. I didn’t let this concern me as I was right on pace and we had plenty of time left. Besides, I didn’t care what everyone else got so long as I did my best.

I came through the first lap at about 72 seconds, which was just right for me. I was still dead last after the first lap, but I could see many other runners slowing down. I tried to keep my pace up and I started passing. At some point I passed Parker.

I finished the second lap in 74 seconds, which put me at a good pace. However, I know the 1600 is usually determined by the third lap. I pushed hard to stay on target and finished the third lap in 77 seconds. This means I had a slight buffer for a 5:00 avg pace.

I was really feeling it the fourth lap, but I knew I was going to break 5 minutes. Parker surprised me by giving me some encouragement with 200m left when I started to slacken a bit. I didn’t realize he was still with me. I put everything I had for the last 200, but Parker ended up passing me. I didn’t care: I crossed the line at 4:54.9!

It had been about 17 years since I last broke 5:00 in the mile. This was kind of a bucket list item for me, and I’m happy to have done it. There was a time when I thought I would never break 6 minutes again. It’s amazing what a few years of training can do, even for someone in their mid-30’s who gained 60 lbs and took some time off after high school.

It makes me wonder what I can do next?

50 Mile Canoe Trip on the Snake River

I work with a group of young men through my church and as a Boy Scout unit. Every year we try to do a “high adventure” activity where we do something outdoors, fun, and challenging for a few days. Last year we went on a ~25 mile backpacking trip in the White Cloud mountains. This year we did a 50 mile canoe trip on the Snake River. It did not disappoint.

The preparation for a canoe trip is much more difficult than a backpacking trip, and I also had zero experience. For backpacking, a group just needs to pick a good route, plan food, pack well, and drive there. For a canoe trip a group has to do all of that, plus gather enough canoes, life jackets, and oars for the group, get trailers to pull them, and get people to drop you off and pick you up (for a one way trip on a river). Packing is also more difficult since gear must be packed in dry bags and most people don’t have dry bags. Plus, there is added risk being on the water.

This meant that much more preparation was required. Fortunately we had some people chip in and we were able to gather enough gear for everyone. We got 12 big dry bags from one acquaintance, and that was a huge help. We also had a couple parents and leaders donate time to drive us back and forth.

The water flow on the Snake varied a ton this year. To verify its safety, another leader and I did a 1.5 mile test run right below Swan Falls. We felt much better after this.

Then the week before we left, flows were increased by 100% compared to our test run. This freaked me out but fortunately flows were taken back down by the time we hit the river.

Note how the flows were down in late May when we did our test run, then they spiked up right before our trip

Day 1 – Canoeing on CJ Strike Reservoir

Our canoe trip commenced on Tuesday, June 20. We were dropped off at the north camp ground right on CJ Strike Reservoir in the morning. Immediately we were swarmed by these pesky flies or moths. They didn’t bite, but they flew right into your face and ears. We set up some tents and dropped gear in the shade and got out on the water away from the bugs.

This was our first significant time on the water, so I wanted to do it on the reservoir where we wouldn’t have to battle strong currents. We rowed about 1.5 miles across the CJ Strike to the bank on the other side. It was fun and relaxing. It was also hot, so when we got across most of us jumped into the water. It took about a half hour to get back when we had a slight headwind (and I was in the slowest canoe).

We spent the rest of the day messing around the reservoir. We played on a dock, did some fishing, and had a fireside. It was quite hot and the bugs were relentless, so we were happy when a breeze picked up in the evening.

Day 2 – Canoeing from CJ Strike on the Snake River

On Wednesday, we needed to portage the canoes from the reservoir down past the dam to the Snake River. This was a distance of about 0.6 miles (one way) down a decent hill. We had 13 people, 7 canoes, and all our gear. We packed all our gear into our canoes and then started lugging them with 5-7 people carrying a canoe at a time. This was not easy. I think I ended up making 4 trips up and down the hill. It took about 1.5-2 hours to get all the canoes and gear down, at which time we were all ready for lunch.

After eating and refilling our water bottles it was go time! I was nervous as this would be my first time on a river with a bunch of young men in canoes. I assigned the pairs of boys to try to put some stronger boys with weaker ones so that the canoes would be fairly even. This resulted in some whining, but I think they understood why it was necessary. I was going solo in a light aluminum canoe.

We lined up all the canoes on a little boat ramp and then pushed off one by one in a pre-determined order. I was near the back, and watching 6 other canoes being steered down the river was a great sight.

I figured the river was flowing 3-5 miles per hour and we had about 15 miles to go. That would put us there in ~4 hours. I came to realize that it was actually about 18 miles and we would not even hit 3mph. That meant over 6 hours, which is quite a difference!

As we canoed down the river, we started noticing the wind picking up. Of course it was in our face. This made for some choppy spots. But the real problem with the wind is that it would force the canoes towards the bank. Once the wind was a steady 15-20mph (and it was), it would turn a canoe and then the paddlers would fight to point it into the wind while moving sideways across the river.

Going solo was a mistake for me. I thought it would give me a little versatility, allow us to pack more, and I wanted to try it out anyways, but I would have been much more useful as the third person in a canoe with two weaker paddlers. I was able to manage solo OK, although it was very strenuous and tough to keep up sometimes. The issue was that there were one or two boys that were very weak paddlers. I tried switching them with other partners, but we always seemed to have at least one canoe that was way far back and trying to pull itself out of the reeds on the side of the river.

This made for slow progress and some frustration. It was also a risk as there were times when we would get way too spread out and the slow canoe was way behind with no one to help if they were to get swamped. With the wind, swamping was definitely a concern. I had a couple close calls when I hit a swell sideways and got startled as my canoe rolled to the side.

We took a break in Grand View, a little less than half way to our destination. We just pulled out under a bridge, had some snacks, and swapped some partners. I also looked up the actual distance on my map and realized we had a couple more miles than what I’d led everyone to believe.

I also encouraged everyone to reapply sunscreen. This was very important given that we were totally exposed on the river and would be all week. The most burned body part ended up being the top of the thigh (above the quads). Boys would apply sunscreen while wearing shorts without thinking that their shorts would ride up while sitting in the canoe, exposing some very white skin.

We pressed on and the wind continued to be relentless. It was nice to be wearing a GPS watch so I knew approximately how far we had gone and how far we had left.

We finally rounded a turn with about a mile to go. It was protected by the wind thanks to Jackass Butte, and it made for a pleasant last mile. That was until we made another turn and discovered a few huge eddies in a big flat area right before where we wanted to pull out. Some canoes couldn’t get through at first and one almost got swamped.

This was right next to the area I planned on camping, so I powered through the eddies and dragged my canoe up a bank with thick shrubbery. A couple of the boys and I searched for a better spot to pull all the other canoes out. We eventually settled on a spot that was barely accessible and ended up taking the next 30-45 minutes pulling canoes and gear up a steep bank to a dirt road.

Exhausted, we ate dinner at 9pm and camped right on the dirt road. A couple boys shed some tears and I went to bed worried about the next day.

Day 3 – Another 17 Miles on the Snake River

We awoke to a breezy morning and had breakfast. We assigned canoes and started loading gear.

Everyone was rejuvenated by the arrival of two additional, energized leaders. I was praying (literally) that they would be able to find us and would arrive without issues. They pulled up at 9am and I rejoiced. They brought some treats, extra muscle, and great attitudes which lifted everyone’s spirits.

This meant that I would no longer be solo and we could have one 3-man canoe. We could see the swells and white caps in the river, so this was a big relief.

We set out before 11am and started making our way down the river. Even though the wind was still strong, we now had more power and expectations that were more aligned with reality.

The river becomes very wide and a little slower as it approaches Swan Falls Dam, so the swells were fairly large, with white caps and waves that must have been >2ft tall. However, it was more fun and felt safer with the extra leaders and experience gained the day before.

This stretch was much more scenic: vast canyon walls, fish jumping, and even some deer swimming from an island to the shore.

We arrived at Swan Falls at about 6pm and we were able to secure a decent camping spot right on the river with easy access to grab our canoes. Everyone had a much better day than the day before.

Day 4 – Canoeing from Swan Falls to Celebration Park

Our final day on the river was great. The water was flowing relatively fast, there was no headwind, and we got to hit some fun rapids.

First we had to portage past the Swan Falls dam. On the left side of the river/reservoir there’s a nice takeout area with a trail for portaging. We loaded our gear, rowed our canoes across the reservoir, then parked them at the bank. This portage was much easier than our portage past CJ Strike dam. We had more people, it was a shorter distance, and a smaller hill.

Once past the dam we put our canoes in and enjoyed faster flowing water. I knew there were some rapids and I was slightly concerned about them. Sure enough, about 2-3 miles downstream we experienced our first swamped canoe in one of the rapids. The canoe that tipped was known to be the least stable, but the two boys that were in it managed to stay with the canoe and their gear was tied down enough that they didn’t lose anything. I believe they hit a rapid sideways somehow.

We pulled into an eddy and transferred some of their gear to more able canoes to lighten their load. It turned out to be kind of a fun experience and I think the boys that were dumped actually enjoyed it.

This also made everyone a bit more careful on future rapids. We didn’t have any more problems.

We arrived at Celebration Park in good time, only taking ~3 hours to travel the 11 miles (including stops).

We played at the dock for a few hours and had a lot of fun while we waited for dinner. Some parents met us at Celebration Park and we celebrated our 50 mile canoe trip with a delicious Dutch Oven dinner. We also had a spiritual discussion and talked about lessons learned on our trip, which was fantastic.

Overall the trip was great. I think that everyone involved will remember it fondly for the rest of their lives, myself included. If I had known the waves and wind we would encounter, I might have had second thoughts about going beforehand. However, in hindsight I’m glad we went and I’m glad we were challenged. I’m also glad our last day was smooth and enjoyable, since it’s always nice to end on a very positive note.

Bear Creek Fun Run

On Saturday I ran in the Bear Creek Fun Run. It was a 5k and a good opportunity to do a solid speed workout.

It’s been 5 weeks since Boston, and I was seriously considering doing the Famous Potato Marathon again. However, I wasn’t sure I was back into Boston shape and I have a Ragnar coming up. I’d like to run fast at Ragnar (so I don’t keep my team waiting) and have a fun experience there. I also have some other long term goals I’m working towards. Marathons are fun, but after running them I think they set me back. After the taper, the race, and the recovery it takes some time to get back to the level of fitness I was prior to the marathon. I figured I can wait until the fall to do my next marathon.

Bear Creek is a neighborhood about 1 mile from my house. In the morning I put baby Luna in the jogging stroller and jogged to Bear Creek Park with my 8 and 10-year-old daughters, Cosie and Paisley, accompanying me on their bikes.

The Bear Creek Fun Run is organized by the LDS ward nearby, which I attend. There were several friends there including some youth that I see every few days at church and weekly youth activities.

We all signed up (for free) and got our bibs on. They started with a 1 mile (?) kids race. Cosie ran this with a friend and had a good time.

Once the kids finished up, the 5k’ers lined up to run. There were a few youth that I’m pretty sure can beat me on a good day, so I was curious to see how this turned out.

We started out at a decent pace, but after a quarter mile I noticed everyone slowing down a bit. I figured the boys would push the pace longer, but I was happy to note the slowdown. I decided to go ahead and take the lead.

The race wound around the neighborhood and was very low key. We mostly stuck to the sidewalks. This was nice as it was a more relaxed environment and this race didn’t cause me any stress beforehand like a bigger race would.

As the race moved on I glanced back a few times and saw Tanner behind me, but my lead was growing. I tried to push and I feel like I gave a solid effort, but had he been with me I think I could have given a little more.

My pace gradually slowed from a 5:39 first mile to a 5:45 second mile, but the last stretch around the park gave me an opportunity to pick it back up to 5:42.

I came across first and saw that my distance was only 3.05 miles, so I ripped off my bib tag, stopped for a moment to give it to the volunteers, and finished out the full 3.1 miles. My time was about 17:45.

Tanner came across about a minute later followed by a few other boys. Admittedly I was happy to beat them, but I’m sure once they start training for cross country they’ll be faster than me. (This was good timing since it was before their heavy summer training starts but after my heavy spring training.)

I doubled back to find my daughter, Paisley, but unfortunately I somehow missed her. I worried a bit as I ran backwards on the course and didn’t see her, but I found out when I got back that she finished in about 25 minutes, which was fantastic.

It was an enjoyable little run and after jogging home I had a productive and enjoyable Saturday!

121st Boston Marathon (2017) – Race Report

On Monday, April 17, 2017, I joined a corral of a few hundred other anxious, jittery runners a few minutes before 10am to begin the 121st Boston Marathon. It took a few years of preparation to get to the starting line, and it was an unforgettable experience.

Someone put a bib on this Samuel Adams at the Tea Party museum

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon

In October 2013 I ran the St. George Marathon. It had been four years since I last ran a marathon, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For the previous 13 years since graduating high school my running was intermittent. I rarely ran in the winter because it was too cold. My weight went from about 185 in 2003, up to 239 in 2007, and then back down to about 205 in 2013.

I ended up finishing the marathon with a time of 3:24:53. It was a major success for me, and it broke my previous PR set when I was 18 years old at the Park City Marathon. I was hooked on running. For the first time I realized I could potentially qualify for Boston — something I’d never considered before. I needed to take 20 minutes off my time, but that seemed doable.

I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in the late winter of the following year and continued training with the goal of eventually dropping my time down to below 3:05. Unfortunately the following year was marred by small, but nagging injuries that stifled my improvement. However, I took the time to heal in the fall of 2014 and then trained hard in 2015. I finally hit my goal time of sub-3:05 at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in September 2015.

Once again my Boston Marathon plans were frustrated as excess demand to run the race reduced the cutoff time and I missed qualification by 1 minute 46 seconds.

I continued training until finally I got a secure qualification time at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon in May 2016. Then I had to wait one year to actually run the Boston Marathon.

Vacation to New York and Boston

This month (April 2017) finally arrived. Cyndi and I decided to make a vacation out of our trip across the United States to Boston. Neither of us had been to New York for more than a few hours, so we wrapped that into our plans.

Airline tickets are generally cheap on Wednesdays, so we booked a flight to New York on a Wednesday and out of Boston the following Wednesday. On the Tuesday evening before our flight, we drove 7 hours to Vancouver, WA to drop our kids off with family. Then we caught a red-eye flight to New York. We spent 2.5 days seeing all sorts of sites and having a great time.

In approximately this order, we saw: all sorts of subway lines and stops, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Central Park, Belvedere Castle, the MET, an awesome Mexican restaurant, the show Stomp, Times Square, delicious cheesecake, a busy but spectacular bagel shop, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Trinity Church, Wall Street, the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, the LDS Temple, Serendipity 3, Rockefeller Center, Highline Park, and also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Central Park
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Stomp off Broadway
Times Square
One World Trade Center and the Memorial
High Line Park
Brooklyn Bridge

On Saturday we took a four hour Amtrak train to Boston, dropped our stuff off at our South End airbnb, ate at Shake Shack, and met up with my parents. On Sunday we went to church, walked around Harvard, went to packet pickup, and did a Duck Tour.

What did all of this amount to? WAY TOO MUCH WALKING RIGHT BEFORE A MARATHON! To be precise, here is my step count:

Day Steps
Wednesday 15,869
Thursday 27,585
Friday 19,877
Saturday 25,769
Sunday 11,963

That doesn’t even account for the hours of standing around in museums, in lines, and on the subway. We came home exhausted every night. On Sunday I tried to take it easy, but it was too little too late. I knew going into the race that this was a major risk. Still, I don’t regret it since I wanted to see the New York and who knows when we’ll go back.

Boston Marathon Packet Pickup and Expo

Packet pickup and the expo run for three days for the Boston Marathon — Friday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm. We attended on Sunday. It was a great relief to finally have my bib in hand. I also loved the shirt.

Finally have my Boston Marathon packet in hand!
“Be Boston” – the theme this year
Bib in hand with my biggest supporter by my side

The expo was huge and we walked around it for a while. There were several samples of sports drinks and we each got a free Kind bar. There were lots of running products and big stores from Adidas and New Balance (and Saucony maybe?).

Race Morning

I woke up at 5:40am on race morning, ate part of my PB&J, and got ready. I had arranged for an Uber driver to picked me up, and she dropped me off at Boston Common so I could hop on the bus to Hopkinton. There were large crowds, but the organization was superb and I was on a bus pretty soon after arriving.

In line for the bus I met a guy named Sam from Louisiana. We chatted the whole way to Hopkinton. This was his 4th Boston in a row. His wife had also run it in 2013 but finished before the bombing. It was good to talk to him. We discussed past marathons, target times, and training. When we arrived at the Athletes’ Village we snapped a photo at the entrance.

The Athletes’ Village is huge. I have never seen so many port-a-potties in one place in my life! They had everything you might need before running a marathon — bagels, bananas, apples, sunscreen, Clif Bloks, water, Gatorade, etc. (Who eats apples right before a race though?) There was a HUGE line to take a picture in front of the “Welcome to Hopkinton – It all starts here” sign. So I didn’t get a picture there. A guy on a loudspeaker was announcing the same stuff over and over and a helicopter hovered overhead.

Did I mention the police? They were everywhere. From when I approached the buses until I went home that afternoon. Everywhere.

I hit the port-a-potties early and then again about 20 minutes before I would have to head to the start. Right after I exited, around 8:45am, the lines grew exponentially. I couldn’t believe how long the lines got despite the fact that there were hundreds of toilets available.

I ran into Joseph, who I was runner-up to at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in 2015. We sat by each other and talked until it was time for us to head to the start.

The Boston Marathon had four waves this year. I was in Wave 1, Corral 3. I got to head to the starting line at 9:15. I saw an acquaintance from my hometown on the way and gave her a high-five. It’s about a 0.75 mile walk from the Athletes’ Village to the starting line.  There were more port-a-potties on the way as well, so I made another stop right before the lines for those exploded.

All morning the energy was electrifying. Everyone was jittery and anxious, including me. I finally got to Corral 3 and waited for 20 minutes. It smelled of Ben-Gay and BO. Most of the people in my corral were similar to me with runner physique. All of us had trained for years to be here. I talked to a runner next to me for a few minutes, but I forget where he was from (Wisconsin maybe?).

A cheer erupted when the elites walked out from an area to the left. When their names were announced there were huge cheers for Galen Rupp and Jared Ward.

A man sang the National Anthem as several flags waved. Right when he finished two F-15’s flew overhead. The timing could not have been more perfect.

Before long a countdown began and at 10am we were off!

The Boston Marathon

Miles 1-5: 6:33, 6:27, 6:19, 6:19, 6:28

We started at a walk and quickly transitioned to a jog and then a run. I was in Corral 3, pretty close to the Start. There were so many runners! I was boxed in and couldn’t move around much, but it didn’t matter since everyone was basically going the pace I wanted to run anyways.

I noticed the energy of the crowd right away. There were loads of people lining the start. Eventually there began to be gaps in the spectators on the sides, but throughout the race I was impressed by the sheer numbers of spectators.

The Boston Marathon has some decent downhill for the first 4 miles. I didn’t feel like I was taking the downhill too fast because I was so boxed in. I actually wanted to go a bit faster, but I was happy with 6:33 for my first mile. The second mile was similar and I came in around 6:27.

I picked it up a bit for the third mile. The runners started to spread out. There were also some nice crowds and I had fun giving high fives to the people on the sidelines. I got a little carried away on a downhill portion with crowds and started running too fast, but I reigned myself back in and ran a 6:19 for miles 3 and 4. 6:19 was actually near my “stretch goal” pace of 2:45:00, so I didn’t mind.

One great thing about the Boston Marathon is the variety of runners. For example, I was near the Blind Runner pictured below for a while. It’s amazing to me that he could move like he did with that disability. I ran by him for a large portion of the race. I also came across handcyclers and people with other disabilities and missing limbs during the race.

I ran near this blind runner for part of the Boston Marathon

Around Mile 4 I took my phone out and captured a selfie. I figured I should get at least one since I was carrying my phone. It was a pain to do since I didn’t want to stop, and as I got more tired later on I didn’t feel like messing with my phone.

A fuzzy selfie taken while running around Mile 4 of the Boston Marathon. You can see the runners had spread out a bit by then.

I hit my fifth mile at 6:28. Something changed during that mile. I noticed that my legs and breathing were not quite right. If my heart rate was being measured correctly it was way too high. It was hot out. It hit 79 Fahrenheit during the race, and we started out at about 69F. There were aid stations every mile starting at Mile 2, and I was taking one cup of Gatorade to drink and a cup of water to dump on my head. Despite drinking a lot, I could tell that my stretch goal was not likely to happen. I was not feeling well.

Miles 6-10: 6:24, 6:25, 6:33, 6:35, 6:44

I still pressed on and continued hitting my primary goal pace of 6:28.

I don’t recall all the details of the race, just continued amazement at the crowds of spectators. It wasn’t exactly one continuous line of spectators, but there were large groups of people quite often. They were cheering, giving high-fives, handing out orange slices and water. Some were searching for their runners but many were just out to watch the spectacle and cheer us on. It was fantastic. It certainly provided a boost.

A few times during the marathon, a runner would grab a water bottle from a spectator, take a sip or dump some on his head, and then hand it on to another runner. I took part in this a few times during the race.

Miles 6, 7, and 8 were at 6:24, 6:25, and 6:35. I remember distinctly feeling rotten around mile 7. I was drinking a lot (more than planned) and eating my Gu Energy Chews, but I was feeling rotten. I decided to eat my Honey Stinger Waffle at Mile 8 instead of waiting until Mile 10. Unfortunately my mouth was already really dry and it was hard to swallow. This is usually the case around Mile 20 for me, but not before Mile 10 (that’s why I only bring one Waffle to eat). I actually gagged on the last bite and it got stuck in my throat until I hit the next aid station and downed some water. This was not pleasant.

I couldn’t believe how bad I was feeling. I had felt way better on training runs at a similar pace. Five weeks earlier I had run a half marathon at a 6:00/mile pace. Now I knew I had to slow down more, so my next two miles were 6:35 and 6:44.

I was in a pretty dark place at this point, despite the amazing crowds and all the energy. I did my best to think positive and keep chugging on. I was surprised at how lousy I felt, and I even felt light-headed a few times. In hindsight, I’m quite sure this was due to a combination of the heat and wearing out my legs walking all over New York. Touring on foot had taken its toll.

Miles 11-15: 6:50, 6:48, 6:57, 7:00, 7:07

Accepting this, I let my pace drift further. I wanted to finish, no matter what my time was, and I didn’t want a total disaster like when I ran the Hoover Dam Marathon. This section of the course was mostly flat. I tried to regroup and hydrate. I also tried to enjoy the experience despite how terrible I was feeling.

At mile 11 I grabbed a Clif gel and it provided a good boost.

At mile 13 we passed Wellesley College and the “scream tunnel.” I didn’t get a kiss, but a lot of other runners did and it was entertaining. I did give a lot of high fives. I thought the energy here was similar to what we saw in a lot of the towns along the course.

Crossing half way was a relief. I crossed at 1:26:30. This was slower than what I had originally planned and at this point I didn’t expect any kind of negative or even split. I still hoped for a turnaround though.

MILES 16-20: 6:37, 7:10, 7:26, 7:05, 7:18

Finally during mile 16 I emerged from my haze and got a bit of a second wind. In my last couple of marathons (Morgan Valley and Layton) I’ve gotten a second wind at a similar point. There was a half mile where I felt really good for the first time in about 12 miles. I thought there could be a chance of holding the line at a 7:00/mile pace. That didn’t happen for long, but I received a huge mental boost and it was enough to get me out of my despair and through the rest of the race.

My splits for miles 16 and 17 were 6:37 and 7:10, attributing to the second wind I got as well as some downhill during mile 16 and uphill during mile 17.

Now that I was past mile 17 I knew we had more hills coming up, in fact, we had just passed the first one. Given my state at this point in the race, the hills didn’t really bug me much. I mean, I was already somewhat of a wreck relative to where I thought I’d be, so I just took the hills as they came.

The crowds were also growing by now and provided some nice support on the hills.

MILES 21-25: 7:54, 7:26, 7:59, 8:23, 9:15

Heartbreak Hill finally arrived at ~mile 20.5. Similar to the previous hills, this wasn’t a huge deal for me since I was already wrecked anyways. I trudged up it at a relatively decent pace and finished mile 21 in 7:54.

The crowd from here to the finish essentially lined every foot of the course and it was awesome. However, when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill I was starting to get really exhausted and I could feel my quads locking up. Uh oh.

I finished mile 22 in 7:26 but after that it became a slog. My quads became extremely tight and heavy. Every step took effort. I had been here before, but in the last four marathons I’d run I hadn’t gotten to this point. The Newport Marathon was the last time I had hit The Wall like this.

Now the challenge was not to finish in a certain time, but to finish without walking. I knew if I slowed to a walk I’d immediately cramp up and wouldn’t be able to resume running.

I also noticed that I was no longer sweating. This concerned me, but I was close enough to the end that I figured I could make it.

My miles slowed from 7:59 to 8:53 to 9:15. This is always remarkable to me in hindsight (even though it’s happened before). When I am doing training runs, I pretty much never run slower than 8:30, even on recovery days. On those days I can’t imagine ever needing to run slower than 9:00/mile. Yet here I was unable to hold a 9:00 pace!

To make things worse, I was getting passed by what seemed like hundreds of runners at this point. They were like a river running past me. I thought it was even thousands, but looking back and knowing my final placement, it was probably about 1000 runners that passed me between the half and the end, possibly fewer.

While it’s not fun to be passed by 1000 runners, I did see some guys walking or obviously injured or cramped up. I’m grateful I was still moving as fast as I was.

I counted down the minutes until I could stop running. I remember this started when I had about 3 miles left — about 25 minutes.

Cyndi later asked me if I had the classic dark thought of “I’m never doing another marathon again.” I laughed. It’s been a few years since I had that thought (Robie Creek 2012 I think). On the contrary, at this point I was thinking about which race I could redeem myself at…

MILE 26 & 26.2: 9:40, 7:47

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

One thing that kept me going was that Cyndi had texted me to say that she and my parents were on the corner of Hereford and Boylston, very close to the finish. I didn’t want to make them wait any longer and I wanted to run by them, not walk. From Cyndi’s spot, she saw a lot of my heroes:

Galen Rupp
Jared Ward
Puzey – the brother of an old friend
Meb – who is very inspiring to me

I saw the CITGO sign up ahead, then finally I got to make the right turn onto Hereford. The crowd was so loud here! I watched for Cyndi and finally spotted her about 100 yards ahead on my left. It was such a relief and a happy moment to see her! I ran up to her and gave her a kiss. Then I rounded the turn onto Boylston.

Hereford Street during the 2017 Boston Marathon
Here I come down Hereford! Almost done!

Apparently I had a little more left in me because the pace of my last 0.2 mile was 7:47.

About 150 yards before the finish I saw two runners grab a guy in blue that was falling. I started to run up to help on his right, but an officer stepped over to support him, so I ended up going around them. I glanced back and saw him go all the way to the ground. He was later carried across the finish. I found this video:

Crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon was such a relief! I had waited so long, thought about it during dozens of training runs over thousands of miles. It was an accomplishment I’d looked forward to for 3.5 years. It also meant I could stop running.

My official time was 3:08:42, a far cry from my expected time of ~2:48:00, but it could have been worse.

After the Boston Marathon

I soon got my medal and some snacks (which I couldn’t stomach yet). The race organizers made the runners walk what seemed like forever. I just wanted to sit down and rest! I was really light-headed. At first I just stopped and leaned. Finally when I thought I’d puke and/or faint I had to sit in a wheelchair. I rested for a minute then got up and continued walking. I eventually had to find another wheelchair. I rested in that and then continued walking. I found one more wheelchair and sat in it until they threatened to take me to the medical tent. Then I finished the death march to the meetup area and sat on the sidewalk for 10-15 minutes.

Runners milling about and looking for friends and family after the Boston Marathon

I sat next to a guy named Craig Stevenson from Michigan. He was in a state similar to me — happy to have finished, but exhausted and disappointed with his time. The heat had gotten to us both. If I remember correctly, we had both ran a similar number of marathons and were both at Boston for the first time. It was nice to talk to someone and realize that many of us had a tough race. [I later came across this thread on and saw that many other people had similar experiences.]

I grabbed this photo of Craig so I could remember who he was. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting it here!
Keeping warm after the marathon in a plastic blanket

I eventually caught up with Cyndi and my parents in a little cafe. It was good to see them and I gave them a recap of the race. They’d had a fun time cheering and seeing the fast runners come through. They said a lady next to them cried when I gave Cyndi a kiss! Cyndi said that watching the end of the marathon was one of the top 10 experiences of her life (I just checked again and she still affirms that even though it’s been a week since the race).

Heading out for a tourist walk with my medal after finishing the 2017 Boston Marathon

After cleaning up we walked part of the Freedom Trail and ended up eating a delicious dinner at a restaurant called Row 34. I had the “Daily Whole Fish” which was a black bass. YUM.

It was fun to see other runners walking around and congratulate them.

In Conclusion

I honestly think that 70-90% of people that want to run Boston could run Boston. The 10-30% that can’t are those that are plagued with injuries or other ailments. I think most other people could do it. What does it take? It takes planning. It takes sacrificing other hobbies for running. It may take losing some weight (I’m down to <190 from my high of 239). It takes patience: I read recently that we generally overestimate what we can do in the short run, and underestimate what we can do in the long run. I think that most people that are willing to put in the time and effort can get to Boston in 3-6 years.

I hope to run the Boston Marathon again someday. It probably won’t happen next year, but maybe in two or three.

Boston was my 17th marathon. It was unlike anything else I’ve done. The energy and excitement was amazing. The organization was superb. I’ve never been in a corral with ~1000 other runners that are my same speed and fitness. I’ve never seen crowds that line a course for miles. I’ve never run next to blind runners, runners missing limbs, runners pushing disabled people, and wheelchair athletes all in the same race. Boston was a unique, memorable, and remarkable experience. How could I not want to do it again?