Race to Robie Creek 2019 as Gandalf the Grey

This was my ninth time running the Race to Robie Creek, which definitely makes it the race I’ve done most frequently.

In my post about my 2016 race, I outlined how my times had improved over the years. It turned out that 2016 was the peak (so far). I skipped the Race to Robie Creek in 2017 to run the Boston Marathon. In 2018 I had a knee injury that sidelined my training and hurt my fitness leading up to the race (I forgot to post about it).

This year I ran the Boston Marathon on Monday and would be running the Race to Robie Creek five days later, so I had very low expectations for my time. I used Tuesday through Friday to rest, but I was still sore coming into the race, especially since I blew up at the Boston Marathon. Therefore, I decided to have some fun this year.

I ran the race as Gandalf the Grey.

The Race to Robie Creek had a superhero theme this year. Cyndi made me a Gandalf costume when The Hobbit was released in theaters so that I could dress up for the premier. I wore it to all three Hobbit movies and every Halloween since. For some time I’ve wanted to run a race as Gandalf. Given that I was wiped out from the Boston Marathon anyways, and with the superhero theme, this seemed like a great opportunity to fulfill my dream.

The costume worked pretty well without too many modifications. I usually wear a robe under the huge cloak, but I decided to ditch the robe and just wear grey shorts and a grey shirt. I still wore the rope-belt and the satchel. I didn’t carry a staff. Cyndi modified the beard so that I could pin it to the pointed hat and let it hang under my chin while I raced (I didn’t want to be breathing through a fake beard for the whole race). The cloak has a ton of fabric and must weigh 4-5 pounds.

I’m not the most outgoing person, so when Cyndi and I arrived at the start area I felt a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I walked around as Gandalf. A couple people asked for a photo with me (this is pretty common when I’m dressed up as Gandalf the Grey). I did my usual prerace routine, except that I didn’t warm up a lot since I was sore anyways and I wanted to save my energy.

I wished Cyndi good luck and lined up pretty close to the front, which made for some good photos with Gandalf behind all the serious runners. Including one that made it into this article in the Idaho Statesman (I’m about 4 people back from the front, and in one of the attached photos, although there’s an error in the description).

I was a little concerned about me or someone else tripping on my cloak, so when the race started I was careful to grab it to prevent it from getting away from me.

I ran the first mile in 6:40, which I was pretty happy with. The first mile has a lot of spectators and it’s the only flat mile of the course. Lots of people recognized me as Gandalf and cheered for me as I ran by in the crowd.

Since runners always start fast in this race, I started passing some people in the second mile on the hill. The runners also started thinning out, which meant that Gandalf the Grey got more attention and cheering.

I was still feeling good when I crested the first hill, but my quads really felt the short downhill portion. This was concerning since I was only 2.5 miles into the race. I was also somewhat concerned about the heat — it was mid-60’s and the sun was out. I was wearing a grey cloak and a hat and beard, plus normal running clothes underneath.

Throughout the race I struggled with how to contain the cloak/cape. In my mind I thought it would gently flap behind me as I ran. Reality was that its length and heaviness caused it to wrap my feet if I wasn’t holding onto it with both hands. I still let it go sometimes for photos or for small crowds so they could see the full effect.

After the little downhill portion it was back to climbing, which was much gentler on my quads. I was now in a relatively fixed position relative to other runners. At one aid station around mile 5 a man was counting out runners and I was number 78. This was a pleasant surprise. I would be very happy with a top 100 finish as Gandalf the Grey at the Race to Robie Creek.

Some spectators on the way up the hill. This gives an idea on how large the cloak was (I’m 6’4″). The guy in white is Ryan G. who I ran Ragnar Trail Zion with.

Up the hill we trudged. The heat didn’t get to me as much as expected, and eventually we got some cloud cover that really took the edge off. I drank extra water to ensure I wouldn’t get dehydrated.

Since runners were now pretty thinned out, I got big cheers whenever I came up on an aid station or group of spectators. I made a lot of people smile and yell the classic, “You shall not pass!” or a simple, “Gandalf!” It made me smile too. It was actually quite fun. I even made all the photographers smile. I gave lots of high-fives and fist pumps.

As always, it was a relief to crest the hill at mile ~8.5. For the downhill I had to really grab onto my cloak and push hard on sore quads. Surprisingly I was able to approximately maintain my position going down the hill. I was 57th to the top and 66th to the finish. I was afraid it would be much worse than that.

On the downhill there were several groups of residents with friends that were drinking beer. They really appreciated Gandalf.

As I came to the finish I let the cape flow and gave some fist pumps. I got a good finishing cheer from the crowd, and I was very pleased with my finishing time of 1:42:42. My pace was 7:49/mile (keep in mind, 2100 feet of climbing). I think I was the first finisher in full costume, which also made me happy, although that’s not an official division.

It was really a fun experience. All the smiles made it worth it. Cyndi came in around 2:15. After I was done, tons of people said, “You didn’t run the whole thing in that, right?”

Maybe next year I’ll actually improve my 2016 time… without Gandalf.

Here’s a YouTube video of the finish (I come in at about 6:50 in the video or 1:42:40 on the clock).

Here’s a KITI news article about the race (I have a ~5 second interview near the end).

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 ūüôĀ
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

Shamrock Shuffle Half Marathon 2017

On Saturday I ran the Shamrock Shuffle Half Marathon. The course made for a unique experience. It was crowded but still enjoyable.

I signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle a few months ago. Sometimes I sign up for a race and then regret it. However, I found myself anxiously anticipating this half marathon. I’ve been training hard since December in some nasty (i.e. cold, snowy, icy, and dark) conditions. I haven’t had a chance to test myself since the 10k Turkey Trot I ran in November.

The Shamrock Shuffle took place on March 11, 2017. It was a great time to test my training and just over 5 weeks before my next marathon (the Boston Marathon!), so it would provide some pacing guidance and a good training stimulus. Additionally, it was an opportunity for me to PR.

The race was going to start from Reid Merril Park in Eagle, ID. I would be an out-and-back on the Greenbelt along the Boise River. This is a nice stretch of mostly paved path with some decent scenery. Unfortunately, we got an email from the race director a few days before the race. The email indicated that parts of the Greenbelt were flooded due to the heavy snowfall this winter. The race wouldn’t be canceled, but the course was changed to this:

That’s right, a sideways “H” course with four out-and-backs three times each. Plus there were some sharp turns onto and off of a walking bridge. It actually added up to 14 out-and-backs since we went back to the start area two times before finishing the third time.

I was at least happy we were still going to be able to run.

I felt great on race day. I did a mini-taper on race week:

  • 14 miles on Monday
  • 6 recovery miles plus cross training on Tuesday
  • 8 miles on Wednesday with 2×800 and 1×2.5mi@HM pace
  • 6 miles recovery on Thursday with 15 minutes on the spin bike
  • 2.5 miles recovery on Friday and 16 minutes on the spin bike

Like I said, it was a mini-taper. I’ve been doing lots of miles, so by Saturday morning I felt quite recovered.

The weather was also great on race day. It was mid-high 40’s at the 10am start time with a breeze. It was warm enough that I was able to wear my tank top without gloves or a hat! I haven’t done that in months (especially since I usually run in the early morning).

Miles 1-4: 5:52, 5:55, 5:56, 5:55

Once we started I immediately took the lead. I went a little too fast as usual, but I tried to pare it back within the first half mile. My target time was to break 1:20:00, which would take a 6:06 pace. I hit the first mile at 5:52, which really wasn’t too much faster than my target.

I was feeling good, so I kept the pace just under 6 minutes/mile. It’s amazing to me how different a race feels than regular training. It’s hard for me to run a mile sub-6:00 when I train in the early mornings, but put me in a race and all the sudden it really doesn’t feel too bad.

The first time I crossed the bridge in the center of the course I almost ran off the trail and down an embankment. The bridge has some grade to it, and I didn’t quite anticipate the sharpness of the turn. Luckily I caught myself.

The nice thing about the out-and-back course was that I could see exactly where each of the other runners were. By the second turn-around I had a comfortable lead and it was growing. I hit the second mile at 5:55. Then the third at 5:56. The third turn-around was actually a little loop, which was nicer than a 180 degree turn like the other three points.

I still felt good for the 4th mile and I was happy to be holding the sub-6:00 pace. I finished the mile at 5:55. However, at the turn-around at about Mile 3.5, I saw a couple fast guys coming up behind me. It freaked me out. Where did these guys come from? Then I realized they were probably 5k or 10k runners who were released a few minutes after the Half Marathoners but were only doing 3 out-and-backs instead of all 4. They passed me, but I was ok with that.

Miles 5-8: 5:54, 6:04, 6:00, 6:02

After each “lap” we ran past the finish line and looped around to start over. I was pumped when I finished the first lap and crossed about 4.3 miles into the race. I completed the 5th mile at 5:54.

Then the race started to get more interesting. The 5k and 10k runners and walkers were now on the course. The course was comprised of a walking path which was wider than a sidewalk but more narrow that a typical car lane. Some of the walkers didn’t mind walking 3 or 4 side-by-side. This meant that the runners were forced to do a lot of weaving and yelling warnings.

I tried to be as kind as possible. I usually yelled out “coming left” before passing on the left. Then I would wheeze out a “thanks” when I passed them. I hope I didn’t come across as a jerk.

In any case, the course was really crowded and it was all I could do to keep from bumping into people.

On the other hand, it was a good distraction. When a race is lonely and spread out it can be easy to beat yourself up. In this case I was too concerned about which direction to dodge that I didn’t have to think about my tiring legs as much.

Still, my legs were beginning to tire. Between the weaving and the fatigue I slowed my pace to just over 6:00/mile. Miles 6, 7, and 8 were 6:04, 6:00, and 6:02. During mile 8 I actually came to a dead stop at one point when someone stepped in front of me in a congested area.

Miles 9-13: 6:02, 6:11, 6:09, 6:12, 5:56

I finished my second lap at Mile 8.6 or so. After that I had a break in the congestion for about a mile, which was nice. I was still over the 6 minute pace but I knew I was on track to hit my goal time. I finished mile 9 in 6:02.

During mile 10 I saw my former boss, Rhett, and his daughter. It was nice to see a friendly face on the course. They were running the 10k I think.

With two turn-arounds to go, at about mile 10.5, the congestion mostly cleared. I was fighting to hold onto the 6 minute pace, but miles 10, 11, and 12 were my slowest at 6:11, 6:09, and 6:12.

Finally during the second half of mile 13 I found my kick. I visualized myself finishing and was able to speed up back to a sub-6:00 pace.

I saw my family when I came around the last turn and I was able to give them a big smile.

Giving my family a smile as I finished up the Shamrock Shuffle

Unfortunately the course was short, or at least my watch said it was. I crossed the line at about 12.8 miles, but I wasn’t about to not get an official PR. So I just kept running through the park after crossing¬†the finish. Hopefully I didn’t come across as a spaz, but I didn’t want to stop until my watch had passed 13.1. I kept running until about 13.12 and then went back to get my medal.

I finished first overall — which was amazingly my fourth consecutive 1st place finish (Layton Marathon, Zeitgeist Half Marathon, Turkey Trot, and then this). Up until 2016, I don’t think I’d ever finished first place since maybe a race or two in high school. Due to the number of times everyone crossed the mat, there were errors with some of the times. That meant they couldn’t give out awards (they said they’d mail them out). This was fine with me because I didn’t want to stick around waiting.

Wearing my medal in front of the finish line of the Shamrock Shuffle Half Marathon

I did grab some snacks though. Delicious brownies with mint (green) chocolate chips, cookies, pretzels, apple slices, and orange slices. Plus they had hot chocolate. They gave out glasses — presumably for drinking beer, although they didn’t have any beer. That was fine with me since I don’t drink.

It was a fun race and a good day with near perfect weather. I’m sure they’ll fix the course next year and it will be an even better experience.

Walking back to the van after the Shamrock Shuffle with my support crew of 5 future runners

Race Report: 2016 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

On Saturday I ran the Zeitgeist Half Marathon for my fifth time. I love running¬†Zeitgeist, and I’ve seen some steady improvement since I first ran it in 2011:

Year Time Overall Place
2011 1:45:44 126 / 1012
2013 1:39:56 35 / 902
2014 1:35:09 18 / 633
2015 1:28:44 8 / 554

As you can see, my times have improved by a few minutes every year.

I’ve also noticed the decreasing number of runners at Zeitgeist every year. I think this is generally due to more races in the Treasure Valley taking some runners away from this race. This year was the inaugural “Onward Shay” marathon, which I expected would take more runners away. However, the Zeitgeist organizers did more promotion and even revamped their website this year to slow the decline in participants — they actually ended up with 660 finishers.

There are a few things in particular that I like about the Zeitgeist Half Marathon.

First, it has a nice course. The course is a loop, which I generally prefer over point-to-point or out-and-back courses. Loops allow you to see more than an out-and-back, but also don’t have the logistical annoyance of a point-to-point. The course is challenging, with two large hills. The first rises about 600 feet from the start — most of the ascent takes place over 2 miles¬†— before descending into the town of Hidden Springs. Then the next hill rises about 475 feet, mostly in a 1.3 mile stretch. Many runners are forced to walk the final 100-200 yards as the hill steepens at the top. After peaking at Mile 8.3, the course descends back down about 900 feet over the next 3 miles and finishes on a slightly rolling 2 mile stretch, with one nasty little bump with about a quarter mile left.

Zeitgeist is well organized. Picking up your bib on race morning is fast and easy. You can expect coffee, hot cocoa, and bagels. They also have a unique, tasty lunch once runners are done. This year it was sweet potatoes, potatoes, pasta, french onion soup, and apple crisp.

I also appreciate the timing of the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. It takes place on the first Saturday of November as the racing season is winding down. It’s usually my last significant race before the long winter (although I usually do a shorter Turkey Trot as well). I’m pretty worn out by the time Zeitgeist comes around and I’m not in peak condition, but it’s still a chance to get out the door and run hard on a cold morning.

Unlike some years in the past, this year promised to have some decent weather. It ended up being 43F at the 10am start, rising to ~55F by noon. It was sunny with only a little breeze.

This year I was joined by Cyndi and my father-in-law, Jerry. After a babysitter arrived, we headed out to Eagle, ID to grab our numbers and get racing.

I was pretty worn out after completing the Layton Marathon¬†four weeks before Zeitgeist. The third week after Layton, two weeks before Zeitgeist, I was feeling lousy and I couldn’t get in a great workout. I was obviously trying to rush my marathon recovery a bit too much, and it showed. Luckily I had a decent run on the Monday before Zeitgeist, and another decent run on Wednesday. I decided to do a couple miles less than planned to aid recovery. I felt pretty confident going into the race.

In 2015 I finished Zeitgeist in 1:28:44,¬†which was faster than my 2015 Robie Creek time of 1:31:10. Zeitgeist is probably a little easier than the Race to Robie Creek, plus there are ~7 months between the races in which runners can improve (Robie takes place in April). Since I broke 1:25 at Robie this year, I hoped to do Zeitgeist in <1:24:00. Last year at Zeitgeist I had a calf issue that slowed me down, so I expected I could improve by ~5 minutes. I set up a race plan that would get me there. My main concern was my lack of recovery time since running the Layton Marathon and my lack of hill workouts. I hadn’t ran any hills since late September. Actually, I really hadn’t done many hills all summer. I hoped my hill neglect¬†wouldn’t hold me back too much. If I could get 1:23:xx, I figured it would put me in the top 3-5 or so spots, depending who showed up.

I felt good race morning. I was well hydrated and had plenty of energy. I did some warming up before race time and I felt like I was ready to go. I wore my tank top and gloves as it was unseasonably warm. I lined up for the race in the front near the start line.

Running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon

Mile 1: 6:10

The race started at 10am and we headed out pretty fast. One younger looking runner took the lead and I fell into ~2nd place. A guy named Chris introduced himself to me and said he had seen me on Strava. I had seen his name too, so it was nice to meet him. He was targeting sub 1:30 and we wished each other luck before he fell back a bit. I moved into first place between Mile 0.5 and Mile 1. My target for the first mile, which is pretty flat, was 6:10-6:15 and I hit it right at 6:10.

Mile 2-3: 6:54, 7:18

Right before Mile 1 the course turns left and the first big hill climbs into the distance. Around the turn, another runner caught up with me and passed me during the next half mile. I didn’t know his name at the time, but it turned out to be¬†Matt, another runner I had seen post some fast times on Strava. We ran pretty much together until about Mile 2 when he started to put some distance between us. I thought about going with him, but decided to run my own race. I wanted to climb the hill at a 7:10 pace and I was right in line with that target.

The hill gets steeper as it gets higher, so my pace slowed down a bit, but I was still working hard. The hill peaks at Mile 3.1 and I was right around my target as I crested and started heading down. It’s always nice to reach the top of a hill.

Mile 4: 5:38

Matt was putting more distance between us, but I kept up pretty well on the downhill. I pushed hard on the downhill, but I was a little out of practice. As I mentioned, I hadn’t done much hill work recently. I hadn’t done fast intervals either, so my legs didn’t want to move as quickly as they needed to. I still clocked a 5:38 on the 4th mile which included ~50ft of uphill and ~250ft of downhill.

Mile 5-7: 6:00, 6:37, 6:44

During Mile 5 the hill peters out and the Zeitgeist Half Marathon course turns into Hidden Springs. I came off the hill pretty fast and kept up the tempo. Matt was about 20s ahead of me at this point. As we made some turns in Hidden Springs I began to slow down a bit. I was starting to feel the burn and get a little light headed. I was eating some Gu Energy Chews and actually ate them a little faster than planned to help keep my energy up.

Mile 6 begins to climb a small hill, and although I was slowing down a bit I felt like I was starting to close the distance on Matt. Mile 7 continues on the hill and has a small peak and downhill. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and began to prepare for the big hill coming up. I wasn’t sure how hard Matt planned on hitting it.

I was now a little behind my target as I had hoped for a 6:10 pace at this portion of the race. However, I was still running my own race and I was still feeling ok. Due to the extra burn I was consuming more Gatorade than I otherwise would have.

Mile 8-9: 7:21, 6:33

The following 1.3 miles are the hardest portion of the course — a steep, winding incline. Right when we hit the bottom of the hill I began gaining on Matt and I passed him perhaps a quarter mile up the hill. We exchanged a few words of encouragement. I looked back and couldn’t see anyone nearby.

I attacked the hill pretty hard, aiming for a 7:30-7:45 pace. I was able to hit my pace, and I even felt decent at the top. I looked back at the top and couldn’t see anyone behind me. There’s a curve before the top section, and Matt hadn’t come around it yet (or at least I didn’t see him). This gave me a boost of confidence, but I knew it was still a long way to the finish line.

I accelerated off the crest and started making my way down the long downhill portion. There was an aid station around Mile 9 and it was fun to come into it in the 1st place position. I’d never led in a race like this before. Now I was just following the police escort with no one in front or nearby behind (as far as I knew).

Mile 10-13.1: 6:02, 5:51, 6:17, 6:28, [5:23/mi pace]

I pushed down the hill for the next two miles. My target was to be under a 6:00/mi pace and that’s about where I was. At another aid station before Mile 11 I looked back again and couldn’t see anyone.¬†By that point my legs were starting to cramp up and I was getting a little worried. Around Mile 11.5 there’s a very slight uphill and I slowed down. I tried pushing my pace, but it was difficult to motivate myself. I worried a bit about someone coming up behind me, but I was sure that I could move into a higher gear if that happened.

It was fun to be leading and some spectators and even passing cars cheered me on as I ran alongside the road.

Finally I got over the nasty little hill around Mile 13 and I just had the last stretch to the finish. The announcer broadcast my arrival and several people cheered me in. I finally was able to speed up a bit in this last little stretch.

I finished in first place! This was exciting for me as I hadn’t experienced it many times. When I finished in first at the Layton Marathon, I was mixed in with a bunch of half marathoners, so no one even knew I was the first marathoner. Crossing the line this time¬†was better since there was only one race going on and the spectators knew I was the first finisher.

I was really surprised that I won. This was the slowest Zeitgeist first place time in recent history, for sure. I just happened to capitalize on a slower year. But that was fine with me!

My time was actually a bit slower than my target. I just didn’t have the gas to hit my splits in the middle of the course and the end of the course. Honestly, it also didn’t help that I didn’t have anyone right in front or behind me for the last 5 miles. My final time was 1:25:19.

Post Race

I was happy to be done and I awaited the next few runners that came through and congratulated them. Second place was a high schooler and he finished about a minute behind me. Chris ended up 3rd and Matt finished 4th.

After 5-10 minutes, I started jogging back down the course to meet up with Cyndi. I found her about 1.5 miles back, and then I finished with her. It was a good cool down and forced me to get a few extra miles in.

She was going fairly strong for her last couple miles and we passed several people. She just missed the 2 hour mark, but she improved a few minutes over Zeitgeist 2015.

We awaited Jerry and he came in at about 2:15, placing 2nd in his age group.

We all grabbed some food and awaited the awards. Unfortunately, they wait a loooong time before handing out awards. They didn’t start until about 2pm, which was 2.5 hours after I finished. In hindsight, the wait was not worth it as we could have just picked up our trophies another day. I guess for those that were having fun drinking beer it may not have been too bad, but if you have five kids at home with a babysitter, it’s just not a fun wait. That was my one complaint about the overall organization of Zeitgeist.

That said, the blown glass trophies are pretty cool.

Overall, the 2016 Zeitgeist Half Marathon was a great experience and it was awesome to win. I’m grateful I’ve had such a great year. I know it can be gone in a flash, with one wrong step or one weak tendon.

Hopefully I can keep improving and drop my time next year — whether or not I get first place.

Year Time Overall Place
2011 1:45:44 126 / 1012
2013 1:39:56 35 / 902
2014 1:35:09 18 / 633
2015 1:28:44 8 / 554
2016 1:25:19 1 / 660

 

39th Annual Race to Robie Creek (2016) – Race Report

The Race to Robie Creek is to Boise what the Boston Marathon is to Boston. It’s big (by Boise standards), it’s fun, it’s competitive, and it seems that most of the town knows it’s going on. This year’s Race to Robie Creek brought out some fast runners and, as usual, the weather cooperated nicely on race day. I approached my 7th consecutive Race to Robie Creek¬†with a goal I¬†set several months ago, and I was able to meet my goal almost exactly. In fact, I beat it by 7 seconds!

Signing Up

Sign ups for the Race to Robie Creek take place on Presidents’ Day at noon. To make sure you get a spot, you need to be at your computer, refreshing your browser when the clock strikes 12:00. Cyndi (my wife), Jerry (my father-in-law), Kara (my sister-in-law), and I were all able to secure spots this year. Last year I ran with Jerry and Kara while Cyndi was about 8 months pregnant with our baby.

We were all excited to race together this year, but unfortunately both Jerry and Kara had to pull out due to knee issues. That was disappointing to us all and we hope we can all do it again in the future.

My Race to Robie Creek Goal and Training

Last year I ran the Race to Robie Creek in 1:31:10, or an average of 6:58/mile. That was good enough for 18th place, which I was very happy with. At that time I hoped to run Boston in 2016, so I wasn’t planning on running Robie this year (Boston and Robie take place two days apart this year). Well, after missing the reduced Boston qualifying time, I reset my sights on Robie and quickly came up with a goal.

My goal was 1:24:59. I felt that I could improve by about 6 minutes, and sub-1:25 seemed like a good target to shoot for. I also wanted to break into the Top 10 and figured this would get me there. This would be ~6:28/mile average.

My goal was very specific. I broke the race into 3 parts and knew the pace I needed to average in each of those parts:

  • ~6:15/mile on the pavement (the first 3.4 miles). This would put me at ~21:00 when I hit the dirt. This section has a fast and flat first mile, then a 1 mile uphill, then a little downhill followed by some rolling uphills.
  • ~7:45/mile on the dirt. This is the 5 mile climb from where the pavement ends to where the hill peaks. I need to hit the top at ~59:45. It has some grueling sections, particularly the last 0.8 mile that is very steep (many people walk this section — I used to). To hit the pace I’d need to go faster than 7:45/mile during the first 4 miles of this section since the 5th mile would be slow.
  • ~5:30/mile on the downhill to the finish. The first mile is extremely steep and I expected to do it faster. The last couple miles are always a challenge for me to keep my feet moving.

I felt pretty good about hitting the first section. I was unsure of being able to climb the hill that fast or run down the hill the fast. What gave me confidence was that I had a fantastic winter training season. From January through March I did more miles than I’d ever done in 3 months and my average pace was looking about 30s/mile faster than the year before. I didn’t get sick or injured and did a long run basically every week and mixed in some hills for some of the long runs. I also felt that in 2015’s race I didn’t push the hill quite as fast as I should have.

The only run that caused me to doubt was a 20 miler I did 2 weeks before the Race to Robie Creek. It was only about 15s/mile faster than I did the year before on a very similar run. I ran a hill and my legs just weren’t there. I think it was due to a bit of over-exertion on a cross training ride the day before and my run the day before that. Otherwise, 30s/mile faster was looking just about right.

Pre-Race

Cyndi and I took the kids to packet pick up on the Wednesday before the race. You can pick up your packet on race day, but it’s a fun atmosphere and going early means one less thing to worry about on race day.

Race to Robie Creek packet pick up
Race to Robie Creek packet pick up

We were able to sell Jerry’s and Kara’s bibs a couple weeks before the race.

I did a couple afternoon workouts the week leading up to the race to acclimatize to the warmer weather and to work on eating right. On Friday I didn’t exercise at all and ate the same way I had the day before the 2015 race, as it had worked out pretty well. The noon start time always throws me off a bit.

Unfortunately I had a cold coming on all week. I thought it was allergies on Monday and Tuesday, but on Thursday night and Friday I knew I had a cold. I was just hoping it would stay out of my throat so I could breathe ok. I’ve ran with colds before and they generally don’t affect me too much as long as I’m not running on the peak day or two of the cold.

Friday night I slept well until about 4am. Then I was pretty miserable with the cold and preoccupied with the upcoming race. However, when I finally rolled out of bed on Saturday I was pretty congested, but my energy felt great. I ate breakfast, snacked, went to my son’s first soccer game, at my last pre-race snack, dropped the kids off at grandma’s, then we headed to Ft. Boise to start the race.

2016 Race to Robie Creek - Pre Race Crowd
Crowd gathering to run the Race to Robie Creek

We got there with about 50 minutes to spare. We had met up with my friend Adam Young, who was in town from Provo to run. After using the restroom a couple times, Adam and I went for a little warm-up jog around the softball fields. Usually I don’t do this for a half marathon, but I was hoping for a fast start and knew that I had sufficient endurance built up that it wouldn’t affect me too much.

Adam, Cyndi, and I before beginning the Race to Robie Creek.
Adam, Cyndi, and I before beginning the Race to Robie Creek.

Cyndi and I taking a selfie before the Race to Robie Creek
Cyndi and I taking a selfie before the Race to Robie Creek

I lined up with about 10-15 minutes to go after telling Cyndi good luck, then I danced around to keep warm while I waited for the gun. A team of fast-looking 20-somethings in matching jerseys with “Boise Elite” printed on them lined up near me and my hopes for a Top 10 finish immediately subsided. Oh well! At least I still had my goal time to aim for. That was my target and whatever that placed me would have to do.

2016 Race to Robie Creek _ Blake at the Starting Line
Waiting for the Race to Robie Creek to start. Note the running team lined up around me.

The weather was sunny but not too hot and with a light breeze. I debated wearing my favorite hat but ultimately left it behind. After a lengthy performance by some Mo Town singers and dancers, we started running.

The Race to Robie Creek

2016 Race to Robie Creek - Starting Take Off
Start of the 39th Annual Race to Robie Creek.

2016 Race to Robie Creek - Blake Running at the Start
Navigating the crowded field for the first few yards.

The first mile went well. After clearing the first corner and getting a little more room, I forced myself to take it easy and I backed off my initial pace to get closer to where I needed to be. About a half mile in a friend from work cheered me on from the sidelines which was nice. I saw another coworker, Tom Liby, just ahead of me. I figured there were about 25 people ahead of me at about 0.75 miles, but right when we hit the bottom of the first hill I passed several of them and found my groove. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was place-wise, but I could see a lead pack separating ahead. There were a bunch of the “Boise Elite” jerseys up there.

I pushed up the hill and based on my splits at Mile 1, the start of the hill, and Mile 2, the top of the hill, my pace was just right.

Due to my cold, I was hacking and wheezing quite a bit. This was especially a problem when I was trying to drink at the aid stations. I hacked quite a bit all through the first 3 miles. I was slightly worried that it may cramp up my abs, so I tried to relax. Eventually I started to breathe easier and it became less of a problem.

I ate a Gu block before the Mile 3 aid station and noticed my mouth was really dry. This became a problem with my next block later on. I ended up consuming only one 90 calorie package (including what I ate right before the gun), and I decided not to attempt the other package I had in my pocket as they were too hard to choke down.

I hit the dirt right around¬†21 minutes — which was just right. There were a couple other guys near me and we would keep each other company for the next 4 miles. I worked the hill as hard as I felt I could. Some of my half-mile splits were around a 7:15/mi pace which is what I needed to reserve some time for the last steep section. I worked continued working on the few flattish spots and was able to make up some time for the steeper spots.

I was about 100-200 yards behind Tom Liby when we hit the dirt, but I never saw him after that. The two other guys nearby and I pushed each other. It was good to have them near me, but I was really focused on my Garmin and just pushing the best I could, without worrying too much about the other runners.

Climbing the hill at the Race to Robie Creek.
Climbing the hill at the Race to Robie Creek.

The aid stations went well. I swallowed as much water as I could handle and tried to keep well-hydrated. I knew from experience that I always became thirsty on the back side.

I worked the steepest section of the hill on the Race to Robie Creek as hard as I could. To make my time I needed to hit the top at under an hour. I was feeling really good overall and was excited when I came over the mat on top at 59:33.

The Race to Robie Creek is known for its uphill, but the downhill has its own challenges. Once I peaked, I immediately accelerated to a barely-controlled pace. I had to fight the urge to lean back and brake too hard. I wanted to go fast and that meant moving my feet as quickly as possible.

Running part of the downhill at the Race to Robie Creek
Running part of the downhill at the Race to Robie Creek

I knew there was another runner somewhat near me. I assumed there was another right behind him. I raced as fast as I could down the initial 2 miles. My pace was on target. I was faster than the 5:30 target, but I knew that was necessary as the hill would flatten a little after Mile 11.

I started feeling my legs quite a bit around Mile 10, but I fought the urge to slow down as much as I could. I wondered if I might reel in a runner ahead of me, but I couldn’t see anyone. It was pretty lonely. The curves make it difficult to see very far ahead. It was nice not to be passed by dozens of people like what has happened to me in previous years. Finally around¬†Mile 11, the runner behind me came charging ahead at a pace I had no prayer of keeping with. I don’t know how he did it. He blew by me and kept going until he was out of sight.

Mile 11 was a little weak for me, but I felt like I picked it back up at Mile 12. I knew I was close and I charged ahead. I finally saw another runner ahead of me at about Mile 12.75, but it was too late to catch him. He was one of the “Boise Elite” runners. I was gaining on him, but he had too much of a lead for me to make up the difference. Perhaps if we had another 0.5-1 mile I could have caught him.

I knew I was cutting it close to hitting my time, but when I saw the finish I was able to pull in just under 1:25:00. My official time ended up being 1:24:52. I was very happy with it and pleased to be done at last!

Almost to the finish of the Race to Robie Creek
Almost to the finish of the Race to Robie Creek

Ugly finish line photo at the Race to Robie Creek.
Ugly finish line photo at the Race to Robie Creek. I could have sworn I was trying to look good for the photo!

I was thrilled to have hit my goal. In further reflection, I’ve realized that had I run 8¬†seconds slower, I would have been slightly disappointed. Funny how that works.

 

Post Race

I congratulated the guy that passed me for his strong finish. He told me that he was pretty concerned when I was hacking during the first few miles but he was glad when it mostly stopped. I apologized but told him I had a cold and there wasn’t much I could do about it!

I grabbed my bag and a plate of food. I skipped the baked potato this year since I always take more than I can handle. Then I headed a couple hundred yards up the course to cheer on other runners and await Adam and Cyndi.

Adam had a good race. He came in at 1:39:17, which was great for his first showing at Robie Creek. He got 5th in his age group. I saw a few coworkers come in РRusty got a PR, Matt did well, and Tahnee had a good run. She missed her goal by a few minutes, but she had run another half marathon a couple weeks before. Cyndi came in at 2:07 and I was excited to see her. She did well and had a fun race. I reminded her that I got 2:07 just a few years ago, in 2012.

We ran into a couple other friends in the crowd below, but after getting some food and chatting we headed home.

My in-laws were in town and we had a nice, barbecued steak dinner and homemade ice cream with them, my parents, and Adam and his dad. It was a great finish to a great day.

Final Thoughts

I’ve determined that the Race to Robie Creek is my favorite race. It’s in my home town. It’s fun. It’s competitive. It’s quirky and unique (noon start time, limited entry, silly themes, etc.).

It’s also a race I can do (almost) every year and measure my progress. I’ve been blessed to have been able to train¬†mostly injury-free for a few years now. I’ve found that consistency in training and remaining injury free has been¬†the key to improvement. I used to take long breaks from running, but I’ve been consistent¬†in the past few years and it has yielded nice dividends for me.

These are my Robie times since my first Race to Robie Creek in 2010:

  • 2010: 1:58:33
  • 2011: 2:03
  • 2012: 2:07
  • 2013: 1:48:22
  • 2014: 1:40:18
  • 2015: 1:31:10
  • 2016: 1:24:52

My point is that consistency and hard work can work well for anyone at least to some degree. Of course, injuries can destroy everything. I know that eventually I will either peak or become injured, but until then I hope to carry on. I also know that not everyone cares about improving their time at a silly race. However, I think that the same principle can be applied across other areas of life — parenting, relationships, education, work, gardening, weight loss, etc. Basically, with the right focus and effort we can get better at anything. There may be hiccups and setbacks along the way, but even those can be overcome with time, especially for things that really matter (i.e. not running).

What will next year bring?