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 – Rusty 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?

2015 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

Another year another Zeitgeist Half Marathon. This happened to be a good year for me — as I finally broke into the top 10 and got a course PR.

I’ve posted about the Zeitgeist Half Marathon before, so I won’t go into too many details about the race course. Basically, there is a big hill that peaks at ~Mile 3.1. Then there’s a downhill and flat portion followed by another mile long hill that peaks at Mile 8 or so. Then it’s down and flat to the finish, with a few tiny rollers.

What makes Zeitgeist great, is that it’s one of the last big races in the Boise area before the winter lull, or at least one of the last ones I typically participate in. (I guess there’s the Turkey Trot and Christmas run, but those are shorter distances.) It’s also well organized.

This year I convinced Cyndi to sign up and run it with me. Zeitgeist was the last race she ran before giving birth to our youngest child in May. Cyndi was 3 months pregnant at the time of the race last year. This year she was nervous about getting a babysitter for 4 hours, but I ended up convincing her. It was partly to justify my own 4 hour absence and partly because I thought Cyndi would have a good time and it would give her something to train for. It will also make for some good prep for a marathon I hope to convince her to do next year.

Cyndi has a different relationship with running than me. I’m really competitive and enjoy running as a challenge to myself and others. I’m all about tracking my times and distances. I also like the feeling of accomplishment and achieving a goal. Cyndi runs because “it’s the hardest thing I can do,” meaning, it’s an exercise that is challenging and makes her work. She doesn’t use a watch or track her times and distances like I do. I think she also runs because her dad and I rub off on her a bit. The last time she signed up for a marathon was right after she saw me and her dad finish one. She doesn’t get the same thrill out of it as I do, and when she’s done with a marathon she needs some time before she forgets enough that she’s willing to do another.

I arranged for my mom to watch all five kids while we ran. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the starting line from our house, so we left at about 9am and picked up our bibs by 9:30. We were a little uncertain regarding what to wear. It had been cold but warmed up somewhat the day of the race. The Zeitgeist Half Marathon starts at 10am, but it is usually breezy during the second half of the course. I ended up going with a long sleeve shirt. It worked out pretty well, although I would have preferred short sleeves and knit gloves.

I was excited for this half marathon. I fully expected a course PR, and hoped I could finish in a decent place. My primary goal was to break 1:30, but I was really hoping to get 1:27 or 1:25 as a stretch. I would be disappointed if I was slower than 1:30:00. In the Idaho Falls Half Marathon I had run a ~1:23 (excluding my detour), but it had some nice downhill and no uphill. In last year’s Zeitgeist race, I got 1:35. After a year of great training and only a couple minor setbacks/injuries, I was ready to improve my time quite a bit.

My only issue going into the race was a minor calf strain. I always seem to have little issues like this and it really annoys me. About 2.5 weeks before race day I had done 8×800 intervals on the road. My calf got pretty sore, and it never fully recovered. I was still able to run, but I kept aggravating it every couple days. I realized my predicament and did just a 9 mile run on the Saturday before Zeitgeist (keep in mind that Saturday is my “long” day and I typically run 13+ miles). On Monday I did a very easy recovery run, and given some pain still in my calf, I took it easy the rest of the week and didn’t run any more. I think I did a day or two of cross training in the gym.

On race day my calf felt pretty good and I was hopeful. Cyndi and I lined up and wished each other good luck. I lined up pretty close to the start. I saw my running pal Jon and wished him good luck. He was going for sub 1:30 as well, but he was coming off a pretty recent ankle sprain. We did the annual “Zeitgeist” cheer and then the race started.

One guy (I later learned his name is Kyle Perry) took off immediately. He ended up setting a course record at 1:13:31. He could easily be a contender to win the Race to Robie Creek next April if he runs it.

I took off pretty fast, but mostly under control. I figured I needed to hit 6:30’s on the flat, 7:30’s on the uphills, and 6:00’s on the downhills. My first mile came in at 6:13, so definitely on the fast side. I really need to control myself better in the first mile or two of each race. However, I don’t think I was too out of control. Fifteen seconds off my target pace in a Half Marathon isn’t too bad.

I quickly settled in around 7th-9th place since I started in the front of the pack anyways. Zeb Perez, who I had met after the Foothills 50k Frenzy, was ahead of me (which was no surprise). We pushed the first hill pretty hard — my second mile was 6:58 and my third mile was 7:22. I still felt really good and was hoping to keep it going. When I hit the top of the hill I continued pushing hard on the downhill. I didn’t want to relax too much going down and sacrifice time. The downhill pace was right about where I wanted it as my next two miles were 5:50 and 6:03.

On the flat portion is where I ran into a little trouble. Coming out of Mile 5 I started to feel a small tightness in my right calf. I knew it was only going to grow and the pain continued to worsen. There’s a small hill during Mile 7, and by the time I came out of that and was about to push up the second big hill, I was worried I might have to walk.

Fortunately, my calf and I reached a tenuous truce. It came to a point where it felt like a big knot, but then it stopped worsening. I was doing my best to run on my heels and keep off my toes. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I figured I’d be able to finish the race without a serious injury. Nevertheless, my calf was starting to slow me down. As I made my way down the hill with a couple people close behind, I couldn’t pick up the pace by running on my toes. I was also starting to get sore in my hips and unusual places since I had adjusted my gait to preserve my calf.

I was still able to make a pretty good pace. Miles 10 and 11 came in at 6:20 and 6:11, which wasn’t too much slower than my target. I was now shooting for sub 1:29 or at least sub 1:30, realizing that 1:25 was out of reach. The two people behind me, Andrija Barker (the first woman) and Justin Woodward (who I don’t know), ended up passing me somewhere on that downhill. I wasn’t sure what place this put me in, but I was thinking that it was 11th overall.

I kept chugging along and watching Justin and Andrija battle for a small victory. I have to admit that I sneaked a peak after one of the turns to see if anyone else was near me. Fortunately no one was, which meant I could be a little lazy. I was still pushing, but my calf was mostly determining my pace at this point. I had more in me but it wasn’t going to happen. After 3 miles of downhill, the final 2 flat and rolling miles of Zeitgeist are always a bit tough.

Andrija ended up edging out Justin in the last mile and beat him by 6 seconds. I came in over a minute later. My official time was 1:28:44, which got me 9th place overall. I was pretty happy with that despite that I felt my calf prevented a 100% performance. It beat my time from the previous year by over 6 minutes and finally landed me in the top 10 finishers.

I spoke with Jon who came in 19th at 1:33. I also said hi to Zeb and congratulated Andrija, who told me she had beat Justin. She noted that she thought I probably started too fast. I also spoke with my friend Chad, who came in under 1:40.

I grabbed some chocolate milk and started jogging back to find Cyndi. My plan had been to jog back to her and then finish with her as I figured that would give me a nice cool down, a few extra miles, and some time running with my lovely wife. I quickly realized that my calf wouldn’t permit any such thing. After limping across the road near the end of the course, I promptly limped back and waited until Cyndi came in.

She did pretty well for her first race since having a baby. Her goal was to not walk, even on the steep uphill, and she did it! The wind was picking up, so as we grabbed our post race meal we both got cold. Zeitgeist always has some tasty, unique food for after the half marathon. This year they had sweet potatoes, soup, and apple crisp (if I remember correctly). Not to mention chocolate milk and beer for those who want it (not me).

After eating we started walking to the car, which was at a distant parking lot. I was limping along slowly and Cyndi was cold, so she took the keys and ran ahead to get the minivan warmed up. We got one picture on the way out. Notice the smiling faces!

Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon
Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon

I love running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. It’s always well organized. The course is decent and definitely challenging. The Race to Robie Creek gets a lot more press, but Zeitgeist has it’s own place as a race in the Treasure Valley. I’m hoping to run again next year, although there’s a chance I’ll have a marathon conflict or something. If I do run, I hope to be able to squeeze a few more minutes off my time and see what my body can do.

Race Report: Idaho Falls Half Marathon

My nephew, who was just turning 16, was running his first half marathon in late July – the Idaho Falls Half Marathon (which was combined into the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon). When my father-in-law told me he was going to run it, too, I had to join in the fun. The timing fit nicely into my schedule – falling between the Newport Marathon I ran on May 30 and expectations to run another marathon in early September.

My family just before the Kids Run after the Idaho Half Marathon. Not sure who that guy is behind us…

The Idaho Falls Half Marathon course was also a good fit for my planned September marathon. The four marathons I was considering in early September all had significant downhill portions. The Idaho Falls Half Marathon begins in the hills outside of town with an elevation drop of about 1200 feet over the first 6 miles followed by 7 flat miles to the finish. This makes for a very fast course, so I fully expected a PR going into it.

I didn’t let my expectations of a PR affect my training regimen too much: The week before the Idaho Falls Half Marathon I did a quad-burning 21 mile run with 3000 feet elevation gain followed by 3000 feet elevation loss. The run itself wasn’t too bad, although I did have a nice visit with The Wall. However, the days following the long run I realized just how much I trashed my quads. I took it easy the rest of the week, but I could still feel some soreness the night before the half marathon. I still expected a PR and figured that it probably wouldn’t have a big impact over 13 miles after resting much of the week.

We drove out to Idaho Falls from the Boise area on Friday afternoon and went straight to packet pickup, which was located at Bill’s Bike and Run. The Iron Cowboy and his crew happened to have stopped there as well before their final Ironman in Utah the following day. I had heard about the Iron Cowboy since an old friend’s brother was shadowing him for part of his journey. I ran into Rivers Puzey sitting in the bike shop and talked to him for a bit – he was very kind and looked just like his brother, Jacob.

The coolest thing about packet pickup was that I got to choose my own number! Number 1 was still available, so I couldn’t resist. I hoped it was a good omen. I had looked at previous years’ results for the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon the week prior. The winning times were generally around 1:22. I thought I had a shot at a top 3 finish. Unbeknownst to me, they had combined the M.A.D. half with the Idaho Falls Half, and the M.A.D. half had a tougher course. (I found this out while lining up the following morning.)

That brings me to an initial complaint about the race – the website didn’t have as much info as I would have liked to see. Of course, I was using the M.A.D. website, so perhaps there was another website that was better, but I wish they would have at least pointed me there. I had no idea they had combined the races until I was lined up.

We ate some spaghetti Friday night and I tried not to eat too much (I love to eat). No need to carbo load in any serious way for a race that lasts less than 90 minutes. I indulged in a couple extra cookies, but nothing too serious. I got to bed pretty early, at ~9:30, so I could wake up early enough to catch the bus, which was loading at 5am.

On Saturday morning we drove to the bus after I ate a bagel with some peanut butter and a PowerBar. There was plenty of parking and the buses left on time. The issue was that all the buses left at the same time and dropped off 300 runners right in front of FOUR port-a-potties. That’s right, FOUR! I couldn’t believe it. Luckily I was on the first bus so I hopped in line immediately. Also, the port-a-potties were a good quarter mile or more from the starting line. When we got to the starting line 15 minutes before race time, the crew was still setting it up. Fortunately the finished getting the timer up about 5 minutes before 6:30am, the race time, but it was pretty tacky and risky. The race ended up being delayed 10 minutes so that more people could finish using the FOUR port-a-potties.

My nephew Kaden finishing up the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

I was starting in front and talked to the guy that had won the previous year. He told me how I was actually running the Idaho Falls Half Marathon and not the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Marathon and that he won in a time of 1:17 or something the previous year. Thus my hopes at a top 3 finish were dashed. Nevertheless, I still expected a PR and a good race.

There was no speech or pep talk or “thanks for coming” — just a guy off to the side who started counting down and then fired a gun (if I remember correctly). The race started at a fast pace. The downhill at the beginning was very pronounced, so no one held back. I glanced at my watch and knew I was moving fast, but I felt fine and didn’t see a reason to restrain myself and fight against the downhill. My first mile came in at 5:21, and my next three were all under 6:00.

After the 6 miles of downhill, I settled into 6th place. Runners were getting pretty spread out at this point, and I was trailing an older runner by 30-50 yards. A couple runners near me slowed way down after coming out of the hill.

After Mile 7 we were approaching our first turn. There was a volunteer about 200 or 300 yards before the turn who said that a turn was coming up. I don’t know why he was so far from the turn — he should have been right next to it. This was the only volunteer guiding us during the entire race, which ended up being a problem. Luckily the guy in front of me knew the course so I followed him at the first turn. I found out later that the runner in the first position missed the turn but ended up finding his way back to the course without adding any distance (it may have actually shortened it for him).

There was a water station at Mile 7.5 or so, which was nice. They actually gave us miniature water bottles, which I thought was pretty strange and much more expensive (and wasteful?) than paper cups. Oh well.

Shortly after the water we started hitting lots of turns. The first was a left turn. I just followed the older guy in front of me, who was gradually expanding his lead. There were spray painted arrows on the road, but they weren’t super noticeable.

A block later there was a right turn and then we had to cross a road. There was no one directing traffic, so I just went for it. It was a fairly large road so I was glad I hit it without traffic.

We passed three more decent sized roads, at least a couple with stop lights, and there were no volunteers to block traffic! I could hardly believe it. It was very unusual. On at least one of them I had to wait for an opening in the traffic before I could cross — that really annoyed me as I had never experienced that in a race like this.

After that last big road I was getting too far behind the guy in front of me. It was becoming difficult to follow the arrows without slowing down. Luckily we were still going straight. Then we came out in a neighborhood and the difficulty increased. Eventually I was running along when I got to a stop light. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. I looked for arrows but didn’t see any. I asked 3 people if they had seen any runners, but to no avail. After a minute or so of frustration, I turned around. Finally I saw some runners going towards a turn I’d missed. I was so upset! The arrow had been on the opposite side of the street that I was on and I just blew by it. My mistake cost me about 0.3-0.4 miles and at least a couple minutes!

I couldn’t believe with all the turns that there were no volunteers directing runners or traffic. In my anger I ran the last mile pretty fast. I passed a few people that I had passed early in the race or hadn’t seen yet. I finished strong and felt great as I crossed the Finish, despite being upset about the missed turn.

After crossing I went to grab some post-race snacks, but they weren’t set up yet. Imagine that! I briefly mingled with some of the other runners and that’s when I discovered the 1st place runner had taken a wrong turn as well. Some of my in-laws were doing the 5k, which had a later start, and a few of them also took wrong turns due to a poorly marked course and a lack of guidance.

One redeeming aspect of the Idaho Falls Half Marathon was that they offered a free kids run. Three of my little ones participated and I jogged with them. It was just the right length at a little less than a mile and they all received medals.

My son and I finishing up the kids run after the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

Overall I was happy with my performance, but very disappointed with the lack of organization. The course wasn’t great. I enjoyed the hills, but once in the city it wasn’t very spectacular, especially as we had to navigate traffic by ourselves. I don’t see myself doing the Idaho Falls Half Marathon again and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no other options.