Race Report: 2016 Layton Marathon (1st Place!)

The kids had a couple days off of school in October for some reason, so we decided to take a trip to Utah to visit some family and friends. Utah has a plethora of marathons, so as long as we were in Utah I figured I should sign up for one. The Layton Marathon’s date and location fell nicely within our trip plans. I debated whether I wanted to interrupt training to run a marathon, but ultimately I decided to pull the trigger as I know I have a long winter training season ahead of me and I really wanted to do three marathons this year.

The Trip

Cyndi, our five kids, and I drove down to Utah after work on Wednesday night. We arrived at my brother’s house after midnight and I got to sleep around 12:40am. Of course, the kids were up before 7:30am (they had slept in the car) and I wasn’t in my own bed, so I didn’t exactly sleep well. I did a 4.25 mile recovery run with a few striders that morning. Then we went to the BYU campus (our alma mater) and walked across campus in search of a geocache. We stopped at the science building and the Bean Museum as well. By the time we were back at our car I was pretty exhausted. I caught a 5 minute nap at home, but that was it.

Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon
Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon

Thursday evening we headed to our friends’ house to play games until about midnight (I lost our game of Caverna). Then our 16 month old decided not to sleep, so once again it was a not-so-restful night. I told Cyndi I couldn’t do a walking tour that day as I wanted to have some chance at a decent marathon on Saturday. Luckily we found a good deal on a bounce house place, so we let the kids play for a couple hours while we mostly relaxed and watched. We then ate lunch at Costa Vida and I ate WAY too much (my full chicken burrito, 1/4 of Paisley’s burrito, and a little of Cyndi’s salad). We ate dinner at Grandma’s and I tried to take it easy, but I still ate too much given the large lunch I had eaten. We headed to my cousin’s house and I topped it off with a couple chocolate chip cookies. I also lost by one point in a competitive game of Settlers of Catan — complete with the Cities and Knights and Seafarers expansions.

My cousin lives right by Layton, so we stopped at packet pickup before we got there. Packet pickup wasn’t too fancy — I got my shirt, my bib, a couple granola bars, and some safety pins. There wasn’t actually a packet with decent coupons or anything special.

Fortunately the baby slept well on Friday night, so I got almost 5 hours of sleep. I was counting on caffeinated Clif Bloks at this point.

Layton Marathon Race Morning

The alarm sounded at 4:10am and Cyndi kindly drove me to the bus pick up at 4:45. We could have used a little more guidance on where the buses were going to be, but we figured it out and I was able to hop on the first bus (which I like to do for first bathroom access — especially after engorging myself the previous day).

At this point I will note that the Layton Marathon website isn’t too great. It is pretty bare bones and confusing to navigate. It left off some information like whether there would be a bag drop-off and if and where gels would be handed out on the course. Not too big a deal, but it was probably my main organizational complaint.

The bus left at 5am from Layton and headed out to Antelope Island. After a long ride it dropped us off on the east side of the island. It was pretty chilly outside and I made a mental note to dress warmer for my next marathon. I was wearing shorts, jogging pants, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, a hoodie, knit gloves, and a beanie, but it wasn’t quite enough while waiting over an hour in the cold. The race volunteers fired up a generator and a big electric heater, but I didn’t feel like huddling with a group of 30 people. I was a bit cold, but I wasn’t shivering at least. Anyways, I milled around and used the port-a-potties three times. I chatted with a couple people, including one younger lady that was running her first marathon. She asked me for tips and I gave her two (which I have learned by sad experience):

  1. Don’t go out too fast.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids — more than you think you need.

As race time approached I stripped down to my tank top, shorts, and knit gloves. It was really cold, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly.

I was secretly hoping for a PR — perhaps a pace of ~6:45/mi to beat my PR of 6:48/mile. However, I was concerned about my lack of sleep and how my recent training would translate into marathon performance. I’d clocked a lot of miles recently, but my last marathon, Morgan Valley Marathon, was just over two months before. I finished in 3:00:08 at Morgan Valley, so I hoped I’d do better at ~1000 feet lower altitude.

The Layton Marathon Course

The Layton Marathon course starts on the east side of Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. The first 10 miles of the course follow the east coast of the island with the Salt Lake to the right and a ridge rising to the left. On the slopes you may see some herds of Bison grazing. The vegetation is dry and mostly brown. The first 10 miles include some light rolling hills, most of which are probably beneficial since they work slightly different leg muscles on the inclines and declines. There is one notable hill that rises 200 feet or so.

At Mile 10 the course turns right and for the next seven miles it follows a causeway across the Great Salt Lake. Note that the lake is not a normal lake — it is really shallow and the water recedes quite a bit from its highest levels. The causeway is straight and flat. Around Mile 17 runners are back on the land and run the rest of the course on large, straight roads, some of which have a gentle incline. Initially the roads are among farms and marshland, but eventually the course starts hitting suburban areas before finally turning to the last stretch near a school and park.

Running the Layton Marathon

Miles 1 to 4: 6:57, 6:40, 6:40, 6:50

The race started right at 7am and I took it easy for the first half mile — clocking in above a 7 minute pace. I didn’t want to go out too fast like I normally do. I was surprised how much I was able to control my pace as I usually have to really restrain myself.

A runner named Caleb took off ahead, and there were two other runners near me: a lady who I passed within the first few hundred yards, and a guy named Eddie. I introduced myself to Eddie and we talked a bit. He’d done several half marathons but no full marathons — this was his first. His best Half time was 1:23, so I thought he could potentially be under 3 hours depending on his training regimen. However, I asked if he’d done any “long” runs like 18 or 20 miles and he said he hadn’t. He usually just does 10 or 12 miles per day. That’s still a lot of mileage, but I wasn’t sure if that would give him the endurance required to do a 3 hour marathon. I told him I’d be right around 3 hours if he wanted to stay with me, but after 2 or 3 miles I slowly pulled away.

I hit a couple 6:40 miles which is right where I wanted to be at this point in the race. My 4th mile was a bit slower at 6:50, but still in a good range for a 6:45 average. There were some herds of bison to our left which was pretty cool. I also saw several mule deer prancing around the side of the road, across the road, and up the ridge. I was closing in on Caleb, who was leading in 1st place.

MILES 5 TO 8: 6:40, 6:47, 7:03, 6:58

Mile 5 and 6 were right in line with my target average. The gentle rolling hills were nice — flat enough that they didn’t overwork my legs but inclined enough to mix it up. The view across the lake was pretty nice. The sun was rising over Layton and the whole Wasatch Front, and it was cool to see.

I caught Caleb at some point around Mile 5 and learned his name. He hadn’t done a marathon in a couple years. I was amazed to hear he’d done a 35 mile training run just two weeks prior! That either meant he would have plenty of endurance or he’d be a little burned out. He got through the water stations faster than me, so I would lose a little ground on him only to gain it back within a few hundred yards.

Starting at Mile 6 there is a 200 foot hill. We both charged up it at a decent pace of just over 7:00/mile. It didn’t feel too strenuous to me, so I was OK with that pace. Besides, I’d recently done some hill training, so I was somewhat prepared for it. Mile 8 was on top of the hill and Caleb and I were still together. I thought I could potentially make a move on the downhill, although I knew we had plenty of miles left to jockey for position.

There were a couple bison right next to the road somewhere around mile 8. They are huge! Frankly, I was a little concerned. Fortunately none of them charged us. One of them actually started thundering away when we approached it.

MILES 9 TO 12: 5:52, 6:33, 6:45, 7:47

I took the downhill pretty hard. Well, I didn’t actually exert myself very much, but I didn’t hold back either. Downhill is a little tricky: your mind wants to slow down, but if you do you’ll actually do more damage to your quads than if you just roll with gravity. I passed Caleb on the downhill portion and clocked a nice sub-6 mile, followed by another fast 6:33 mile as the hill petered out.

Caleb passed me back right after the downhill and put 20 yards between us. He was now getting some nice cheering from his parents (presumably) who were leap-frogging us every couple miles. They were friendly and cheered for me, too, but not as much as for him 🙂

After Mile 10 we turned onto the causeway and suddenly I needed to use a port-a-potty. This was uncalled for. Only one other time have I taken a bio break during a race, and that was my 3rd marathon (Salt Lake City) back in 2004! Really though, I wasn’t too surprised given my binge eating the previous day. Still, I was mad at myself, especially given that I was within 20 yards of 1st place.

I knew there was a port-a-potty at the Mile 11 aid station, and the closer I got the more I needed to use it. I was worried that there would be some volunteer in it or some other issue. To my great relief there wasn’t. I was able to get in and out in exactly 1 minute. (Sorry if this is Too Much Information, but such issues can really affect overall performance!)

Back on the course, I knew that I had plenty of time left to catch Caleb. I looked behind me and couldn’t see anyone, so Eddie wasn’t a present concern. It was actually kind of nice to have a 1 minute buffer with the leader so I could run my own race.

MILES 13 TO 16: 6:43, 6:50, 6:41, 6:46

My watch was at about 1:29:00 at the half way mark. This meant that I was right on pace for a PR if I didn’t hit the wall, and that includes my break.

I then had a thought occur to me: while eating too much the day before cost me a minute break, it also meant that my muscles should be chock full of glycogen. I should have all the energy I needed to PR and then some! I liked this line of thought, and I began to push a little harder.

I started passing the half marathon walkers. I cheered some of them on and they did the same for me. This gave me a welcome distraction and also made it harder to see where Caleb was at.

Around Mile 16 I was really starting to feel good and I began to gather some speed.

MILES 17 TO 21: 6:37, 6:40, 6:36, 6:37

We got off the causeway and back to land right around Mile 17 and now I was cruising. I did a sub 6:40 mile. During Mile 18 there was a turn and I could see Caleb ahead. I began to think I was closing on him. It reminded me of one of my best 5k races in high school when I just stared at the back of the 1st place runner’s shirt. (I passed that runner for the first time in my life after 4k, only to be passed back a couple hundred yards later.)

Caleb was still a ways ahead, but I was trying to do a sneak attack. I tried keeping half marathoners between him and me in case he looked back. He never did though, he was just focused on his own race. Kudos to him for leading the race for ~20 miles and maintaining a great pace.

My mile times were awesome at this point and I was feeling good. I was really closing in on Caleb and I hoped to pass him after the Mile 21 aid station. This would let me take my slow water break and then have a two mile stretch before the next one. It worked out just how I wanted. I was only a couple dozen yards behind him at the aid station.

MILES 22 TO 26.2: 6:39, 6:42, 6:46, 6:47, 6:30, ~5:38 pace

During Mile 22 I finally caught Caleb and passed him. I passed him going fast because I really didn’t want to have to go stride for stride with him. My pace was still pretty healthy at this point and I did another sub 6:40 mile.

Then the course started to incline a bit and my legs started to tighten up. I didn’t hit The Wall, but I could definitely feel more resistance. I didn’t know how close behind Caleb was, so I kept pushing. I also realized that I had a good shot at a PR, although my watch was off by ~0.2 miles so it was difficult to tell exactly how good of a PR opportunity I had.

Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon

My main ambition now was to secure a sub 2:58 finish. The final few miles felt pretty good overall. I didn’t let my pace get too slow. The last mile felt great and I tried to pick it up and leave everything on the course.

There’s only so much you can do at this point in the race, but I was ecstatic to be running at a ~6:30 pace for the last mile! Finally I could see the finish line and I sped up even more, doing a sub 6:00 pace for the last few hundred yards.

Final stretch of the Layton Marathon
Final stretch of the Layton Marathon

It was nice that there weren’t many half marathoners for my last quarter or half mile (they were spread out), so it was just me and the finish line. There was a small crowd at the finish and they gave me a good cheer. Cyndi was also there and it was great to see her. I sprinted into the finish and was happy to see that I got a new PR of 2:57:07 on my 16th marathon+.

Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon
Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon

AND FIRST PLACE! My first 1st place finish at a marathon. I’d gotten 3rd a couple times and 2nd once, but never 1st. It was pretty awesome.

I liked the medal as well.

The 2016 Layton Marathon medal
The medal I received from the 2016 Layton Marathon

Post Race

Cyndi and I milled around as we waited for the awards ceremony. I took a little walk and tried to stretch out a bit. About 10 minutes after finishing I got that post-marathon-I-want-to-throw-up feeling, but it dissipated and I was able to eat half a PBJ and drink water.

Wearing my Layton Marathon medal
Wearing my Layton Marathon medal

I saw Caleb come through and chatted with him. He did great and it was nice to meet him. I’ve never had someone like that to compete with during a marathon. He had hit The Wall around the time I passed him I think, so he finished in 3:03. That was fantastic for a second marathon and I’m sure he’ll improve a lot in the future.

Layton Marathon podium
Shaking Caleb’s hand at the Layton Marathon podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium

After the awards we headed back to my cousin’s where I showered. As we walked away I saw Eddie finishing up around 3:50 and we cheered him on. We gathered the kids and hit the road for the 5 hour trip back to Meridian. I drove for the first three hours then had to take shotgun so I could stretch my legs out.

Overall it was a great experience. I was satisfied with my time and especially my place. Despite being a small marathon, there were no significant issues: the bus left on time, the aid stations were well stocked, and they gave awards to all age groups. The course terrain was fast and the scenery was pretty good. I would happily run it again.

Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque
Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque

Race Review: Morgan Valley Marathon

A shooting star, a skunk, some angry dogs, a beautiful sunrise, verdant farms, goats, little rolling hills, magnificent mountains in every direction, great organization: these were some of the things that made the Morgan Valley Marathon a memorable event that I would happily do again.

Morgan Valley Marathon Banner

Background

My youngest brother, Jake, was getting married on July 30 in Utah. Since Utah is chock full of marathons and Idaho (my home state) isn’t, I decided it might be worth seeing which events were happening around that time. (I might as well run a marathon if I’m going to be in Utah, right?) I found two prospective marathons: the Deseret News Classic on July 25th and the Morgan Valley Marathon on July 30th.

I’ve wanted to run Deseret News for some time, but it was looking to be a busy week at work so I didn’t think I could get away for a whole week. It took place on Monday this year in conjunction with Utah’s Pioneer Day.

That left the Morgan Valley Marathon. It’s a fairly small event — about 100 runners in the marathon, but more than that in the Half and also some in the 10k and 5k. I only found one or two reviews of the marathon online, and they were very positive. I finally decided to sign up about two weeks before the race as I didn’t have any injuries and felt that I could have a good run. We had actually ran/driven through the area during the Ragnar Wasatch Back in June and I knew it was a nice area.

The Morgan Valley Marathon Course

The Morgan Valley Marathon course is a little challenging. It takes place around 5.000 feet, with some little rolling hills throughout the course. No big hills, just little rollers. The course is basically a loop, although there is a little backtracking on one section. Net elevation change, therefore, is zero, but the gross elevation gain (total climbing) was about 620 feet according to my Garmin.

I checked out the Morgan Valley Marathon course map while I was milling around near the starting line
I checked out the Morgan Valley Marathon course map while I was milling around near the starting line

That describes the course’s difficulty, but not its beauty. The course turned out to be right up my alley. Most of the course is on along a lightly used country road with hills on one side and green farms on the other. There were American flags proudly displayed, tethered goats taking care of weeds, cows, horses, deer, and even a skunk. As if that wasn’t enough, the course is in a valley which means huge, rocky mountains in every direction. Moreover, since the start time was at 5:30am, we were graced with a gorgeous sunrise on a thin layer of stratus clouds. The only downside to the course was a ~4 mile stretch near a freeway which was a little noisy. Otherwise it was amazing.

Here’s a shot of part of the course, but imagine it under a morning sunrise:

I think the Morgan Valley Marathon course was my favorite I’ve ran so far. I probably preferred it to the St. George Marathon.

Tapering and Preparation for the Marathon

Given that this wasn’t a great course for a personal record (elevation, rolling hills), I decided to do a softer taper than normal. I didn’t want to do a full taper and interrupt my training too much. I went backpacking to Hell Roaring Lake two weekends before the marathon, which meant no long run that weekend (although I did do a 14 miler on the Wednesday before backpacking). The week before marathon week, I did 13 miles on Monday, 9.5 miles on Wednesday, and 14 miles on Friday. I also cross trained and did a little recovery running on the other days. I’d never done a 14 miler the weekend before a marathon, so that was somewhat experimental.

I did a full taper the week of the marathon: 6.5 miles Monday, cross training Tuesday, 5 miles Wednesday, 4 recovery miles Thursday, and resting on Friday (actually driving).

I caught a cold starting on Tuesday, so I did everything I could to shake it. This included drinking a ton, some vitamin supplementation, medicine, and zinc lozenges. My main fear was getting a cough, but I was very blessed to be feeling mostly better on Friday as we drove to Utah.

We had a pretty big family lunch of pizza, salad, and fruit on Friday. I only ate three slices of pizza but I ate a lot of salad and watermelon. Since my brother was getting married on Saturday, we had a little bachelor party for him on Friday evening. They all wanted to do sushi, so I joined in despite never having really tried sushi. It was pretty good and I ate quite a bit — a variety of rolls mostly. I figured the rice would work well for the carbs, although all the fish was more questionable.

I got to bed a little before 11pm on Friday, and then I woke up at 2:45 (ugh). We were staying with a friend in Springville, UT, which is 1.5 hours from Morgan, UT. I hit the road just after 3am, all alone, and arrived in Morgan at about 4:30am to pick up my packet and get ready.

Picked up my packet in the wee hours of the morning at the Morgan Valley Marathon.
Picked up my packet in the wee hours of the morning at the Morgan Valley Marathon.

I started finally feeling pumped at about 5am. Up until that time I was a little concerned about my unusual taper, my cold, and my lack of sleep.

Is that a Creamies trailer I see? Something to look forward to after the Morgan Valley Marathon.
Is that a Creamies trailer I see? Something to look forward to after the Morgan Valley Marathon.

I lined up with just under 100 other runners at about 5:25. I talked to a guy named David who told me he had ran a 1:21 half in Wyoming (at high elevation) and did a lot of trail running in the mountains. This was his first marathon.

The Race

The gun fired and we began the Morgan Valley Marathon. I really didn’t want to go too hard in this race, particularly early on. About a quarter mile from the start I saw a nice meteor cross the twilight sky to my right, which I thought was pretty cool. I held myself back really well for the first half mile as three runners took the lead ahead of me: a lady named Rosy, David, and another guy named Matt. They ran stride for stride about 30 yards ahead of me for a while, so I decided to catch up with them. I did so at about Mile 1, but then I let them go again as they were going too fast for my liking. I figured the lady meant business since I haven’t seen many women go out that fast in a marathon.

A police officer in an SUV with the police lights on escorted us for the first 3 miles or so. We went through a neighborhood from about Mile 1 to Mile 2. I trailed the three leaders by 50-100 yards. After the neighborhood we started running by houses on farms. Then at about Mile 3, I heard some dogs and saw the three runners ahead of me have to stop and shoo away two big dogs that were in the road from a nearby house. Luckily the police escort noticed. He got out of his car and was yelling at the dogs by the time I got there. He guided them back to the house and presumably knocked on the door and woke the family up so they would get their dogs on a leash.

There was a right turn at mile 3.5 and I noticed that Matt started to fall back from David and Rosy. I stayed about 100 yards behind Matt for the next few miles while David and Rosy slowly pulled away.

Around Mile 4.5 of the Morgan Valley Marathon we made another right turn and this is where I really started falling in love with the course. There was a hillside on our left and beautiful farms along our right. The road wasn’t closed, but there was hardly any traffic. It was a little curvy and very rural. I saw a deer at in the hills at one point, and I’m sure I could have seen more had I opened my eyes a bit more.

There were also a lot of goats near the road. They would be tethered to a tree or pole in order to keep the weeds down (I presume).

Right at Mile 7 I was minding my own business when I spotted a skunk crossing the road ahead of me on a direct intercept course. I’m so glad I noticed it! I would have ran right into it. I quickly moved to the other side of the road and even stopped to wait for it to cross. It raised its tail but luckily didn’t spray me. I passed by once it ducked into the weeds.

There were plenty of aid stations. They were placed about every two miles along the course. I was worried about hydration since the low on Friday night was 62F, and I figured it would heat up in the last hour of the race. I drank Powerade at several aid stations and water at some of them. When I woke up at 3am, I had downed a Gatorade and then some extra water before the race.

I noticed I was started to gain a little on Matt. It was just a few yards per mile, but I was definitely closing. We turned right again after Mile 9 and made our way through a little town called Stoddard, established 1860 if I remember correctly. I liked this since I live right by Stoddard Road (in Idaho). We approached the freeway and crossed it over an overpass. I spotted Rosy and David as they turned left after the overpass and determined that they were about 3 minutes ahead of me at this point.

Around Mile 12 there was a quarter mile hill. Not too steep, but probably the hill I noticed most. I worked my way up and then went down pretty fast.

I finally caught Matt after the half way mark. That’s when I first learned his name and we talked a bit. He had done even less tapering than me, although he said he normally ran 70-80 miles per week, which is a lot more than me. After talking to him a bit, I found that we had many similarities: we’re both in our mid-30s, we had both PR’d and BQ’d on May 21st with sub 3 hour marathons, and we were both just hoping for low 3:00’s in this Morgan Valley Marathon. He was very friendly and it was nice to talk to him after running behind him for the last 13 miles. We stuck together until around Mile 15, at which point I sped up a bit and started to separate from him.

Post race photo with Matt
Post race photo with Matt

I felt some tightness around Mile 13, but I still felt good. In miles 15-18 I felt pretty strong and the tightness hadn’t worsened. I tried to surge a bit to take advantage of it while I could. I don’t think I actually sped up, but I did hold my pace pretty well.

Around Mile 15 I noticed the sun was shining. From then on the temperature slowly increased. However, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was a bit warm in the last three miles, but I didn’t feel like it affected me. I think my focus on drinking extra fluids paid off.

Around Mile 18 I choked down a Gu that I had picked up earlier on the course. I felt like my stomach could handle it, which was unusual for me this late in a marathon. I wanted the caffeine boost and the nutrition for the last few miles. A couple miles later I ate my last piece of Gu Energy Chew. The total consumption for my marathon included: two packs of Gu Energy Chews, one Honey Stinger Waffle (Gingersnap), one Gu, and a bunch of Powerade.

There was a little more uphill in the second half of the marathon, but it really wasn’t too bad. I didn’t mind the little rolling hills as they provided a little variation.

After Mile 20 I found myself slowing down unintentionally a few times. My mind would wander and my cadence would slow. When I realized it, I would immediately pick it back up, mainly by focusing on faster cadence.

I looked back a couple times for cars and for other runners. I had pulled away from Matt, but I could still see him and I was worried I would slow down and he wouldn’t.

At Mile 23 we turned left and joined up with the half marathoners. This was nice to have some company and a little more excitement. My pace was faster than the half marathoners at this stage, so I was passing people from this point forward.

One word on the Morgan Valley Marathon organization: it was spectacular. There was a volunteer at every turn and I never really had to worry that I was off track. This was important since the marathon was so spread out. I literally only saw three other marathon runners after the first half mile. I only saw Matt from Mile 13 to Mile 20. Then it was just me and the half marathoners that I saw.

The only issue I had with organization is that on the left turn at Mile 23, the aid station was on the wrong side of the road. I would have had to cross the road to grab a water, and I really didn’t want to, so I just didn’t drink at that point. It wasn’t a huge deal since I was almost done and I had consumed so much water already, but it was the one spot I thought could be improved.

I was doing a lot of math in my head to see where I’d end up. I had already eliminated the idea of matching my PR, but I was thinking about hitting sub 3:00:00. It seemed like I was about 30 seconds slow, which I didn’t think I could make up in the last couple miles, but I kept pushing.

This was by far the strongest I’d felt in the last miles of a marathon. I pushed hard for the last mile, and saw that I actually did have a shot at a sub 3 hour marathon. After Mile 26 I picked it up even more, but alas, I came in at 3:00:08, just 9 seconds shy of 2:59!

Post Race

Standing in front of the Morgan Valley Marathon finish line... with a Premium Creamy in my hand.
Standing in front of the Morgan Valley Marathon finish line… with a Premium Creamy in my hand.

I was really happy with my time at the Morgan Valley Marathon, and with my 2nd place male finish. David and Rosy ended up finishing at 2:53. This was the second marathon in which I had taken 2nd to a first time marathoner that I talked to before the race (the first was the Mt. Nebo Marathon). Of course, since Rosy beat me I was 3rd overall.

Top 3 male and top 2 female finishers of the Morgan Valley Marathon
Top 3 male and top 2 female finishers of the Morgan Valley Marathon

Matt finished just two minutes behind me. He had a great race as well and I’m guessing he’ll PR again in his fall marathon when he’s more rested and has an easier course. I’m hoping to do so as well, although I need to pick a marathon to run first.

I drank some chocolate milk and ate a couple Premium Creamies and chatted a bit with Matt and David. They handed out awards pretty fast, and we snapped some photos afterwards.

Morgan Valley Marathon finish line and post race party
Morgan Valley Marathon finish line and post race party

By 9:30am I was back in the car to make the 1.5 hour drive back to Springville. I spend some quality time with family that afternoon and had a fun time at my brother’s wedding that evening.

After the Morgan Valley Marathon I went to be a groomsman at my brother's wedding.
After the Morgan Valley Marathon I went to be a groomsman at my brother’s wedding.

The Morgan Valley Marathon was a great experience. Kudos to the race organizers who put on a great event. The course was striking and fun to run. Between the Morgan Valley Marathon and the Ragnar Wasatch Back, I have a new appreciation for that area of Utah.

Race Report: Famous Idaho Potato Marathon 2016 – PR and BQ!

The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon takes place in Boise, ID, which is right next to my home town. I wasn’t very excited to run it because I’m familiar with the course (it’s a common running path in the Boise area) and it wasn’t a “destination race”. In hindsight, I’m quite impressed with the organization and I had a great experience.

Background and Course

I’ve been training hard for a marathon since January. I knew I’d run one in the spring after the Race to Robie Creek, but I couldn’t decide between Western Pacific Marathon, running Newport Marathon again, doing the Ogden Marathon, or running the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. We ruled out Western Pacific fairly early because I wasn’t confident I’d be recovered from Robie in time. We also didn’t want to take a trip to CA. We ruled out Newport since my in-laws wouldn’t be able to meet us there and it made a drive to the Oregon coast less appealing. I waffled between Ogden and Famous Potato for quite some time. Finally Cyndi said she wanted to do the Half, so easier logistics and much lower cost led me to decide on the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and Half.

I wasn’t really thrilled about this. The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon takes place on Boise’s Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is awesome — it follows the Boise River from the Lucky Peak Dam for 25+ miles through a canyon, parks, trees, and nice homes. The only issue is that I’ve ran hundreds of miles on the Greenbelt as it’s a great place to train locally, so it wasn’t very interesting.

The course is basically flat. It has some slight downhill, particularly for the first few miles. There’s about 280 ft of elevation loss from the highest to lowest point, and about 100 ft of gain. The half marathoners and marathoners start at the same time. The half runners basically end at the marathon half way mark, then the marathoners do a ~6.5 mile out-and-back and end in the same spot.

Training

My training went wonderfully and I plan on writing a separate post on it. Essentially, I started my training cycle in January and I usually do three quality runs per week: intervals, tempo, and long run. I rest on Sunday and cross train on two or three of the other days doing cycling, rowing, elliptical, and an occasional easy run. My long runs are usually pretty fast — within 10-40 seconds per mile of marathon pace.

I’ve been blessed with no injuries or significant issues since December, so my training has been solid and consistent. I didn’t even catch a serious cold. I did a brief taper for the Race to Robie Creek, but otherwise it’s just been a lot of training runs.

Race Plan

Leading up to the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon I had one primary goal: run faster than 3:00:00 so I could break that threshold and qualify for Boston. My training was fairly unorthodox, so I wasn’t certain that I could hit it, but I felt like I should be able to. Most marathoners rely on high mileage for improvement. While I have increased my mileage, I still only run ~40 miles per week; however, I also do ~2-2.5 hours per week of cardio cross training, which I believe is equivalent to ~15 miles of running (although this violates the “specificity” guidance).

The point is that I wasn’t sure what pace I could sustain for 26.2 miles. To get a sub-3:00 marathon I needed to do 6:52/mile. I felt like I should aim for 6:45 to leave a small cushion. I decided to aim for 6:45/mile for the first half at least. If I felt lousy I could slow down to 6:50. Then around Mile 18-20 I hoped to have a kick. Given that the course was on a common running path, my friend, Greg, said he would come and run the final 4 miles with me to keep me company.

As an attempt to get some reassurance, I posted some of my training details on a RunnersWorld.com forum to ask for pace advice. The couple people that responded didn’t think I could hit 3:00. At first this caused me to doubt my plan, but then I decided I had to go for it. I really thought I could do it.

Eating

Since my training leading up to the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon was more intense than I’d done before, I tried to eat a little better. Generally, this meant a little less ice cream (which I usually eat every night), less sugar in general, and more protein.

I did some carbo-loading the week before the marathon:

  • On Monday and Tuesday I ate normally but focused on not over-eating, especially since my mileage was low due to tapering my training.
  • On Wednesday we ate potatoes and ham for dinner.
  • On Thursday we ate rice and fish for dinner.
  • On Friday I ate a ~500 calorie breakfast and a bunch of fruit and half a bagel before lunch. I ate a big salad, a PBHoney, and a yogurt for lunch. Then I ate an orange and a granola bar after lunch. Finally we had spaghetti and bread for dinner. I took it easy on the spaghetti — I was still pretty full from lunch. I ate some peanut butter toast before bed.
  • Then I woke up at 3am and had another PBH, a PowerBar, and some gatorade.
  • I definitely ate some extra carbs on Friday, but it wasn’t too egregious. On Monday through Thursday I didn’t really eat much more than I burned (I even counted calories a couple days to make sure I got it right). In other words, I didn’t gorge myself with carbs, I just tried to shift my diet to be more carb-heavy.

* I’m writing all this mainly just so I remember it next time I’m planning my pre-marathon eating.

Pre-Race

We took the kids to packet pick-up after dinner on Friday. It was nothing spectacular, but it was nice to get out and get excited. On Friday night my quads seemed tired, which was odd since I didn’t do anything on Friday. i think it was just pre-race jitters. Also, my left calf had been hurting all week and I was a bit worried about it. Luckily it seemed to loosen up on my runs after I got going. I was mostly concerned that it would cramp up at Mile 20 or something.

Cyndi and I watched Gattaca before bed — a favorite inspirational movie of mine. “There is no gene for the human spirit.” We were in bed a little after 10:00.

Gattaca
A scene from Gattaca… “You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton — I never saved anything for the swim back.”

I slept well until 3am, and then ate a bit and laid in bed until about 4am. All week the weather prediction included a chance of wind and thunderstorms, so I was happy to see that there was a small chance of rain and the wind was calm. My mom arrived at 5am to stay with the kids while Cyndi and I raced. The bus ride went smoothly and we were at the starting line at 6am.

Studying the course map during the bus ride on the way to the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon
Studying the course map during the bus ride on the way to the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

A friend from work, Rusty, was doing the marathon despite hurting his knee just weeks before. It was a little risky for him and there was some uncertainty whether his cortisone injection would be sufficient to get him through it. We bumped into each other before the race and sat on the road while we waited for go-time.

Cyndi and I a few minutes before starting the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon
Cyndi and I a few minutes before starting the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. You can see the pace signs on the left that helped everyone line up correctly.

Finally it was time to start. They had nice signs with different paces to help runners line up according to their expected pace. It was really nice — I was up in front of the 7:00/mile sign and it wasn’t crowded at all. (I have a feeling that these work extra well in Idaho. Anyone that’s driven here may know what I mean.) My friend, Chad, was running the half and we lined up together and chatted a bit. (One funny guy was having his friend take his picture while he stretched next to the 5:00/mile sign.) The pace signs made for a smooth start after we sang the national anthem and the gun was fired.

First Half of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

My goal for the first mile was to stay under control. We started just below the Lucky Peak dam in the Sandy Point park, wrapping around the little pond there and then advancing onto the highway. I caught myself speeding up a couple times and I reeled back. I ended up being able to hit my splits just about right for the first few miles. There were lots of half marathoners and it was good to have some company.

This was the starting area for the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and Half Marathon
This was the starting area for the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and Half Marathon

At about Mile 2 I found myself next to a marathoner (marathoners and halfers had different bibs). We chatted a bit. He was going for 3 hours +/- 5 minutes. I told him I was in the same boat. After running next to him for a mile or so, I decided I was going a little too fast so I eased up and he went ahead of me. His name was Kevin.

I was expecting my heart rate to be in the low 150’s as long as I was between 6:45 and 6:50, but it was stubbornly around 160 beats per minute. This concerned me a little but I decided that it may just be because I was excited and had a little caffeine in my system from the Gu Energy Chews.

There were some slight downhill portions in the first 6 miles, but I really didn’t go much faster than my target pace. In fact, my pace was right about 6:47 for the first 4 miles. In 5 and 6 I was slightly faster and the runners started spreading out a bit.

There was a definite breeze which I wasn’t happy about. Admittedly, I tucked in behind a couple halfers at one particularly windy point and used them to draft a tad. They were going a little too fast though, so I ended up letting them go.

My running friend, Jon, was on the sidelines and I saw him a couple times cheering us on, so that was nice. It’s always nice to see a familiar face, even early on.

During Mile 6 we made a turn then another turn a half mile later into Barber Park. Up to this point the race had been on the outskirts of Boise. The rest of the race would be right along the river in town from this point on.

I was trying to drink lots of water/gatorade, but the stations weren’t filling the cups very much. I started grabbing two cups to ensure that I got enough. I wanted my stomach to be sloshy with liquid. I was eating Gu Energy Chews. I ate three pieces (~70 calories) before starting. Then I ate about one every mile or two. I was also monitoring how I felt. My calf was a little tight, but seemed ok. Overall I really felt great and the cool weather (<50F) made me happy.

I found myself running about 30 yards behind a half marathoner — I believe her name was Rebecca — and there weren’t many other people around. We were moving pretty well. The course was a little windy through the Greenbelt and some neighborhoods. Keeping someone within sight was nice for both my pacing and my psyche. In fact, having the half marathoners around was really nice. I could see some of them farther ahead and occasionally we’d pass someone. I caught up to Rebecca around Mile 10. She said “Just a 5k to go!” to which I replied “Plus a Half!” We ran together for a couple miles. She was studying at BSU and loves the Boise area. So do I! Everything is green this time of year and it’s a great place to run. I was a little concerned about pace, but I recently read in “Advanced Marathoning” that sticking with a group can be worth 5-10 seconds in pace. I think this is true so I didn’t mind going a little fast. At miles 10-12 I was under 6:40/mile, but I was feeling comfortable so I didn’t fight it.

My heart rate was still higher than I wanted. I had fretted over it for most of the race so far, but I finally decided just to ignore it and not worry about it. The good thing was that it didn’t seem to be creeping up a ton — it was still in the low 160’s.

I ate my Honey Stinger Waffle around Mile 11 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love those things. I limited myself to one for this marathon since they are too dry for me to swallow after running for a couple hours.

Rebecca started speeding up during Mile 12 so I started falling back. Before Mile 13 the half marathoners turned left to cross a walking bridge and complete the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon. The runners immediately thinned out. Kevin was about 40 yards in front of me with another runner, presumably Placido, about 20 yards ahead of him.

First Half of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

I knew the second half of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon would be lonely. The halfers were nice to have up to this point, but I had tried to prepare myself for being alone during most of the second half. It was nice to see Kevin and Placido ahead of me, and this is how it was for the next 6 miles. A couple times the stretched their lead on me a bit, but they were pretty much always within sight.

Again, I thought about the “group running” advantage and I determined to stay with them even though the pace was about 5 seconds faster than my 6:45 target. In any case, I was feeling quite well.

At Mile 16 the thought occurred to me that one of my regular training loops is 10.25 miles long. I started visualizing myself at a point on my loop corresponding with the distance I had left. This helped put it into perspective. I’ve probably ran that loop 10 times in the past few months. I could do this!

At Mile 18 I realized I’d never felt this good at Mile 18 during a marathon before. My right hip was tight and my calves were a little tight, but nothing too concerning. I focused on good form and kept going. I was still drinking water, but I was getting to the point where I felt like puking. I ate my last Energy Chew by Mile 20.

My friend, Greg, yelled my name from a distance as I passed him at Mile 18 or so. It was good to see him and I knew he’d join up with me on my way back. I started what felt like a bit of a surge around Mile 19. Kevin had started gaining on Placido, and I had started gaining on both of them.

As we approached the turn-around point for the Famous Idaho Potato Marthon, we passed the first three runners. Runner #1, Eric Fitzpatrick, was a good 12 minutes ahead of us. Runners 2 and 3 were farther back, but I had no idea whether I could catch them or not.

Placido was definitely slowing a bit, and I passed him at the turn-around cone. It was good to be heading back. I was grateful that he and Kevin had been in front of me to keep me company during the past 6 miles. The course was now slightly uphill. Much to my dismay, there was still a headwind. I really don’t understand how we had a headwind going both directions! It was a bit stronger going back somehow.

In any case, I had a bit of a surge and despite the slight uphill and the breeze I pulled a 6:41, 6:39, and 6:39 at miles 20, 21, and 22. Rusty was coming “out” as I was coming “back”. We expected to pass each other a little after the Mile 20 marker and I was watching for him. Sure enough he came by and I cheered him on and he did the same. He also gave me a thumbs down, indicating his knee was getting the best of him. I still hoped he’d have an ok finish. I passed Kevin by Mile 21 and then passed runner #3. Runner #2 was up ahead about 150 yards, but I knew I was gaining on him. I felt really good when Greg started running with me around Mile 22.

Greg and I talked a bit and I set my sights on runner #2. I told Greg that I was feeling well. He told me some stories and encouraged me to keep going. We passed runner #2 at Mile 23 or so. I started getting quiet as The Wall finally caught up with me. My calves in particular were locking up and I was fighting to keep the pace going. I heard footsteps behind me and around Mile 24 Kevin overtook me and Greg. I was surprised it was Kevin, as I thought it would be the guy we just passed.

I continued taking cups of water/Gatorade, but I just spit it out as I couldn’t bear the thought of swallowing anything else. My pace slipped over 7:00/mile for the last two miles, but by Mile 24 I was confident I would hit my target. The last couple miles were painful, but I didn’t reach the point of total physical and psychological exhaustion that I have reached in other marathons.

Greg kept me company as we finally made it back to the walking bridge and headed for the final few hundred yards. At one point he asked if I could catch Kevin and I said “No”. By the end, Kevin had a decent lead on me.

Greg and I coming down the final home stretch of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon
Greg and I coming down the final home stretch of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

We came into the final straightaway for the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and I saw Cyndi cheering me on in the crowd. I crossed the line at 2:58:15! That beat my goal by 0:01:44 and gave me a new personal best! It was also good enough for 3rd Overall at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon.

Approaching the finish line at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon
Approaching the finish line at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

Link to Official Results

 

Post Race

I actually didn’t feel too terrible after the race. I walked around a bit and tried to loosen up. Cyndi came and gave me a hug. She ran her half in 1:52, which was her personal best, so it was a great day all around.

I wanted to eat but had to let my stomach get back under control before I dared. I started with water, some chocolate milk, and then a bagel. Greg, Cyndi, and I talked but I had to keep moving every once in a while as my calves were tight and burning.

I ran into Kevin and congratulated him on the strong finish. He’s also from Meridian. I also ran into Rachel Powell, who I ran with in high school (she was a grade ahead of me). I saw her during the out-and-back and she ended up winning the women’s marathon. She told me what a great experience Boston and got me excited to go.

Post race photo with Greg.
Post race photo with Greg. I was happy to be done, happy to have hit my goal, and feeling pretty good considering I just ran 26.2 (26.4?) miles.
Post race photo with Cyndi after the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. PRs for both of us!
Post race photo with Cyndi after the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. PRs for both of us!

After 20 minutes or so we were ready to go, so we went to the announcer’s table and asked when they would announce awards. We sat down for 5 minutes and I got my 3rd place overall award. It was pretty sweet: a potato plaque, two $25 gift cards to local running stores, and a sack of potatoes! We also grabbed a couple Chobani Greek yogurts they were handing out. (Chobani has a big plant in Twin Falls and I’m a fan of the CEO, who I saw speak a year or two ago.)

Right as we were leaving I determined I was ready for a baked potato, so I grabbed one for the walk back to the car. How could I run the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and not eat a baked potato? They had some Chobani yogurt to put on it and with some salt, pepper, butter, and chives it turned out to be delicious.

We went home and ended up having a BBQ with Greg’s family later in the day. I ate a big hot dog, a delicious burger, and a bunch of ice cream and brownies to celebrate.

My post-marathon BBQ meal… although I also had more chips, fruit, brownies, and ice cream

My watch measured the course at 26.4 miles. I noticed a few other people on Strava had measured long as well. Hopefully it was a little long and I was going faster than my official time indicates.

Overall, the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon turned out to be a great event. It was well organized and everything went smoothly. There were lots of little turns on the course and all of them were very well marked — with big signs and HUGE chalk arrows that were impossible to miss. (I wanted to take a picture and send it to the organizers of the Idaho Falls Half Marathon.) Everything clicked for my race, including the weather and my health. I’ve had great support from Cyndi, Greg, and others. It’s such a relief to have met my goal so I don’t have to fret about it anymore and I can relax a little! But don’t think I’ll stop training anytime soon…

 

Race Report: Mt. Nebo Marathon

I wasn’t supposed to run the Mt. Nebo Marathon on Saturday, September 5, 2015. However, sometimes things don’t turn out how you expect and it still works out ok.

Mt. Nebo Marathon & Half

Cancellation

I had been signed up for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon for over a month and was excited to run it on September 5, 2015. The marathon would have about 400 runners this year. It was a large downhill course, and since it takes place in the Treasure Valley I would be able to sleep in my own bed the night before and avoid traveling. Being able to do a good marathon in my home town was a big plus for me since it takes out a lot of the stress, missed sleep, travel fatigue, etc.

However, the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled late Monday night the week of the race! Apparently there was work being done on Bogus Basin Road which was supposed to be completed a couple weeks before the race, but the road work was delayed. This left a six mile stretch of the road very rugged and created an injury hazard. Everyone was upset about the cancellation, but what can you do? You can sign up for a different marathon.

The road work on Bogus Basin Road which led to the cancellation of the Freakin’ Fast Marathon

Given that I was already tapered, and hoping to qualify for Boston, I really wanted to run a marathon. Once the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled I had to choose from a couple other race options. I hoped to find a good downhill race since I had done two training runs (on July 18th and August 8th) with significant downhill. I had sacrificed speed for hills in my long runs so that I’d be prepared for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon downhill.

The Pocatello Marathon was fairly close, but I had done it before and I was concerned I couldn’t get the time I needed on the course. It has a lot of downhill, but it’s all in the first half — the second half is flat. The other option I had was the Mt. Nebo Marathon.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon course was intriguing to me: it has huge downhill (4500 ft or so), but it is also at high elevation (starting at ~9250 feet) and had some uphill early in the course. I decided to attempt Mt. Nebo with the primary goal of getting under 3:05:00, which is the Boston Marathon qualification time for 30-34 year-olds. I figured if I failed I could still hope for a PR. In any case, it was my best shot for a BQ before the deadline the following week.

Getting to Utah

Fortunately my wife’s old college roommate, Sara, lives in a town near Payson, which is where the Mt. Nebo Marathon ends. We enjoy seeing her and she was happy to have us over the night before the marathon — even on short notice. The six hour drive to Utah on Friday wasn’t pleasant, especially when we hit traffic and Salt Lake City and my legs started cramping up from sitting driving for too long. That concerned me a bit, but I hoped for the best.

We hit packet pickup at the University Mall in Orem on our way into town. It was really fast as there wasn’t much there — they only had four booths set up. I did get to meet Dane and talk to him a bit. He was doing the Mt. Nebo Half Marathon. He was really friendly. It’s always fun to talk to someone about the course and some running strategy, which we briefly did. Dane had a stack of his book, 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I wish I had purchased one since I like running books — I plan to check it out soon.

By the time we got to Sara’s house we were happy to be out of the car. She gave us a nice spaghetti dinner, as requested (at about 6:30pm). We also roasted marshmallows for s’mores. I restrained myself and only ate one s’more made with a graham cracker, a marshmallow, and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. (It was mostly carbs, right?) I’d never had a Reese’s-based s’more before and it was quite tasty. I also had a couple marshmallows.

Getting Started

I went to bed at about 10pm on Friday night — which was fairly early for me. I had been trying to get to bed early all week in preparation for the marathon. I was surprised at how tired I was and glad I could fall asleep quickly. I actually slept on Sara’s couch as I didn’t particularly want to sleep in a room with an 8-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 3-month old. They were all in the guest room with Cyndi. I’ve learned from sad experience that it’s not wise to sleep in a room with small children the night before a marathon.

Despite sleeping on the couch, it was the best pre-marathon sleep I’ve ever gotten. I fell asleep immediately and only woke up once. I woke up at midnight and used the restroom (as I had been drinking a lot of water all day) and I ate part of my bagel. Then I went right back to sleep and didn’t stir until my alarm went of at 3:10am. I was pleasantly surprised.

I immediately ate the rest of my bagel and a banana, and started drinking a 20oz sports drink. Cyndi was already up since she was going to take me to the starting line and since she couldn’t sleep with all the kids in that room 🙂  We took off around 3:40 for Payson High School where the buses would be waiting.

Cyndi and I right before she dropped me off for the Mt. Nebo Marathon bus

The buses showed up around 4:15 or so and we loaded up. Runners filled from the back of the bus to the front, and I ended up getting the first seat in the first bus. A guy named Charlie sat down next to me. This was his 3rd marathon and we talked a bit. The buses left 15 minutes late (4:45). The bus drivers were friendly and were chattering and bantering on the way up, which was funny. Sitting in the first seat was nice for two reasons: I got a nice view of the whole course on the way up, and I was very first to the port-a-potties! This was my second marathon in a row where I got to use a clean port-a-pottie. Talk about good luck.

There were only four port-a-potties and one outhouse for 200 people (not quite as bad as my last race). This is a bit insufficient in my opinion, especially since everyone was dropped off at the same time. It wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if it weren’t for the buses leaving a little late.

They made some bonfires to help keep us warm, as has become the norm for Utah marathons. They also had some hot chocolate (before a marathon? no thanks) and some sports drinks. I sat by a fire and waited, ate a Gu, downed a sports drink, and changed my shoes and socks before heading to the Start. It wasn’t too cold, although I was happy to have a hoodie and running pants on. I also had knit gloves which I kept on until Mile 3. The guy in charge gave a little speech while we were all by the bonfire and also right before the gun went off. He did a good job.

On my way to the start, a guy next to me asked if we just needed our bibs. “Yes,” I replied, “Is this your first marathon?” It was. We talked a bit and he was excited to run, as was I. His name was Joseph.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon was supposed to begin at 6:30am, but the timing people got there to set up a little late, so it started at 6:38am. No big deal. I did some high knees and a little movement to warm up before the gun went off.

My goal was to get under 3:05:00 so I could meet the Boston Marathon qualifying time. I needed a pace of 7:03/mile to achieve that.

Racing the Mt. Nebo Marathon

After the gun went off the racers spread out really quickly. It was a small field of ~200 runners, and I found myself in 6th or 7th place in the first couple minutes.

I think the mix of uphill and downhill makes the Mt. Nebo Marathon challenging if approached incorrectly. The first 10 miles or so had at least three decent climbs. The first came in the first mile. After a brief downhill, there was a nice uphill stretch. We passed as sign declaring the summit at 9345 feet during the first mile. The second mile was a net 300 foot decline.

All the ups and downs made for some difficult pacing decisions. I had determined before hand to run with my heart rate monitor, and I’m very glad I did in hindsight. My objective was to keep my heart rate under 170 on uphills, which is about 89% of my max (~191). This meant that I slowed to ~9:00/mile pace on a couple of the big hills, substantially slower than my 7:03/mile target. On the downhill I could speed up significantly and keep my heart rate at or below 160, or ~84% of max. My goal was an average heart rate in the mid 160’s for the whole marathon.

One nice thing the Mt. Nebo Marathon race organizers did was to put out a few signs before the big hills. The first came right around the Mile 4 mark, indicating a 200 foot climb ahead and another shorter climb to follow. These hills even had names, although I don’t remember exactly what the were (one of them was an Indian name for “skunk” I think). I really appreciated these signs as they set my expectations.

There was an out-and-back which started at about Mile 6.7, and went out a little over a mile. It was on a dirt/gravel road. It didn’t bug me too much except that it had some gentle slopes which I knew I’d have to come back up after the turn around. Out-and-backs are kind of fun since you get to pass the people ahead and behind you. Saying “hi” and telling people “good job” helps take my mind off the run.

After the out-and-back was another nice hill. By this time I was done with the hills. I had studied the Mt. Nebo Marathon course elevation profile found on the race’s website intensively. It showed the long downhill portion beginning at mile 7 or so. It was obviously wrong. However, I figured that it just meant I’d see more downhill later on and it wouldn’t be as flat at the end.

A runner near me was also tired of the hills, and we exchanged a few words. By this time I was in 4th or 5th place. I had been trading places with a couple guys based on how fast we were each attacking the uphills and downhills.

At Mile 10 I ate my first Honey Stinger Waffle. I considered this a treat as I think they’re tasty and they’re a nice change from the glorified fruit snacks I’d been munching on every two miles since the start. Right at this point I remember having two guys behind me. I had just passed one who said he was in 3rd.

The scenery of the Mt. Nebo Marathon was amazing. From around 9000 feet elevation we got views of the valley at 4700 feet below. The first several miles were basically on a ridge, so the views actually extended in both directions. Besides that, the first 25 miles of the course were in the forest and there wasn’t much traffic. The forest was mostly pine, but also had some trees that were just starting to change color. When we weren’t on the ridge, we were running down a canyon that was refreshing and exhilarating. The course scenery was hard to beat.

Finally we reached a summit at Mile 11 and started going down. It flattened out a bit for a while. One other runner stayed with me until the Mile 12 sign, a which point we were clearly going to start dropping down for good. I gave a holler and sped up as the decline steepened, and thereafter I didn’t see any marathoners for the rest of the race.

I felt alright up to this point, but not great. I had experienced some side stitches (stomach cramps) in the first couple miles which I found really odd. I had also had a few waves of light-headedness during the first 12 miles. I attribute this to the altitude. The first 12 miles of the Mt. Nebo Marathon are all above 8300 feet elevation. This is crazy high and I was feeling the altitude a bit. Fortunately I had been able to keep my heart rate under control. I had touched 170 a couple times, but hadn’t gone over it. I was at a 3 minute deficit to my target pace up to this point (that is, I was 3 minutes too slow), so I knew I had to make it up during the next few miles. I also knew this meant I needed a negative split, which I had never done before. But overall I was feeling ok so I turned up the speed.

I focused hard on maintaining good downhill running form. This meant trying to keep my body perpendicular to the hill instead of perpendicular to gravity (leaning back on the hill). I tried to focus on moving my feet fast and keeping them under me instead of in front of me. This helped conserve my quads and it really helped me keep going later on in the race.

At the Half mark I was still moving fast and all alone. The course is basically a giant downhill from Mile 12 to Mile 19 or so. The Mt. Nebo Marathon course gets pretty windy for a section after the half. There are some hairpin turns which made things a bit more interesting.

One of my biggest mental challenges came around Mile 15. I had been doing well, but I started feeling weak and winded. I glanced at my watch and my heart rate was still well under control (around 160), but I felt similar to how I started feeling at the Newport Marathon before I started breaking down. It worried me a bit, and I tried to focus and regroup. Fortunately, at Mile 16 I got a second wind. Maybe it was a steeper section of the course, maybe it was the declining altitude, perhaps it was the nutrition kicking in, a blessing from heaven, or all of the above. In any case, I felt some revitalization and picked it up.

I can’t remember exactly where I started passing the half marathoners, but it was probably around Mile 15 or so (as some of them were walking pretty slowly). They became more and more frequent as I approached the finish line and never really got in my way or anything.

Every time I passed a mile marker, I would figure out how far behind a 7:00/mile pace I was. I knew I needed to get under an average 7 minute pace before Mile 20 if I had any hope of hitting my target time. I was chipping away about 30 seconds per mile, and finally by Mile 17 I achieved an average 7 minute pace.

Now it was a matter of building up as much reserve time as possible to offset any bonk in the last few miles. I kept moving fast for a few more miles, but my legs started to protest. At Mile 20 I knew I had a shot at my goal if I could just hold on a little longer.

Mile 20 was also my second scheduled Waffle. I unpacked one and tried to take a bite, but my mouth was just too dry. I held it for at least a mile and nibbled on it a little without actually getting much down my throat.

One big takeaway from my post-race analysis of the Newport Marathon was that I was not drinking enough water during my races. During the Mt. Nebo Marathon I was drinking as much as my stomach could handle. I tried to drink a full cup of water or sports drink at every aid station. After a while this was unsustainable for me — I really felt like I was going to puke for a significant part of the run. I think this is what I need to do though. I weigh 180 lbs and sweat a lot, so I think I need to cram in more water than my stomach will take.

One of the things I learned from reading Meb for Mortals was that even swishing sports drink or water around in your mouth can trick your brain and give you a boost. That’s what I was doing with both food and drinks once I couldn’t stomach any more. I also dumped water on my head and that felt great.

After Mile 22 the course switches from blistering downhill to downhill mixed with light rolling uphills. It’s still downhill overall so I continued to focus on moving my legs and resisting the urge to lean back and slow down. Mile 22 was my last sub-7:00 mile. I recognized that I had never come close to feeling that good at this point in the race, although I didn’t feel “good” by any stretch of the imagination. My calves were burning up and my back was starting to cramp. Every time I tried to say something to someone, like “good job,” it would just come out as a hoarse whisper.

I resisted the temptation to calculate the worst I could do and still make my time. I thought if I did so I would immediately slow down. Instead, I just tried to go as fast as I could manage. The toughest part was definitely miles 22 through 24. I was struggling to keep going at a good pace.

Just before the Mile 25 mark I had a small breakthrough. I was coming up on a half marathoner that was tall and had grey hair and glasses. I recognized him immediately as Bishop Day — the former Bishop of my parents’ congregation. I didn’t know he was running, but I was very happy to see someone I recognized. I called his name a few times until he heard me and I said “hi” as I passed by. “One mile to go!” I declared in my hoarse voice.

I passed the marker with about 10 minutes left before 3:05:00. I knew I could do a sub 8:00 mile and that I could hit my time. It was a battle between picking up my pace and resisting the natural drift to slowing down. Finally I could see the high school and knew my goal was within my grasp. I sped up as I approached the track to do a half lap. I was grateful I didn’t have to do a full lap but a little disappointed I had to do 250 meters.

Rounding out the last 100 meters of the Mt. Nebo Marathon

Paisley was on the grass in the middle of the track and started cheering me on. Cyndi was in the stands with the other kids. Finally I crossed the line at 3:04:18, happy to achieve a goal I’d chased for about two years, and extremely exhausted.

Post Finish

Dane was at the Finish line and gave me a handshake and congratulations. I got my medal and a drink of water. Then Cyndi found me and gave me a big hug. I tried to stay on my feet as long as I could until my calves needed a break. The kids all gawked at my huge medal.

The nice medal from the Mt. Nebo Marathon

I eventually found Bishop Day and we chatted for a while. Then I found Joseph, the first timer from the start. He won! The last time I saw him was around Mile 11 or 12. He and another guy were in front of me, but after the big downhill started I never saw them. I kept figuring Joseph would bonk and that maybe I’d catch him in the final miles, but he actually got 2:52 and ran a huge negative split. He said the other guy that was with him stopped to take a bathroom break, so I must have passed him unknowingly.

That means I got second place at the Mt. Nebo Marathon! That was exciting for me, although obviously it was a small field. We waited around for the award ceremony but they were taking a long time. So eventually we just went up and they handed us our awards. My wife snapped a picture of us on the stand — I never met the 3rd place runner. I got another huge medal and some gift certificates, which was pretty cool. I wish they had been a bit more organized and/or started the ceremony earlier, but it wasn’t a big deal.

After going back to Sara’s and eating lunch, we had a good day with the family. We hiked the Y and ate ice cream at the BYU Creamery on 9th. We got to see some family in the area and spend time with them as well.

Overall, the Mt. Nebo Marathon was a great experience. There were some small hiccups with the organization, but nothing that really bothered me or would keep me away from going back again. I loved the course — for its amazing scenery and its unique elevation profile. And I was overjoyed to finally qualify for Boston. Of course, now I just have to wait to see if I actually make the Boston cutoff…

Hoover Dam Marathon, My Worst Marathon Experience Ever

Coming off a slightly disappointing finish at the Newport Marathon, I’m reminded of my worst marathon experience ever.

In 2007 I started an evening masters program at Arizona State while continuing to work full time. I had always considered myself a runner, but I wasn’t a very consistent runner. I ran the Pocatello Marathon in 2006 but I hadn’t done much since then. Once I started the masters program, my free time became very limited. I had been gaining weight for a few years and in December 2007 I hit 239 lbs on the scale. I decided that if I wanted to run again, I needed to lose weight, so I altered my eating habits and gradually shed some pounds.

I played a tiny bit of basketball off and on for the next two years, and I did a little hiking. Around 2009 I started jogging a couple miles a couple times per week with a friend. We would just run back and forth on a mile long grass strip near my house since I was pretty heavy and that was easiest on my knees and shins. Finally I graduated in May 2009 and decided it was time to sign up for a marathon. I picked the Hoover Dam Marathon which was a 4 hour drive away near the Nevada/Arizona border.

I trained for the marathon by just running, and especially trying to work up my Saturday morning mileage. Beyond just running 3 or so times per week, I really had no concept of how to properly train. Nevertheless, I worked my way up to a ~21 mile run one hot Saturday morning. I would frequently run past a drinking fountain so I could refill my water bottle in the Arizona heat. Even when I woke up at 5am to run, it would already be light and 90+ degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Just at the peak of my training, 3 weeks before the Hoover Dam Marathon, I injured my foot. I had gone camping on a Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday morning I had a sharp, nagging, pain in a tendon on the side of my foot. I didn’t think anything of it, but I could still feel it on Monday morning when I woke up to do a 10 mile run. About 5 miles into the run, the pain suddenly worsened, but being stupid and stubborn I still finished the 10 miles. I hobbled around for the next two days and I couldn’t run a step without pain.

Due to the pain, I took the next three weeks off, which happened to be the final three weeks before the marathon. I hoped I’d still be in good enough shape to run a decent race. I really had no idea what kind of time I was capable of, and I hadn’t run a marathon (or even a half) since September 2006. This would be my sixth marathon. In my head I was thinking that a 3:30 to 3:45 would be nice.

My wife, two daughters, and I drove to the Hoover Dam the day before the marathon. We ate at a pizza/pasta place that we found in Henderson. Beyond this I did zero carbo loading and didn’t even pay attention to what I ate. We stayed at a hotel/casino on Friday night. In hindsight, I don’t know why I never took the time to do a simple “carbo loading for marathon” Google search. I just assumed carbo loading meant eating spaghetti the evening before the race.

“Carbo loading” before the Hoover Dam Marathon

Since we had one daughter nursing still, we decided that Cyndi would sleep in one bed and take care of her, and I’d sleep in the other bed with our 2-year-old, Paisley. At one point early in the night, Paisley rolled out of the bed, so for the rest of the night I half-slept and held onto her. Besides the threat of rolling, Paisley is notorious in our family for being a light and wiggly sleeper. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

My friend, Dan, who I hadn’t seen in years, was also running the race. He picked me up early in the morning and we were excited. We reported to the starting line and started running once the gun went off.

I think the course has been changed since 2009, but at the time the Hoover Dam Marathon was set up as a double out-and-back. We first ran to an overlook above the dam and back, then we ran the opposite direction and back. This meant zero net elevation gain, but there were some little rolling hills. The course was part pavement, part dirt and went through a cool train tunnel in addition to running onto a parking garage overlooking the Hoover Dam.

Dan and I ran together for the first part of the race, and I pushed the pace way too hard. I don’t recall too many details, but I remember looking at my watch around Mile 10 and saying “wow, we’re cookin!” I didn’t realize at the time that this should have worried me. Finally around Mile 11 or Mile 12, I started to feel some fatigue. I began to slow down. At first Dan slowed down with me, but eventually he kept going and I really slowed down. I realized it was going to be a pretty long second half, but I still hoped to be able to pull through. I had never resorted to walking in my first 5 marathons and I didn’t plan to today.

I crossed the half way point at about 1:45, which is what I was tentatively planning on, but I knew the second half was going to be much tougher. I kept chugging along and approached a climb right around Mile 15. I suddenly had a wave of fatigue and became very light-headed to the point where I thought I might faint, so I started walking.

I was disappointed to be walking with 11 miles still to go, but at least it cleared my head. Unfortunately, this also gave my legs a chance to tighten up. I’ve seen many people that can walk and then begin running again, but I’m generally not like this. If I’m on the latter part of a long run and I begin walking my legs will begin to hurt a lot worse than if I’d never walked in the first place. This was the case when I started walking at the Hoover Dam Marathon. After that point it became very difficult for me to run more than 100 yards at a time.

I continued my walk/jog as runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish. Eventually I saw my friend Dan. He had slowed down but was doing much better than I was. When I arrived at the turn-around aid station around Mile 20 I stopped and took a break. I ate some pretzels, got a drink, and tried to regroup. I think I was there longer than anyone else had been — the aid station volunteers started looking at my questioningly and saying stuff like, “Well, you better get going!” I grudgingly left, knowing I still had 6 miles of agony left to endure.

As if the walking and pain weren’t enough, somewhere around Mile 22 a 55+ year-old lady wearing butterfly wings passed me. That is a moment that will be etched into my memory forever.

A few miles before the finish I saw my wife, Cyndi, with our two daughters. She had found a spot to cheer for me. She saw that I didn’t look good and thought it was my injured foot, but I told her it was just a bad day for me.

Finally I hobbled into the finish line. I gathered all the energy I could to be able to jog the last 200 yards or so. I must have been moving at about 12min/mile pace and Cyndi later told me it took an incredibly long time. Dan was ready to leave since he had finished a long time before me, so I told him goodbye shortly after finishing.

Hoover Dam Marathon post-race meal; happy to finally be sitting down after a grueling run

My final time for the Hoover Dam Marathon was 4:48:01, making it my worst time by about 45 minutes in the six marathons I had completed up to that point. While the first half took about 1:45, the second half took 3 hours.

It was a bad enough experience that it took me four years before I braved another marathon. Looking back on it, several things went wrong, most of them due to ignorance and ill preparation on my part. It taught me that I couldn’t just show up and run like I did in my first two marathons a year out of high school. It was a failure for me by most measures. Not so much because the time was worse than my expectations, but because I completely fell apart so early in the race and had to walk so much. While the failure wasn’t pleasant, it has been something I can look back on and strive to prevent it from happening again. Plus, I was able to finish, which made for six completed marathons.