123rd Boston Marathon (2019) Race Report

On Monday I had the privilege of running the Boston Marathon for the second time. The Boston Marathon is my favorite marathon and I had a blast… at least for the first half.

Approaching the Boston Marathon

I trained pretty hard this winter. The only comparable training block I’ve done was leading up to the 2017 Boston Marathon. However, I wanted to enjoy Boston and relieve some of the pressure that comes with lots of training, a trip across the country, and a huge race. Therefore, I decided to do the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days before Boston. I know that was a little stupid, but the Yakima Marathon went really well for me, so I’m glad I did it.

I ate lots of protein and tried to recover as much as possible between Yakima and Boston. It went pretty well, although my left quad became pretty sore a few days before marathon Monday. I cut off some planned mileage and got as much rest as possible.

Cyndi couldn’t come on this trip, so my friend, Greg, came with me. We flew out on Saturday and arrived late Saturday night to Boston Logan International Airport. We got an expensive Uber to Greg’s brother-in-law’s house and went to bed. On Sunday we:

  • Went to church at 9am.
  • Went to packet pickup. I just walked in, grabbed my bib, and walked out since we couldn’t find a parking spot. It took about 20 minutes. I would have liked to go to the Expo, but I went last time and I don’t need any expensive compression boots or more running clothes.
  • Drove to Newport, Rhode Island to see some opulent mansions.
  • Drove to Providence to meet up with Greg’s friend Jesse.
  • Drove back to the brother-in-law’s.
  • Played a game of Camel Up and discussed plans for Monday.
  • Went to bed around 10:30, which was a little later than intended, but I didn’t sleep well anyways.
We swung by the temple after church.
One photo I grabbed while getting my bib. I didn’t walk through the expo since we couldn’t find parking and Greg was aimlessly driving the car around busy streets.
The Newport Mansions were opulent and fascinating to walk through. Maybe a little too much walking and standing the day before the marathon. Oh well.

I woke up earlier than expected, grabbed my stuff and hailed an Uber. The Uber took me to the wrong side of the bag drop-off area, but it actually turned out to be exactly the right spot for my bib number. It was rainy.

It was a rainy ride in the Uber and all the way to Hopkinton.

On the bus ride to Hopkinton I met a guy named Kyle from Chicago. He’d done Boston a few times. During the ride there was a bright flash from a lightning strike that I’m sure made everyone think, “Just don’t cancel the race!” Luckily the storm passed through, it stopped raining before the start, and we had clear skies during parts of the race.

At Hopkinton I found myself a coveted tent pole to lean against. I also ran into Tyson, who was on my team for Ragnar Trail Zion. This was his first Boston Marathon, so I’m pretty sure he was even more anxious than me. I had about 2 hours to sit around and talk to people about marathons. Part of what makes the Boston Marathon fun is that there are a bunch of “serious runners” gathered in one spot. You can talk to others about marathon times, favorite marathons, training, etc.

Eventually the rain stopped and we made the 0.7 mile walk/jog to the start line. I dumped all my warm clothing and lined up. I was more calm this time than when I ran in 2017, which was nice. It was still really exciting though. The jets did a flyby, the National Anthem was sung, and we started the race.

Boston Marathon Miles 1-8: 6:50, 6:32, 6:35, 6:32, 6:43, 6:35, 6:31, 6:42

The first several miles of the Boston Marathon are mostly a blur. It was so fun to be out there!

The first mile got started a little slow. I was much more conservative this time around, so I was patient and tried to stay in my spot and not move around too much. Since my bib was 3604 this time, I was a bit farther back in the pack and maybe that made it more crowded. Around mile 2 a guy near me was tripped in the crowd, got very upset, and said some choice words. I asked if he was ok and he said, “Bleep bleep bleep no, but thanks for asking.”

The crowds are just so incredible! There is tremendous pent up energy in the runners and the crowds add energy and make it fun. I gave lots of high-fives to kids and other spectators. There were flags waving, signs flashing, people clapping, music blasting, and lots of smiles. It’s really one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. It may have even been more enjoyable the second time around since I was less worried about my time.

Speaking of my time, I feel like I went out at a great pace. I wanted to beat my Yakima time, even though it was unlikely, but it was pretty hot. Humidity was very high thanks to the morning storm, and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. This may not seem too hot, but I don’t think I’d run in weather warmer than 45 since October, and most of my training I had done in morning temperatures at or below freezing. Therefore, mid-60’s felt hot. The sun broke through the clouds and added to the heat. From the first aid station I dumped water on my head and I drank a lot throughout the race.

Due to the heat, I was fine hitting splits around 6:40. I figured if I felt great later on I could try to speed up to beat my Yakima time, but I didn’t want to kill myself in the early miles.

At mile 8 I was still feeling good, which was comforting since that’s where I first felt signs of issues in the 2017 Boston Marathon.

I was noticing that my heart rate was unusually high — in the 170’s. That should have only been the case during a half marathon or even a 10K. I don’t know if my watch was off, or if it was all the anxiety, or the heat, or what. This was a little concerning.

Another thing I noticed this time around, is that Boston is full of hills. It’s not just the Newton hills and Heartbreak, the whole course is basically either going up or down. I had heard someone mention this, but this time I really noticed it for myself.

Boston Marathon Miles 9-16: 6:39, 6:44, 6:36, 6:30, 6:39, 6:39, 6:45, 6:23

I continued to feel pretty good in the next few miles. I didn’t really experience much fatigue or signs that I needed to slow down. My pace continued to be right around 6:40, which I was happy with.

I talked to a few people during the marathon, but not too many. Many of the runners seemed to be taking the race pretty seriously and were focused. I was willing to talk, but I didn’t come across anyone that really opened up. I’m not the most outgoing person, so maybe I didn’t try enough people.

I continued to give high-fives every once in a while, but I tried not to get carried away because I remembered from Boston 2017 that whenever I got pumped up I naturally sped up. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was energizing, although I didn’t exchange any kisses (as promised to Cyndi).

There’s a downhill on mile 16 which was really nice, and I took it pretty fast as I was still feeling decent.

Boston Marathon Miles 17-21: 7:01, 7:14, 6:54, 7:21, 8:03

Mile 17 of the Boston Marathon is where the wheels started falling off for me. I was running up the first in the set of four hills, when my right quad suddenly tightened. It was enough of a change that I noted what mile I was on and thought, “Oh no.” When I hit The Wall, it’s usually my quads that go first and that feel the worst throughout the race. At the Yakima River Canyon Marathon I had evaded The Wall and I hoped I could repeat that glorious accomplishment at Boston.

Boston Marathon Miles 22-26.2: 7:41, 8:22, 8:17, 8:45, 9:00, 8:25/mile

The uphills slowed me down, and I started losing speed on the downhills. By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill I was pretty much wiped out. I’m a pretty strong climber, so I wasn’t getting passed too badly, but when I peaked on Heartbreak I didn’t have much left for the downhill and after that it was a complete slog. I had hit The Wall hard and I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line and be done. The first 17 miles of the marathon were exhilarating, the last 5 miles were excruciating. Miles 18-21 were somewhere in between.

Occasionally I would pass someone walking, or limping. I saw one guy step on a water bottle on Heartbreak Hill and roll his ankle. I thought he was ok but then he started limping pretty badly. I encouraged him along. For a while it felt like I was standing still in a river of runners that were flowing past me. Eventually everyone started slowing down and I felt a little better, but not before I’d been passed by hundreds of runners. That was even despite the fact that I didn’t walk.

It took forever to get to the right turn on Hereford, but I was so glad when I did! I was in my own world those last few miles just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I started looking for Greg and Jesse. I scanned the crowd as my head swam with fatigue and delusion. I finally found them at the top of the hill right on the corner of Boylston. It was great to see them and exchange high fives.

I couldn’t believe how far I still had to go to the finish line. It took forever to get there, but I was so happy when I could finally let myself walk!

Final time: 3:07:27. Better than 2017 (thankfully!), but not as good as I wanted. I really didn’t feel too disappointed. I knew doing the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days prior was a risk, and I think my legs just weren’t up for another marathon yet. The heat didn’t help either.

Post Race

Once again, getting through from the finish line to a place where I could collect myself was excruciating. The second I stopped running I just wanted to faint or lay down; however, I didn’t want to get stuck in a medical tent. I did my best to keep on my feet. I had to find a rail a few times to lean against for 30 seconds so that I could keep walking. I got my medal, grabbed a bag of food, grabbed my bag, and finally found a curb that I could just sit down on. I remember this same feeling from some other races, in particular the Utah Valley Marathon and the Boston Marathon in 2017, both races where I hit the wall hard (although it has happened many other times).

I had a guy take my photo while I collected myself on the curb and rested. He was speaking Spanish, so I asked him, “Podria tomar una foto, por favor?” “Si.”

After resting for several minutes, I made my way to meet up with Greg and Jesse. I rested more at Boston Commons while they grabbed some pizza. Then we slowly made our way back to the hotel.

Meeting up with Greg after finishing

After a shower/bath and a game of Camel Up, I felt a lot better. We walked some of the Freedom Trail and ate some delicious Italian. I also downed two Canolies from Mike’s Pastry. (Two is probably too much, even after a marathon.)

As far as we got on Boston’s Freedom Trail
Yum!
Lots of steps on Marathon Monday

I just love the Boston Marathon! It’s full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s full of hope and potential disappointment. It’s full of athletes that are out to prove something to themselves or to someone else, or to just experience the event. I’m glad I could leave everything on the course and have another amazing experience, even if I hoped for more. It’s easily my favorite marathon to run and I hope to return again someday.

(Yes I used Glide before and Vaseline during, but by then it was too late. You can only do so much when you’re drenched for 26.2 miles.)

Yakima River Canyon Marathon 2019 Race Report

I’ve had my eye on the Yakima River Canyon Marathon for 4 or 5 years. It occurs on the last Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April. Since I usually run the Race to Robie Creek in mid-April, I haven’t wanted to run a marathon shortly before it and jeopardize my Robie time.

This year I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon. I trained hard all winter and my training went very well. I started thinking about whether my training would be best directed at Boston. The Boston Marathon is a hard course to set a PR at, as I found out in my first attempt. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Since it’s a destination in an awesome area, it’s hard to rest properly and avoid touring and walking around leading up to the marathon.
  • The race itself requires walking to the buses, walking from the buses to the waiting area in Hopkinton, and walking from the waiting area to the start line.
  • Since it’s the Boston Marathon, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment and run a stupid race. Been there, done that.
  • The Boston Marathon course is somewhat challenging, with early downhill and late rolling hills.
  • The weather is completely unpredictable. Will it be 90F (2012) or 34F (2018) or somewhere in between?

I also just want to enjoy Boston and have no pressure. Because of those reasons, and some others, I decided to use my training this year to focus on running a good race at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. That would leave me with 16 days to recover and see what I can still pull off at Boston. My wife, Cyndi, also ended up signing up for the Half Marathon at Yakima.

Yakima is about a 5.5 hour drive from the Boise area. We left late morning on Friday and went straight to packet pickup at race headquarters in Selah. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon race organizers put on a full weekend event for those interested. We decided not to participate in the spaghetti feed since we had our 6 kids with us (2*$10 + 6*$5 = $50 for spaghetti) and we aren’t the most extroverted people anyways. Instead we ate a McDonald’s (kids) and Subway (adults), which is always a safe, consistent choice before a marathon. I’d been eating all day, so a 6″ was great for me along with a few fries I taxed from the kids.

We went to a nearby hotel and let the kids swim. I did a couple laps in the pool and sat in the hot tub for 20 minutes or so. I find hot tubs very relaxing before a marathon, but I try to limit my time.

My sister-in-law met us at the hotel, which was great. She took most of the kids to her room so that Cyndi and I could get some rest. I got to bed around 10pm. Success!

I woke up at 2:30am by chance and ate half of my PB Honey sandwich. Then I slept until 5am and finished it off. By 6am I was on the bus and finishing my Lemon Lime Gatorade. It was chilly, but near the starting line there was a hotel with a clubhouse that runners could hang out in. I talked to one runner on the bus ride, but I was pretty introverted otherwise. There were lots of Marathon Maniacs at the race (they were having a reunion) so I heard some stories. I think there was a guy there that had run 1400+ marathons. There were definitely a few people that had done hundreds. Crazy.

The starting line was about a quarter-half mile from where we were. This made for a nice warm-up. A lady sang the National Anthem and the gun fired around 8:05am. I wore a tank top and gloves, which I ditched after a couple miles.

Getting Started, Miles 1-5: 6:32, 6:33, 6:39, 6:37, 6:40

Why is it so hard to not go faster than target pace at the beginning of a marathon? I was looking at my watch ever few seconds and doing everything I could to SLOW DOWN. It felt so easy. I was able to keep my first mile to 6:32, which was a success. My target pace for the first half of the marathon was 6:40, but I was willing to be in the 6:30’s if I felt good.

Two fast-looking guys took the lead during the first mile, followed by a third man. Just ahead of me a group of 3 people formed, two ladies and a guy. I thought about going with them but they were definitely going faster than 6:30, so I let them go and trailed behind them.

This group continued to build a bigger lead from me, but I stayed within the boundaries I had set. Around mile 2 or 3 another guy passed me and then went passed the group after the third place guy.

The first 5 miles of the marathon are ran on country roads outside Ellensburg. We actually enter the beautiful canyon around mile 5. The rest of the race follows the Yakima River through the canyon on a 2-lane highway. The canyon is green with grass and sparse trees. It has rocks, bluffs, and hills surrounding it. There are birds of prey and pretty vistas. Traffic is pretty much closed down, except for an occasional car passing very slowly.

Meeting Steve, Miles 6-12: 6:34, 6:32, 6:36, 6:38, 6:40, 6:35, 6:41

Right at mile 6 is the first notable hill. Actually, there are two hills about 40 feet each back-to-back. The group of three ahead of me began to break up. One of the ladies fell back and another charged ahead. I took the downhill portions of the hill pretty fast, so I passed one lady and caught up to the guy.

His name was Steve and he was very friendly. We started chatting and ended up running the next 7-8 miles together. He was from Seattle and had done 40+ marathons. Even though he was 50 years old, he was keeping right up with me. It was a pleasure to talk with him. I don’t think I’ve ever hung with someone for that long in a marathon before. We talked marathons in general, Boston and Yakima in specific, and various other things.

It was nice to pass the miles with someone and not worry too much about how I was feeling. He was pushing a little harder than intended, both with the previous two ladies and with me, but it was definitely within his range. I was right where I wanted to be, running mostly in the 6:30’s, pretty close to my target of 6:40.

During this part of the race, runners will probably really notice the road curvature. The road winds back and forth along the river, but the road is also slanted, so you’re never really running on flat terrain. Fortunately there are enough curves that the angle of the road alternates between angling down to the right and angling down to the left. It didn’t bother me a ton, but I could see it aggravating knees/ankles in some runners.

Around mile 10 my quads were feeling pretty heavy, but there wasn’t much I could do about it besides plug on.

A Kiss for Cyndi and Leaving Steve, Miles 13-17: 6:37, 6:43, 7:03, 6:15, 6:41

As Steve and I approached the Half, we could see the Half Marathon runners corralled up ahead. We joked with each other about not breaking into a sprint as we got pumped up by the large, cheering crowd. I’m pretty sure most marathoners have made that mistake before.

Since we were the ~6th and 7th marathoners through, the Halfers were cheering pretty loudly and it was fun. They were going to start their race in 3 or 4 minutes. Cyndi, who was waiting to start the Half Marathon, separated from the crowd to give me a high five. I stopped and gave her a quick kiss, which led to an “Awwwww” from the crowd. It was fun to see her and wish her luck for her race.

At mile 14 things got serious again. We could see the first big hill ahead: a 140ft climb over a half mile. We started plugging up the hill. It isn’t terribly steep, so my pace didn’t go much above 7:30 for any part of the hill. I started to separate from Steve during the climb, and I knew I’d take the downhill pretty fast. I wished him luck as we approached the top.

As I sped back down towards the level of the river, I noticed the lady ahead of me was slowing a bit. Steve had said that she told him she’d be happy with a 3 hour marathon, so it was likely that she was going too fast to maintain. I caught her around mile 16 or 17. She was still going pretty strong and would end up getting 1st Female.

I was feeling good at this point. There were no major alarms going off. I was trying to keep the pace in the 6:30’s.

Last Stretch Before the Final Hill, Miles 18-21: 6:15, 6:35, 6:38, 6:43

A few miles back, I had also seen the 4th place guy seeming to slow down. I felt like if I had a strong race I’d be able to catch him in the last few miles. Sure enough, I closed on him around mile 18 as he began to fade a bit.

There happen to be some tiny rolling hills in this section of the marathon. Most of them go by unnoticed. I realized this when I myself really pushing to maintain a 6:40 pace in miles 19-21. It didn’t seem like my legs were that tired yet. I determined that it was a combination of some slight uphill portions and a steady headwind that we had encountered throughout the race depending on which way the road curves were headed. I really wish it had been a tailwind. Fortunately it was pretty light. Maybe 5-8mph at its strongest.

I was saving a little energy for the last hill while still trying to keep my pace.

A few fast half-marathoners passed me. It was nice to have some of them to keep me distracted.

The Bigger Hill, Miles 22-26.2: 6:49, 7:33, 6:08, 6:25, 6:10, 5:56 pace

Finally during mile 22 I could see the big hill. It was definitely long and steady. It rose about 275 feet over a little more than a mile. I dug into the hill the best I could. I was past the spot I’d normally hit the Wall, so my confidence grew as I ran up the hill.

The nice thing about a hill at this stage of a marathon, is that it gives your legs something different to deal with. To some degree I appreciated this change of slope.

But even more, I appreciated the downhill! The final downhill is long and fairly steep. I went fast and tried to make up for the slow uphill.

After a half mile of downhill I felt my right hamstring start to tighten into a cramp. I slowed down in time to keep it at bay, although I was a little annoyed. I was sure to grab some PowerAde at the next station to get all the fluid and electrolytes I could.

I continued charging down the hill and I was able to maintain a fast past for the last flat portion leading into Yakima. I couldn’t believe how much energy I had going into the finish. It was by far my best marathon finish ever.

I ended with a time of ~2:53:55. This was my second best marathon finish ever, and my best on a course without significant downhill (my PR was at the Big Cottonwood Marathon). I was very pleased with my time; I beat my primary goal by about 1 minute.

I celebrated with the other runners as they came in — especially Steve. He ended up around 3:05 and the 1st lady was close behind him.

Cyndi finished the half marathon in about 2:05, which was great for her coming off her 6th childbirth in July.

After cleaning up we got some KFC (hard to beat after a marathon) and went to a park with the kids for a while. The weather was great in Yakima, which polished off a good day before driving home.

I would highly recommend the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. The organization is good, the scenery is excellent, and the course is fast.

Now it’s on to the Boston Marathon in 16 days. In the meantime, recover recover recover recover recover…

SoJo Marathon 2018

My wife and I had a baby over the summer so I didn’t sign up for any fall marathons due to schedule uncertainty. I kept up my training for the most part and stayed in good shape and injury free. As fall approached, I wanted to run a marathon to get another finish in the bag and test my fitness.

I settled on the SoJo Marathon, located in South Jordan, Utah on October 20th. This would be a 5+ hour drive from my Idahome, but Idaho has slim pickings when it comes to marathons.

The SoJo Marathon course looks pretty decent on a map, although I think it turned out to be more challenging than I expected. It starts at 5500 ft, then drops to ~5130 by mile 3, only to climb back up to 5500 by ~mile 6. Then there’s a bunch of downhill dropping all the way down to 4300 ft by the finish line, with an occasional roller mixed in.

Packet pickup was available the evening before and the morning of the marathon, which was nice for those coming into South Jordan from out of town. There is also a half marathon, 5K, and kids run.

I caught one of the buses on marathon morning to the starting line. The start was pretty laid back — located in a neighborhood next to a park. They had a couple heaters going in the ~40F weather. I was bundled up and feeling pretty well. I hoped for 2:55:00ish.

My cousin happened to be doing this marathon, so I found her and we chatted for a while. This was her first.

SoJo Marathon Miles 1-4: 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 7:11

The SoJo Marathon started at 6:45. I took it easy on the first little uphill and tried to run loose on the downhill. It was steep enough that I focused on not restraining myself but also tried not to get caught up in the early race adrenaline. My initial miles were in the 6:30’s. I slowed down for mile 4 since I knew a hill was coming up.

I had the unique experience of thinking I had just started mile 2 and then looking at my watch and seeing I was past mile 3. That’s never happened before.

I met a nice guy named Josh Hernandez who was shooting for ~2:50. He was wearing a Boston shirt. We ran together for a mile or so and eventually he pulled ahead. I met another guy named Jon Harrison shortly after. He was shooting for a time similar to mine. He said he was mostly a trail runner and did Ultras.

SoJo Marathon Miles 5-7: 7:07, 7:53, 6:52

The hill was pretty large, although it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. We had a headwind which I didn’t appreciate. I slowed down to almost an 8:00 pace for mile 6. I didn’t want to burn out early in the race. At mile 7 I believe my average pace was around 7:00/mile, which seemed about right. Josh and Jon both pulled ahead of me.

SoJo Marathon Miles 8-11: 6:15, 6:32, 6:26, 6:48

Then the downhill really started. It was really steep at first and I took advantage of it. I passed Jon back up on the steep part. Then it was a gradual downhill which was pleasant to run in. I saw some deer which is always nice during a race.

Through mile 10 we were in the outskirts of the city. Right at mile 10 the SoJo Marathon took a left turn and started a series of turns on big roads in the city. Mile 10 was the most poorly marked turn, but the course was well marked in general.

SoJo Miles 12-16: 6:45, 6:44, 6:50, 7:03, 6:36

Now the SoJo Marathon course settled down and was pretty flat. The big, long roads were somewhat monotonous, but I was feeling pretty good and staying positive. It was nice to pass half way, and I did so in about 1:29:30. This was a little disappointing as I wasn’t feeling that a negative split would be very feasible. My plan had been to be somewhat conservative for the first half and then see what I could do the second half. I didn’t feel like I had been overly conservative.

Josh was now out of sight and I figured he was on his way to low 2:50’s. Mile 16 had a decent drop which I utilized to run a 6:36.

SoJo Miles 17-22: 7:16, 6:45, 6:56, 7:21, 6:59, 6:56

During mile 17 we passed the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. It’s situated right on a hill, which meant we also got to go up a steep hill. I passed a marathoner right at the bottom of the hill who struggling. At the start he said he was going for 2:50, but I think this was his first marathon and he was a little unprepared. Oops. Been there, done that.

The ~75 foot hill was a challenge, but at least we got to run down it as well. However, on the way down my legs weren’t quite moving like I wanted them to. Thus began a slow slide into the wall. There was a very gradual hill during mile 20 which again slowed me down, and around this time another runner passed me. I ran with him for a bit and it was nice to talk to someone at least. But I was dragging more and more and I told him to not let me slow him down.

SoJo Miles 23-26.2: 7:08, 7:15, 7:40, 8:04, (7:44)

Luckily there was more downhill during miles 23 and 24 because I was starting to hurt. I was definitely hitting the wall and watching my shot at even a sub 3:00 slip away. It was disappointing, but there wasn’t a lot I could do.

At mile 25 we entered a running path. I was passed by a few more runners, including the top female with about a mile to go. I held on pretty well but I was really looking forward to the finish line when it finally came.

Is there anything more relieving than crossing the finish line of a marathon? It felt so good to stop running. Official time was 3:02:59, which earned me 11th place.

Post Race Thoughts

I was pretty disappointed with my time. I really thought I was capable of 2:55, and that I had a shot at 2:50. I’m not sure what went wrong. Sleep was good, nutrition was ok, training was good. I think I may have underestimated the course difficulty. Josh and Jon both ended up finishing just a minute or two ahead of me.

I think my time will be good enough for Boston 2020, but it might be right on the edge, so I can’t depend on it (I’m not sure I’ll want to run it anyways). I still did get another marathon under my belt and it’s always a good experience to run it and finish, even if it’s not what I hoped.

The SoJo Marathon organization was good. The first half of the course had some great views, including sunrise over the city. The second half was nothing to get excited about. I think the only reason I’d run it in the future is if the timing is just right. That said, I’m still glad I ran it. It was my 21st lifetime marathon/50k and my second this year.

Next stop: Boston 2019.

Nisene Marks Marathon in Aptos, CA

We decided to do a family reunion in Aptos, California this year since my brother lives there and we love the beach. I suggested a weekend that conveniently coincided with the Nisene Marks Marathon.

The Nisene Marks Marathon takes place in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This is a beautifully lush redwood forest located just outside of Santa Cruz. The marathon has some significant elevation changes — totaling about 3100 ft up and down. It’s a small event, with only 37 finishers this year. Both the elevation and the size make this marathon much different than most of the races I’ve done in the past. I typically do road races that are either pretty flat or downhill.

Friday was the last day of school for my kids, and my 5th grader had her final “graduation” assembly and ceremony. We left straight from that for the ~10 hour drive from Idaho to California. We picked up some great pre-race nutrition along the way, In-N-Out. We arrived at about 10:30pm Pacific Time, which felt like 11:30pm coming from Mountain Time. We immediately went to bed and I was dreading waking up the next morning for the race.

Fortunately the race was scheduled to start at 8am, which is a bit later than most marathons. They also had packet pickup in the morning, which was convenient. I grabbed my bib and studied the map a bit while I waited. There were a few people I talked to and/or listened to, including one guy who had run ~250 marathons. He’d done all 50 states and was working on doing every marathon in California. Dang.

We started running the marathon about a minute late and the small field of ~40 people quickly spread out. I was running with 3 other guys for the first couple miles. One of them was a runner from New York who was doing his first marathon. He was a college runner and said he’d been training for 80 miles per week, which is more than I’ve ever done. However, I noticed he wasn’t carrying any water. I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but I was carrying my own water bottle since the aid stations were pretty spread out. It turned out to be more of an issue than expected.

About 2.5 miles in there were some cups at an aid station, so I grabbed one. Based on the map, I hadn’t expected water for another mile, but no big deal. A couple of the other 3 runners I was with didn’t grab any.

Two of the runners got a bit ahead of me and the other was several yards behind. I let the two go and tried to run my own pace. My pace was showing low 7:00’s, but with a steady climb that seemed fine to me. It felt about right.

Shortly after mile 4 the big climb started. The two runners in front of me immediately slowed down so I passed them and moved into 1st place.

The climb was pretty tremendous (for me at least). I’m not used to trail marathons. The race had started around 70ft above sea level. The big climb started around 350ft and would reach about 1800ft before turning around. I tried to just keep working at the hill without going to hard. My pace ranged from ~8:30/mi to 10:00/mi depending on the grade.

My left foot started to get irritated at one point so I stopped and loosened my shoe. Still no one caught me, although I could see another runner on some of the big turns.

The scenery in Nisene Marks was great, although it didn’t change a whole lot on this part of the course. We were running through a dense forest with big redwoods. It was very green and almost completely shaded.

Speaking of shade, based on the map I was expecting for an aid station around mile 6. Didn’t happen. Also nothing at mile 7. I was out of water in the bottle I was carrying and I was beginning to worry a bit. Finally at mile 8 I came around a corner to surprise an aid crew. They didn’t have any cups ready, but after opening a big jug we were able to fill up my bottle. There was a turn-around ahead, so I knew I’d get more water soon.

The turn-around was at mile 9.6 according to my watch, which was about a mile earlier than the map said. It turned out that my watch wasn’t very accurate in the forest, so I’m not sure where the actual turn around was.

On my way back I got to see how close the guys behind me were. They weren’t back very far. It was also fun to see other people coming up since I was their first sign that the climb was almost over. I was surprised that my downhill miles were only in the mid 6:00’s to low 7:00’s, but it was on dirt and I was trying to save some energy for the second big climb.

There was more water at the bottom of the second climb, which was around mile 16 by my watch. Once I started going up again I knew it was going to be taxing. My legs were pretty tired and I had not consumed enough water. It was fairly warm even though the trees blocked the sun.

At this turn we moved from fire road to single track in dense foliage. It was a well-used trail and there were lots of marks to keep us on the right path, but it was dense, hilly, and very steep in some parts. We had bottomed out around 250ft and we would top out at over 1100ft.

Some of the climbs got too steep for me, and I had to walk a couple of them. My pace had deteriorated quite a bit, so I figured someone would catch me sooner or later. I started to pass some half marathoners as well as some day-hikers.

Fortunately there was an aid station around mile 20 at the top of the hill. I gave a volunteer my water bottle and another volunteer said, “Only fill it half way so we don’t run out!” He filled it all the way anyways and I moved on.

About the time I started my descent, the next runner caught me. I sped up and stuck with him for a half mile or so, but it was clear to me that I wouldn’t keep up for long. I asked him how far back the next person was and he said we probably had plenty of room. I wished him luck and he moved on.

The last few miles were pretty grueling. I was just trying to finish the race so I could get a drink. My watch was off so I wasn’t sure exactly when it would end. I looked back a few times to see if I could spot any other marathoners, but I didn’t see any.

Finally I came around the last turn and finished. I considered running another 1.5 miles to make sure it was a full marathon, but after running about 150 yards, I realized that was stupid and I was finished.

I ended with an official time of 3:33:00 and confirmed with another runner that my watch was indeed off (his showed ~26.2).

I talked with the race director after and let him know that the water was an issue, especially since the map showed there would be aid stations every few miles. There were only 5 total, and the last one ran out of water a while after I went through it.

Besides the water issues, the Nisene Marks Marathon was enjoyable. For someone that doesn’t run in forests very often, it was a different experience. It’s a small field of runners and mostly on dirt road and trail. The elevation is challenging. I had a good time and I even got a pullover for getting 2nd overall.

After the race I grabbed a hot dog and some chips, walked to my car, and went to the beach to spend a couple hours playing in the waves with my family.

St. George Marathon 2017

We had some friends move to St. George, UT this year. Obviously this provided an excellent opportunity to visit them and run the St. George Marathon.

I ran the St. George Marathon in 2013 and 2014. In fact, St. George was the marathon that really brought me back into running. I had been an irregular runner for several years, taking winters off, not ever training very hard, etc. After running St. George in 2013 I realized that I liked marathons (for some reason) and that I could potentially qualify for Boston some day. That marathon sparked a passion for and interest in running that I still maintain today. I enjoyed the St. George Marathon both times I ran it and looked forward to running it again this year.

Cyndi originally wasn’t going to run with me, but with about a month to go she changed her mind and ended up signing up as a charity runner (since she was too late for regular registration). I was happy to have her join me in the anticipation, on the bus, at the cold starting line, and at the finish. She blogged about her experience at the St. George Marathon here.

The trip to St. George also happily aligned with our children being out of school the Wednesday through Friday before the marathon, which was nice. I had to work on Wednesday morning, but around noon Cyndi picked me up and we began a nice vacation southward.

After staying with some friends in Springville, UT, we resumed our course towards St. George on Thursday. We made a stop in Kanarraville to visit Kanarra Creek Falls. It’s not far from the freeway and made for a great hike with the kids.

This picture doesn’t do Kanarra Creek any justice whatsoever

Once in St. George, we stopped by the St. George Temple.

On Friday we went to packet pickup. The St. George Marathon puts on a solid expo. There are lots of booths and picking up your packet is fast and easy. Altra is always there with discounted shoes (I bought my first Altras at the expo in 2014). We had all our kids with us so they got some swag.

After the expo we headed to some other friends’ house where we stayed for the night. Our son coughed a bunch during the night which was really nice. Who needs to sleep before a marathon anyways? We woke up (or rather, turned the light on) at 4am to catch the bus. I’m glad we got there when we did since the line exploded shortly after and one bus was actually a little late to the starting line.

Cyndi waiting for the bus for the St. George Marathon. I’m sure she won’t appreciate me posting this photo, but at least I’ll know whether she read this.

Cyndi and I got to the starting line about an hour before the start and found a spot by one of the many bonfires that were warming the swarms of runners. It was cold, but not as cold as I remember 2014. Maybe that’s because in 2013 and 2014 my father-in-law liked to be on one of the first buses that would leave us on the cold hill for a couple hours.

When the time came, Cyndi and I dropped our bags off at the van and we said goodbye until after the race. Somehow my time from a previous marathon got me a “Wave 3” bib. I didn’t know about these until I got one. There are elites, sub-elites, and Wave 3. All of us got to enter a roomy starting corral with special access to a set of port-a-potties. This was nice, because it gave me a little room to warm up and I really wanted to hit the restroom one last time before the gun went off.

I met a guy named Alex in the starting corral that I talked to a bit. He seemed pretty anxious and nervous. He had been fighting an injury and really wanted a good time. He’d run Boston a couple years back, but had been hampered by injury ever since. We were going for a similar time, so I told him to stick around me if he wanted.

Eventually it came time to start, and I was glad to be on my way once again.

Overall I felt ok for this marathon, but not great. It had only been 4 weeks since I got a PR at Big Cottonwood. I wasn’t fully recovered. Two days earlier I also had some serious intestinal issues, but luckily it had cleared up on Friday. I was still a little concerned. I still hoped for a time in the 2:50’s, maybe another PR if I was feeling great.

The St. George Marathon

Miles 1-2: 6:49, 6:51

The first couple miles were relatively flat, so I tried to take it nice and easy. Having started too fast at way too many marathons, I didn’t want to blow it again. Besides, there was plenty of downhill ahead so no need to rush the first couple.

On the other hand, I saw Alex take off pretty fast and get out ahead of me. It was pretty crowded, but I soon found some fellow runners that were going the same pace as me.

Miles 3-7: 6:24, 6:23, 6:32, 6:13, 6:19

The downhill started in earnest after mile 2, and I increased my pace accordingly. This meant that I passed a few people before falling in with a new crowd. One of the people I passed between mile 2 and 3 was Alex. I gave him a few encouraging words as I passed him, but he had a worried look on his face. I think he had already realized it wasn’t going to be his day.

Each mile of this portion was about 100-200 feet of elevation loss. It was nice to bank a little time and roll down the hill.

Miles 8-12: 7:34, 7:07, 7:00, 7:24, 6:47

At mile 7 we ran through Veyo. There’s a nice crowd here and it was fun to be cheered on right before hitting the big hill. The hill right after Veyo climbs about 200 feet in one mile. I worked up it but tried not to burn out too much.

I remembered the hill well from when I ran the St. George Marathon in 2013 and 2014. What I didn’t remember is that the hill stretches on through mile 12. It’s not as steep after the first mile, but it’s definitely up and it gets pretty tiring. I knew most of the second half was down, but I realized that it would be hard to make up enough time to PR at this point. I was feeling ok, but not spectacular.

Miles 13-17: 6:32, 6:39, 6:16, 6:08, 6:22

I tried to pick the pace back up once we summitted the hill, but my legs weren’t going quite as fast as I wanted them to. When I hit the half at just under 1:29, I figured a PR was probably out of my reach. I still wanted to get in the mid-2:50’s if possible though. Miles 13 and 14 are a steady decline, but then we hit the canyon and a 205 foot and 255 foot drop in miles 15 and 16.

Miles 18-25: 6:39, 7:06, 6:49, 6:29, 7:07, 6:58, 6:57

There’s a final little hill in mile 18 which was a little challenging. It was at this point that my attention moved to my stomach. I noticed that it didn’t feel quite right. I started feeling like I wanted to puke.

Of course, feeling like puking is somewhat normal in most marathons. This was more than the normal though. It became very hard to consume any calories or even water. This section has great downhill, but after mile 21’s 250 foot drop, I was just trying to hold my stomach together. Meanwhile I was getting passed by quite a few people, although I was passing an occasional walker or someone worse off than myself.

Luckily I was still able to keep going and I didn’t have to stop. My pace was decent, although I was relying heavily on the hills. The spectators get better and better on this part of the course, especially after mile 23 when we really get into St. George itself. Around mile 24 I saw one lady puking and another almost fainted (I gave her a pat on the back and helped her stay steady). I was still trying to just push through my upset stomach. My stomach was limiting me much more than my legs but there wasn’t much I felt I could do about it.

Miles 25-26.2: 7:02, 6:56, ~6:30

Finally I started feeling better during mile 25. Even though there’s still a 127 foot drop according to my Garmin, it certainly feels much flatter here. Shortly after mile 24, I switched from getting passed to starting to pass other people. My legs didn’t feel too terrible, and my stomach was finally starting to feel more normal.

During mile 26 I really picked it up. Something switched on, I felt a lot better, so I sped up. The town seems to go on forever, even though we were only in it for ~2.5 miles. There are a couple high school bands that play music every year, which is awesome. When I finally turned onto the last straightaway it was relief, as usual, and I had a strong finish to the end.

I came across at 2:56:46, which was my 2nd best marathon time and 19th marathon finish.

Recovery and Going Home

As I laid on the grass drinking some water and munching on snacks, I chatted with a guy from Texas and a lady from Pocatello. It was fun to talk about the race and see how others were feeling. We had a good laugh watching people either try to sit down or try to get up.

After about a half hour I went to get my stuff and watch for Cyndi. I had no idea when she would come in (neither did she). She finished at 4:13:25, which was her PR. She was very excited at the end and wanted to run another, which is unusual for her. I was excited, too.

Cyndi actually was running this marathon in memory of Boston, which is what we named our baby that we lost this year. She was miscarried at about 4 months, just a couple weeks after we were in New York and Boston for the Boston Marathon.

By the way, the St. George Marathon medals are the best medals ever, hands down. They’re made rock taken from the mountains nearby.

The St. George Marathon is a great race. It’s getting hard for me to pick favorites, but this is definitely one of them.

Our kids had a great time with their friends and the babysitters. We peeled them away from their friends. Some tears were shed, but we wanted to hit the road and make the 10 hour drive home before it got crazy late.

Cosie, trying to smile through tears right before leaving her BFF in St. George.

Besides, we also wanted to stop at Leatherby’s, our favorite ice cream place. It was delicious.

Don’t judge an ice cream shop by it’s menu cover.