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


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…

Race Report: Idaho Falls Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My nephew Kaden finishing up the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

Race Report: Newport Marathon 2015

I signed up for the 2015 Newport Marathon back in mid-September, 2014. I had never run a marathon that was at sea level, and I had only run a couple that were relatively flat. The Newport Marathon is both flat and at sea level. The timing of Newport was also good for me since it would give me plenty of time to train in the spring and since it takes place a month and a half after the Race to Robie Creek. Additionally, I have in-laws who live a few hours from Newport so it would be a good meet-up with them. I hoped for a PR and a Boston qualification time.

Shortly after signing up, Cyndi (my wife) and I found out we were expecting our 5th child. The due date turned out to be May 22, eight days before the marathon. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, but everything ended up working out pretty well.

The Newport Marathon Course

The Newport Marathon takes place in Newport, OR on the Saturday after Memorial Day. (Note that there is also a Newport Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island.) This year (2015) it fell on May 30th. The race has about 750 marathon finishers as well as about 250 half marathon finishers.

The course begins near the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. The first three miles take runners on a loop through downtown Newport and then back past the starting line. The race then makes its way to Yaquina Bay Road, which follows the north shore of Yaquina Bay. The course runs along the bay for 10 miles until a turnaround point at Mile 15 near Toledo, Oregon where runners then make their way back towards Newport and finish one mile east of the starting point.

Despite the out-and-back nature of the marathon, the course is very scenic and enjoyable. The last 20 miles of the race is lined by trees on one side of the road and the bay on the other side. The course has some small hills during the first four miles or so, but then it’s very flat until a small hill in the final half mile.


My training was exceptional during the months leading into the Newport Marathon. I didn’t have any significant setbacks from injuries and I hit many of my target times, particularly for long runs. My training schedule was mostly based on the 3:05 schedule from the book Run Less, Run Faster. The training program consists of three runs per week: intervals, a tempo run, and a long run. I hit basically every one of my long run targets and exceeded most of them. I had more trouble with the intervals, but I hit some of them and still had good workouts even when my intervals were a few seconds slow. My tempo runs were a bit slow at first, but by about the middle of my schedule I was usually hitting them.

Overall, my endurance seemed pretty solid and I started with a great base, but my speed was a little slow and that took some time to catch up. I also generally did two cross training workouts each week, which usually consisted of full or half court basketball in the mornings on my non-running days. Sometimes I did stationary bike and rowing in the gym. Since I was only doing three runs per week, my mileage during training was typically between 30 and 40 miles per week, which is on the low end of what most marathoners do. However, this was supplemented with cross training.

My primary goal with the Newport Marathon was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My previous marathon PR was 3:21 at the 2014 Phoenix Marathon, and I figured I needed about a 3:03 to guarantee entry into Boston. This may seem like a big jump, but I had been training for over a year since hitting my previous PR. I was a bit concerned with my ability to do 3:03, but I had a big confidence booster in mid-April when I ran a sub-19:00 5k followed a week later by a big PR in the Race to Robie Creek half marathon — 1:31:10 including an enormous hill.

A week and a half before the Newport Marathon my knee started hurting. I first noticed it going up some stairs after my Monday workout. Then on Wednesday after my workout it really hurt. On Saturday I went out for a 10 mile run and walked home after 2 miles after my knee started hurting. I was trying to be careful and I was also very worried. On Monday before the marathon I did a ~40 minute bike ride followed by about 20 minutes on Tuesday.


Since we were expecting a baby on May 22nd and I had been training hard for several months, I listed a few contingency marathons that I could do in case Newport didn’t work out. These included a marathon in Boise (where I live), as well as a couple in early June within driving distance. I still hoped to do the Newport Marathon since it was more interesting to me, I hadn’t run a marathon in Oregon, and my in-laws would be there.

Cyndi and I hoped the baby would come on the due date or even a few days earlier, but alas, this wasn’t the case. The doctor set up an appointment for Cyndi to be induced 5 days after the due date. So on 12:01am on May 27, Cyndi and I reported to the hospital and Cyndi was induced. After a mostly sleepless night and long, patience-testing morning and afternoon, Luna Joy was finally born at 4:50pm. Cyndi and Luna were both healthy and safe and we were happy to welcome another child into our family. My mom was watching our other four kids and the three older children were excited when they got to meet Luna for the first time that evening. Cyndi and I stayed in the hospital on the night of the 27th, a Wednesday, and then told the doctors and nurses we wanted to leave ASAP. They all thought we should stay another night and “rest”. We asked each other whether any of them had tried to sleep in a hospital: The nurses come in and wake you up every 2 hours and it’s not comfortable at all. Finally we were allowed to leave on Thursday at about 6pm.

At the hospital introducing our new baby to one of her older sisters

This left me Thursday evening to pack for my trip to Newport the next day. After about 7.5 hours of good sleep (unlike the hospital) I woke up and did a final 1.5 mile run the day before the marathon. My knee hurt by the end which was worrisome. I had trained so much that I decided I would do the marathon and just hope for no long term knee issues from it.

I packed the car and left home around 9:30am with two of our children to make the 500 mile drive to Newport, Oregon. The drive went well and took about 10 hours including stops. I had never been on Highway 20, which runs west from Ontario, OR through Vale, Bend, Corvallis, and several small towns, so the drive was interesting at least. I tried to take more breaks than usual so that I could walk around and loosen my legs, but of course by the time we arrived in Newport I was pretty tight and sick of driving my little manual Honda Fit sans cruise control. Fortunately the kids in the back seat were troopers and did really well.


Newport Marathon packet pickup was quick and easy. My in-laws had a condo reserved at the Embarcadero resort, which happened to be the race HQ and the finish line. I grabbed my packet in just a few minutes — they were selling a few t-shirts but there wasn’t an expo or anything. I did weigh in to see if I qualified for the Hercules division, but I was 2lbs short (the minimum was 190lbs). All my carbo loading and water drinking had added a few pounds to my weight as I usually weigh in at the low 180’s.

Kara and Jerry, my in-laws, were doing the half marathon so they picked up their packets, too. We took it pretty easy that evening. I walked around a tiny bit as we dropped some crab pots off a dock and I got the kids situated for the night.

The night before the race I slept horribly, as expected. I was comfortable, but also very anxious and excited. I set my alarm for 4am to eat something but ended up just eating at 3:30am since I was awake anyways. Then I laid back down and rested until about 5:20am. I caught the bus around 6:15 from the hotel. It was only about 1 mile to the start line, so that was nice.

As usual, I immediately hit the port-o-potties and was delighted to be the first one that morning to have used the particular facility I selected. I went again about 15 minutes later. I mention this because the lines were remarkably small for a 750 person race, which was very nice.

The weather was right around 52 Fahrenheit with only a slight breeze and some cloud cover. I opted to run without my usual white hat. Jerry and Kara showed up around 6:40 and we took some photos.

In front of the Newport Marathon starting line with Jerry and Kara

I changed shoes, lined up, and soon the race was on its way. The Newport Marathon started at 7am and the half started at 7:45.

Waiting at the start of the Newport Marathon
I looked over just as Jerry was snapping a photo of me in the Newport Marathon starting chute

Racing the Newport Marathon

I started pretty close to where I figured I would place — in the top 50 or so. I planned on running a 6:50 pace as long as I could. That would give me a little room to slow down if I hit the wall but would also keep the option open for a sub 3hr marathon if I had it in me.

As usual, I started out pretty fast but within the first half mile I was very purposefully looking at my watch and slowing myself down. When I passed Mile 1, I saw that my watch was annoying off by 0.1 mile and I was right around 6:50 pace. The first few miles wind through Newport and were quite enjoyable. There were several spectators and it was exciting to be finally running this race.

There were a couple little hills, and in hindsight I wonder if I didn’t slow down enough for them. They weren’t anything serious. We passed back by the starting line at about Mile 3 and I got to smile at Jerry and Kara, who were still waiting for the half marathon to start.

Running back past the Newport Marathon starting line at about Mile 3

After passing the Newport Marathon starting line, we made our way down to Yaquina Bay. There was one cool stretch where we ran on a boardwalk, which I thought was pretty fun. Some people in front of me ran on the sidewalk right next to the boardwalk, but I figured that it wasn’t every day that an Idaho boy got to run on a boardwalk, so I might as well enjoy it.

By Mile 4 or so we were on Yaquina Bay Road, where we would basically remain for the rest of the marathon. I was feeling good. My knee had started hurting around Mile 2.5, but by Mile 5 the pain was gone and I was very thankful. I had fretted over it for the previous 10 days. The night before the marathon (and several other times) I had prayed that my knee would be ok, and I felt that this was an answered prayer. Despite how the race would end up, I felt grateful that at least I wasn’t destroying my knee in the process.

The runners had thinned out pretty well by now, and for the next 10 miles I was mostly running near the same few people. No one was very talkative. I said “hi” or “how’s it going?” to a few runners and no one cared to carry on the conversation. I spent several miles near a lady who I think ended up being the 5th or 6th woman to cross the line.

Aid stations were good. I had packed a couple packages of Bloks so I was mostly just grabbing water. I didn’t have any issues. The stations were at weird intervals though — some closer than 2 miles apart and some more than 2 miles apart. At Mile 11 the infamous Oyster Shooter station was waiting, but I didn’t dare.

I was still feeling good at the half way point. I hit 13.1 miles around 1:29:00, which made for my half marathon PR. This was pretty awesome, although I fully expected it and I was right on target of the pace I intended. However, things started to go figuratively downhill a couple miles later.

I noticed at Mile 14 that my pace had slowed beyond 6:50 unexpectedly. Then it happened again at Mile 15. I figured it was ok as long as I could keep it under 7:00 per mile.

The turnaround point for the marathon was just after Mile 15. I still felt pretty good, but I began to notice signs of fatigue. It was nice to turn around as running past all the runners still making their way out gave me something to think about and made the course less lonely. I tried to perk up and tell people “good job” to keep my mind off running. Mile 16 and 17 were still under 7 minutes.

However, during Mile 17 I had a short wave of exhaustion where I got a little light headed. It reminded me of when I ran the Hoover Dam Marathon over 5 years ago — the only marathon I’ve ever resorted to walking in and my worst running experience ever. I was now having to push pretty hard to keep up the pace. Mile 18 was my first mile over 7 minutes. I reminded myself of the countless number of 8 mile runs I had done and how 8 miles really isn’t too far.

I passed the oyster shooter station again at Mile 19 and figured I’d vomit if I got too close to them or thought about it too much. Now my legs were beginning to tighten and cramp up. I just needed to hold the line at 7:30 or so, but it was getting more and more difficult. I had more Bloks in my pocket, but my stomach was through with them and I didn’t think I could handle any more. The Mile 20 aid station had oranges, and I hoped biting into one would give me a boost, but unfortunately it wasn’t much help.

Miles 20 and 21 were my last efforts to hold myself together before my legs just wouldn’t let me. I began to get slower and slower. By then I knew that I was going to miss my goal of qualifying for Boston and I continued to deteriorate. A few people started passing me at this point. I noticed my breathing was much faster than the previous 20 miles and figured my heart rate was spiking.

Around Mile 22 or 23 the 3:05 pacer passed me. This was disappointing but I knew it was coming. I picked up the pace for a few steps but there was no way I could keep up with him. Now I was just doing my best to not walk and to get whatever time I could salvage.

The last few miles were slow and painful, as only distances beyond The Wall can be. I was under a 9 minute pace through Mile 24, but at Mile 25 I went over it. There was a little hill towards the end of Mile 25. When I got to the top there were spectators and the finish line below. I sped up on the way down but my hamstring knotted up and I got a nasty charlie horse, my first during a run. I had to stop and wait it out for 10 or so seconds before I could hobble down the hill again. My in-laws and kids were there cheering me on and it was good to be done.

Approaching the finish line of the Newport Marathon
Approaching the finish line of the Newport Marathon



Post Race

After the finish line I got my cool, blown-glass metal. I grabbed some water and hunched over for a bit. My kids and in-laws came over and Fielding, my 4-year-old, showed me the collection of snails that he had amassed in a paper cup. I was worn out but happy it was over.

Me, Jerry, Kara, and the kids right after finishing the Newport Marathon
Me, Jerry, Kara, and the kids right after finishing the Newport Marathon. The cup my son is holding is full of snails.

The post-race food was located a couple hundred yards from the finish line, and it was nice to walk over to it. I grabbed a decent t-shirt, as well as some good food including a bowl of clam chowder. They had some high tables which I leaned against as I downed some much needed food. We hung out a while and then I headed back to the condo to shower.

We ate lunch after another hour or two and by this time my stomach was pretty messed up. Salty potato chips seemed to be the easiest thing to eat, but I also had a little chicken. We talked about the race and I called Cyndi and gave her a report.

Condo balcony after lunch with Kara, Jerry, and our new Newport Marathon/Half Marathon shirts

I decided I better head home around 1:30 rather than stay for the 2:30pm awards ceremony. I said goodbye to my in-laws and my two children who were staying with them and reiterated to them that they needed to be on their best behavior for the next week. Then I got back into my Honda Fit and started the long, lonely drive home. I had a few snacks in the car, but I made a few gas/bathroom stops just so I could stretch. My stomach was finally ready for a nice meal by the time I got to Bend, so I ate a big salad at Baja Fresh. It was delicious. I made another stop in a small town with a Dairy Queen and got a large peanut butter cookie Blizzard. Also delicious. Fortunately I had some interesting books on CD to keep me awake — I only had to rely on one can of soda. I finally arrived home to a sleeping wife and baby at 11:45pm.


Final Thoughts

I was happy to get a PR at 3:13:48, but pretty disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal of 3:03. I fully expected to be able to hold the 6:50 pace through Mile 20, so I wasn’t sure what had gone so wrong. In hindsight, I figure it was a combination of four factors:

  1. Insufficient mileage, leaving me out of gas too early. (I’m not convinced of this since I had done a 20 miler just three weeks before without hitting a hard wall.)
  2. Lack of sleep with the baby’s arrival. (Worth it.)
  3. Messed up training regimen during my final 8 days — particularly the missed 10 miler on the previous Saturday. This was due to my knee pain.
  4. Lack of toughness. I think I could have squeezed another minute or two out of my legs. Had I been within striking distance of 3:05, I think I would have. That said, I don’t think my legs and heart could have given me the 9 minutes I lacked.

Whatever the reason, it only makes me want to train hard and try again.

Overall, the Newport Marathon was a great race to run and I’m glad I chose it. Organization, course, and metal were all well done. The shirt could have been a little better (the 2014 shirt looked nice). I would gladly do it again, although I’d prefer to make it into a 4-5 day trip rather than a 39 hour whirlwind.

Now to decide what to do this summer to maximize my chances of qualifying for Boston and squeeze another 10 minutes out of my time…

Race Report: 38th Annual Race to Robie Creek (2015)

This was my sixth consecutive year running the Race to Robie Creek. I was very excited coming into this race. Last fall I injured a tendon in my foot, and I wasn’t able to train for a couple months. By January I was fully recovered and had three and a half solid months of training going into Robie. Besides that, I really liked this year’s theme: Gora! The Running of the Toads. I was looking forward to a great race.

Some Background on the Race to Robie Creek

For those that aren’t familiar with the running scene in the Treasure Valley, the Race to Robie Creek is a rite of passage for runners in the Boise area. This year (2015) was the 38th Annual Race to Robie Creek that has been put on by the Rocky Canyon Sailtoads, a local running group. It’s run by about 2300 people every year, which makes it one of Boise’s biggest races. It’s covered pretty thoroughly by the local media outlets and is always front page news the Sunday after the race. Besides that, Robie Creek is a unique race embedded with tradition. Race registration takes place at “high noon” on Presidents’ Day. The race starts at “high noon” on the third Saturday of April. There is always a different theme for the race and usually some skit or artsy presentation 10 minutes before the start when everyone is lined up.

This year’s theme was Gora! The Running of the Toads. Boise has the largest Basque population outside of Spain, which drove the theme. It was fun to see a few people dressed up in white with red scarfs and sashes.

I’ve been training for the Newport Marathon in late May, so the Race to Robie Creek fell nicely into my training regimen. I debated how seriously I should run the race. I obviously wanted a good time, but I was unsure whether I should taper or just treat it as a typical long Saturday run. Fortunately, I had embedded a couple extra weeks into my 16 week marathon training schedule, so after some internal debate I decided to use one of my extra weeks to do a taper the week previous to Robie. My training was going well enough that was confident I could beat my previous best Robie time from last year (1:40:17, 2014), but I wasn’t quite sure by how much. I had worked in some hills to my long runs during my marathon training and I was hoping they would pay dividends.


For my taper, I did an 8 mile run eight days before the Race to Robie Creek on a Friday. Micron, my employer, was putting on the Fab-ulous 5k the Saturday before Robie, so I ran that as well. It had around 150-200 people I think, and it amazed me what a little competition can do for my race time. I was able to run about 18:48 at the 5k since I had some people to run against. I had no idea I could maintain a 6 minute pace for three miles, and this was a big confidence booster going into Robie. I hadn’t run a 5k in two years, and it had been since early November that I had done any competition.

To finish my taper, I did a couple 400m intervals during a six mile treadmill run on Monday, then cross trained on Tuesday (stationary bike and rowing), then did a 5.5 mile run on Thursday with 3 miles at 7min/mile pace.

In-laws Arriving

By Friday night I was anxious and excited. My father-in-law, Jerry, and sister-in-law, Kara, arrived in town to run the race as well, along with my mother-in-law and Kara’s daughter. Jerry and Kara ran with me last year (2014) and had a good time; however, Kara had a rough day as she puked a couple miles into the race for some reason. She really wanted revenge on the hill and wanted to have a better run this year. We were sure to get to bed relatively early.

Since it’s a noon race, it’s tough to properly fuel for Robie Creek. I ended up eating some cereal in the morning, then lightly snacking until about 10am, at which point I ate a small PBH sandwich. We left the house around 10:30 and arrived at the starting area after 11am. We sat on the grass and walked around a bit and got ready to go. I had been worried about the wind as the forecast called for 20mph winds on Saturday. Fortunately the wind hadn’t picked up enough to be bothersome. I hardly noticed it going up the hill.

I learned that if you don’t want to start slow you need to be towards the front of the pack, so I lined up just a couple people back from the starting line. Besides that, I knew that if I hit my primary goal of 1:35:00 I would be in the top 30 or so finishers. After a welcome by the race director and some words from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who is Basque, there was a Basque dance on the stage to the left of the lined-up runners. After the dance, the mayor yelled “Gora! Gora!” which took the place of the gun to send the race off.


The Course

The Race to Robie Creek starts in a parking lot at Fort Boise and continues onto a road which loops around some softball fields. By the time we were a half mile into the run, I was surprised at how many people were in front of me. I was glancing at my Garmin and purposefully slowing my pace. There is so much build up and adrenaline going into a race that it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment. Knowing I’d be at a top-30 race pace, I was surprised to see about 200 people ahead of me. Once we hit the beginning of the “little” hill at Mile 1, I began passing people and continued to do so until about Mile 8.

For my race plan, I broke up the course into three sections:

  1. Before the Dirt: The first 3.4 miles consist of a flat mile 1, then a second mile up a decent hill, then a small downhill followed by some rising, rolling hills to mile 3.4. I planned on running this section at about a 6:50-7:00 pace.
  2. The Hill: Starting at Mile 3.4 is a dirt road and a hill. The 1700 foot, 6.5% grade hill is exactly 5 miles long and only has a couple short flat spots. Sometimes I break it up into 4 hills in my mind as there are 4 really steep parts, but it’s really one huge hill and it gives The Race to Robie Creek most of its stigma. The last ~0.8 mile of the hill is crazy steep and most racers walk some of it. I planned to run at about 8:20/mile on this part, but I knew this would make or break my time.
  3. The Downhill: Starting at ~Mile 8.4, there’s a crazy downhill to the finish line — about 1700 feet, which is a 7% average grade (I think). The first couple miles are really steep. Then it seems to flatten out somewhat, but it’s still knee-pounding downhill all the way to the finish. I wanted to do this section at 6:20 pace.

Despite my attempts to calm down, my first mile came in at 6:16. I knew it would be fast so I wasn’t too worried. I felt good and made my way up the “little” hill. There are groups of spectators all along this paved part of Shaw Mountain Rd which winds through a ritzy subdivision. It makes for an exciting time. Right at the top of the hill at about Mile 2 there is the first aid station and a large crowd as it’s a nice place for spectators. After this crowd, the spectating subsides. I was feeling good at the top of the hill and the runners were beginning to thin out. I chatted a bit with a guy on my way down. I could tell that I was going to beat my target pace for the first section and I was fine with that. I was feeling pretty good still.

I hit the second section at about a 6:40/mile pace, which I was happy with. This is where the race really begins and I knew that my pace on the hill would be crucial. I felt that in my 2014 race I had not attacked the hill hard enough, so I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I worked hard on the uphills and didn’t let up too much on the flattish parts. People tend to get quiet on the hill, especially the last mile death-march. I tried to smile and wave to a few groups of spectators and gave a fist-pump to the little band that is always present on the hillside around Mile 4.5.

I was using Clif Shot Bloks for my primary nutrition and grabbing water at the stations. I try to down a Blok every couple miles or so. The hill went well. I ended up around 8:20/mile on average. Part of me was hoping I could pull of 8:00/mile which would have left me in striking distance of a 1:35:00, but when I got to the top I still knew I was well on my way for a PR. At about Mile 8 I passed the Temptation Station, which is always entertaining and a welcome distraction during that final climb. I didn’t consume any donuts or whatever else they had there. My pace slowed to over 11:00/mile on parts of the last section, but I didn’t walk and kept driving up. About a quarter-mile before the top I passed the lead female runner. I gave her a word of encouragement and kept going. Truthfully I was pretty happy to pass her and I hoped I’d beat all the women for the first time. I know that’s not politically correct to write.

Ah, the Summit

Reaching the summit of the Race to Robie Creek is such a relief. There’s a small crowd and some cow bells making noise. You step on the timing pad at the peak and grab a water, then the ankle-breaking downhill commences.

I’ve generally been weak on the downhill, getting passed by multiple racers and losing energy. This year I was much more ready for it as I had done a couple 20 mile runs during my training as well as some intervals to help with my turnover. I focused on getting back as much time as possible out of the downhill. It went well for the first couple miles, then my abs started to lock up. This happened to me last year and I wasn’t excited to be cramping up again. I think that the pounding makes me tighten up my stomach too much. Fortunately the cramping only lasted about a half mile, but it got in my mind and slowed me down. Up to the cramping I thought I may have a chance at breaking 1:30:00, but the cramping pretty much extinguished those prospects.

I exchanged positions with a couple other runners a few times; I can’t remember if my net position improved or worsened on the downhill. I felt that was good since usually I am passed by several people going down.

Beat by a Girl (Not the First Time or the Last)

Just when I was thinking I had bested the top female runner, she passed me at Mile 12. I was starting to weaken and my pace had suddenly slowed unconsciously. Right then she blew by me and said something like, “C’mon you can do better than that!” I didn’t know she was the one behind me. I sped up and tried to hold on. I was able to maintain a better pace, but I couldn’t keep up with her. She had a strong finish and a well-deserved 1st place.

That final Robie mile always seems long. I always expect spectators to be closer to Mile 12. As it happens, very few spectators venture 100 yards in front of the finish line, and the windy dirt road seems to go on indefinitely. Finally I saw the finish and finished strong. Seeing my time of 1:31:10 was a sight to behold for me. It beat my PR from last year by over nine minutes and I couldn’t have been happier with how the race went. Later on I saw that I had placed 18th, which I never imagined I could do.

Post Race Party

After crossing the finish line I made my way to the bag pickup. I saw my high school teammate Kenny McDaniel sitting down and taking his shoes off. “Hey Kenny! How did it go?” I asked. I knew he would be in the top few runners as he has worked hard ever since we graduated together from Meridian High. “Well, I won,” he stated matter-of-factly. I congratulated him and he gave me a few more details. I have to say that it was well-deserved for him, and it’s inspirational to me that my old teammate pulled it off. It is a testament of his hard work and dedication over the years.

Kenny's Finish
Kenny finishing in first place

I got to see a few friends and coworkers come through the finish area. It was fun to talk to them and most of them ran their best time. Jerry and Kara had solid races and felt way better than last year. The Race to Robie Creek always has great food and plenty of refreshments — everything from chocolate milk (for me) to beer (for others). We grabbed some food and gatorade and took the long bus ride home.


Three years ago I finished in 2:08:28 at the Race to Robie Creek in 414th place. I recall at Mile 11 being absolutely miserable and committing to never running a marathon again, with doubts about running another half. I never thought I’d be able to place in the top 100 runners. Fast forward three years and it was a completely different experience. I recovered quickly and felt great afterwards. I immediately looked forward to running it again next year. The difference has been that I’ve persistently exercised throughout the year. I’ve worked harder and not taken months off like I used to. I have a supportive wife who gives the kids breakfast while I take off for a couple hours every Saturday morning. I’ve also been blessed to be injury-free for the past few months. I hope I can remain healthy and improve again in the future. If things work out, I’ll be running Boston rather than Robie next year, but I’ll be looking forward to 2017 for several months to come!