Race Report: 2016 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon

Mile 1: 6:10

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

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

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

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

Mile 4: 5:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Race

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

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

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

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

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

That said, the blown glass trophies are pretty cool.

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

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

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

 

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