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.
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.
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.
Each year the local Brigham Young University alumni group puts on a nice 5k fun run in town. The premise is a “freshman send-off” to congratulate freshman that will be starting at BYU. Over 200 freshman from the Treasure Valley are going to BYU this year, and about 10 of them were at this event. This year’s event happened to fall the week after I ran the Newport Marathon. After a week of rest, I decided it would be nice to break out the running shoes again. Besides that, the fun run makes for a great (and cheap) family event, so it was a good opportunity to get the kids out running.
How cheap? Well, the fun run was actually free. They charged $5/person and $20/family for breakfast of blue pancakes, sausage, and fruit. When you have a family of seven, that’s a pretty good deal. Most local 5k’s are $15-$30, although those often come with a t-shirt (unlike this BYU fun run).
Our children really enjoy doing fun runs. In the past I’ve made the mistake of pushing some of the kids a little to hard, so I try to just tell them to do their best. We are genuinely proud of them when they put in a good effort finish a 1 mile or a 5k. They love nothing more than getting a ribbon, medal, or t-shirt, but they also get great satisfaction out of finishing a race.
This particular 5k starts at a church and does a ~1 mile loop around Rocky Mountain High School and then an out and back to finish the 5k. I planned on doing the 5k and Cyndi and the kids planned on doing the 1 mile loop. (Cyndi just had a baby and hurt her foot a few weeks ago, so she’s not quite back to running yet.) Cyndi’s mom, sister, and niece and nephew were also in town to join us.
The 5k started with the typical barrage of kids sprinting out front. Paisley, our 8-year-old, went with them and I followed close behind. After a couple hundred yards the excitement had subsided along with the kids’ pace. There was some confusion about the course, and since I had run it a couple times before, I took the lead. Some younger guys, probably recent high school grads, stayed close behind me and let me guide the way.
My knee hurt quite a bit about a quarter mile into the race, but after another quarter mile the pain went away and I was happy about that. We looped around the high school and began the out and back. I noticed my calves were burning much more than usual, and I attributed this to the previous week’s marathon.
Once we hit the turn-around the young guy behind me made his move and passed me. Racers were pretty spread out after him, so I figured I could at least take second. I tried to keep with him but my legs were screaming more than usual and he was moving pretty fast, so he slowly expanded his lead until he won by about 50 yards.
On the way back I passed Paisley, who had mistakenly missed the turn to finish after just 1 mile and was now well into the 5k course. She was just realizing this and was starting to tear up, so I told her she was doing great and to work hard but that it was ok to walk if she needed to. Later on I came up on Fielding, age 4, who was on his little bike and was just following the crowd. He was happy and chugging along like 3 miles on a bike was no big deal for a 4-year-old.
I finished in 18:30, which I was completely satisfied with. That may be my post high school 5k PR depending on whether my watch was correct (I think it was). In any case it was really close.
After the finish I doubled back so I could jog/walk with Paisley. I saw Cyndi and the other kids and family finishing up the 1 mile loop as I made my way back out. Cosette, age 6, was apparently a bit more tired than the last run and hitched a ride in the stroller for a portion of the mile.
A little while later Cyndi came by in the van, worried about where Paisley and Fielding were. I told her I had seen them earlier and was making my way back to find them, but she was still worried.
I found them about 0.75 miles later. Cyndi had also found them and was loading them in the van. They had already hit the turn-around so I asked if they just wanted to finish with me and they excitedly obliged. So Paisley, Fielding on his bike, and I made our way back to the finish line. Paisley alternated between jogging and walking and Fielding kept up a pretty good tempo on his bike as long as he didn’t get distracted by rocks or bugs. It’s amazing how little an 8-year-old can regulate her pace! She would be exuberant one moment and exhausted the next. Overall she did really well and finished in under 40 minutes.
(Below is the cool-down portion when I finished with Paisley and Fielding)
It was a great day for a run. Everyone had a good time and we ate a delicious breakfast afterwards. I’m glad we could have another truly fun run with the kids. I hope they all grow up to be runners!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.)
Lack of sleep with the baby’s arrival. (Worth it.)
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.
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…
I recently read a running analogy that was spot on (paraphrased below):
Training as a runner is like running on a mountain ledge. One side is a long, gentle slope which represents putting in less than a full effort and not maximizing your potential. The other side is a steep cliff, which you slide down when you train too hard and end up injured. The goal of training is to stay as close to the ledge as possible without sliding down the cliff.
Some running injuries can be rather serious: a torn Achilles, hairline fractures, etc. Many of these are caused by running, but some may not even be related to running. A coworker of mine was doing cartwheels with her daughter and tore a muscle or tendon on the back of her leg. She’s going to be out for several weeks. These injuries are all disheartening and can be time consuming to overcome. Some can take years and some can put you out of running forever.
Other injuries are relatively minor, but are still discouraging. These are the type of injuries that I’ve experienced lately. For example, last year I strained a calf muscle for the first time. That meant no running for about three weeks and running “on eggshells” for a few weeks after that. I’ve also strained a couple different tendons in my foot and had sore knees. These injuries may not sound like much to an outsider, and often won’t even cause a limp, but when you’re in the middle of a 16 week marathon training cycle and you have a goal, they are very frustrating.
The reason I’m writing this post today is that I suddenly have a minor issue in my knee. I’ve been training about 17 weeks for a marathon that’s one week from today. After my run on Monday I noticed at work that it hurt my knee a little to go down the stairs. I felt fine during cross training on Tuesday and forgot about it. After my run on Wednesday my knee hurt quite a bit more and started to worry me. I tried a light jog on the treadmill after cross training on Thursday and stepped off after the pain came back 4 minutes into my run. I took Friday off and then went out for a 10 miler today with one week left for the marathon. To my dismay, my knee was really hurting after ~1.5 miles and I had to turn around and walk home after <2.5 miles. Fail.
So this little pain in the center of my right knee raises some important questions:
How much rest is needed for this to heal?
Do I risk my last couple runs before the marathon this week?
Do I call off the marathon even though I’ve trained about 18 weeks straight for it?
Do I run the marathon and pull out if my knee hurts?
Do I run the marathon and finish it despite my knee pain?
If I run with this issue, do I risk making it much more serious?
Is finishing this marathon (and potentially getting a PR) worth a couple months on the sidelines?
The problem is, many injuries are unique in location or degree, so the questions above are not easy to answer. And who wants to throw away 18 weeks of training for an injury that’s not super serious? Ugh. (OK, the training wouldn’t be “thrown away,” but basically I’ve been looking forward to this marathon for months and I’m at a peak right now.)
So now I have some thinking to do. One optimistic way of looking at it is that at least I’m tapering right now and rest is OK. Had this happened two months ago, right in the middle of my tough training, it would have really slowed me down.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!