Wilson Creek Frozen [20 Miler]

I consider myself much more of a road runner than a trail runner. For some reason I don’t take trail runs quite as seriously. The runner in me likes a standardized distance on a mostly standardized course. This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to do a nice downhill marathon, but the competitive part of me prefers a race that’s more straightforward than a typical trail run.

That said, I understand why people like trail runs: often better scenery, more natural, challenging terrain, unique courses, etc. (Some people also argue that they are easier on the joints, although I’m not convinced.) I’ve done a few trail runs, including the Foothills 50K Frenzy and XC12K a few times, but less than 10% of my races have been on trails.

Last year I signed up for a crazy race called the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K. It was to take place right in the middle of my Boston Marathon training, so I’d be prepared for 50K. Unfortunately the Treasure Valley’s 2017 Snowpocalypse happened. Despite repeated attempts to keep the trails groomed, the 2017 Wilson Creek race had to be cancelled.

I wasn’t quite as excited to run it this year, but I figured I’d use my 60% discount/refund. I didn’t feel like recovering from a 50K and I wanted to focus on speed a bit more this spring, so I signed up for the 20 miler rather than the 50K.

This year the winter has been much more mild. I drove the 45 minutes to the trailhead to find no snow, soft dirt, and 40 degree temperatures. The weather was essentially perfect for a mid-January run.

I had done a micro-taper for the race, taking it a little easier than normal during the week, but I wasn’t trying to break records or anything. I viewed this race as a tough training run with some competition to make me push extra hard.

After getting my bib and standing by the fire for a bit, we lined up for the 7:30am start time. The 50Kers and 20 Milers all started together — the 50K course used the 20 mile loop as the first 20 miles of their race. To start the race a guy shot a shotgun, which was a nice touch. Many people had headlamps, but I figured there was enough light that I’d be ok without a flashlight (I was barely right and was grateful that there were some other lights around me). I also stupidly didn’t bring a water bottle even though I knew there were only two aid stations — one at 3 miles and one at 12 miles. It’s only 20 miles, right?

Wrong. It was 20 miles with 4900 feet elevation gain and loss. In the summer I generally work more hills into my training, but I hadn’t ran a decent hill since the week after Zeitgeist in early November. I quickly realized I was a little under-prepared for that aspect of the course.

The first couple miles were fairly tame with some single track. I started off pretty easy and worked my way up to second place. I got a drink at the aid station at 2.5 miles. Then the hills started. The next mile was about a 13% grade. Knowing that I had 16 miles ahead of me still, I conceded that walking up this grade was ok.

In fact, I walked quite a bit between mile 2.5 and 7.4 (the top). The average grade is about 10%, but that includes some blistering downhill portions. I alternated between walking/scrambling up steep hills and trying to maintain control on some 100-200 foot declines. We were on a rough dirt road. I found that I was sweating way more than expected due to the tough hills and unseasonably warm weather. This concerned me a bit as I knew there was a long way to the next aid station.

The scenery was pretty nice. It was high desert type scenery — some sage, cheat grass, and lava rock cliffs.

Finally I reached the summit and also had an opportunity to see that I was 3-4 minutes behind the leader. The summit has a radio tower and is a short out-and-back. I grabbed a plastic snake from a bag at the tower and dropped it off after the “back” portion to a guy on a 4-wheeler to prove I made it to the top. Luckily he had a water bottle he said I could take. He actually had a jug of water, but no cups, so he just told me to take the bottle he had. That was perfect and I was very grateful for it.

The next 5.5 miles of the course was almost entirely downhill. It had rained a couple days before so the ground was soft without being too muddy. The leader was long gone so I was hoping for second at this point, maybe first if I got lucky.

After a long trip down I found the aid station and was happy to grab some snacks and refill my water bottle. I was about to get back on the dirt road when one of the volunteers pointed me to the weeds. Seriously, we were supposedly on a trail but I could hardly see a trail. It was weeds. And it was straight up again — about a 700 foot gain over the next 1.5 miles. As I made my way up the “trail” I was astounded to be scrambling through weeds that were sometimes as high as my shoulders (and I’m 6’4″). The people that marked the trail did a fantastic job and I typically just looked for the next pink tape and went straight for it as there wasn’t much of a trail to follow.

I finally made it to the ridge and was happy to find another dirt road near the top to follow down. It was a very rocky road, but since it was also pretty steep I was moving down it pretty fast. My mind was wandering a bit and I was thinking about Waterloo (I was in the middle of reading the book, Waterloo), when suddenly my right foot caught a rock. I let out a yell as I did a superman pose right into the dirt. I laid there among the rocks and dirt for a second before hopping up. I was very thankful I didn’t have any serious injuries, but I certainly had some scrapes from my knee to my waist to my chest to my shoulder and out to my hand. Ugh. That was the worst fall I’ve ever taken while running as far as I can remember.

I documented some of my scrapes after the race

There was only one thing to do, so I plodded on. At about 17 miles I turned off the road onto single track again and headed up a steep 250 foot climb. While going up I caught a glimpse of a runner behind me, which gave me some impetus to keep working. I was getting worn out by now and looking forward to the end.

The plateau on top of the hill was a scenic area and I enjoyed running through it. Then there was a steep downhill on single track before a final stretch to the end. As usual, it was very refreshing to finish up and get some food and water in me.

While I ended up being the first finisher in the 20 Miler, it didn’t feel that way since the runner ahead of me and behind me were both doing the 50K. I was very happy I wasn’t doing the 50K since I was feeling pretty beat up.

Cyndi snapped a photo of me when I limped into the house.

The “medal” was a little hokey but very Idaho. Same with the award for first place.

The medal and plaque from the Wilson Creek 20 Miler

St. George Marathon 2017

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

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

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

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

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

This picture doesn’t do Kanarra Creek any justice whatsoever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The St. George Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery and Going Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Cottonwood Marathon 2017 Race Report

A text conversation with my wife:

Cyndi: My college roommates want to have a reunion in Utah on the weekend of September 9th. Could we make a trip that weekend?

Blake: Sure, sounds great.

Two minutes later…

Cyndi: Did you find a marathon yet?

Blake: Two. How’d you know?

And that’s how I ended up signing up for the Big Cottonwood Marathon. I had thought about doing Big Cottonwood before, so I was happy that things fell into place to do it this year. Besides, I didn’t have any big races to look forward to after the Boston Marathon, so it was nice to sign up for this one. This would be my 17th marathon (18th counting the 50k).

Big Cottonwood Marathon is one of Revel’s races. All of their races have one thing in common: Gigantic downhills. Big Cottonwood is no exception. The full marathon has a net elevation decline of 5255 feet. It starts just under 9700 feet and follows a canyon down into the city. There are two relatively short out-and-backs during the course, but otherwise it’s pretty much just running down the canyon.


We arrived in the valley on Friday afternoon and after visiting my grandmother we headed to the expo. The expo was well done. Getting my number and packet was efficient and easy. They had an area to exchange shirts for a different size. There were a bunch of booths to entertain my kids with free stuff. And there was a nice place to take photos at the end.

Note happy kids with race swag

We checked in to our hotel and went swimming with the kids before Cyndi went to the first phase of her reunion and I put the kids and myself to bed at about 10pm. I had gotten a full 8+ hours of sleep on Thursday night, so I wasn’t too concerned about sleeping well. That was fortunate, since Cyndi got back to the hotel at about 1am and after that I tossed and turned until it was time to wake up at 4am. I ate my peanut butter honey sandwich and started drinking my Gatorade while getting ready to catch the bus. Cyndi drove me to the bus and I hopped on. I chatted with a lady on the way up. It was her first marathon, so she was excited. I was too.

I think the bus dropped us off at the Big Cottonwood Marathon start area around 5:30am. That gave me about 1.25 hours to use the Honey Bucket a couple times, relax, and get ready to run. I was anticipating a very cold wait for the start so I was well prepared with warm clothes. It turned out to be about 45 degrees, so really not too bad. I never really got cold. We were right on top of the mountain. The marathon would go down the west side of the mountain and I could see a town in the distance to the east.

I made my way to the start line and we were off right at 6:45am.

Miles 1, 2, 3: 5:37, 5:55, 5:57

No, I’m not lying: My first three miles of the Big Cottonwood Marathon were all under 6 minutes per mile! Not because I have some new secret training regimen, but because it was blistering downhill. My Garmin captured elevation losses of 497 ft, 256 ft, and 299 ft for the first three miles, respectively. During the first mile, I turned to a guy near me and said, “Wow. This is really steep.” A little while later I asked him what time he was going for to make sure I wasn’t out of my league. He said he was shooting for “2:40. 2:38.” I didn’t plan on finishing that fast, but I didn’t feel like I was killing myself yet. He actually ended up winning.

It was really nerve-wracking to be breaking 6 minute miles. On the one hand I didn’t want to burn myself out by starting too fast (been there, done that). On the other hand, I didn’t want to fight the downhill, as that would just wear down my quadriceps even faster. So I tried to stay relaxed and make sure my breathing was under control.

Miles 4, 5: 7:25, 5:57

After finishing mile 3 the course does a short loop near Brighton ski resort. There’s a little uphill section on this part of the course, so I was careful to slow down and take it easy. After screaming down the first three miles, it was hard to slow down and not go fast up the hill. Fortunately I knew it was coming and had planned ahead. A few other runners caught up to me and some passed me, but once we made the turn and started heading back down I passed them right back. I figured I was around 10th to 15th place at this point, but I was actually something like 7th or 8th.

This little section reminded me that I was running around 9000 feet elevation. I could feel a little shortness of breath and lightheadedness. I was happy that we were quickly descending into thicker air.

Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon
Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

Miles 6-11: 5:56, 5:59, 6:05, 6:24, 6:36, 6:38

The downhill continued and I got into a nice rhythm. I started doing the math and realizing that I had a good shot at a PR and potentially even breaking 2:50:00 for the first time. However, I was very concerned that this downhill would destroy my quads and I would fall apart at mile 20. I knew this happened to a lot of runners in previous Big Cottonwood Marathons and in similar downhill races. Moreover, I was very uncertain of my pace. I continually self-assessed to make sure I was staying relaxed and not spending too much energy, despite the fast pace.

I had my Garmin 235 on, and through much of this section it was telling me that my heart rate was over 170. I really didn’t feel like it was that high, although I knew that it’s tough to tell in the middle of a race. I expected and wanted a heart rate in the low 160’s.

A few of these miles weren’t quite as steep, so I slowed my pace a bit to compensate. Again I could feel the elevation a bit. I made sure to get enough liquids and I was refueling on Jelly Belly Sports Beans (courtesy of my sister-in-law who got them for free) and my traditional Honey Stinger Waffle at mile 10.

About this time we also passed the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon starting line and volunteers were busy picking up Mylar blankets.

Around mile 11 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

At mile 11 I finally caught up to a guy in a red shirt that I had been following throughout the race. He was breathing really hard. I almost told him that he was breathing too hard and he needed to take it easy, but I wasn’t sure that would be appropriate. So I said “good job” and moved on. I looked him up after and found that he bonked at mile 19 and finished about 13 minutes behind me. I know how that goes.

Miles 12-18: 6:32, 6:13, 5:48, 6:07, 5:53, 6:27, 6:22

The course started getting steeper again after mile 11. It also had some fun curves to run around. And the views were spectacular. The amazing views actually started at the beginning. There were some impressive rock faces and cliffs that towered above us puny runners. There were several sections that had avalanche warning signs and I could see why: on one or both sides of the canyon there were steep mountains that rose high above the roadway. I had to remind myself to look around and enjoy the scenery every once in a while and I’m glad I remembered to. There was also a creek along much of the course and I could hear the water rushing down the canyon. The vegetation was plentiful, green, and refreshing.

I crossed the half around 1:22 and realized I’d need a 1:28 to break 2:50. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was curious to try. I knew I still had some serious downhill to bank more time.

Around mile 14 I noticed that my right quadriceps were really tight and getting sore. Once again I worried what would become of me when I exited the canyon.

We started passing the half marathoners. There were lots of them, but since we had a whole lane to run in there was plenty of room and it wasn’t a problem. I said “good job” to many of them until I started to get too tired.

At this point I had maybe one marathoner in my sights, depending on the turn. I didn’t look back so I wasn’t sure how close the next runner was behind me. I just kept running my own race and trying to prepare mentally for the flatter last few miles.

Miles 19-23: 6:29, 7:16, 7:09, 7:05, 7:24

At mile 18.5 the marathon course turned right while the half marathoners continued straight. There were finally some spectators now that we were out of the canyon, and that was a nice boost. Some of them were excited to see marathoners since it had mostly been half marathoners coming through so far.

After the turn the course flattened out. I was bracing for The Wall, but it didn’t come! Instead, it felt quite nice to run on flat terrain and even a little uphill. This was a turn-around section, so I began scanning the other side of the road for the first runners. I didn’t see them come through until just before mile 20, which meant they were only one mile ahead of me! That made me really happy as I expected they would be a good 20 minutes ahead.

My stomach felt about how you would expect a stomach to feel after 20 miles, but I forced down a Gu and some water and Gatorade. The sun was out now so I started dumping water on my head as well.

I counted 6 people ahead of me, but when I made the turn I saw what seemed like 50 runners right behind me! I still tried to focus on my own race, but now I was running scared and I tried to dig a little deeper so I wouldn’t drop from 7th to 30th over the last 5 miles.

Sure enough, I soon heard footsteps. There was a cruel little hill during mile 23 and a guy passed me near the top of it. He was 49 years old and I immediately had a lot of respect for how strong he was running at this point.

Miles 24, 25, 26, and 26.2: 7:03, 6:46, 7:24, 6:15

The guy that passed me provided a nice benchmark to measure myself against during the last 5k. He slowly pulled away, but his strength gave me a little extra encouragement.

Mile 25 had a steep downhill and it hurt. My legs were now in full rebellion. Happily, I wasn’t in total meltdown mode like I have been many times before at this stage of a marathon. That said, I was counting down every step until I could stop. I continually did pace calculations to figure what I needed to do to break 2:50. This kept me pushing to keep the pace as close to 7:00/mile as possible.

I could finally see the finish line with about 0.6 miles left. I was slogging and just trying to get there. There was a great crowd at the finish which was nice. I looked for Cyndi but couldn’t find her.

Suddenly with about 100 yards left I saw another marathon come up to my left trying to pass me! I put on a burst of speed that I didn’t know I had and raced to the finish line. I couldn’t believe that was left, and I was a little chagrined that I was apparently slacking off for the last mile.

Sprinting to the finish line
Because I saw this guy.

I only wish that runner would have challenged me about 50 yards sooner as I might have finished 2 seconds faster, but I ended up with 2:49:01, which made me very happy! That was an 8 minute PR.

Post Race

Cyndi was at the finish and found me pretty quickly. She was excited and congratulatory for my good race. Apparently I miscounted, because I ended up getting 6th overall and 1st in my age group. That definitely exceed expectations.

They had pizza from Papa John’s, soda from Sodalicious, and protein pancakes at the finish. An excellent selection of food. They also gave us wet rags which I placed on my head for a good 20 minutes.

My body hurts. Just let me sit.

After the race I sat in the hot tub at the hotel (I know it’s a sin after a marathon but it felt so good) and swam with the kids a bit. Then we had some delicious Kentucky Fried Chicken, because when else can I justify extra crispy KFC? Then we had some amazing ice cream at Leatherby’s after playing at a park with Cyndi’s roommates’ families.

Getting some delicious ice cream at Leatherby’s after the race. Don’t worry, I shared with my kids.

Revel knows how to put on a good race. The Big Cottonwood Marathon was fantastic. The organization was superb. The course was fast and scenic. The aid stations were well stocked. The website results and (free!) photos are best-in-class and were up within 48 hours. I emailed them for a couple of different things and received responses in under 12 hours. I had a great experience and I hope to run another one of their races soon.

4:54 Mile!

Date: August 18, 2017
What: 1600M Time Trial

I’ve had a goal for a while to break 5:00 in the mile (like I used to do regularly back in my high school days). Last year I ran a 1600 meter time trial with the Mountain View Cross Country team and finished in 5:06. This year I had another shot at it.

The head coach and assistant coach at MVHS were my coaches back in 1998 and 1999 when I ran cross country in high school. Every year they do a time trial at the beginning of the cross country season to see where their runners at. They invite alumni that want to join in the fun, although only a few tend to hear about it.

Only four alumni showed up. One was a really fast runner that ran in college and was actually pacing the varsity team. I knew the two others pretty well as I go to church with one, Jacob (who just graduated this year), and I’ve done a couple training runs with the other, Parker. Then there was me.

My training this spring was very distance-oriented. I put in more miles than I ever had before, but I did fewer intervals than I did last year. However, I have done a lot of tempo runs this year. I had a few weeks of interval training leading into this time trial, but I was concerned I would have a slower time than my 5:06 from last year. I wanted another two or three weeks to train. I had also been traveling in Seattle the previous couple nights and I did a 6 mile run in Seattle that morning. It was pretty easy, so I wasn’t too concerned about that.

The run was scheduled for 9pm and I showed up a while before to warm up and get ready. Parker, Jacob, and I were all excited as were all the high school runners. There were three heats of 1600’s. Varsity boys were last, varsity girls and JV boys before them, and everyone else first, although it was left to runners’ judgement which heat each person decided to run in. I opted to wait to run with the varsity boys as I figured I could hang with many of them.

I lined up on the very outside so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way, and we all launched off at the coach’s signal.

I tried to be careful my first lap and not burn out. Everyone else went out really fast. By 200m into the race, I was in dead last out of about 15 runners. I didn’t let this concern me as I was right on pace and we had plenty of time left. Besides, I didn’t care what everyone else got so long as I did my best.

I came through the first lap at about 72 seconds, which was just right for me. I was still dead last after the first lap, but I could see many other runners slowing down. I tried to keep my pace up and I started passing. At some point I passed Parker.

I finished the second lap in 74 seconds, which put me at a good pace. However, I know the 1600 is usually determined by the third lap. I pushed hard to stay on target and finished the third lap in 77 seconds. This means I had a slight buffer for a 5:00 avg pace.

I was really feeling it the fourth lap, but I knew I was going to break 5 minutes. Parker surprised me by giving me some encouragement with 200m left when I started to slacken a bit. I didn’t realize he was still with me. I put everything I had for the last 200, but Parker ended up passing me. I didn’t care: I crossed the line at 4:54.9!

It had been about 17 years since I last broke 5:00 in the mile. This was kind of a bucket list item for me, and I’m happy to have done it. There was a time when I thought I would never break 6 minutes again. It’s amazing what a few years of training can do, even for someone in their mid-30’s who gained 60 lbs and took some time off after high school.

It makes me wonder what I can do next?

50 Mile Canoe Trip on the Snake River

I work with a group of young men through my church and as a Boy Scout unit. Every year we try to do a “high adventure” activity where we do something outdoors, fun, and challenging for a few days. Last year we went on a ~25 mile backpacking trip in the White Cloud mountains. This year we did a 50 mile canoe trip on the Snake River. It did not disappoint.

The preparation for a canoe trip is much more difficult than a backpacking trip, and I also had zero experience. For backpacking, a group just needs to pick a good route, plan food, pack well, and drive there. For a canoe trip a group has to do all of that, plus gather enough canoes, life jackets, and oars for the group, get trailers to pull them, and get people to drop you off and pick you up (for a one way trip on a river). Packing is also more difficult since gear must be packed in dry bags and most people don’t have dry bags. Plus, there is added risk being on the water.

This meant that much more preparation was required. Fortunately we had some people chip in and we were able to gather enough gear for everyone. We got 12 big dry bags from one acquaintance, and that was a huge help. We also had a couple parents and leaders donate time to drive us back and forth.

The water flow on the Snake varied a ton this year. To verify its safety, another leader and I did a 1.5 mile test run right below Swan Falls. We felt much better after this.

Then the week before we left, flows were increased by 100% compared to our test run. This freaked me out but fortunately flows were taken back down by the time we hit the river.

Note how the flows were down in late May when we did our test run, then they spiked up right before our trip

Day 1 – Canoeing on CJ Strike Reservoir

Our canoe trip commenced on Tuesday, June 20. We were dropped off at the north camp ground right on CJ Strike Reservoir in the morning. Immediately we were swarmed by these pesky flies or moths. They didn’t bite, but they flew right into your face and ears. We set up some tents and dropped gear in the shade and got out on the water away from the bugs.

This was our first significant time on the water, so I wanted to do it on the reservoir where we wouldn’t have to battle strong currents. We rowed about 1.5 miles across the CJ Strike to the bank on the other side. It was fun and relaxing. It was also hot, so when we got across most of us jumped into the water. It took about a half hour to get back when we had a slight headwind (and I was in the slowest canoe).

We spent the rest of the day messing around the reservoir. We played on a dock, did some fishing, and had a fireside. It was quite hot and the bugs were relentless, so we were happy when a breeze picked up in the evening.

Day 2 – Canoeing from CJ Strike on the Snake River

On Wednesday, we needed to portage the canoes from the reservoir down past the dam to the Snake River. This was a distance of about 0.6 miles (one way) down a decent hill. We had 13 people, 7 canoes, and all our gear. We packed all our gear into our canoes and then started lugging them with 5-7 people carrying a canoe at a time. This was not easy. I think I ended up making 4 trips up and down the hill. It took about 1.5-2 hours to get all the canoes and gear down, at which time we were all ready for lunch.

After eating and refilling our water bottles it was go time! I was nervous as this would be my first time on a river with a bunch of young men in canoes. I assigned the pairs of boys to try to put some stronger boys with weaker ones so that the canoes would be fairly even. This resulted in some whining, but I think they understood why it was necessary. I was going solo in a light aluminum canoe.

We lined up all the canoes on a little boat ramp and then pushed off one by one in a pre-determined order. I was near the back, and watching 6 other canoes being steered down the river was a great sight.

I figured the river was flowing 3-5 miles per hour and we had about 15 miles to go. That would put us there in ~4 hours. I came to realize that it was actually about 18 miles and we would not even hit 3mph. That meant over 6 hours, which is quite a difference!

As we canoed down the river, we started noticing the wind picking up. Of course it was in our face. This made for some choppy spots. But the real problem with the wind is that it would force the canoes towards the bank. Once the wind was a steady 15-20mph (and it was), it would turn a canoe and then the paddlers would fight to point it into the wind while moving sideways across the river.

Going solo was a mistake for me. I thought it would give me a little versatility, allow us to pack more, and I wanted to try it out anyways, but I would have been much more useful as the third person in a canoe with two weaker paddlers. I was able to manage solo OK, although it was very strenuous and tough to keep up sometimes. The issue was that there were one or two boys that were very weak paddlers. I tried switching them with other partners, but we always seemed to have at least one canoe that was way far back and trying to pull itself out of the reeds on the side of the river.

This made for slow progress and some frustration. It was also a risk as there were times when we would get way too spread out and the slow canoe was way behind with no one to help if they were to get swamped. With the wind, swamping was definitely a concern. I had a couple close calls when I hit a swell sideways and got startled as my canoe rolled to the side.

We took a break in Grand View, a little less than half way to our destination. We just pulled out under a bridge, had some snacks, and swapped some partners. I also looked up the actual distance on my map and realized we had a couple more miles than what I’d led everyone to believe.

I also encouraged everyone to reapply sunscreen. This was very important given that we were totally exposed on the river and would be all week. The most burned body part ended up being the top of the thigh (above the quads). Boys would apply sunscreen while wearing shorts without thinking that their shorts would ride up while sitting in the canoe, exposing some very white skin.

We pressed on and the wind continued to be relentless. It was nice to be wearing a GPS watch so I knew approximately how far we had gone and how far we had left.

We finally rounded a turn with about a mile to go. It was protected by the wind thanks to Jackass Butte, and it made for a pleasant last mile. That was until we made another turn and discovered a few huge eddies in a big flat area right before where we wanted to pull out. Some canoes couldn’t get through at first and one almost got swamped.

This was right next to the area I planned on camping, so I powered through the eddies and dragged my canoe up a bank with thick shrubbery. A couple of the boys and I searched for a better spot to pull all the other canoes out. We eventually settled on a spot that was barely accessible and ended up taking the next 30-45 minutes pulling canoes and gear up a steep bank to a dirt road.

Exhausted, we ate dinner at 9pm and camped right on the dirt road. A couple boys shed some tears and I went to bed worried about the next day.

Day 3 – Another 17 Miles on the Snake River

We awoke to a breezy morning and had breakfast. We assigned canoes and started loading gear.

Everyone was rejuvenated by the arrival of two additional, energized leaders. I was praying (literally) that they would be able to find us and would arrive without issues. They pulled up at 9am and I rejoiced. They brought some treats, extra muscle, and great attitudes which lifted everyone’s spirits.

This meant that I would no longer be solo and we could have one 3-man canoe. We could see the swells and white caps in the river, so this was a big relief.

We set out before 11am and started making our way down the river. Even though the wind was still strong, we now had more power and expectations that were more aligned with reality.

The river becomes very wide and a little slower as it approaches Swan Falls Dam, so the swells were fairly large, with white caps and waves that must have been >2ft tall. However, it was more fun and felt safer with the extra leaders and experience gained the day before.

This stretch was much more scenic: vast canyon walls, fish jumping, and even some deer swimming from an island to the shore.

We arrived at Swan Falls at about 6pm and we were able to secure a decent camping spot right on the river with easy access to grab our canoes. Everyone had a much better day than the day before.

Day 4 – Canoeing from Swan Falls to Celebration Park

Our final day on the river was great. The water was flowing relatively fast, there was no headwind, and we got to hit some fun rapids.

First we had to portage past the Swan Falls dam. On the left side of the river/reservoir there’s a nice takeout area with a trail for portaging. We loaded our gear, rowed our canoes across the reservoir, then parked them at the bank. This portage was much easier than our portage past CJ Strike dam. We had more people, it was a shorter distance, and a smaller hill.

Once past the dam we put our canoes in and enjoyed faster flowing water. I knew there were some rapids and I was slightly concerned about them. Sure enough, about 2-3 miles downstream we experienced our first swamped canoe in one of the rapids. The canoe that tipped was known to be the least stable, but the two boys that were in it managed to stay with the canoe and their gear was tied down enough that they didn’t lose anything. I believe they hit a rapid sideways somehow.

We pulled into an eddy and transferred some of their gear to more able canoes to lighten their load. It turned out to be kind of a fun experience and I think the boys that were dumped actually enjoyed it.

This also made everyone a bit more careful on future rapids. We didn’t have any more problems.

We arrived at Celebration Park in good time, only taking ~3 hours to travel the 11 miles (including stops).

We played at the dock for a few hours and had a lot of fun while we waited for dinner. Some parents met us at Celebration Park and we celebrated our 50 mile canoe trip with a delicious Dutch Oven dinner. We also had a spiritual discussion and talked about lessons learned on our trip, which was fantastic.

Overall the trip was great. I think that everyone involved will remember it fondly for the rest of their lives, myself included. If I had known the waves and wind we would encounter, I might have had second thoughts about going beforehand. However, in hindsight I’m glad we went and I’m glad we were challenged. I’m also glad our last day was smooth and enjoyable, since it’s always nice to end on a very positive note.