2015: Year in Review

2015 was probably the best running year of my life. The only other year that comes close is my senior year in high school, but I’m not sure it was quite as good as 2015.

My recent running life reemerged in 2013. That year I cut 19 minutes off my time from the year before at the Race to Robie Creek. I also committed to run the St. George Marathon with my father-in-law, and then I surprised myself by getting a personal record (3:24), beating my PR set in 2001 when I was 18 years-old. I had a great experience at the marathon and immediately wanted to run another. I also realized that I could potentially qualify for Boston at some point if I worked at it.

2014 was a fairly disappoint year. I was plagued by injuries that cost me 3-4 weeks of training at a time. First it was a foot tendon issue, then it was a strained calf, then another foot tendon issue (I get these a lot), and finally a sore knee to finish out the year. I barely achieved a marathon PR (3:21 at the Phoenix Marathon) and it was in March — early in the year. Nevertheless, I think I improved my base endurance capability quite a bit, and I learned some valuable lessons about injury prevention and not being stupid.

In late 2014 I signed up for the Newport Marathon, which was going to be on May 30th. That gave me plenty of time to train and improve leading into May. I used the 3:05 marathon training schedule in Run Less, Run Faster and got to work. The schedule is for 16 weeks, so I had a few extra weeks built in. That turned out well because I was sick a couple times and ran the Race to Robie Creek in April (which required a small taper and some recovery).

A week before Robie Creek I achieved a post-high school PR in the 5k (18:48) at a little fun run my company put on. That totally surprised me.

Then I achieved a big course PR at the Race to Robie Creek (1:31).

While I didn’t do as well as I hoped at Newport, I still achieved a PR (3:13).

I continued training through the summer and picked up a half marathon PR at the Idaho Falls Half Marathon (1:23 — excluding the wrong turn).

Then in September I finally met my goal of a 3:04 marathon at Mt. Nebo.

I felt great and my fitness was better than ever, so in October I ran the Foothills 50k Frenzy, my first ultramarathon.

Finally in November, I picked up a course PR at Zeitgeist (1:28) despite a strained calf.

That was followed by a 10k PR at the turkey trot (37:27).

Like I said, my best year ever. I PR’d in every distance 10k and above, as well as a post-high school 5k PR. Unfortunately the year didn’t end on a high note, as a small Achilles strain kept me from training much in December. Nevertheless, as long as that heals up I’m looking forward to a good 2016.

What made the difference this year for me? First was consistency. 2014 and 2015 were my most consistent running years since high school. 2013 wasn’t too bad either. What separated 2015 from 2014 was the lack of injuries. I think before December I only had two or three weeks that I couldn’t run due to a strain. One contributor to fewer injuries was that I would adjust my schedule if something was hurting. I also did more cross training and was sure to adjust my effort (rather than going really hard every run). I also bought some cheap compression ankle braces which I felt helped prevent sore spots from worsening.

All of that led to logging about 1359 miles of running in 2015, plus another 344 “equivalent” cross training miles (basically I count about 10 minutes of cross training as 1 equivalent running mile). That was by far the most I’ve ever ran and trained in a year.

I’m hoping for a great 2016. I’ll post again regarding my goals.

2015 Clark County Turkey Trot 10k Race Report – New PR!

Thanksgiving is a great holiday for many reasons:

  • It helps us reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for;
  • we get to eat a bunch of delicious food like turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, and stuffing;
  • we get to eat a bunch of pie;
  • and we get to run in the Turkey Trot!

We usually go to Vancouver, Washington for Thanksgiving. A few years ago I discovered the Clark County Turkey Trot and signed up. It’s now become a tradition, and typically several members of our extended family will walk or run it. Last year I did it alone for some reason, but this year we had a decent sized crew. It consisted of Cyndi and me, our 8-year-old and 6-year-old, our 5-month-old, my father-in-law, sister-in-law, and a few nieces. My 4-year-old son was also supposed to go, but he threw a fit right before we left so we left him at home with grandma.

Ready to run the Clark County Turkey Trot
Turkey Trot crew

The Clark County Turkey Trot is a fairly large, but very family-friendly event. There are typically over 1000 runners and walkers I believe. It takes place on a walking path through a nice area with a creek, grass, and marshes nearby. It isn’t really great for “racing” as the path is fairly small, there are lots of walkers, and it’s an out-and-back. Nevertheless, I still try to do it fast and do my best.

For the past 3 or 4 years this has been my one 10k for the year. This year was no exception, so I was excited to see how my time would be and I hoped to break 40 minutes. My time last year was about the same as the year before that, so I really wanted to see some improvement this time around.

The weather was pretty chilly this year, but at least there were clear skies (in Washington — a rarity!). The temperature was around 27F when the race started. This year they started the 10k five minutes before the 5k, which helped with congestion a bit. I told my 8-year-old daughter, Paisley, that if she could finish her 5k before I finished the 10k, I would buy her a large smoothie from McDonald’s on the trip home from Washington. She loves smoothies, but we usually just get her the $1 sundae since we have five children and we don’t want to set a precedent of $4/piece just for dessert. I told Paisley that I thought she could beat me if she just ran the whole time — a daunting task for an 8-year-old. She had been running at school, so I thought she could do it.

I lined up near the front and got in an early pack within the first mile. There was one guy that took a nice lead, but most of us let him go. Our first mile was pretty fast at just under 6 minutes. A couple of the guys around me started to let up, but this was right about where I wanted to be. I was hoping to be able to maintain a pace under 6:15 or so.

There were some icy spots, especially on some of the bridges, but it wasn’t too bad. The sun started shining down and warming my hands a bit more as we finished Mile 2. There was a runner right behind me and we passed the #2 runner. The first runner was out of sight. The course has some very gentle and short slopes, and on one of these short uphills the runner right on my tail passed me, but then I passed him back on the brief downhill.

At the turn-around I was still feeling alright and it gave me a chance to see the guy behind me and see how far back the other runners were. We were spreading out, and as long as I could maintain a good pace I figured I could finish in the top three or four and hit my goal of under 40:00. I passed my father-in-law on his way out and yelled a “hi” a bit after the turnaround.

The runner right behind me stayed right on my tail. I could hear him there the whole time and I couldn’t shake him. I pushed hard up and down the slopes so he wouldn’t pass me again. I would have liked to slow down, but the competitor in me really wanted to beat this guy.

Once we got to Mile 4.5 we hit the crowd of 5k runners. This is always where the Clark County Turkey Trot gets a little hairy. It’s not designed for racing, and I want to be respectful, but I also want to get the best time I can. Well, when the trail is packed with walkers and joggers, you have to improvise. This means a lot of weaving, off-roading, and some close passes. Fortunately it was dry this year, so I could run in the grass next to the trail a lot more. Often there are puddles and mud which make off-trail running more difficult.

As we wove around the 5k’ers I began to hear the guy behind me less and less, although he was still fairly close. I saw my niece, Natalie, pushing my baby in the stroller and yelled a “hi”. I also passed my sister-in-law and a couple other nieces, as well as my 6-year-old daughter, Cosette. Finally about a quarter or half mile from the finish line I passed Paisley and Cyndi running together. I told Paisley she was doing great as I ran by her.

I ran through the finish at a time of 37:27, which I was very happy with. I believe this is my all-time PR (I didn’t run many 10k’s in high school). I held off the runner behind me and finished second place. Without that runner, I’m sure I would have been 0:30 or 1:00 slower. He helped me tremendously. The 6:02/mile pace was fantastic for me.

After finishing, I headed back up the course to find Paisley. She wasn’t too far behind and had a strong finish. I didn’t know about the 5 minute 10k head start when I gave her the smoothie challenge, so I gave her a big hug and told her she earned her smoothie. She would have beat me if I didn’t get the head start. She ran the whole 5k and finished in 36:59, so I was very proud of her.

We ate donuts and sipped hot chocolate as the rest of the runners in our family came through. We all had a fun time and a good Turkey Trot.

Of course, later in the day came the delicious Thanksgiving meal with over 30 people crammed into my in-laws’ dining room. We had about 6 pies available and I was the first to slice into them a couple hours after dinner. I started with just a small sample of each one. However, I soon learned that none of my wife’s family are really big pie eaters, so I just kept on eating. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, banana creme pie, chocolate pudding pie, lemon meringue pie, and raspberry rhubarb pie. I ate so much pie it was ridiculous. The next day I did it again. I’m pretty sure I ate more pie than everyone else combined.

2015 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

Another year another Zeitgeist Half Marathon. This happened to be a good year for me — as I finally broke into the top 10 and got a course PR.

I’ve posted about the Zeitgeist Half Marathon before, so I won’t go into too many details about the race course. Basically, there is a big hill that peaks at ~Mile 3.1. Then there’s a downhill and flat portion followed by another mile long hill that peaks at Mile 8 or so. Then it’s down and flat to the finish, with a few tiny rollers.

What makes Zeitgeist great, is that it’s one of the last big races in the Boise area before the winter lull, or at least one of the last ones I typically participate in. (I guess there’s the Turkey Trot and Christmas run, but those are shorter distances.) It’s also well organized.

This year I convinced Cyndi to sign up and run it with me. Zeitgeist was the last race she ran before giving birth to our youngest child in May. Cyndi was 3 months pregnant at the time of the race last year. This year she was nervous about getting a babysitter for 4 hours, but I ended up convincing her. It was partly to justify my own 4 hour absence and partly because I thought Cyndi would have a good time and it would give her something to train for. It will also make for some good prep for a marathon I hope to convince her to do next year.

Cyndi has a different relationship with running than me. I’m really competitive and enjoy running as a challenge to myself and others. I’m all about tracking my times and distances. I also like the feeling of accomplishment and achieving a goal. Cyndi runs because “it’s the hardest thing I can do,” meaning, it’s an exercise that is challenging and makes her work. She doesn’t use a watch or track her times and distances like I do. I think she also runs because her dad and I rub off on her a bit. The last time she signed up for a marathon was right after she saw me and her dad finish one. She doesn’t get the same thrill out of it as I do, and when she’s done with a marathon she needs some time before she forgets enough that she’s willing to do another.

I arranged for my mom to watch all five kids while we ran. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the starting line from our house, so we left at about 9am and picked up our bibs by 9:30. We were a little uncertain regarding what to wear. It had been cold but warmed up somewhat the day of the race. The Zeitgeist Half Marathon starts at 10am, but it is usually breezy during the second half of the course. I ended up going with a long sleeve shirt. It worked out pretty well, although I would have preferred short sleeves and knit gloves.

I was excited for this half marathon. I fully expected a course PR, and hoped I could finish in a decent place. My primary goal was to break 1:30, but I was really hoping to get 1:27 or 1:25 as a stretch. I would be disappointed if I was slower than 1:30:00. In the Idaho Falls Half Marathon I had run a ~1:23 (excluding my detour), but it had some nice downhill and no uphill. In last year’s Zeitgeist race, I got 1:35. After a year of great training and only a couple minor setbacks/injuries, I was ready to improve my time quite a bit.

My only issue going into the race was a minor calf strain. I always seem to have little issues like this and it really annoys me. About 2.5 weeks before race day I had done 8×800 intervals on the road. My calf got pretty sore, and it never fully recovered. I was still able to run, but I kept aggravating it every couple days. I realized my predicament and did just a 9 mile run on the Saturday before Zeitgeist (keep in mind that Saturday is my “long” day and I typically run 13+ miles). On Monday I did a very easy recovery run, and given some pain still in my calf, I took it easy the rest of the week and didn’t run any more. I think I did a day or two of cross training in the gym.

On race day my calf felt pretty good and I was hopeful. Cyndi and I lined up and wished each other good luck. I lined up pretty close to the start. I saw my running pal Jon and wished him good luck. He was going for sub 1:30 as well, but he was coming off a pretty recent ankle sprain. We did the annual “Zeitgeist” cheer and then the race started.

One guy (I later learned his name is Kyle Perry) took off immediately. He ended up setting a course record at 1:13:31. He could easily be a contender to win the Race to Robie Creek next April if he runs it.

I took off pretty fast, but mostly under control. I figured I needed to hit 6:30’s on the flat, 7:30’s on the uphills, and 6:00’s on the downhills. My first mile came in at 6:13, so definitely on the fast side. I really need to control myself better in the first mile or two of each race. However, I don’t think I was too out of control. Fifteen seconds off my target pace in a Half Marathon isn’t too bad.

I quickly settled in around 7th-9th place since I started in the front of the pack anyways. Zeb Perez, who I had met after the Foothills 50k Frenzy, was ahead of me (which was no surprise). We pushed the first hill pretty hard — my second mile was 6:58 and my third mile was 7:22. I still felt really good and was hoping to keep it going. When I hit the top of the hill I continued pushing hard on the downhill. I didn’t want to relax too much going down and sacrifice time. The downhill pace was right about where I wanted it as my next two miles were 5:50 and 6:03.

On the flat portion is where I ran into a little trouble. Coming out of Mile 5 I started to feel a small tightness in my right calf. I knew it was only going to grow and the pain continued to worsen. There’s a small hill during Mile 7, and by the time I came out of that and was about to push up the second big hill, I was worried I might have to walk.

Fortunately, my calf and I reached a tenuous truce. It came to a point where it felt like a big knot, but then it stopped worsening. I was doing my best to run on my heels and keep off my toes. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I figured I’d be able to finish the race without a serious injury. Nevertheless, my calf was starting to slow me down. As I made my way down the hill with a couple people close behind, I couldn’t pick up the pace by running on my toes. I was also starting to get sore in my hips and unusual places since I had adjusted my gait to preserve my calf.

I was still able to make a pretty good pace. Miles 10 and 11 came in at 6:20 and 6:11, which wasn’t too much slower than my target. I was now shooting for sub 1:29 or at least sub 1:30, realizing that 1:25 was out of reach. The two people behind me, Andrija Barker (the first woman) and Justin Woodward (who I don’t know), ended up passing me somewhere on that downhill. I wasn’t sure what place this put me in, but I was thinking that it was 11th overall.

I kept chugging along and watching Justin and Andrija battle for a small victory. I have to admit that I sneaked a peak after one of the turns to see if anyone else was near me. Fortunately no one was, which meant I could be a little lazy. I was still pushing, but my calf was mostly determining my pace at this point. I had more in me but it wasn’t going to happen. After 3 miles of downhill, the final 2 flat and rolling miles of Zeitgeist are always a bit tough.

Andrija ended up edging out Justin in the last mile and beat him by 6 seconds. I came in over a minute later. My official time was 1:28:44, which got me 9th place overall. I was pretty happy with that despite that I felt my calf prevented a 100% performance. It beat my time from the previous year by over 6 minutes and finally landed me in the top 10 finishers.

I spoke with Jon who came in 19th at 1:33. I also said hi to Zeb and congratulated Andrija, who told me she had beat Justin. She noted that she thought I probably started too fast. I also spoke with my friend Chad, who came in under 1:40.

I grabbed some chocolate milk and started jogging back to find Cyndi. My plan had been to jog back to her and then finish with her as I figured that would give me a nice cool down, a few extra miles, and some time running with my lovely wife. I quickly realized that my calf wouldn’t permit any such thing. After limping across the road near the end of the course, I promptly limped back and waited until Cyndi came in.

She did pretty well for her first race since having a baby. Her goal was to not walk, even on the steep uphill, and she did it! The wind was picking up, so as we grabbed our post race meal we both got cold. Zeitgeist always has some tasty, unique food for after the half marathon. This year they had sweet potatoes, soup, and apple crisp (if I remember correctly). Not to mention chocolate milk and beer for those who want it (not me).

After eating we started walking to the car, which was at a distant parking lot. I was limping along slowly and Cyndi was cold, so she took the keys and ran ahead to get the minivan warmed up. We got one picture on the way out. Notice the smiling faces!

Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon
Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon

I love running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. It’s always well organized. The course is decent and definitely challenging. The Race to Robie Creek gets a lot more press, but Zeitgeist has it’s own place as a race in the Treasure Valley. I’m hoping to run again next year, although there’s a chance I’ll have a marathon conflict or something. If I do run, I hope to be able to squeeze a few more minutes off my time and see what my body can do.

Foothills 50K Frenzy (2015) – My First 50K!

Back in August or so I noticed that there was a 50K that took place in Boise: the Foothills 50K Frenzy. I wanted to get the Mt. Nebo Marathon out of the way before I signed up for something else, mostly to make sure I wasn’t injured. Upon completion of the marathon, I was feeling pretty good and a 50K was sounding more and more interesting.

I liked the idea of the Foothills 50K Frenzy since I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere and with the 6am start I could probably be home by noon as long as I didn’t have a complete meltdown. That would make things relatively easier for Cyndi, who would end up staying at home with the kids while I was out having fun. I had never run an ultramarathon before, so I decided that this was my best opportunity and I signed up.

[Note: I know that a 50K is mostly an “ultramarathon” by definition, and it doesn’t compare to a true ultramarathon like a 100 miler or even a 50 miler.]

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a 50K with 5600 feet gross elevation gain. I had never run more than 26.2 miles, and this would be about 31. While I try to include some hill training in my normal routine, I hadn’t done much in the past couple months. The Mt. Nebo Marathon was pretty much just downhill, with maybe 600-700 feet of gain and 5000 feet of downhill. Fortunately, I had done two nice hill workouts in July and August in preparation for Nebo, one of them was on some of the same trails the Foothills 50k Frenzy would cover.

That training run ended up being a blessing. It was one of the only long trail runs I’ve done and I learned that it’s OK to walk on some uphills on a trail run. That run gave me some confidence that I could complete the Foothills 50K Frenzy without perishing a slow death.

Packet pickup the day before the race was at The Pulse Running and Fitness Shop in Meridian. It was nice to meet Jenny, the race director, and a couple other people with 50K+ experience. This was going to be a “green” race, and our discussion made me feel better about my plan to just carry a water bottle in my hand rather than sporting a pack around my waste or shoulders. Packet pickup was pretty low key — no booths or anything.

There were no shirts for the Foothills 50K Frenzy, per “tradition,” but they did give embroidered backpacks. I would have preferred a shirt, but it wasn’t a big deal.

I ate some extra carbs on Friday and got to bed by 10pm. I was excited for the race, but I wasn’t nearly as anxious and worried as I usually am before marathons. I’m not sure if this is because I’m getting used to it, or because I wasn’t worried about my time and performing my absolute best. Probably the latter. I just wanted to finish, hopefully under 5 hours, and have a good experience.

My alarm went off at 3am so that I could eat a sandwich and banana. I went back to bed then woke up at 4:15am to get ready. I was very happy that my head was feeling well. I had developed a migraine the previous Sunday night which had been with me all week long. I relied on ibuprofen, advil, and caffeine all week and even had to miss a day of work. I asked some friends for a priesthood blessing on Wednesday night because it was so bad. Fortunately it cleared for the race on Saturday morning.

I arrived at the parking lot at about 5am and picked up my race bib. They only gave out race bibs the morning of the race so they would know how many people were on the course. The starting line was right in the Ft. Boise parking lot, which was very nice because I could sit comfortably in my warm car while I waited.

Runners gathering to start the Foothills 50K Frenzy
Runners gathering to start the Foothills 50K Frenzy

The race director gave some instructions right before the race. Then one of the runners, Derek Call, sang the National Anthem, which was a nice touch. Everyone fired up their flashlights and headlamps and we were off at 6am for the Foothills 50K Frenzy.

The first mile or so of the Foothills 50K Frenzy is fairly flat, with only a slight uphill. My primary goal in my first 50K was to finish without a major bonk at the end, so I went out very measured and under control. Around Mile 1 there was a steep climb as we began to get into the foothills. From the top of the first little hill there was a spectacular view of ~100 headlamps winding up the trail with the lights of Boise in the background. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen during a race.

I passed several people after the first half mile after everyone settled into their pace. The trail and the darkness made it difficult to pass until a good spot would present itself; however, this also helped me control my pace. I would fall in behind someone and stay there as we scrambled up the trail. Once we started hitting steep trail, I watched my heart rate closely and I would hike/walk any time my heart rate approached 170 BPM. I did not want to burn myself out in the first third of the race, which was basically all uphill.

The walking strategy worked pretty well. I found that I could often keep up with runners that were jogging. If I jogged instead of walked my heart rate and legs seemed to get much more tired.

I was holding a flashlight in one hand and a water bottle in the other. I don’t have a water belt or pack, and I didn’t want to buy one nor try one out during a 50K. Holding the light and water in my hands worked out pretty well, but I looked forward to dumping my flashlight at an aid station. Holding things in both hands did make it a little hard to drink, since my water bottle had a screw-on lid, but it wasn’t a big deal. I think next time I’ll take an extra lid just in case I drop it.

As we approached the aid station at about Mile 6.5 of the Foothills 50K Frenzy it was definitely starting to get lighter outside. Runners were starting to spread out a bit, but there were still a few around me. I could see a flashing red light a few hundred yards ahead which I assumed was the first runner or a lead mountain bike.

Ultramarathon aid stations are not the same as a typical marathon aid station. I ran up to the station at Mile 6.5 and asked them to refill my water bottle with Tailwind, the sports drink they had available. They had some gummy bears and I grabbed a few. I dumped my flashlight and knit gloves. Before I left they offered me some quiche, and I figured “why not?” So I took a bite of that and decided any more egg, sausage, and pepper-laden quiche would probably be unwise. (The one bite actually settled pretty well though.) Someone mentioned I was 4th or 5th at the station, which surprised me, although I hoped I’d be in the top 10. Just then someone ran by without stopping, which meant I was in 5th or 6th.

I took off revitalized and refueled. I knew the next 5 miles would be tough and hoped to get through them with plenty of gas left over. Shortly after the aid station I tripped on a rock. Fortunately I caught myself, but I realized that it was still fairly dark and I needed to be careful without my flashlight.

I caught up to the person ahead of me, but the trail was narrow, rocky, and dark, so I couldn’t pass him for a long time. It wasn’t an issue for the most part, but there was one long downhill starting at Mile 9 where I would have preferred to go faster. I’ve found that holding back on downhill just shreds my quads and I’d rather go fast than slow myself down.

That downhill was a little disheartening. At one point I could see someone that was far head of me but at a much lower elevation. I knew we still had to go up, so going down just meant more going up.

Once we reached the bottom I knew it was going to be the long 1700 foot climb to the top. I alternated jogging and walking depending on the steepness of the terrain and how hard my heart was beating. I traded places with the runner that had been ahead of me several times. There were also a couple runners close behind. One looked very much like an ultramarathoner: he had a nice beard and was sporting a shirt from a previous ultra. The other had a water pack on, but also had a cotton t-shirt and what looked like board shorts. Who wears a cotton tee on a 30+ mile run!? Not me. Textile technology has come much to far to be wearing a loose cotton t-shirt during an ultramarathon, in my opinion. That said, I always underestimate runners wearing t-shirts. I’ve been beat by t-shirt wearing marathoners in my last two marathons.


Sporting a genuine ultramarathon beard
Sporting a genuine ultramarathon beard
Who wears a cotton tee on a 50K? This guy.
Who wears a cotton tee on a 50K? This guy.

I believe that all the guys I was around ended up beating me to the top. I did the most walking for sure. This was probably the right thing for me to do as I really didn’t have much uphill training under my belt and this was my first 50K, so I wanted to be a little conservative.

The Foothills 50K Frenzy has an aid station right at the top of the mountain, at ~Mile 11.5. We had climbed net 3100 feet or so at this point. It was nice to be on top! I knew the most risky part of the race for me was over.

Right as I came upon the ridge road at the top, I also got a glimpse of who was ahead of me: Zeb Perez (found out his name later) was in first, followed by another guy, then a lady. Then came the three guys I was climbing with and finally myself.

There was a short out and back after we made it to the Ridge Road on top of the mountain. We turned left at the aid station, ran a half mile or so, then came back. I’m pretty sure the out-and-back was shorter than it was supposed to be. I stopped at the aid station on my way back and had a peanut butter pretzel and a couple other little snacks. I refilled my water bottle with Tailwind and was on my way again.

On the way up the mountain I drank what seemed like a lot. I guess it amounted to about 30 ounces since I emptied my 16 oz bottle twice and it wasn’t quite full the first time. I think this strategy worked out well — I focused on drinking when I was slowly climbing. I tried to cram as much into my stomach as I could handle since I knew I’d need it later.

On the ridge road the bearded man had to stop to relieve himself so I passed him. He passed me a bit later and stretched out his arms in the sun, declaring what a beautiful morning it was. I agreed. It was crisp and sunny. We both passed a guy in a red shirt that I had gotten stuck behind on that downhill portion a few miles back. Then the bearded man sped ahead and caught up with the cotton t-shirt runner. I could see them about 100 yards ahead before we started heading down a steep section of dirt road.

On the downhill I picked up my pace. This was part of the Race to Robie Creek course (albeit in the opposite direction) and I was very familiar with it as I’ve ran that race 6 times and I’ve trained on the dirt road a lot. I eventually caught up with bearded guy and cotton guy, and we chatted a bit. They were friendly and we were all feeling pretty good. I can’t remember where, but at some point we all caught up to the lady in front of us. Her name was Brittany Goicoechea (I found out later).

The four of us reached the aid station at about Mile 16 at around the same time and we all took off on a trail back into the hills. Once again I found myself going slower than the others on the uphill. Beard guy and cotton guy started extending a lead over Brittany and I. Brittany beat me to the top of the hill, but then I passed her after a long downhill. There was a turn at the bottom of the downhill where I may have gone the wrong direction if Brittany wasn’t there to lead.

Brittany and I continued trading places for the next 10 miles — between the Foothill 50K Frenzy aid station at Mile 16 and the one at Mile 26. Meanwhile, I lost sight of bearded guy and cotton guy. I couldn’t believe they had extended the lead that much. I thought that bearded guy may have some good experience, but cotton guy didn’t appear as experienced and I thought he may have burned himself out going up the hill a little too fast.

I knew that anything could happen in the last few miles. I’ve had melt-downs in 26.2 mile marathons, and we would be doing about 5 miles more than that. Anyone could easily be forced to slow way down or walk, so I still hoped I could catch the two guys in front of me. We came to some big clearings where I could see a long ways in front and I couldn’t find them. Brittany was better on the uphill, but I tended to move faster on the downhill, so we continued switching places. I was getting very tired of the uphills and my quads were starting to object. My right leg especially was getting sore. A few times one of my calves would also start to cramp, but fortunately I didn’t face any significant cramps or issues.

Some of the downhill was pretty technical. There were some rocky and sandy parts where I really had to fight against going too fast or I might hurt myself. I still pushed as hard as I could on the downhill since my uphill speed was so poor.

I was surprised at how relaxed I was. Once I’m over Mile 20 in a marathon, I’m usually starting to fall apart, but I felt like I was doing OK in this 50K. I also wasn’t as concerned about which mile I was on. I was kind of enjoying myself, and I never reached a breaking point where I just wanted to stop and lay down, like I often do in a marathon.

Nevertheless, I was tired, and the farther we went the more every little uphill taxed me. I beat Brittany to the aid station at Mile 26, which would be the last. I grabbed some potato chips and water. She came up behind me and I took off. There was a very slight uphill which hurt to go up. My quads just couldn’t take it. I slowed down and Brittany blew past me. I hoped I could catch her on upcoming downhill, but that would never happen. The farther we went the more she extended her lead. I was still running at a pretty good pace, but she was moving fast and not slowing down at all. She had a great finish which was very impressive.

I realized that was the most I’d ever run in one day, which was great. I was still feeling pretty good, but I was definitely ready to be done. I was glad that there would be some downhill to help me finish the last few miles.

With Brittany speeding ahead, I was pretty much alone. There were some mountain bikers and hikers out by this time. I had to ask a couple of them if a lady in red had passed to make sure I was going the right direction. My spirits were pretty high still, although I was beginning to drag. There was still no sign of bearded guy and cotton guy, which puzzled me. At one point I asked a couple hikers how far the guys ahead were, and they said 100 yards. I laughed since I could see 100 yards ahead of me. I don’t think they understood what I was asking.

I passed a group of hikers with about a mile left and tripped hard on a rock. Luckily I kept my footing and didn’t fall on my face, although it was close. There were some steps we had to hike up and then a couple final stretches. Right before the last turn there was a sign that was twisted sideways. I stopped to make sure it said to turn. I turned and ran the final stretch to the finish.

It was so great to finish! There wasn’t much of a crowd there, but there were a few people that cheered and an announcer who said I was the 3rd male finisher! That was surprising as I knew of at least 4 guys ahead of me. However, before clearing that up, I decided to run another mile. My watch only said 30.5 miles, and I wanted to make sure that my first 50K was really 50K, so I just jogged around in big loops until I hit 31.5 miles. I had been planning on 32 miles, so I wasn’t so wasted that the last mile was a huge problem. In any case, I took it really easy and did a 10 minute mile or so.

When I got back, I chatted with the race director. She gave me a nice 3rd place male finisher plate and I got to select a finishers mug. These were both made by Kevin Flynn, a local artist and ultrarunner, and they are really cool. I asked her how I was 3rd, and she said that two people had taken a wrong turn: beard runner and cotton runner. The guy with the beard was hanging around the finish. I chatted with him a bit. He had a good attitude about it all and was just happy to be there and happy that he had a good run. He said the guy in the cotton t-shirt was pretty wasted by the time they realized they had gone the wrong way, so I think he had just gone home or something.

Me with my 3rd place male finisher plate from the Foothills 50K Frenzy
Foothills Frenzy 50K Finish Line
Foothills Frenzy 50K Finish Line

About this time, 10 minutes after finishing, my wife, sister-in-law, and two nieces arrived to cheer my finish. Apparently Cyndi, my wife, didn’t believe me when I said I might be close to 4.5 hours! They showed up closer to 5 hours and were too late! It was still good to see them and Cyndi took some pictures of me at the finish line. Then they left so they could get back home to all the kids. I stuck around and grabbed a post-race sandwich, cookie, and chips.

I also met John, who I had communicated with via Strava. He lives a few miles from me so we’ve had some back and forth breaking each other’s segment records. It was good to finally meet him and chat a bit. We also chatted with Zeb Perez a little, who ended up winning the race. I gave my regards to Brittany and congratulated her on a strong finish.

Overall the Foothills 50K Frenzy was a great experience. The organization was excellent, the course was interesting, challenging, and fun, and the people were great. I just may end up doing it again next year. In the meantime, I need to qualify for Boston AGAIN since my qualification time missed the cut this year…

Race Report: Mt. Nebo Marathon

I wasn’t supposed to run the Mt. Nebo Marathon on Saturday, September 5, 2015. However, sometimes things don’t turn out how you expect and it still works out ok.

Mt. Nebo Marathon & Half


I had been signed up for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon for over a month and was excited to run it on September 5, 2015. The marathon would have about 400 runners this year. It was a large downhill course, and since it takes place in the Treasure Valley I would be able to sleep in my own bed the night before and avoid traveling. Being able to do a good marathon in my home town was a big plus for me since it takes out a lot of the stress, missed sleep, travel fatigue, etc.

However, the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled late Monday night the week of the race! Apparently there was work being done on Bogus Basin Road which was supposed to be completed a couple weeks before the race, but the road work was delayed. This left a six mile stretch of the road very rugged and created an injury hazard. Everyone was upset about the cancellation, but what can you do? You can sign up for a different marathon.

The road work on Bogus Basin Road which led to the cancellation of the Freakin’ Fast Marathon

Given that I was already tapered, and hoping to qualify for Boston, I really wanted to run a marathon. Once the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled I had to choose from a couple other race options. I hoped to find a good downhill race since I had done two training runs (on July 18th and August 8th) with significant downhill. I had sacrificed speed for hills in my long runs so that I’d be prepared for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon downhill.

The Pocatello Marathon was fairly close, but I had done it before and I was concerned I couldn’t get the time I needed on the course. It has a lot of downhill, but it’s all in the first half — the second half is flat. The other option I had was the Mt. Nebo Marathon.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon course was intriguing to me: it has huge downhill (4500 ft or so), but it is also at high elevation (starting at ~9250 feet) and had some uphill early in the course. I decided to attempt Mt. Nebo with the primary goal of getting under 3:05:00, which is the Boston Marathon qualification time for 30-34 year-olds. I figured if I failed I could still hope for a PR. In any case, it was my best shot for a BQ before the deadline the following week.

Getting to Utah

Fortunately my wife’s old college roommate, Sara, lives in a town near Payson, which is where the Mt. Nebo Marathon ends. We enjoy seeing her and she was happy to have us over the night before the marathon — even on short notice. The six hour drive to Utah on Friday wasn’t pleasant, especially when we hit traffic and Salt Lake City and my legs started cramping up from sitting driving for too long. That concerned me a bit, but I hoped for the best.

We hit packet pickup at the University Mall in Orem on our way into town. It was really fast as there wasn’t much there — they only had four booths set up. I did get to meet Dane and talk to him a bit. He was doing the Mt. Nebo Half Marathon. He was really friendly. It’s always fun to talk to someone about the course and some running strategy, which we briefly did. Dane had a stack of his book, 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I wish I had purchased one since I like running books — I plan to check it out soon.

By the time we got to Sara’s house we were happy to be out of the car. She gave us a nice spaghetti dinner, as requested (at about 6:30pm). We also roasted marshmallows for s’mores. I restrained myself and only ate one s’more made with a graham cracker, a marshmallow, and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. (It was mostly carbs, right?) I’d never had a Reese’s-based s’more before and it was quite tasty. I also had a couple marshmallows.

Getting Started

I went to bed at about 10pm on Friday night — which was fairly early for me. I had been trying to get to bed early all week in preparation for the marathon. I was surprised at how tired I was and glad I could fall asleep quickly. I actually slept on Sara’s couch as I didn’t particularly want to sleep in a room with an 8-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 3-month old. They were all in the guest room with Cyndi. I’ve learned from sad experience that it’s not wise to sleep in a room with small children the night before a marathon.

Despite sleeping on the couch, it was the best pre-marathon sleep I’ve ever gotten. I fell asleep immediately and only woke up once. I woke up at midnight and used the restroom (as I had been drinking a lot of water all day) and I ate part of my bagel. Then I went right back to sleep and didn’t stir until my alarm went of at 3:10am. I was pleasantly surprised.

I immediately ate the rest of my bagel and a banana, and started drinking a 20oz sports drink. Cyndi was already up since she was going to take me to the starting line and since she couldn’t sleep with all the kids in that room 🙂  We took off around 3:40 for Payson High School where the buses would be waiting.

Cyndi and I right before she dropped me off for the Mt. Nebo Marathon bus

The buses showed up around 4:15 or so and we loaded up. Runners filled from the back of the bus to the front, and I ended up getting the first seat in the first bus. A guy named Charlie sat down next to me. This was his 3rd marathon and we talked a bit. The buses left 15 minutes late (4:45). The bus drivers were friendly and were chattering and bantering on the way up, which was funny. Sitting in the first seat was nice for two reasons: I got a nice view of the whole course on the way up, and I was very first to the port-a-potties! This was my second marathon in a row where I got to use a clean port-a-pottie. Talk about good luck.

There were only four port-a-potties and one outhouse for 200 people (not quite as bad as my last race). This is a bit insufficient in my opinion, especially since everyone was dropped off at the same time. It wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if it weren’t for the buses leaving a little late.

They made some bonfires to help keep us warm, as has become the norm for Utah marathons. They also had some hot chocolate (before a marathon? no thanks) and some sports drinks. I sat by a fire and waited, ate a Gu, downed a sports drink, and changed my shoes and socks before heading to the Start. It wasn’t too cold, although I was happy to have a hoodie and running pants on. I also had knit gloves which I kept on until Mile 3. The guy in charge gave a little speech while we were all by the bonfire and also right before the gun went off. He did a good job.

On my way to the start, a guy next to me asked if we just needed our bibs. “Yes,” I replied, “Is this your first marathon?” It was. We talked a bit and he was excited to run, as was I. His name was Joseph.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon was supposed to begin at 6:30am, but the timing people got there to set up a little late, so it started at 6:38am. No big deal. I did some high knees and a little movement to warm up before the gun went off.

My goal was to get under 3:05:00 so I could meet the Boston Marathon qualifying time. I needed a pace of 7:03/mile to achieve that.

Racing the Mt. Nebo Marathon

After the gun went off the racers spread out really quickly. It was a small field of ~200 runners, and I found myself in 6th or 7th place in the first couple minutes.

I think the mix of uphill and downhill makes the Mt. Nebo Marathon challenging if approached incorrectly. The first 10 miles or so had at least three decent climbs. The first came in the first mile. After a brief downhill, there was a nice uphill stretch. We passed as sign declaring the summit at 9345 feet during the first mile. The second mile was a net 300 foot decline.

All the ups and downs made for some difficult pacing decisions. I had determined before hand to run with my heart rate monitor, and I’m very glad I did in hindsight. My objective was to keep my heart rate under 170 on uphills, which is about 89% of my max (~191). This meant that I slowed to ~9:00/mile pace on a couple of the big hills, substantially slower than my 7:03/mile target. On the downhill I could speed up significantly and keep my heart rate at or below 160, or ~84% of max. My goal was an average heart rate in the mid 160’s for the whole marathon.

One nice thing the Mt. Nebo Marathon race organizers did was to put out a few signs before the big hills. The first came right around the Mile 4 mark, indicating a 200 foot climb ahead and another shorter climb to follow. These hills even had names, although I don’t remember exactly what the were (one of them was an Indian name for “skunk” I think). I really appreciated these signs as they set my expectations.

There was an out-and-back which started at about Mile 6.7, and went out a little over a mile. It was on a dirt/gravel road. It didn’t bug me too much except that it had some gentle slopes which I knew I’d have to come back up after the turn around. Out-and-backs are kind of fun since you get to pass the people ahead and behind you. Saying “hi” and telling people “good job” helps take my mind off the run.

After the out-and-back was another nice hill. By this time I was done with the hills. I had studied the Mt. Nebo Marathon course elevation profile found on the race’s website intensively. It showed the long downhill portion beginning at mile 7 or so. It was obviously wrong. However, I figured that it just meant I’d see more downhill later on and it wouldn’t be as flat at the end.

A runner near me was also tired of the hills, and we exchanged a few words. By this time I was in 4th or 5th place. I had been trading places with a couple guys based on how fast we were each attacking the uphills and downhills.

At Mile 10 I ate my first Honey Stinger Waffle. I considered this a treat as I think they’re tasty and they’re a nice change from the glorified fruit snacks I’d been munching on every two miles since the start. Right at this point I remember having two guys behind me. I had just passed one who said he was in 3rd.

The scenery of the Mt. Nebo Marathon was amazing. From around 9000 feet elevation we got views of the valley at 4700 feet below. The first several miles were basically on a ridge, so the views actually extended in both directions. Besides that, the first 25 miles of the course were in the forest and there wasn’t much traffic. The forest was mostly pine, but also had some trees that were just starting to change color. When we weren’t on the ridge, we were running down a canyon that was refreshing and exhilarating. The course scenery was hard to beat.

Finally we reached a summit at Mile 11 and started going down. It flattened out a bit for a while. One other runner stayed with me until the Mile 12 sign, a which point we were clearly going to start dropping down for good. I gave a holler and sped up as the decline steepened, and thereafter I didn’t see any marathoners for the rest of the race.

I felt alright up to this point, but not great. I had experienced some side stitches (stomach cramps) in the first couple miles which I found really odd. I had also had a few waves of light-headedness during the first 12 miles. I attribute this to the altitude. The first 12 miles of the Mt. Nebo Marathon are all above 8300 feet elevation. This is crazy high and I was feeling the altitude a bit. Fortunately I had been able to keep my heart rate under control. I had touched 170 a couple times, but hadn’t gone over it. I was at a 3 minute deficit to my target pace up to this point (that is, I was 3 minutes too slow), so I knew I had to make it up during the next few miles. I also knew this meant I needed a negative split, which I had never done before. But overall I was feeling ok so I turned up the speed.

I focused hard on maintaining good downhill running form. This meant trying to keep my body perpendicular to the hill instead of perpendicular to gravity (leaning back on the hill). I tried to focus on moving my feet fast and keeping them under me instead of in front of me. This helped conserve my quads and it really helped me keep going later on in the race.

At the Half mark I was still moving fast and all alone. The course is basically a giant downhill from Mile 12 to Mile 19 or so. The Mt. Nebo Marathon course gets pretty windy for a section after the half. There are some hairpin turns which made things a bit more interesting.

One of my biggest mental challenges came around Mile 15. I had been doing well, but I started feeling weak and winded. I glanced at my watch and my heart rate was still well under control (around 160), but I felt similar to how I started feeling at the Newport Marathon before I started breaking down. It worried me a bit, and I tried to focus and regroup. Fortunately, at Mile 16 I got a second wind. Maybe it was a steeper section of the course, maybe it was the declining altitude, perhaps it was the nutrition kicking in, a blessing from heaven, or all of the above. In any case, I felt some revitalization and picked it up.

I can’t remember exactly where I started passing the half marathoners, but it was probably around Mile 15 or so (as some of them were walking pretty slowly). They became more and more frequent as I approached the finish line and never really got in my way or anything.

Every time I passed a mile marker, I would figure out how far behind a 7:00/mile pace I was. I knew I needed to get under an average 7 minute pace before Mile 20 if I had any hope of hitting my target time. I was chipping away about 30 seconds per mile, and finally by Mile 17 I achieved an average 7 minute pace.

Now it was a matter of building up as much reserve time as possible to offset any bonk in the last few miles. I kept moving fast for a few more miles, but my legs started to protest. At Mile 20 I knew I had a shot at my goal if I could just hold on a little longer.

Mile 20 was also my second scheduled Waffle. I unpacked one and tried to take a bite, but my mouth was just too dry. I held it for at least a mile and nibbled on it a little without actually getting much down my throat.

One big takeaway from my post-race analysis of the Newport Marathon was that I was not drinking enough water during my races. During the Mt. Nebo Marathon I was drinking as much as my stomach could handle. I tried to drink a full cup of water or sports drink at every aid station. After a while this was unsustainable for me — I really felt like I was going to puke for a significant part of the run. I think this is what I need to do though. I weigh 180 lbs and sweat a lot, so I think I need to cram in more water than my stomach will take.

One of the things I learned from reading Meb for Mortals was that even swishing sports drink or water around in your mouth can trick your brain and give you a boost. That’s what I was doing with both food and drinks once I couldn’t stomach any more. I also dumped water on my head and that felt great.

After Mile 22 the course switches from blistering downhill to downhill mixed with light rolling uphills. It’s still downhill overall so I continued to focus on moving my legs and resisting the urge to lean back and slow down. Mile 22 was my last sub-7:00 mile. I recognized that I had never come close to feeling that good at this point in the race, although I didn’t feel “good” by any stretch of the imagination. My calves were burning up and my back was starting to cramp. Every time I tried to say something to someone, like “good job,” it would just come out as a hoarse whisper.

I resisted the temptation to calculate the worst I could do and still make my time. I thought if I did so I would immediately slow down. Instead, I just tried to go as fast as I could manage. The toughest part was definitely miles 22 through 24. I was struggling to keep going at a good pace.

Just before the Mile 25 mark I had a small breakthrough. I was coming up on a half marathoner that was tall and had grey hair and glasses. I recognized him immediately as Bishop Day — the former Bishop of my parents’ congregation. I didn’t know he was running, but I was very happy to see someone I recognized. I called his name a few times until he heard me and I said “hi” as I passed by. “One mile to go!” I declared in my hoarse voice.

I passed the marker with about 10 minutes left before 3:05:00. I knew I could do a sub 8:00 mile and that I could hit my time. It was a battle between picking up my pace and resisting the natural drift to slowing down. Finally I could see the high school and knew my goal was within my grasp. I sped up as I approached the track to do a half lap. I was grateful I didn’t have to do a full lap but a little disappointed I had to do 250 meters.

Rounding out the last 100 meters of the Mt. Nebo Marathon

Paisley was on the grass in the middle of the track and started cheering me on. Cyndi was in the stands with the other kids. Finally I crossed the line at 3:04:18, happy to achieve a goal I’d chased for about two years, and extremely exhausted.

Post Finish

Dane was at the Finish line and gave me a handshake and congratulations. I got my medal and a drink of water. Then Cyndi found me and gave me a big hug. I tried to stay on my feet as long as I could until my calves needed a break. The kids all gawked at my huge medal.

The nice medal from the Mt. Nebo Marathon

I eventually found Bishop Day and we chatted for a while. Then I found Joseph, the first timer from the start. He won! The last time I saw him was around Mile 11 or 12. He and another guy were in front of me, but after the big downhill started I never saw them. I kept figuring Joseph would bonk and that maybe I’d catch him in the final miles, but he actually got 2:52 and ran a huge negative split. He said the other guy that was with him stopped to take a bathroom break, so I must have passed him unknowingly.

That means I got second place at the Mt. Nebo Marathon! That was exciting for me, although obviously it was a small field. We waited around for the award ceremony but they were taking a long time. So eventually we just went up and they handed us our awards. My wife snapped a picture of us on the stand — I never met the 3rd place runner. I got another huge medal and some gift certificates, which was pretty cool. I wish they had been a bit more organized and/or started the ceremony earlier, but it wasn’t a big deal.

After going back to Sara’s and eating lunch, we had a good day with the family. We hiked the Y and ate ice cream at the BYU Creamery on 9th. We got to see some family in the area and spend time with them as well.

Overall, the Mt. Nebo Marathon was a great experience. There were some small hiccups with the organization, but nothing that really bothered me or would keep me away from going back again. I loved the course — for its amazing scenery and its unique elevation profile. And I was overjoyed to finally qualify for Boston. Of course, now I just have to wait to see if I actually make the Boston cutoff…