Race Report: Idaho Falls Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My nephew Kaden finishing up the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book Review: Meb for Mortals

I enjoy reading about running. You can only run so much. You can only talk about running so much (especially with people who don’t want to hear anymore about your running). You can only track progress and make training plans so much. So sometimes, it’s nice just to read about running.

Besides the enjoyment that comes from reading about something you’re interested in (running in this case), reading about running can also lead to better running. This is where Meb for Mortals comes in.

Meb for Mortals was written by Meb Keflezighi (with Scott Douglas), who’s fame really soared when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon — the first American runner to win it since 1983. He also won the 2009 New York Marathon, placed 4th at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and won Silver at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Of course he has many other running accomplishments as well.

Meb for Mortals was obviously written to cash in on his fame after his Boston Marathon win and to reward his sponsors. Some readers may be turned off by Meb’s transparent references to his sponsors throughout the book, but it didn’t bother me for two reasons: (1) Meb’s sponsors enable him to run professionally — he must be grateful for each of them and this is a good way to reward them. (2) Meb really uses the products that he mentions in Meb for Mortals, so it’s fair that he mention them. An example of this is the Ellipti-go, which Meb uses regularly for cross training and was using during his training before his Boston win.

That brings me to what I loved about Meb for Mortals: The book is essentially all of Meb’s thoughts and many details on how he trains and why he trains the way he does. Here is a world class marathoner, one of the best ever, who has given any person willing to read his book significant insight into how a professional trains.

I’ve read dozens, perhaps hundreds, of articles about running, not to mention a few books. Many of them have conflicting advice:

  • Run Less Run Faster says you can train with just 3 runs and 2 cross training workouts per week. Others say you should have 50+ miles per week for marathons.
  • Some say you should do long runs in a carbohydrate-deficient state so your body learns to burn fat. Others say to carbo-load before long training runs.
  • Some say long runs over 20 miles aren’t necessary. Others say you should do 22-24 miles. Other say 15-18 miles.

The list could go on, but I knew as I was reading Meb for Mortals that this is how Meb Keflezighi trains, so it can’t be far off the mark. That knowledge is great context for the book. Note the dates in Meb’s accomplishments that I listed above. He was one of the best marathoners in the world in 2004 and in 2014. Meb was just two weeks shy of his 39th birthday when he won Boston. When I heard that a 38-year-old won Boston, I was inspired. That means there’s hope for me (not to win Boston, but at least to continue improving)!

Here are some great pieces of advice I took from Meb for Mortals:

  • Cross training when you’re injured can maintain fitness to a high degree. When I started the book, I was actually taking several days off running due to some knee issues. Meb’s advice to cross-train in a way to mimic my running training was very helpful. His counsel and personal examples that you can maintain running fitness while cross-training gave me hope.
  • Static stretching is not the devil. Meb does static and dynamic stretching before and after workouts. A lot of running literature says that stretching before a workout is bad. Meb doesn’t think so, and he credits his longevity in running partially to his stretching.
  • Meb for Mortals includes several pages with pictures of the stretching and strengthening he does on a regular basis.
  • Setting goals is important, and it’s also important to set them in the right way. Goals should have personal meaning, be specific, be challenging, be realistic, and be communicated to “a few people close to you.” I’ve set some goals based on this advice.
  • Meb also talks about what to do when you don’t meet your goals. He gives some very useful advice of having backup goals: if you realize on Mile 15 of a marathon that your primary goal is not achievable, you should have plan B, C, D, etc. goals so that you don’t fall through the floor and disappoint yourself.
  • Meb gives some good eating advice, although it’s pretty much what you’d expect. What was helpful for me was reading about how an elite marathoner is still tempted and how he focuses and prioritizes his goals.

There are a couple things about Meb for Mortals that I didn’t love. First: Some of Meb’s advice is difficult to employ since most of us non-professional runners can’t be as committed as Meb. For example, he says that stretching and strengthening is more important than running an extra mile. This may be true when you’re running 120 miles per week, but when you’re running 30 miles per week ever mile is much more important. That said, Meb points out that you should try and just implement what you can. You don’t have to do it all. Try stretching a couple times per week as a start.

The other thing that I missed from Meb for Mortals was that there’s no training regime I can follow. Run Less Run Faster is full of different 16-week training schedules that anyone can apply. These are useful to have. Since Meb is an elite, it doesn’t really make sense for him to detail out his 16-week programs. He gives some detail on what he does before his races, but it’s so beyond my abilities that it’s rendered mostly irrelevant to me.

That said, I still loved Meb for Mortals. In fact, I need to re-read it. I loved Meb’s frank advice. I loved his tips and opinions about everything from vegetarianism (he doesn’t recommend it) to GPS units (he uses one). Meb and his book are inspiring to me and I hope to put much of Meb’s advice into practice.

 

4th of July Freedom Run

ORACLE TEAM USA docks out one last time and flag man runs the red carpet to the dock out show

Today was Independence Day, the 4th of July. Since it was a Saturday I was planning on a long run of 16-17 miles. I stayed up until almost 1am on Friday night playing board games with family, and I had to be done with my run by 9am. This made for only ~5 hours of sleep.

Nevertheless, I rolled out of bed and completed a nice (if a little slow) Freedom Run: 4.04 miles squared (16.32mi) in the shape of a giant “4”. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

 

 

Hoover Dam Marathon, My Worst Marathon Experience Ever

Coming off a slightly disappointing finish at the Newport Marathon, I’m reminded of my worst marathon experience ever.

In 2007 I started an evening masters program at Arizona State while continuing to work full time. I had always considered myself a runner, but I wasn’t a very consistent runner. I ran the Pocatello Marathon in 2006 but I hadn’t done much since then. Once I started the masters program, my free time became very limited. I had been gaining weight for a few years and in December 2007 I hit 239 lbs on the scale. I decided that if I wanted to run again, I needed to lose weight, so I altered my eating habits and gradually shed some pounds.

I played a tiny bit of basketball off and on for the next two years, and I did a little hiking. Around 2009 I started jogging a couple miles a couple times per week with a friend. We would just run back and forth on a mile long grass strip near my house since I was pretty heavy and that was easiest on my knees and shins. Finally I graduated in May 2009 and decided it was time to sign up for a marathon. I picked the Hoover Dam Marathon which was a 4 hour drive away near the Nevada/Arizona border.

I trained for the marathon by just running, and especially trying to work up my Saturday morning mileage. Beyond just running 3 or so times per week, I really had no concept of how to properly train. Nevertheless, I worked my way up to a ~21 mile run one hot Saturday morning. I would frequently run past a drinking fountain so I could refill my water bottle in the Arizona heat. Even when I woke up at 5am to run, it would already be light and 90+ degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Just at the peak of my training, 3 weeks before the Hoover Dam Marathon, I injured my foot. I had gone camping on a Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday morning I had a sharp, nagging, pain in a tendon on the side of my foot. I didn’t think anything of it, but I could still feel it on Monday morning when I woke up to do a 10 mile run. About 5 miles into the run, the pain suddenly worsened, but being stupid and stubborn I still finished the 10 miles. I hobbled around for the next two days and I couldn’t run a step without pain.

Due to the pain, I took the next three weeks off, which happened to be the final three weeks before the marathon. I hoped I’d still be in good enough shape to run a decent race. I really had no idea what kind of time I was capable of, and I hadn’t run a marathon (or even a half) since September 2006. This would be my sixth marathon. In my head I was thinking that a 3:30 to 3:45 would be nice.

My wife, two daughters, and I drove to the Hoover Dam the day before the marathon. We ate at a pizza/pasta place that we found in Henderson. Beyond this I did zero carbo loading and didn’t even pay attention to what I ate. We stayed at a hotel/casino on Friday night. In hindsight, I don’t know why I never took the time to do a simple “carbo loading for marathon” Google search. I just assumed carbo loading meant eating spaghetti the evening before the race.

“Carbo loading” before the Hoover Dam Marathon

Since we had one daughter nursing still, we decided that Cyndi would sleep in one bed and take care of her, and I’d sleep in the other bed with our 2-year-old, Paisley. At one point early in the night, Paisley rolled out of the bed, so for the rest of the night I half-slept and held onto her. Besides the threat of rolling, Paisley is notorious in our family for being a light and wiggly sleeper. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

My friend, Dan, who I hadn’t seen in years, was also running the race. He picked me up early in the morning and we were excited. We reported to the starting line and started running once the gun went off.

I think the course has been changed since 2009, but at the time the Hoover Dam Marathon was set up as a double out-and-back. We first ran to an overlook above the dam and back, then we ran the opposite direction and back. This meant zero net elevation gain, but there were some little rolling hills. The course was part pavement, part dirt and went through a cool train tunnel in addition to running onto a parking garage overlooking the Hoover Dam.

Dan and I ran together for the first part of the race, and I pushed the pace way too hard. I don’t recall too many details, but I remember looking at my watch around Mile 10 and saying “wow, we’re cookin!” I didn’t realize at the time that this should have worried me. Finally around Mile 11 or Mile 12, I started to feel some fatigue. I began to slow down. At first Dan slowed down with me, but eventually he kept going and I really slowed down. I realized it was going to be a pretty long second half, but I still hoped to be able to pull through. I had never resorted to walking in my first 5 marathons and I didn’t plan to today.

I crossed the half way point at about 1:45, which is what I was tentatively planning on, but I knew the second half was going to be much tougher. I kept chugging along and approached a climb right around Mile 15. I suddenly had a wave of fatigue and became very light-headed to the point where I thought I might faint, so I started walking.

I was disappointed to be walking with 11 miles still to go, but at least it cleared my head. Unfortunately, this also gave my legs a chance to tighten up. I’ve seen many people that can walk and then begin running again, but I’m generally not like this. If I’m on the latter part of a long run and I begin walking my legs will begin to hurt a lot worse than if I’d never walked in the first place. This was the case when I started walking at the Hoover Dam Marathon. After that point it became very difficult for me to run more than 100 yards at a time.

I continued my walk/jog as runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish. Eventually I saw my friend Dan. He had slowed down but was doing much better than I was. When I arrived at the turn-around aid station around Mile 20 I stopped and took a break. I ate some pretzels, got a drink, and tried to regroup. I think I was there longer than anyone else had been — the aid station volunteers started looking at my questioningly and saying stuff like, “Well, you better get going!” I grudgingly left, knowing I still had 6 miles of agony left to endure.

As if the walking and pain weren’t enough, somewhere around Mile 22 a 55+ year-old lady wearing butterfly wings passed me. That is a moment that will be etched into my memory forever.

A few miles before the finish I saw my wife, Cyndi, with our two daughters. She had found a spot to cheer for me. She saw that I didn’t look good and thought it was my injured foot, but I told her it was just a bad day for me.

Finally I hobbled into the finish line. I gathered all the energy I could to be able to jog the last 200 yards or so. I must have been moving at about 12min/mile pace and Cyndi later told me it took an incredibly long time. Dan was ready to leave since he had finished a long time before me, so I told him goodbye shortly after finishing.

Hoover Dam Marathon post-race meal; happy to finally be sitting down after a grueling run

My final time for the Hoover Dam Marathon was 4:48:01, making it my worst time by about 45 minutes in the six marathons I had completed up to that point. While the first half took about 1:45, the second half took 3 hours.

It was a bad enough experience that it took me four years before I braved another marathon. Looking back on it, several things went wrong, most of them due to ignorance and ill preparation on my part. It taught me that I couldn’t just show up and run like I did in my first two marathons a year out of high school. It was a failure for me by most measures. Not so much because the time was worse than my expectations, but because I completely fell apart so early in the race and had to walk so much. While the failure wasn’t pleasant, it has been something I can look back on and strive to prevent it from happening again. Plus, I was able to finish, which made for six completed marathons.

BYU Alumni Cougar 5k Fun Run and Freshman Send-off

Each year the local Brigham Young University alumni group puts on a nice 5k fun run in town. The premise is a “freshman send-off” to congratulate freshman that will be starting at BYU. Over 200 freshman from the Treasure Valley are going to BYU this year, and about 10 of them were at this event. This year’s event happened to fall the week after I ran the Newport Marathon. After a week of rest, I decided it would be nice to break out the running shoes again. Besides that, the fun run makes for a great (and cheap) family event, so it was a good opportunity to get the kids out running.

How cheap? Well, the fun run was actually free. They charged $5/person and $20/family for breakfast of blue pancakes, sausage, and fruit. When you have a family of seven, that’s a pretty good deal. Most local 5k’s are $15-$30, although those often come with a t-shirt (unlike this BYU fun run).

Our children really enjoy doing fun runs. In the past I’ve made the mistake of pushing some of the kids a little to hard, so I try to just tell them to do their best. We are genuinely proud of them when they put in a good effort finish a 1 mile or a 5k. They love nothing more than getting a ribbon, medal, or t-shirt, but they also get great satisfaction out of finishing a race.

On our way to the BYU Alumni Freshman Send-off 5k; kids are excited!

This particular 5k starts at a church and does a ~1 mile loop around Rocky Mountain High School and then an out and back to finish the 5k. I planned on doing the 5k and Cyndi and the kids planned on doing the 1 mile loop. (Cyndi just had a baby and hurt her foot a few weeks ago, so she’s not quite back to running yet.) Cyndi’s mom, sister, and niece and nephew were also in town to join us.

The family is ready to run (or ride)!

The 5k started with the typical barrage of kids sprinting out front. Paisley, our 8-year-old, went with them and I followed close behind. After a couple hundred yards the excitement had subsided along with the kids’ pace. There was some confusion about the course, and since I had run it a couple times before, I took the lead. Some younger guys, probably recent high school grads, stayed close behind me and let me guide the way.

My knee hurt quite a bit about a quarter mile into the race, but after another quarter mile the pain went away and I was happy about that. We looped around the high school and began the out and back. I noticed my calves were burning much more than usual, and I attributed this to the previous week’s marathon.

Once we hit the turn-around the young guy behind me made his move and passed me. Racers were pretty spread out after him, so I figured I could at least take second. I tried to keep with him but my legs were screaming more than usual and he was moving pretty fast, so he slowly expanded his lead until he won by about 50 yards.

On the way back I passed Paisley, who had mistakenly missed the turn to finish after just 1 mile and was now well into the 5k course. She was just realizing this and was starting to tear up, so I told her she was doing great and to work hard but that it was ok to walk if she needed to. Later on I came up on Fielding, age 4, who was on his little bike and was just following the crowd. He was happy and chugging along like 3 miles on a bike was no big deal for a 4-year-old.

I finished in 18:30, which I was completely satisfied with. That may be my post high school 5k PR depending on whether my watch was correct (I think it was). In any case it was really close.

After the finish I doubled back so I could jog/walk with Paisley. I saw Cyndi and the other kids and family finishing up the 1 mile loop as I made my way back out. Cosette, age 6, was apparently a bit more tired than the last run and hitched a ride in the stroller for a portion of the mile.

A little while later Cyndi came by in the van, worried about where Paisley and Fielding were. I told her I had seen them earlier and was making my way back to find them, but she was still worried.

I found them about 0.75 miles later. Cyndi had also found them and was loading them in the van. They had already hit the turn-around so I asked if they just wanted to finish with me and they excitedly obliged. So Paisley, Fielding on his bike, and I made our way back to the finish line. Paisley alternated between jogging and walking and Fielding kept up a pretty good tempo on his bike as long as he didn’t get distracted by rocks or bugs. It’s amazing how little an 8-year-old can regulate her pace! She would be exuberant one moment and exhausted the next. Overall she did really well and finished in under 40 minutes.

(Below is the cool-down portion when I finished with Paisley and Fielding)

It was a great day for a run. Everyone had a good time and we ate a delicious breakfast afterwards. I’m glad we could have another truly fun run with the kids. I hope they all grow up to be runners!