The YMCA puts on the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and Half Marathon every May. They do a great job with it. I used the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Marathon as my qualifier for the 2017 Boston Marathon. I ran the half marathon one time back in 2010, before I was training consistently.
I considered doing the marathon again this year and running at an easy pace, but I decided instead to use all the training I did over the winter to attempt a half marathon PR. Specifically, I wanted to get 1:17:59 or faster. I’m pretty sure I could have achieved this in March as I was about to taper down for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, but I didn’t find a good half to run. The PR certainly wasn’t a guarantee — I’d already completed two marathons and a tough half in the previous two months.
I’d also been experiencing some Achilles tendinitis issues. I did a great training run on the Saturday before the race, but after another training run on Monday I tapered down to recover and to give my Achilles a chance to heal.
The course starts at Lucky Peak Dam and runs along the Boise Greenbelt for most of the route. It’s really a decent course, although I run on the Greenbelt enough that it’s not particularly interesting to me anymore. Marathoners and half marathoners run together for most of the half.
I knew a few people running the half (including Nate, Cade, Beau, and my wife’s friend Danielle) and one person running the full marathon (Eric from work). Before the race I saw Jimmy, who is very fast and always beats me, although I’ve only run against him in shorter distances. I also sat by a couple guys with beards and man-buns on the bus who looked fast and serious. Then there were people who were fast that I couldn’t pick out of the crowd. I was hoping for a top 3 placement, but I was primarily focused on getting my PR.
A PR of 1:17:59 would require a pace of about 5:57/mile.
Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, first five miles: 5:53, 5:51, 5:54, 5:53, 5:50
The Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon started at 7am and the weather was great. The temperature was about 45F and there was a very slight breeze. It had rained for the few days before and more rain was in the forecast, so the race was perfectly timed for weather.
I went out at a solid pace. Jimmy was initially in the lead, but he purposefully stepped aside after about 500 meters to let others lead. He was running with someone and there were a couple guys as well as one lady, Kristen (I learned her name later). She looked pretty serious.
I talked to Jimmy a little bit and eventually I settled into 4th behind Kristen and Jimmy settled into 5th. My pace was right on target and I felt great for the first few miles. I felt like a PR was really within my reach, although I had plenty of race left. Around 2 miles I passed Kristen, but she stuck right with me.
Miles 6-9: 5:51, 5:56, 5:58, 5:56
By mile 6 I was starting to have to fight to hold my pace a little bit. Kristen passed me back and was looking way stronger than I felt. Occasionally I could see the 2nd place guy ahead of us, but he had a solid lead of a minute or so. I had eaten a Gu and I was trying not to slow down at water stations, so I usually only got a couple swallows because most of the water sploshed out at the handoff. One volunteer soaked me when she tried to run with me for a step. I figured that water would be nice, but it probably wasn’t completely necessary for a fast half marathon (UNLIKE a full marathon).
Halfway through the race I was still holding on and thinking I could make it in time. I had banked some extra seconds due to some splits faster than my 5:56/mile target, but I knew that I could blow through that bank in no time at all.
By mile 8 and mile 9 I was really having to push to hold the pace. I was trying to hold the line at 6:00/mile but it was getting increasingly difficult. Often my split would start out at a 6:10 or 6:20 pace and I’d have to work to bring it down after noting the split pace on my watch.
Jimmy was still trailing me, but not by enough of a margin to allow me to be comfortable.
Miles 10-13.32: 6:05, 6:01, 6:05, 5:58, (last .32) 5:29
By mile 10 of the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon I was feeling pretty miserable. Mile 10 was the first time my split was over 6:00. I wanted to go faster but my legs didn’t. I knew I was on the cusp of a PR and that Jimmy was close behind me, so I was barely the 3rd place male.
I pushed the turns and any slight downhill segments we hit and I tried to maintain pace on the small uphills. Mile 11 had one nasty (albeit puny) ~20ft climb, but once we were up that I figured it would be pretty flat/down. We turned onto a straightaway at 11.5 and I could see the 2nd place male ahead and that Kristen had passed him. I hoped he’d come back but he never did. Meanwhile, Jimmy wasn’t letting up and seemed to be slowly gaining on me, although I tried not to look back too much.
I finally felt like I turned it up a bit for mile 13. Jimmy was close behind and I did not want to blow what could be my last chance at a new half marathon PR.
I was a little disappointed when I passed mile 13 and there was clearly more than 0.1 miles left. In fact, after passing mile 13 we passed mile 26 for the marathon! I glanced back a Jimmy and then put everything I had into the last quarter mile. It was a strong finish, and I came in at 4th overall, 3rd male.
Half Marathon Personal Record (Kind of)
I was pooped at the end, and I had to lean on some railing for a minute to collect myself. I think this is one of the hardest efforts I’ve ever sustained in a race. I mean, marathons are harder than half marathons without question, but it’s a different kind of hard. Marathons are more about enduring a slower pain for me.
My official time was 1:19:01, but Strava says I got a 1:17:43 half, so I’m taking that as my PR. My watch says the race was 13.32 miles long and two other people said it was 13.4 miles long. It was obviously wrong just by where the last mile markers were or even by the official course map.
About 6 years ago, I trained with my friend Brian for several weeks on the track. We did 400 and 800 repeats as well as other training. After a couple months we did a mile time trial and I just barley broke 6:00. In this race, I averaged that pace for 13 miles.
Overall I was very happy with it. I hope I can run a faster half someday, but I’m not sure it will ever happen with all the training required and potential for injuries. It was very satisfying to hit my primary goal and to run a half marathon below a 6 minute per mile pace. The pace actually tied my 10K PR pace as well.
The YMCA puts on a well-organized race. The course is well marked and there are plenty of volunteers. I got a delicious baked potato at the end as well as a 5lb bag of potatoes for getting 3rd place. What more could I want?