39th Annual Race to Robie Creek (2016) – Race Report

The Race to Robie Creek is to Boise what the Boston Marathon is to Boston. It’s big (by Boise standards), it’s fun, it’s competitive, and it seems that most of the town knows it’s going on. This year’s Race to Robie Creek brought out some fast runners and, as usual, the weather cooperated nicely on race day. I approached my 7th consecutive Race to Robie Creek with a goal I set several months ago, and I was able to meet my goal almost exactly. In fact, I beat it by 7 seconds!

Signing Up

Sign ups for the Race to Robie Creek take place on Presidents’ Day at noon. To make sure you get a spot, you need to be at your computer, refreshing your browser when the clock strikes 12:00. Cyndi (my wife), Jerry (my father-in-law), Kara (my sister-in-law), and I were all able to secure spots this year. Last year I ran with Jerry and Kara while Cyndi was about 8 months pregnant with our baby.

We were all excited to race together this year, but unfortunately both Jerry and Kara had to pull out due to knee issues. That was disappointing to us all and we hope we can all do it again in the future.

My Race to Robie Creek Goal and Training

Last year I ran the Race to Robie Creek in 1:31:10, or an average of 6:58/mile. That was good enough for 18th place, which I was very happy with. At that time I hoped to run Boston in 2016, so I wasn’t planning on running Robie this year (Boston and Robie take place two days apart this year). Well, after missing the reduced Boston qualifying time, I reset my sights on Robie and quickly came up with a goal.

My goal was 1:24:59. I felt that I could improve by about 6 minutes, and sub-1:25 seemed like a good target to shoot for. I also wanted to break into the Top 10 and figured this would get me there. This would be ~6:28/mile average.

My goal was very specific. I broke the race into 3 parts and knew the pace I needed to average in each of those parts:

  • ~6:15/mile on the pavement (the first 3.4 miles). This would put me at ~21:00 when I hit the dirt. This section has a fast and flat first mile, then a 1 mile uphill, then a little downhill followed by some rolling uphills.
  • ~7:45/mile on the dirt. This is the 5 mile climb from where the pavement ends to where the hill peaks. I need to hit the top at ~59:45. It has some grueling sections, particularly the last 0.8 mile that is very steep (many people walk this section — I used to). To hit the pace I’d need to go faster than 7:45/mile during the first 4 miles of this section since the 5th mile would be slow.
  • ~5:30/mile on the downhill to the finish. The first mile is extremely steep and I expected to do it faster. The last couple miles are always a challenge for me to keep my feet moving.

I felt pretty good about hitting the first section. I was unsure of being able to climb the hill that fast or run down the hill the fast. What gave me confidence was that I had a fantastic winter training season. From January through March I did more miles than I’d ever done in 3 months and my average pace was looking about 30s/mile faster than the year before. I didn’t get sick or injured and did a long run basically every week and mixed in some hills for some of the long runs. I also felt that in 2015’s race I didn’t push the hill quite as fast as I should have.

The only run that caused me to doubt was a 20 miler I did 2 weeks before the Race to Robie Creek. It was only about 15s/mile faster than I did the year before on a very similar run. I ran a hill and my legs just weren’t there. I think it was due to a bit of over-exertion on a cross training ride the day before and my run the day before that. Otherwise, 30s/mile faster was looking just about right.


Cyndi and I took the kids to packet pick up on the Wednesday before the race. You can pick up your packet on race day, but it’s a fun atmosphere and going early means one less thing to worry about on race day.

Race to Robie Creek packet pick up
Race to Robie Creek packet pick up

We were able to sell Jerry’s and Kara’s bibs a couple weeks before the race.

I did a couple afternoon workouts the week leading up to the race to acclimatize to the warmer weather and to work on eating right. On Friday I didn’t exercise at all and ate the same way I had the day before the 2015 race, as it had worked out pretty well. The noon start time always throws me off a bit.

Unfortunately I had a cold coming on all week. I thought it was allergies on Monday and Tuesday, but on Thursday night and Friday I knew I had a cold. I was just hoping it would stay out of my throat so I could breathe ok. I’ve ran with colds before and they generally don’t affect me too much as long as I’m not running on the peak day or two of the cold.

Friday night I slept well until about 4am. Then I was pretty miserable with the cold and preoccupied with the upcoming race. However, when I finally rolled out of bed on Saturday I was pretty congested, but my energy felt great. I ate breakfast, snacked, went to my son’s first soccer game, at my last pre-race snack, dropped the kids off at grandma’s, then we headed to Ft. Boise to start the race.

2016 Race to Robie Creek - Pre Race Crowd
Crowd gathering to run the Race to Robie Creek

We got there with about 50 minutes to spare. We had met up with my friend Adam Young, who was in town from Provo to run. After using the restroom a couple times, Adam and I went for a little warm-up jog around the softball fields. Usually I don’t do this for a half marathon, but I was hoping for a fast start and knew that I had sufficient endurance built up that it wouldn’t affect me too much.

Adam, Cyndi, and I before beginning the Race to Robie Creek.
Adam, Cyndi, and I before beginning the Race to Robie Creek.
Cyndi and I taking a selfie before the Race to Robie Creek
Cyndi and I taking a selfie before the Race to Robie Creek

I lined up with about 10-15 minutes to go after telling Cyndi good luck, then I danced around to keep warm while I waited for the gun. A team of fast-looking 20-somethings in matching jerseys with “Boise Elite” printed on them lined up near me and my hopes for a Top 10 finish immediately subsided. Oh well! At least I still had my goal time to aim for. That was my target and whatever that placed me would have to do.

2016 Race to Robie Creek _ Blake at the Starting Line
Waiting for the Race to Robie Creek to start. Note the running team lined up around me.

The weather was sunny but not too hot and with a light breeze. I debated wearing my favorite hat but ultimately left it behind. After a lengthy performance by some Mo Town singers and dancers, we started running.

The Race to Robie Creek

2016 Race to Robie Creek - Starting Take Off
Start of the 39th Annual Race to Robie Creek.
2016 Race to Robie Creek - Blake Running at the Start
Navigating the crowded field for the first few yards.

The first mile went well. After clearing the first corner and getting a little more room, I forced myself to take it easy and I backed off my initial pace to get closer to where I needed to be. About a half mile in a friend from work cheered me on from the sidelines which was nice. I saw another coworker, Tom Liby, just ahead of me. I figured there were about 25 people ahead of me at about 0.75 miles, but right when we hit the bottom of the first hill I passed several of them and found my groove. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was place-wise, but I could see a lead pack separating ahead. There were a bunch of the “Boise Elite” jerseys up there.

I pushed up the hill and based on my splits at Mile 1, the start of the hill, and Mile 2, the top of the hill, my pace was just right.

Due to my cold, I was hacking and wheezing quite a bit. This was especially a problem when I was trying to drink at the aid stations. I hacked quite a bit all through the first 3 miles. I was slightly worried that it may cramp up my abs, so I tried to relax. Eventually I started to breathe easier and it became less of a problem.

I ate a Gu block before the Mile 3 aid station and noticed my mouth was really dry. This became a problem with my next block later on. I ended up consuming only one 90 calorie package (including what I ate right before the gun), and I decided not to attempt the other package I had in my pocket as they were too hard to choke down.

I hit the dirt right around 21 minutes — which was just right. There were a couple other guys near me and we would keep each other company for the next 4 miles. I worked the hill as hard as I felt I could. Some of my half-mile splits were around a 7:15/mi pace which is what I needed to reserve some time for the last steep section. I worked continued working on the few flattish spots and was able to make up some time for the steeper spots.

I was about 100-200 yards behind Tom Liby when we hit the dirt, but I never saw him after that. The two other guys nearby and I pushed each other. It was good to have them near me, but I was really focused on my Garmin and just pushing the best I could, without worrying too much about the other runners.

Climbing the hill at the Race to Robie Creek.
Climbing the hill at the Race to Robie Creek.

The aid stations went well. I swallowed as much water as I could handle and tried to keep well-hydrated. I knew from experience that I always became thirsty on the back side.

I worked the steepest section of the hill on the Race to Robie Creek as hard as I could. To make my time I needed to hit the top at under an hour. I was feeling really good overall and was excited when I came over the mat on top at 59:33.

The Race to Robie Creek is known for its uphill, but the downhill has its own challenges. Once I peaked, I immediately accelerated to a barely-controlled pace. I had to fight the urge to lean back and brake too hard. I wanted to go fast and that meant moving my feet as quickly as possible.

Running part of the downhill at the Race to Robie Creek
Running part of the downhill at the Race to Robie Creek

I knew there was another runner somewhat near me. I assumed there was another right behind him. I raced as fast as I could down the initial 2 miles. My pace was on target. I was faster than the 5:30 target, but I knew that was necessary as the hill would flatten a little after Mile 11.

I started feeling my legs quite a bit around Mile 10, but I fought the urge to slow down as much as I could. I wondered if I might reel in a runner ahead of me, but I couldn’t see anyone. It was pretty lonely. The curves make it difficult to see very far ahead. It was nice not to be passed by dozens of people like what has happened to me in previous years. Finally around Mile 11, the runner behind me came charging ahead at a pace I had no prayer of keeping with. I don’t know how he did it. He blew by me and kept going until he was out of sight.

Mile 11 was a little weak for me, but I felt like I picked it back up at Mile 12. I knew I was close and I charged ahead. I finally saw another runner ahead of me at about Mile 12.75, but it was too late to catch him. He was one of the “Boise Elite” runners. I was gaining on him, but he had too much of a lead for me to make up the difference. Perhaps if we had another 0.5-1 mile I could have caught him.

I knew I was cutting it close to hitting my time, but when I saw the finish I was able to pull in just under 1:25:00. My official time ended up being 1:24:52. I was very happy with it and pleased to be done at last!

Almost to the finish of the Race to Robie Creek
Almost to the finish of the Race to Robie Creek
Ugly finish line photo at the Race to Robie Creek.
Ugly finish line photo at the Race to Robie Creek. I could have sworn I was trying to look good for the photo!

I was thrilled to have hit my goal. In further reflection, I’ve realized that had I run 8 seconds slower, I would have been slightly disappointed. Funny how that works.


Post Race

I congratulated the guy that passed me for his strong finish. He told me that he was pretty concerned when I was hacking during the first few miles but he was glad when it mostly stopped. I apologized but told him I had a cold and there wasn’t much I could do about it!

I grabbed my bag and a plate of food. I skipped the baked potato this year since I always take more than I can handle. Then I headed a couple hundred yards up the course to cheer on other runners and await Adam and Cyndi.

Adam had a good race. He came in at 1:39:17, which was great for his first showing at Robie Creek. He got 5th in his age group. I saw a few coworkers come in – Rusty got a PR, Matt did well, and Tahnee had a good run. She missed her goal by a few minutes, but she had run another half marathon a couple weeks before. Cyndi came in at 2:07 and I was excited to see her. She did well and had a fun race. I reminded her that I got 2:07 just a few years ago, in 2012.

We ran into a couple other friends in the crowd below, but after getting some food and chatting we headed home.

My in-laws were in town and we had a nice, barbecued steak dinner and homemade ice cream with them, my parents, and Adam and his dad. It was a great finish to a great day.

Final Thoughts

I’ve determined that the Race to Robie Creek is my favorite race. It’s in my home town. It’s fun. It’s competitive. It’s quirky and unique (noon start time, limited entry, silly themes, etc.).

It’s also a race I can do (almost) every year and measure my progress. I’ve been blessed to have been able to train mostly injury-free for a few years now. I’ve found that consistency in training and remaining injury free has been the key to improvement. I used to take long breaks from running, but I’ve been consistent in the past few years and it has yielded nice dividends for me.

These are my Robie times since my first Race to Robie Creek in 2010:

  • 2010: 1:58:33
  • 2011: 2:03
  • 2012: 2:07
  • 2013: 1:48:22
  • 2014: 1:40:18
  • 2015: 1:31:10
  • 2016: 1:24:52

My point is that consistency and hard work can work well for anyone at least to some degree. Of course, injuries can destroy everything. I know that eventually I will either peak or become injured, but until then I hope to carry on. I also know that not everyone cares about improving their time at a silly race. However, I think that the same principle can be applied across other areas of life — parenting, relationships, education, work, gardening, weight loss, etc. Basically, with the right focus and effort we can get better at anything. There may be hiccups and setbacks along the way, but even those can be overcome with time, especially for things that really matter (i.e. not running).

What will next year bring?

Training for the Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon

Tomorrow is the Race to Robie Creek half marathon, my favorite race to run each year. This will be my seventh attempt to run over the mountain. My times have ranged from 2:07 to 1:31.

I think there are many people that sign up for the Race to Robie Creek that are unsure how to train for it. I decided to jot down some ideas and some training philosophies that I’ve developed over the past few years to offer training advice for those attempting Robie. I’ll split it into two parts: Training to survive, and training to thrive.

Part 1: Training to Survive the Race to Robie Creek

First, the Race to Robie Creek is challenging, but it’s not as hard as a marathon. I want to start with that since I’ve seen some people get overwhelmed by the challenge of it and give up before race day. Yes the race has a lot of uphill and downhill, but the length of a marathon makes even a flat marathon much more difficult to endure.

If you are just trying to make it over the mountain to Robie Creek, then you should first focus on building your endurance. Being a half marathon, the race is about 13.1 miles long. If you want to do fairly well in the race, you’ll need to build up to the point where you can run about 13 miles in a single run. Really though, you can probably build up to 8-10 miles and still be able to run most of the race.

How do you train in order to build mileage? I would suggest planning on three runs per week. For example, plan on running every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The intention of the first two runs is to enable a better long run on Saturday.

Where you start your training depends on what your capability is. How far can you run today? Make that distance your first Saturday run. If you can run 3 miles, then target a 3 mile run on your first Saturday in the first week, and something less than that on Monday and Wednesday (perhaps 1.5 miles each of those days). If you can cross train on other weekdays it would help, but it’s not necessary. Cross training can include things like biking, swimming, yoga, crossfit, basketball, etc.

Each week, add one mile to your long run. Lengthen your two shorter runs slightly each week. If you’re still drained on Monday from your long Saturday run, then don’t worry about lengthening your Monday run. Your goal is to build the Saturday run slowly over 2-3 months so that two weeks before Robie you are somewhere between 8-13 miles in that longer Saturday run. If you have time, it would also be good to take one week a little lighter where you don’t add a mile — that will help you recover.

The mileage is most important, but it’s also a good idea to run some hills. Try to run hills about every other week during your longer run. If you don’t live next to hills, you may need to drive. I live in Meridian where the biggest hill is the nearby freeway overpass. I often drive to the foothills, to the Lucky Peak Dam, or to the dump loop near Eagle to get a hill workout.

What makes Robie challenging is the uphill. What makes you sore the next day is the downhill. Focus on both uphill and downhill during your Race to Robie Creek training. Many runners make the mistake of fighting against the downhill. Don’t put on the brakes the whole time you’re running down a hill! Let the hill do the work and roll down the hill. Don’t lean back too much — try to keep your torso as perpendicular to the hill as possible.

Most runners below the ~2:00 mark at Robie walk the last portion of the uphill — from about Mile 7.6 to the Mile 8.4 peak. That is fine and may save you a lot of energy. Besides that portion, I think that if you can do a ~10 mile run, you should be able to run the rest of the race.

Remember on race day to relax and have some fun. The Race to Robie Creek has a fun atmosphere and I’ve always had a great experience running it.

Part 2: Training to Thrive at the Race to Robie Creek

It’s one thing to train to survive the race, it’s another to train to improve your time.

Generally speaking, anyone who puts in more miles is going to improve their race time year over year. Aerobic capacity will enhance your performance at Robie. I noticed a large improvement in my performance once my long runs peaked at 15 miles rather than 10-12. I continued to improve as I trained for marathons with long runs reaching 20 miles.

However, if you want to get faster it’s not always enough to just run. You will need to train with speed. There are two typical speed workouts you can do to improve your speed.

Intervals consist of repeated running at high speed for a short distance, and resting between runs. The rest can either be actually stopping or just jogging at a slower pace. (Fartleks are basically the same thing.) Intervals can vary in distance. I usually focus on distances of 400m, 800m, and 1600m. For example, a workout may be 6x800m at a fast pace with a 400m jog between each.

To make these more relevant for the Race to Robie Creek, you can do intervals going up and down hills, although this isn’t completely necessary.

Tempo runs consist of running at a faster pace for a 20-50 minutes. Typically you should target a heart rate around 80-85% of your max. I generally warm up for a mile or two, then run the tempo, then cool down for a mile or two. These runs are usually at a pace that you can’t sustain for too much longer than you run them.

I use interval and tempo runs on two of my workouts each week, then do a longer run as well.

It’s also very important to train on hills if you want to improve at Robie (obviously). I wouldn’t suggest doing big hills every workout since your legs need to recover. I try to do a long run on hills about every other week, with my other long run being on flatter terrain. I feel like this gives my quads a break and enables them to heal and improve.

Finally, what has helped me improve my times at the Race to Robie Creek the most is consistently training through the year. If you wait until February to start training, you may or may not beat your time from the previous year. Working hard over the fall and winter has helped me to make continuous improvements and build on what I’ve already established.

To all who sign up for the Race to Robie Creek: good luck! I love the race and I look forward to running it every year I can. I think the difficultly makes it more valuable and adds to the great feeling everyone has when they finally cross the finish line.


Micron FABulous 5k – 2016

I don’t like to spend $25-$30 to run a 5k. It just isn’t worth it to me anymore since the distance is short and I have plenty of t-shirts. I’m not saying I’ll never pay to run a 5k again, but I can’t remember the last time I did.

Fortunately, there are two 5k’s I’ve ran in for the past couple years that are free or at least really cheap! One is the BYU alumni 5k that takes place in June. The other is the 5k my company puts on: the Micron FABulous 5k. (A semiconductor factory is usually referred to as a “fab”.) I like to run 5k’s since they are an opportunity to work on speed and racing without needing days for recovery.

On Saturday, April 9th, Cyndi, my three oldest children, and I headed out to Micron to run in the 5k. We left the two youngest with grandma. It was a good event and we had an enjoyable time.

We arrived about 15 minutes before race time, which was just right. We signed in and I did a little warm-up. Unfortunately, they decided to start the 5k about 15 minutes late. This actually turned out to be ok since I wanted to jog around and warm up a bit more. Cyndi, Paisley, and I lined up for the 5k, while the two younger kids, Cosette and Fielding, played in the volleyball sand.

Last year I placed 2nd in the 5k, but this year I didn’t see the 1st place guy anywhere. I did see Markus Geiger, who won the Race to Robie Creek in 2013 and 2014, and was in the lead in 2015 before some complications led to his DNF with only a couple miles to go. I knew Geiger could beat me if he wanted to. Of course, there really aren’t any perks to winning the Micron FABulous 5k — no ribbon, medal, or anything like that. It’s still fun to compete though 🙂

I lined up near the front and spoke with a couple other runners there. This 5k is limited to Micron employees and their families. There were probably 150 people lined up for the fun run. They had modified the course this year due to some construction. Instead of a loop it was an out-and-back. There was a biker that would lead the runners.

After a 10 second countdown (without any speech or anything) the runners were off. I took the lead and tried to hold back my nerves a bit. Once I was about a quarter mile out and feeling comfortable, I looked at my watch and was pleased to see a ~5:20 pace. It amazes me what a little competition can do for my pace! Usually I’m all alone in the morning and sustaining even a 5:50 pace for a 1 mile interval is very difficult. Sustaining 5:30 turned out to be just right for me in this 5k.

I was worried I might slow down, but after the first half mile, then the first mile, I was trucking along just fine. There was another runner pretty close to me for the first ~1 mile, but after that he fell back a bit. The turn-around measured more like 1.65 miles on my watch. At that point I saw that I had a good 50 yard lead or so. Geiger was a few places back and obviously wasn’t going full speed.

I was happy to pass Cyndi on the way back and then Paisley. I tried to give Paisley some encouraging words. I think she runs to make her parents happy, but I’m not sure she enjoys it much (yet!).

I slowed down a bit around 2 miles as I was starting to feel some burn, but I tried to keep it going. I started to really want the finish line to come up faster, and then I took a peek behind me to see how my lead was holding up. At ~2.5 miles I saw that Geiger was in 2nd. I decided I had more gas in the tank, so I picked the pace back up. If Geiger let me have the lead for this long I didn’t want to give it up in the last half mile!

He didn’t press too hard and I was able to hold on for the final stretch and win the race! The kids had started gathering up for the kids run and they cheered as I crossed the finish line. I can’t remember the last time I won a race. This was a small one, but it was still fun to win!

After a brief walk I headed back out to find Paisley. I saw Cyndi coming in and cheered her on. Paisley was about a mile back still. I found her and we walked and jogged for her last mile in. She was doing ok, just not enjoying it terribly. She was happy to finish and did a good job running hard in the last stretch.

While I was out with Paisley, Cyndi was able to do the 1 mile kids run with Cosette and Fielding. We had brought Fielding’s bike for him to ride, and he informed me that he was the 1st bike to cross the finish. I think he was the only bike but I thought that was really funny.

One great thing about the Micron FABulous 5k, is they have a bunch of goodies at the end: bananas, peanuts, granola bars, water bottles, chapstick, etc. My kids really enjoyed that part and loved their prizes and the blue ribbons they were awarded.

While everyone was snacking, I went and introduced myself to Geiger, who I had never spoken with before. It was nice to talk with him and meet him. He mentioned he isn’t doing the Race to Robie Creek the following Saturday as he hasn’t quite had the time to train that he wanted.

The 5k course was long, but I figure my 5k time was about 17:20. That exceeded my expectations, and really amazed me that I’m approaching the times I got in high school. I don’t have the speed I had in high school, but my endurance is way better. This makes me wonder if I can break a 5 minute mile. I’m hoping I have an opportunity to try in August with the local cross country team.

Just like last year, my 5k time also gives me a confidence boost for Robie on Saturday. I’m hopeful the competition-induced adrenaline enables me to hit my target time and have a good half marathon.