I’d been itching to do a backpacking trip this year. I was looking for a location I could take my kids — something challenging but not impossible for them. I also preferred something relatively close to Boise. I came across Trail Creek Lakes, which fit the bill with a 5.5 mile hike and a trailhead 2.5 hours from my house.
I took Friday off work and we headed out around noon after getting packed up. It was just me and four of my children, ages 12, 10, 8, and 6. I made sure we were prepared including a couple redundant items (like a second stove).
The nice thing about accessing the Sawtooth mountains from Grandjean is that it saves several miles and minutes off the drive. People camp around Grandjean, but there is also a trailhead with trails that head in a couple different directions. We were on the trail by 3pm and started a long trek up the mountain.
The trail is well maintained, but it has a few difficult parts. There were 5-6 significant creek crossings where we had to balance across logs to prevent getting wet. At least one of the crossings required finding walking sticks to help balance as the crossings were somewhat treacherous. It was July 19 when we hiked up, so much of the initial runoff had already passed through. Due to the creek crossings (and possible snow), I suspect this would be a much more difficult hike in June.
The only other big obstacle on the trail was a couple sections of downed trees. One area had obviously been hit by a heavy avalanche. There were full pine trees that were snapped in half and strewn all over the trail. Crossing these areas wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but when you have a 6-year-old it definitely slows things down.
The trail has a significant, steady climb. I measured it at about 3,000 feet total. It started at 5200 feet and ended at 8200. I had to push the kids pretty hard to get up before dark. They did great. My 6-year-old basically only walks if someone is telling him a story, so between the way up and down I ended up rehearsing all the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and some Harry Potter books.
We arrived to the first Trail Creek Lake only to find that the ~4 or so camping spots were all taken. Unfortunately this meant we had to hike another half mile and 250 feet to get to the second lake. We had this lake all to ourselves which was pretty nice. I’m not sure there are any fish in it, but there are definitely fish in the lower lake.
We had an enjoyable evening and hiked around the area in the morning before heading back down the mountain. It was a quick trip to get into the wilderness and give my kids another taste of backpacking.
On the way home we also stopped by some hot springs that were right by the road and next to the river. I think they liked that more than hiking.
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?
This was my ninth time running the Race to Robie Creek, which definitely makes it the race I’ve done most frequently.
In my post about my 2016 race, I outlined how my times had improved over the years. It turned out that 2016 was the peak (so far). I skipped the Race to Robie Creek in 2017 to run the Boston Marathon. In 2018 I had a knee injury that sidelined my training and hurt my fitness leading up to the race (I forgot to post about it).
This year I ran the Boston Marathon on Monday and would be running the Race to Robie Creek five days later, so I had very low expectations for my time. I used Tuesday through Friday to rest, but I was still sore coming into the race, especially since I blew up at the Boston Marathon. Therefore, I decided to have some fun this year.
I ran the race as Gandalf the Grey.
The Race to Robie Creek had a superhero theme this year. Cyndi made me a Gandalf costume when The Hobbit was released in theaters so that I could dress up for the premier. I wore it to all three Hobbit movies and every Halloween since. For some time I’ve wanted to run a race as Gandalf. Given that I was wiped out from the Boston Marathon anyways, and with the superhero theme, this seemed like a great opportunity to fulfill my dream.
The costume worked pretty well without too many modifications. I usually wear a robe under the huge cloak, but I decided to ditch the robe and just wear grey shorts and a grey shirt. I still wore the rope-belt and the satchel. I didn’t carry a staff. Cyndi modified the beard so that I could pin it to the pointed hat and let it hang under my chin while I raced (I didn’t want to be breathing through a fake beard for the whole race). The cloak has a ton of fabric and must weigh 4-5 pounds.
I’m not the most outgoing person, so when Cyndi and I arrived at the start area I felt a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I walked around as Gandalf. A couple people asked for a photo with me (this is pretty common when I’m dressed up as Gandalf the Grey). I did my usual prerace routine, except that I didn’t warm up a lot since I was sore anyways and I wanted to save my energy.
I wished Cyndi good luck and lined up pretty close to the front, which made for some good photos with Gandalf behind all the serious runners. Including one that made it into this article in the Idaho Statesman (I’m about 4 people back from the front, and in one of the attached photos, although there’s an error in the description).
I was a little concerned about me or someone else tripping on my cloak, so when the race started I was careful to grab it to prevent it from getting away from me.
I ran the first mile in 6:40, which I was pretty happy with. The first mile has a lot of spectators and it’s the only flat mile of the course. Lots of people recognized me as Gandalf and cheered for me as I ran by in the crowd.
Since runners always start fast in this race, I started passing some people in the second mile on the hill. The runners also started thinning out, which meant that Gandalf the Grey got more attention and cheering.
I was still feeling good when I crested the first hill, but my quads really felt the short downhill portion. This was concerning since I was only 2.5 miles into the race. I was also somewhat concerned about the heat — it was mid-60’s and the sun was out. I was wearing a grey cloak and a hat and beard, plus normal running clothes underneath.
Throughout the race I struggled with how to contain the cloak/cape. In my mind I thought it would gently flap behind me as I ran. Reality was that its length and heaviness caused it to wrap my feet if I wasn’t holding onto it with both hands. I still let it go sometimes for photos or for small crowds so they could see the full effect.
After the little downhill portion it was back to climbing, which was much gentler on my quads. I was now in a relatively fixed position relative to other runners. At one aid station around mile 5 a man was counting out runners and I was number 78. This was a pleasant surprise. I would be very happy with a top 100 finish as Gandalf the Grey at the Race to Robie Creek.
Up the hill we trudged. The heat didn’t get to me as much as expected, and eventually we got some cloud cover that really took the edge off. I drank extra water to ensure I wouldn’t get dehydrated.
Since runners were now pretty thinned out, I got big cheers whenever I came up on an aid station or group of spectators. I made a lot of people smile and yell the classic, “You shall not pass!” or a simple, “Gandalf!” It made me smile too. It was actually quite fun. I even made all the photographers smile. I gave lots of high-fives and fist pumps.
As always, it was a relief to crest the hill at mile ~8.5. For the downhill I had to really grab onto my cloak and push hard on sore quads. Surprisingly I was able to approximately maintain my position going down the hill. I was 57th to the top and 66th to the finish. I was afraid it would be much worse than that.
On the downhill there were several groups of residents with friends that were drinking beer. They really appreciated Gandalf.
As I came to the finish I let the cape flow and gave some fist pumps. I got a good finishing cheer from the crowd, and I was very pleased with my finishing time of 1:42:42. My pace was 7:49/mile (keep in mind, 2100 feet of climbing). I think I was the first finisher in full costume, which also made me happy, although that’s not an official division.
It was really a fun experience. All the smiles made it worth it. Cyndi came in around 2:15. After I was done, tons of people said, “You didn’t run the whole thing in that, right?”
Maybe next year I’ll actually improve my 2016 time… without Gandalf.
I have not mastered the Boston Marathon by any means, but in order to help others, and as a reminder to future Blake, I’m writing down tips for what to do and what not to do when trying to run a good time at the Boston Marathon while it’s still fresh in my mind. I recognize that just going to Boston is a big trip for many people, so maybe your finishing time will not be a priority. However, I think it’s fair to say that most runners toeing the line at Boston are hoping for a good time. Here are my tips.
Tips for Training for the Boston Marathon
Train on Hills
Everyone has heard of Heartbreak Hill, but I think most people don’t realize that almost all of the Boston Marathon is either uphill or downhill. It’s not flat. I think there is about 800 total feet elevation gain and 1200 total feet of loss. Your quads will be wrecked if you don’t train on hills, including downhill. Trust me.
Train for Heat
Maybe you’ll have a cold year, maybe you’ll have a hot year. You won’t know until 2-3 days before the race. Prepare for both. Since Boston takes place in April, people from about half the US won’t have any training in warm weather. I’d suggest purposefully doing some medium or long runs with too much clothing and consider spending some time in the sauna (I got that idea from Meb’s latest book). 60 to 80 degrees with humidity will roast you if you’ve been running in 20 to 40 degrees all winter leading up to the race.
Take Clothing and Shoes You Can Throw Away
Take warm clothes, shoes, and socks that you can toss right before the race starts. Wear them to the starting area. Then you don’t have to worry about being cold or getting your socks muddy before the race starts. You can get cheap clothing at Goodwill or other thrift stores. Easily worth the $10, but it’s likely you’ve already got something sitting around that you don’t need. Every marathon runner should have an old pair of shoes that they can discard.
Stay Put on Sunday
Don’t walk all over the expo. Don’t do the Freedom Trail. Just take it easy on Sunday. Go to church then go back to your hotel or wherever you’re staying. Standing/walking for two hours is not easy. You need your quads for Monday. If you want to be on vacation and don’t want to run a great race, then do whatever you want. I suggest saving the vacationing for after Monday at 2pm (when you’re done). If you want to go to the expo, do so on Saturday.
On Monday I had the privilege of running the Boston Marathon for the second time. The Boston Marathon is my favorite marathon and I had a blast… at least for the first half.
Approaching the Boston Marathon
I trained pretty hard this winter. The only comparable training block I’ve done was leading up to the 2017 Boston Marathon. However, I wanted to enjoy Boston and relieve some of the pressure that comes with lots of training, a trip across the country, and a huge race. Therefore, I decided to do the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days before Boston. I know that was a little stupid, but the Yakima Marathon went really well for me, so I’m glad I did it.
I ate lots of protein and tried to recover as much as possible between Yakima and Boston. It went pretty well, although my left quad became pretty sore a few days before marathon Monday. I cut off some planned mileage and got as much rest as possible.
Cyndi couldn’t come on this trip, so my friend, Greg, came with me. We flew out on Saturday and arrived late Saturday night to Boston Logan International Airport. We got an expensive Uber to Greg’s brother-in-law’s house and went to bed. On Sunday we:
Went to church at 9am.
Went to packet pickup. I just walked in, grabbed my bib, and walked out since we couldn’t find a parking spot. It took about 20 minutes. I would have liked to go to the Expo, but I went last time and I don’t need any expensive compression boots or more running clothes.
Drove to Newport, Rhode Island to see some opulent mansions.
Drove to Providence to meet up with Greg’s friend Jesse.
Drove back to the brother-in-law’s.
Played a game of Camel Up and discussed plans for Monday.
Went to bed around 10:30, which was a little later than intended, but I didn’t sleep well anyways.
I woke up earlier than expected, grabbed my stuff and hailed an Uber. The Uber took me to the wrong side of the bag drop-off area, but it actually turned out to be exactly the right spot for my bib number. It was rainy.
On the bus ride to Hopkinton I met a guy named Kyle from Chicago. He’d done Boston a few times. During the ride there was a bright flash from a lightning strike that I’m sure made everyone think, “Just don’t cancel the race!” Luckily the storm passed through, it stopped raining before the start, and we had clear skies during parts of the race.
At Hopkinton I found myself a coveted tent pole to lean against. I also ran into Tyson, who was on my team for Ragnar Trail Zion. This was his first Boston Marathon, so I’m pretty sure he was even more anxious than me. I had about 2 hours to sit around and talk to people about marathons. Part of what makes the Boston Marathon fun is that there are a bunch of “serious runners” gathered in one spot. You can talk to others about marathon times, favorite marathons, training, etc.
Eventually the rain stopped and we made the 0.7 mile walk/jog to the start line. I dumped all my warm clothing and lined up. I was more calm this time than when I ran in 2017, which was nice. It was still really exciting though. The jets did a flyby, the National Anthem was sung, and we started the race.
Boston Marathon Miles 1-8: 6:50, 6:32, 6:35, 6:32, 6:43, 6:35, 6:31, 6:42
The first several miles of the Boston Marathon are mostly a blur. It was so fun to be out there!
The first mile got started a little slow. I was much more conservative this time around, so I was patient and tried to stay in my spot and not move around too much. Since my bib was 3604 this time, I was a bit farther back in the pack and maybe that made it more crowded. Around mile 2 a guy near me was tripped in the crowd, got very upset, and said some choice words. I asked if he was ok and he said, “Bleep bleep bleep no, but thanks for asking.”
The crowds are just so incredible! There is tremendous pent up energy in the runners and the crowds add energy and make it fun. I gave lots of high-fives to kids and other spectators. There were flags waving, signs flashing, people clapping, music blasting, and lots of smiles. It’s really one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. It may have even been more enjoyable the second time around since I was less worried about my time.
Speaking of my time, I feel like I went out at a great pace. I wanted to beat my Yakima time, even though it was unlikely, but it was pretty hot. Humidity was very high thanks to the morning storm, and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. This may not seem too hot, but I don’t think I’d run in weather warmer than 45 since October, and most of my training I had done in morning temperatures at or below freezing. Therefore, mid-60’s felt hot. The sun broke through the clouds and added to the heat. From the first aid station I dumped water on my head and I drank a lot throughout the race.
Due to the heat, I was fine hitting splits around 6:40. I figured if I felt great later on I could try to speed up to beat my Yakima time, but I didn’t want to kill myself in the early miles.
At mile 8 I was still feeling good, which was comforting since that’s where I first felt signs of issues in the 2017 Boston Marathon.
I was noticing that my heart rate was unusually high — in the 170’s. That should have only been the case during a half marathon or even a 10K. I don’t know if my watch was off, or if it was all the anxiety, or the heat, or what. This was a little concerning.
Another thing I noticed this time around, is that Boston is full of hills. It’s not just the Newton hills and Heartbreak, the whole course is basically either going up or down. I had heard someone mention this, but this time I really noticed it for myself.
Boston Marathon Miles 9-16: 6:39, 6:44, 6:36, 6:30, 6:39, 6:39, 6:45, 6:23
I continued to feel pretty good in the next few miles. I didn’t really experience much fatigue or signs that I needed to slow down. My pace continued to be right around 6:40, which I was happy with.
I talked to a few people during the marathon, but not too many. Many of the runners seemed to be taking the race pretty seriously and were focused. I was willing to talk, but I didn’t come across anyone that really opened up. I’m not the most outgoing person, so maybe I didn’t try enough people.
I continued to give high-fives every once in a while, but I tried not to get carried away because I remembered from Boston 2017 that whenever I got pumped up I naturally sped up. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was energizing, although I didn’t exchange any kisses (as promised to Cyndi).
There’s a downhill on mile 16 which was really nice, and I took it pretty fast as I was still feeling decent.
Boston Marathon Miles 17-21: 7:01, 7:14, 6:54, 7:21, 8:03
Mile 17 of the Boston Marathon is where the wheels started falling off for me. I was running up the first in the set of four hills, when my right quad suddenly tightened. It was enough of a change that I noted what mile I was on and thought, “Oh no.” When I hit The Wall, it’s usually my quads that go first and that feel the worst throughout the race. At the Yakima River Canyon Marathon I had evaded The Wall and I hoped I could repeat that glorious accomplishment at Boston.
Boston Marathon Miles 22-26.2: 7:41, 8:22, 8:17, 8:45, 9:00, 8:25/mile
The uphills slowed me down, and I started losing speed on the downhills. By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill I was pretty much wiped out. I’m a pretty strong climber, so I wasn’t getting passed too badly, but when I peaked on Heartbreak I didn’t have much left for the downhill and after that it was a complete slog. I had hit The Wall hard and I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line and be done. The first 17 miles of the marathon were exhilarating, the last 5 miles were excruciating. Miles 18-21 were somewhere in between.
Occasionally I would pass someone walking, or limping. I saw one guy step on a water bottle on Heartbreak Hill and roll his ankle. I thought he was ok but then he started limping pretty badly. I encouraged him along. For a while it felt like I was standing still in a river of runners that were flowing past me. Eventually everyone started slowing down and I felt a little better, but not before I’d been passed by hundreds of runners. That was even despite the fact that I didn’t walk.
It took forever to get to the right turn on Hereford, but I was so glad when I did! I was in my own world those last few miles just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I started looking for Greg and Jesse. I scanned the crowd as my head swam with fatigue and delusion. I finally found them at the top of the hill right on the corner of Boylston. It was great to see them and exchange high fives.
I couldn’t believe how far I still had to go to the finish line. It took forever to get there, but I was so happy when I could finally let myself walk!
Final time: 3:07:27. Better than 2017 (thankfully!), but not as good as I wanted. I really didn’t feel too disappointed. I knew doing the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days prior was a risk, and I think my legs just weren’t up for another marathon yet. The heat didn’t help either.
Once again, getting through from the finish line to a place where I could collect myself was excruciating. The second I stopped running I just wanted to faint or lay down; however, I didn’t want to get stuck in a medical tent. I did my best to keep on my feet. I had to find a rail a few times to lean against for 30 seconds so that I could keep walking. I got my medal, grabbed a bag of food, grabbed my bag, and finally found a curb that I could just sit down on. I remember this same feeling from some other races, in particular the Utah Valley Marathon and the Boston Marathon in 2017, both races where I hit the wall hard (although it has happened many other times).
After resting for several minutes, I made my way to meet up with Greg and Jesse. I rested more at Boston Commons while they grabbed some pizza. Then we slowly made our way back to the hotel.
After a shower/bath and a game of Camel Up, I felt a lot better. We walked some of the Freedom Trail and ate some delicious Italian. I also downed two Canolies from Mike’s Pastry. (Two is probably too much, even after a marathon.)
I just love the Boston Marathon! It’s full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s full of hope and potential disappointment. It’s full of athletes that are out to prove something to themselves or to someone else, or to just experience the event. I’m glad I could leave everything on the course and have another amazing experience, even if I hoped for more. It’s easily my favorite marathon to run and I hope to return again someday.