Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon 2019

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?

Race to Robie Creek 2019 as Gandalf the Grey

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.

Some spectators on the way up the hill. This gives an idea on how large the cloak was (I’m 6’4″). The guy in white is Ryan G. who I ran Ragnar Trail Zion with.

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.

Here’s a YouTube video of the finish (I come in at about 6:50 in the video or 1:42:40 on the clock).

Here’s a KITI news article about the race (I have a ~5 second interview near the end).

Zeitgeist Half Marathon 2018 – 2nd Overall

Today I ran the Zeitgeist Half Marathon for my 7th time. It’s a great race and I enjoy running it just about every year.

This year I was joined by Cyndi, my father-in-law Jerry, my sister-in-law Kara, and our friend Joe. Cyndi ran with me last year when she was 4 weeks pregnant. We had our baby in July and Cyndi was able to run again this year just 3.5 months later. She’s pretty amazing.

I wanted to continue my trend of Zeitgeist course PR’s this year, but I wasn’t sure if it was plausible since I ran in the SoJo Marathon two weeks ago. During the two intervening weeks I did my best to recover and maintain some speed, but my legs had felt tired ever since the marathon. The time for me to beat was 1:22:54 from last year.

We arrived at about 9:15 for packet pickup. We picked up our numbers and I was happy to see that I got #1 again (probably because I got 2nd last year and 1st place wasn’t running again). It was chilly, but as the starting time drew near it warmed up. I ended up running in a tank top in weather that was ideal. We started right at 10am.

They gave me an awesome bib

I went out at ~5:50 pace and held a little under 6:00 for the first mile. There was one high school runner with me for part of it, but I didn’t think he would hang on for very long.

After mile 1, another young looking runner caught me and passed me. He was another high school runner from Mtn Home. He and I ran together for a mile when another runner, Andrew, caught up to us. Those two charged ahead and beat me to the top of the first hill at mile 3.1. I didn’t want to burn out on hill.

I sped up on the downhill and tried to push hard. I passed Andrew and then the MHHS runner and built a small lead as we headed through the flat portion in Hidden Springs. I tried to keep the speed up even on the flat portion and I was hitting about 6:00/mile, which was about my target pace for that portion.

However, once we started up the little hill after mile 5, Andrew and MHHS runner passed me again. Evidently I just didn’t have the power for the hills like these guys. I hoped they would burn out later on in the race.

Unfortunately they extended their lead to about 1 minute by the time we reached the top of the big hill. On the way up the hill I sneaked a few peaks to ensure that I didn’t have any runners coming up behind. I didn’t see anyone and I was feeling good enough that I figured I was in contention at least for a top three finish.

Part of my plan to PR was to really attack the downhill, so once again I kept the effort up on the downhill to keep on PR pace and to try to close the gap with the two guys ahead of me. Due to the curves and the 1 minute lead, it was a couple minutes before I saw them. Eventually I could see that Andrew was extending his lead and I was gaining on MHHS ever so slightly.

My first mile down the hill was at a 5:32 pace, and my next two were sub-6:00. I was very happy with that. The last downhill portion is 3 miles long. At mile 10 I estimated my finish time to be ~1:25, which was a little disappointing. I didn’t think I was that far off my PR time. But a mile later I realized that I was estimating my finish based on 7:00 miles (close to my marathon pace) instead of ~6:15 miles (my half marathon pace). I realized that a PR was possible.

The course levels out at mile 11, but I was committed to a strong finish and a better place than 3rd if I could manage it. I was hurting but I ran the 12th and 13th mile at a 6:08 pace. I passed the MHHS runner when he paused for a drink at the last aid station. He sped up and caught back up to me but I could tell he was slowing down again. I put everything into trying to get a gap between us as I was worried he’d bury me in the last tiny but steep hill at mile 13. When I got to the hill I charged up and got light-headed. I then charged down into the finish (still light-headed) and ended up beating him by 40 seconds.

I was very happy with my last 5 miles and with a course PR of 1:21:45, beating my next best time by 1:08. That was the strongest finish I’ve had at Zeitgeist, thanks largely to the MHHS competitor to push me. 1st place finished about 2 minutes ahead of me. He had an impressive last few miles.

After chatting with some of the other finishers for 10-15 minutes, I doubled back on the course and did a cool-down to find my family. They all did well. Cyndi ran the whole course (no walking on the hills) which was her goal, and quite a feat given our 3.5 month baby.

Jerry got #1 for his age group, 70+. He was happy about that. I hope that I can still run when I’m 70+! He also beat Cyndi, which might be the last time that ever happens.

At first I was a little disappointed that I had only gotten second. Part of that was that I was in first for part of the race and I thought I could break away, but then I got passed. However, I quickly became really happy with my performance. Last year (2017), I PR’d in every distance I ran, from the 5K to the marathon. This year I haven’t had a single PR, and I didn’t get a course PR at my other perennial run, Robie Creek. This race was a course PR which means that maybe I have improved a little over last year and all my hard work wasn’t for naught. Also, I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost the Eye of the Tiger, and my strong finish was something I could be proud of because it took some guts.

One fun thing about doing a course year after year, is that you can put together a table like this:

Year Time (pace) Place Notes
2011 1:45:44 (8:04) 126 My first Zeitgeist
2013 1:39:56 (7:37) 35 A month after my first marathon in 4 years
2014 1:35:09 (7:15) 18
2015 1:28:44 (6:46) 8 Had some calf issues
2016 1:25:19 (6:30) 1 My best 1st place finish ever
2017 1:22:54 (6:19) 2 Faster time but worse place 🙁
2018 1:21:45 (6:12) 2 Course PR; marathon 2 weeks earlier

It’s awesome to be able to look back and see the progress I’ve made after countless hours of running and many early mornings. I’m worried I’m plateauing, and until this race I thought maybe I had already peaked, but hopefully I can stave it off for another year or two and eek out a little more improvement.

Post race photo of me, Cyndi, and our newest addition