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.


5 thoughts on “Training for the Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon”

  1. Hi Blake!

    Appreciate your helpful information. This is my second year running Robie and I definitely want to PR. What I’m wondering is how many days a week do you recommend running to PR. I’ve done some compelling research recently that has produced conflicting advice about how often to run and the potential benefits of doing other cross-training as well. I have run several half-marathons and typically train for them using a Hal Higdon plan. I am just wondering what advice you have in regards to runs per week and types of exercise to benefit training.

    1. Somehow I missed your comment, but here’s my belated reply (and you can still use it thanks to COVID-19).

      Generally, for half marathons and marathons the more you can run the better. The exception is that some people just can’t handle the training load without hurting themselves. It takes a while to build up to decent mileage like 50 to 70 miles per week (which is still only about half of what elite marathoners do). Therefore, I’m a big proponent of cross training as you’re building your mileage over the course of a year or two. In fact, I used the Run Less Run Faster plan a few years ago and it definitely helped me. It calls for 30-40 miles per week in 3-4 runs plus 2-3 days of cross training. As I’ve trained consistently over a few years I’ve done less cross training, but I still think some is good to strengthen muscles/tendons you don’t use while running.

      I’d say that for real improvement you should run at least 3-4 days per week, with one fast run (tempo or intervals) and one longer run.

  2. This is my first time running. After two years of not running and only lifting weights. I went out an ran 4.5 miles yesterday it was a breeze. My legs and caves are sore. Hoping to complete the race.

  3. Hi Blake! My name is Enrique Romero, I live in Pocatello Idaho. I loved your Robie Creek story from 2016! I have ran Robie Creek several times, but not as fast you!!! This year, 2019, I’m running it again. It was very inspirational to read your story. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it! Good luck this year! I’ll be slowing down since I just came off a couple marathons. Look for Gandalf and you will have found me.

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