Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Pocatello Marathon Review

2014 15th Annual Portneuf Medical Pocatello Marathon
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Pocatello, Idaho
29th Marathon Completed
Runners: 346 (195 Male, 151 Female)
Start Time: 6:15 am
Course: Starting line 6,070 ft in mountains, which drops 1,500 ft over the first 13 miles, then flat and rolling on the second half ... first half scenic, second half not a lot to look at, finishes at 4,600 ft
Weather: 55 degrees at start, 65 degrees at finish, 72% humidity,
6 mph WSW wind
SWAG: Black Adidas gear bag, long-sleeve moisture wicking shirt, and sack of potatoes
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: None until the finish line
Volunteer Support: Great, very encouraging
Water Stops: Not enough and could have been organized a little better
Food: BBQ, homemade deserts, and general post race fare
Age: 45
Finishing Time: 3:26:51
Average Pace: 7:54
Place: 42nd/346 Overall, 9th/32 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

Writing a completely comprehensive & objective review of the 15th Annual Pocatello Marathon might be a little difficult for me right now.  Quite frankly, I wish I’d never ran it, at least not under the circumstances.  As I sit here a few days after the race, I can tell you it was probably the third or fourth least favorite race I've ever ran.  But several variables undoubtedly skew that assessment.  I ran poorly.  The altitude killed me. But obviously more than anything, the passing of my wife’s mother only two days before the race left me thinking about nothing but being by Michael’s side.  The last place I wanted to be was a million miles away from her, waiting to run some dumb race, while she was grieving.  I’ll spare you the details, but getting to her in a timely manner would have been logistically impossible.  And since I was in Idaho already, we made the decision for me to go ahead and run.
Getting to Pocatello, Idaho is not easy.  The most direct route, if flying, is to land in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then drive North for about 2-1/2 hours.  The drive isn’t bad though.  Interstate 15 takes you along the East side of The Great Salt Lake, the West ridge of Cache National Forest, and through Indian Rocks State Park as you near Pocatello.  The mountains along the way are nothing like the beautiful Rocky Mountains, but rather brown and somewhat treeless.  However, the changes in elevation make for interesting viewing.  Plus, if you’re up for a little jaunt off the highway, the trek also takes you only 45-minutes from Preston, Idaho, of course better known world-wide as the filming location of one of, if not maybe the greatest, films of all-time … “Napoleon Dynamite”.  And in case you’re wondering, the single best line of the movie is when Uncle Rico says to Kip, “How much you wanna make bet I can throw a football over them mountains?”

There are several flowers along the roadside on the drive to Pocatello on Interstate 15

Original sign from the old Chief Theater
Once you arrive in Pocatello, you find a wonderfully quaint and historic small town located near the Portneuf River, along the Oregon Trail.  Known as “The Gateway To The Northwest”, the town was named after Chief Pocatello, who granted the passage of the first railroads across Fort Hall Indian Reservation during the Western Gold Rush.  It was also a key location for early fur trading and commerce, and currently home to Idaho State University.  Just Southeast of town, adjacent to Rapid Creek in the Bannock Mountain Range, lies the Portneuf Gap.  This green valley in the midst of the mountains is a path into Pocatello, and is also where the first half of the marathon is ran, thus the marathon’s nickname “Running The Gap”.  Downtown Pocatello is filled with shops and restaurants in the “Old Town” area, as well as Holt Arena at Idaho State University, the nation’s only indoor college football stadium.

One of my big disappointments with the race is that the course took runners nowhere near downtown Pocatello.  After the first 13 miles of the run, as you make your way out of the Portneuf Gap, there's nothing left but a long, boring stretch of asphalt featuring dirt hills, trailer parks, and auto body shops on Old Highway 91.  Frankly it's one of least scenic stretches of a marathon I've ever ran.  And just as you enter Pocatello, the race simply ends at the zoo.  In my opinion the race organizers do themselves a disservice by not showcasing their wonderful city.  It would have been nice to run down some of the tree-lined streets.  And frankly, it would have made the second half of the race much more enjoyable.  But obviously the primary focus of the run is the Portneuf Gap, which is beautiful indeed.

Beautiful downtown and historic  Pocatello, Idaho

top left: State of Chief Pocatello, top right: Brief introduction you get to Pocatello's Finest when you turn the wrong way down a one-way street, 
bottom left: Idaho State University sign, bottom right: Artwork outside the City Council Building (I think)

Holt Arena at Idaho State University - the nation's only indoor college football arena

Race shirt and gear bag from 2014 Pocatello Marathon
A couple of weeks before the race, I found out my friend Bobby from North Carolina was also running Pocatello.   We met through the blog, at the Myrtle Beach Marathon, a few years ago.  We’re both huge baseball fans, and he’s an amazing runner that actually ran 13 marathons in 12 months in 2012.  He’s also trying to complete 50 marathons in 50 States – I think he has about 40 States under his belt.  Hanging out with Bobby for a few days really helped pass the time and keep my mind off of everything going on.  We had a great time catching up, tracking down local restaurants, and even made the short 45 minute drive North of Pocatello, to Idaho Falls, to watch the Kansas City Royals Rookie League team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, the night before the race.

All things considered, the trip was enjoyable.  But I always miss Michael when I'm somewhere new like this without her.  And considering what she was going through, I couldn't stop thinking about her.  I just wanted to get home.

Packet Pick-Up
The packet pick-up and Expo were both very small, as expected for a 350 person marathon.  They were held at the Clarion Inn, which was also the host hotel, and the site of shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off, before and after the race.  Runners checked in at a Ball Room adjacent to the lobby, and then could visit the chlorine-scented Expo, basically held on the deck of the hotel's indoor pool.  All participants received a small black Adidas gym bag, pre-labeled with our bib numbers, to be used as gear check bags the next morning at the starting line.  I thought pre-labeling the bags on a laminated tag with our name, address, and bib numbers was a very nice thought out detail.  Runners also had the opportunity, as advertised, to grab a bag of real Idaho potatoes - appropriate!  I grabbed one, but left it behind so I didn't have to take it with me on the plane.  The extra 5 lbs would have probably been another $75 from Delta or something.

All runners also received a long-sleeved red with blue screen-print moisture wicking shirt.  Due to my art and design background, I’m always way too critical on race shirts.  But it seems that most are designed by folks with absolutely no eye for design, and this one was no different.  I loved the logo, but blue print on a dark red shirt is really tough to see.  Plus, I think I got a defective shirt with an incomplete screening of the lettering, because it looks a little blurry, and fuzzy around the edges. But it wasn't a big deal ... I mean all I need is another race shirt, right?

Pocatello Marathon Expo held in the pool area of the Clarion Inn, with complimentary potatoes ... of course!
The folks at packet pick-up and the Expo were very friendly and offered information about the race.  We even received information about the Shuttle Bus from a sweet little 4-year old girl, helping her parents hand out race bibs.  I also visited for a moment with the 3:10 pacer.  Most notably, the folks I talked to warned about the 6,000 ft elevation at the start, and the extreme downhill during the first half of the race. I think they also had a pre-race dinner available for purchase, but I didn't attend that.

The Gateway To The Northwest ... Pocatello, Idaho
The Race
I woke up at 3:15 am Mountain Time to shower, gather my gear, and be at the bus stop by 5:00 am.  I texted Michael and told her “the LAST thing I wanna do today is run a race – I just wanna get this over with and get home – I can’t focus on anything but you” … and that couldn't be more true.  My mind was completely focused on my wife and her pain, and not at all on the looming 26.2 miles ... probably not the best approach to an endurance event that demands my full attention.  But I knew I was in pretty good shape, and I’d practiced this drill several times before, so I felt like I should at least be able to “phone in” a 3:20 … but I was quickly reminded that a marathon demands your complete attention.

The Shuttle Buses to the starting line were well organized and lined up right outside the Clarion, and left promptly at 5:10 am, just as they said they would.  I sat with Bobby and we chatted about the race, and other downhill events we’d ran.  Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had indicated it would be about 50 degrees with a light wind.  And from everything I read, it would be about 45 degrees at the starting line.  But on race morning, it was actually about 55 degrees at the starting line.  It wasn’t a huge change, just a little warmer than I’d planned on, but had no effect on the run.

UPS Truck parked in front of the barn waiting to take runner gear to the finish line at the start of the race
As the Chartered Bus pulled up to the starting area in complete darkness, a short trail leading up to a spot-lighted small barn, livestock corrals, and about 15 port-a-potties came into view.  There were also a couple of runners taking pictures with a horse, a few others sitting on an old tractor tire, the typical pre-marathon music playing over a PA system, and small farm dog running around greeting everyone.  When Bobby and I first arrived, there were only a handful of runners milling around, but the other buses soon followed and the small farm-foyer became more crowed.  The only place to sit was on the ground, which we did, to get off of our feet for a bit before the run.

"Runner's Corral" at the start of the 2014 Pocatello Marathon. Pun.
With only a few minutes remaining before the 6:15 am start time, I dropped my gear bag in the UPS truck parked directly in front of the barn doors, and then began some light warm-up jogging.  The Race Director made a few announcements again warning about the downhill nature of the course, and also said that after the singing of the National Anthem, he would wait one minute and then start the race.  I was about 200 meters from the back of the lined up runners when the National Anthem concluded, and thought to myself, “Okay, I’ve got about a minute to get to the front of the line!”  But at that moment, the Race Director announced, “Okay, here we go ... 3 … 2 … 1, GO!”  What the heck?  It was no big deal because it was a small race, but usually I like starting up front so I don’t have to dodge runners at the outset.  Oh well, we were off and running!

With the morning sky just barely beginning to illuminate the silhouette of the mountain tops that overlooked the Portneuf Gap, we began down the steep decline.  And I mean the steepest I've ever ran in a race.  Even though I was well aware that the course dropped about 1,500 ft during the first half, I simply wasn’t prepared for the intense pitch of the descent.  The path was completely paved, but there were a few stretches, that if covered with gravel or chat, I swear you could have slid down without moving your legs.  At points it felt like I was running down a stairwell, trying to brake my speed to avoid going out too fast.  Bobby and I didn’t start the race together, but I caught up to him at about mile 4.  We chatted for a few minutes, both surprised and somewhat lamenting the fact, that there had literally been no point over the first 4 miles where course leveled off, even a little.  And that would pretty much be the case for the next nine miles.  Actually at about mile 7 there was a short inclined out and back, but it couldn’t have been much more than a half mile, and then it was back to the seemingly never ending descent.

Starting area at the Pocatello Marathon in the dark, at a barn, at 6,070 ft of elevation
I’ve ran a few races that came out of the mountains with a net downhill for the first half, but in all of those marathons, there were some rolling hills and several flat stretches to break up the quad-crushing descent.  But not Pocatello.  It was 13 miles of pure pounding, and my quads were beginning to notice.  I felt like I managed my pace really well in the Portneuf Gap, and went out much slower than I’d planned.  Even though my finish time had become completely secondary, the last thing I wanted to do was burn up my legs and crash during those last few miles.

2014 Pocatello Marathon Elevation Chart ... 1,500 ft descent in the first 13 miles, with a rolling hills the rest of the way
But even though I was running fairly free and easy, the few times I tried to speed up to my training paces, I really seemed to struggle.  Looking back I know it was the elevation.  It's just tough for a flat-lander to show up in the mountains and run without noticing the effects of the altitude.  I wasn’t really breathing that hard in the thin air, but my chest felt incredibly tight, and my legs were getting heavy really early in the race.  I’ve ran enough other races at elevation to be well aware that altitude was beginning to have an adverse effect on me on Saturday.  At any other marathon, were I was focused and locked in, I might have been able to fight through it.  But at Pocatello, the 6,000 ft start, and 4,500 ft finish had it’s way with me.

As we finally made our way out of “The Gap” at about mile 13, we leveled off for a while and I began hitting my training paces.  We passed a handful of runners who were lined up for the start of the Half-Marathon and they cheered as we passed, which was really up-lifting.  I kept an eye out for the timing mat at the half-way point, which in an email from the Race Director a week prior, had indicated would be there, but it wasn’t.  Neither were the other two promised split timing mats.  Because of their non-existence at the race, anyone trying to track runners on-line had no idea where they were.  Again, it wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been nice to have.

One of last really pretty views before we started the long, straight, and boring stretch on Old Highway 91
But what was a big deal, and a huge “fail” for the race in my opinion, was the lack of traffic management, and the infrequency of the water-stops.  The race is ran basically ran on a point-to-point paved county road, which until the last few miles had no law enforcement, no cones, and no traffic management what-so-ever.  Runners were all over the place on the road coming down the mountain, migrating from side to side, lane to lane, as they tried to run the tangents.  As a result, cars and trucks traveling the same road had to navigate in and out of the runners.  Pretty much every vehicle passed respectfully and at a manageable speed, but more than once my focus was broken from trying to get through a marathon, to a passing automobile.  In my opinion this was dangerous, poorly planned, and completely unacceptable for a race that has been running for 15 years.  I don't think it would unreasonable to expect cones, I mean we were literally running in lanes of highway that had no shoulder.

As far as the water-stops, they were all well manned by friendly and eager volunteers who did a great job.  Their kindness and motivational words did not go unnoticed.  But I don’t think we saw the first stop until mile 3, and the second at mile 6.  Considering the thin, dry air, I felt like 1.5 to 2 mile increments would have been better, but toward the end of the race they came a little more frequently.  Plus, even though the volunteers were great, the organization was a little loose.  I skipped on of the stops toward the end because all the 10K'ers and Half-Marathoner's seemed to be confusing the volunteers, and I didn't want to wait for water.

It's not all happy, happy, happy and level, flat ground after you come out of the Portneuf Gap.  Because at mile 15, you're greeted by a two mile stretch of  gradual 100 ft incline that just seems to go on forever.  As marathoners, most of us have a point in a race when we know whether it's going to be "our day" or not.  Mile 18 is always that point for me. And after burning most of my remaining energy on the two-mile hill, I definitely knew it wasn't going to be mine.  And I thought to myself, "How much you wanna make a bet I can run a bad marathon in them mountains?"  Actually, the only thing I was thinking is how hard it was to breath, how heavy my legs felt, and how much I wanted to be with my wife.  The situation only got worse at mile 21, where you encounter another 100 ft climb over the next mile.  Normally, these hills wouldn't have taken such a toll, but my quads were toast at that point and I didn't have much left.

I went into the race mistakenly thinking I needed a 3:20 to qualify for Boston again.  I have no idea how I did that.  But I forgot that since I turned 45 last year, the required time for me now was actually 3:25.  As I pushed through to mile 21, I started doing the infamous runner math in my head, trying to calculate exactly how slow I could run and still make my mistaken 3:20 cutoff.  But when I hit mile 22, it seemed it was going to be out of reach and I began walking ... a lot.  And if you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that if I'm not going to hit my time goal in a race ... I have "A LOT OF QUIT IN ME!"  I mean, what does the finishing time really matter at that point.  So I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  And finally finished with a 3:26:51.  Later in the day I looked up the Boston Qualifying time for my age, and was pretty frustrated.  I COULD have pushed it for a 3:25, oh well.  The failure to qualify for Boston aside, it was a complete disaster of a race considering that I thought I should be around 3:05 ... but the worst was yet to come.

Actually snapped this picture from on of the laptops they had set up
in the finisher area to retrieve finish times ... just before disaster set in
I crossed the finish line, thanked the volunteer for my medal, grabbed a bottle of water, and then went over to the festival area to lie down for minute.  My heart was beating really fast.  After about 15 minutes, I got up and went to find my race results on a bank of laptops that were set up in the results tent.  People were trading high-fives and hugs, and the scent of BBQ and music playing filled the celebratory post-race air.  I needed to eat something, but I was feeling worse and worse and the thought of putting food in my body wasn't a good one.  At about that point, my chest really started tightening up, my head started spinning ... and for only the second time ever in my life from running ... I walked over near a chain-link fence and threw up.  Of course at the end of the race there's not much left on your stomach, so it was a mostly Roctane Island Nector GU, and dry heaving.  I slowly gathered myself, walked over to a Hertz rental truck and sat down on its tailgate for minute, sweating profusely ... and then suddenly threw up again.  My dehydrated and race-weary abdominal muscles cramped with each convulsion.  Something definitely wasn't right.

I looked around and saw the Charter Bus that was to take us back to the host hotel, about a quarter mile away down the street.  It might as well have been five miles to me, because I had serious doubts if I could make it there.  When I finally did, I drug myself aboard and waited for the other runners to fill out the shuttle.  Just as the bus started moving, I got really dizzy, started a cold sweat again, and thought I was going to throw in the cushioned seat.  This was about an hour after I finished running at this point.  I desperately looked toward the back of the bus for an on-board restroom, but was able to keep everything inside my body until we got to the hotel ... where I went inside and threw up again.  I eventually made it to my rental car, parked outside the host hotel, and back to my room at Hampton Inn, about a mile away.  When I got to Hampton, the housekeeping lady was finishing up in my room.  I quickly tipped her and asked her to leave because I was going to be sick again, which she did, and I was.

The only picture I was able to get of the finish area, while fighting off post-race nausea from the altitude, presumably
I fell asleep for about a half hour at that point, but was unceremoniously awakened by my right foot cramping, which it often does after a long run.  Bobby had texted me to check on me and we made plans to grab something to eat.  I still felt horrible.  I grabbed a shower, and met him at a breakfast place, but I could only eat a few bites.  After that, he headed to Salt Lake City, and I went back to my room to crash again.  At this point my assumption is that the stomach issues were from the altitude, but it could have been poor fueling as well.  Either way, I don't want to go through that at the end of a marathon again.

Sun setting over the Bannock Mountain Range near Pocatello, Idaho
I wish my time in Pocatello would have been under different circumstances.  Not because I didn't finish with the time I intended, but because I needed to be near my wife.  I can't help but think if things were different, my point of view on the race would most likely be much different.  Pocatello is a good small race, and helped me check one more State off the map.  And if I'm honest with myself, it's kind of encouraging that my fitness has increased to where a "disaster race" still almost qualified me for me Boston.  But unfortunately, when I think back to it years from now, I won't remember much about the people, the course, the altitude, or the town ... all I'll remember is how much I wanted to be by my wife's side instead of running a marathon.
... be great today!


  1. First of all, I'm sorry to hear about your mother-in-law's passing. It's hard to focus on anything else when real life issues take precedence. You are now the second person I just read about who ran this race. (Erin from See Mom Run Far) also ran it. I know your training seemed to be right one for a low 3 (or sub 3) race. Just curious, did something in your training happen before that made you change pacing strategies? You had an entire sub 7 min 20 miler didn't you? (Or am I thinking of Erin??) I am WAY out of the fast runner training loop as I have been cross training or slow easy running these past several weeks so all your workouts seemed pretty fast to me! I'm just trying to kick this plantar fasciitis and it's a slow process let me tell you... Thoughts and prayers are with your family.

    1. Hey Tia, yes - I had several long runs that hovered around the 7:00 mark and spent most of the summer in the 6:45 range. At this point I'm trying not to get too discouraged and blame most of it on the altitude. I literally only broke 7:00 pace for 3 miles on Saturday. I've averaged 16 miles during a long run at 6:50??? AVERAGED??? Really puzzling why the pace wasn't there, back to work I guess.

  2. Sorry to hear about your performance. I know you had high hopes for this race. As someone who lives in SLC, I can completely understand why you got sick. I live at 4300 and often times go up to 7000 -- 10000. Yes the air is a LOT thinner and it will take a lot more out of you than you think. My times plummeted when I moved to SLC from the midwest. If you aren't used to altitude it can make you sick / dizzy. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.

    Sounds like your electrolytes may have been out of whack at the end. I wonder if you had a touch of Hyponatremia. I know I got the dry heaves after I did the Grand Rapids marathon back in 2011. I would take a look at your fueling strategy and see if you ate enough as well. Also, the dryness means you need to hydrate more. I know I had a bad experience in a marathon when I didn't get fluids early and often.

    Also, the big downhill races usually wind up catching people by surprise. They are a lot harder than they seem.

    I hope you cut yourself some slack. You were under a lot of emotional turmoil, and your mind was obviously elsewhere. I ran a race last year where mentally I was just not happy and I felt like crawling into a ditch the entire race.

    Check out my blog sometime, I have a ton of photos of the area that you were in. You traveled through some lovely country... it doesn't look like much from the freeway, but get into those mountains and the scenery is jawdropping.

    It sounds like you have an outstanding base for training and your next marathon should allow you a good shot at redemption.

    Also, please accept my condolences for your loss.


    1. Hey Eddie, man thanks for all the encouraging words you always leave. Yeah, I'm trying not to read too much into it and assume that I didn't just forget how to run over the weekend, ha. I think there might have been some fueling issues too. Anytime someone throws up during a marathon, I always assume it's fueling. And I actually planned on trying to get together with you in SLC, but with the change of plans I had to get out of town soon. I'll check out your blog again, I've been on there before and you're right, up in the mountains it's much better than the highway - thanks again! Have a great week.

  3. Glad you were able to push through to the end! That was a rough race all around - from the elevation to the shirt, which to me is more important than medals because I actually wear them after the race for years. Sorry about your loss in your family.

    1. Thanks Tina, yeah, I really don't want many more races like that

  4. That was a tough race under really tough circumstances. It's hard to race when your heart's somewhere else.

    1. Definitely Char, my heart just wasn't there at all

  5. Hi Jim,
    I know you read my race report and you know I had an awful day too. I have run Pokey before and actually have enjoyed it and run fairly well there. I am sorry most of all for your wife's loss and that you weren't with her over the weekend. I am sure that having your heart and mind somewhere else made it very difficult to focus completely (or care as much as usual). I would also be confident that the altitude was definitely a factor too. You symptoms certainly sound that way. I am SURE that it has nothing to do with your training or that you forgot how to run. :) I hope the next race is better and it would have been nice to meet up with you. Oh, one thing... I DID have the timing mats at the half marathon, 10k to go and 5k to go points and then did get my timing splits texted to me.... I went past the half at about 1:35. Maybe the mats weren't up yet when you went by? Hope your next race is better!!

    1. Thanks, yeah hopefully when I get back to sea level again I'll return to normal!

  6. I know this was such a tough weekend for you and by no means an ideal race. My thoughts and prayers are with Michael and her family.
    I live below sea level and threw up multiple times DURING a race in the New Hampshire mountains (and had a strangely throbbing headache - not comfortable at all), so elevation could be getting to you. You have such a fast marathon in you, but not while worrying about your wife and grieving a loved one.

    1. Ya know Grace, I certainly "think" I have a fast marathon in me, but it just wasn't in the cards this weekend

  7. Great race re-cap! I'm sorry about your quad burn out. I hate when that happens. I have a marathon in a week with a similar course and I'm really praying my quads keep it together! Great job pushing through though! You'll get Boston next time!!

    1. Thanks Bridget, good luck at your race, and yeah, hopefully that BQ will come later this year

  8. Sorry to hear about Michael's mother's passing. That must have made the race hard to run. And the race itself did not sound fun, from no traffic diversion to the endless downhill. Now I know not to attempt a race at elevation, or a race with a lot of downhill. Does not sound fun. Random side note, but in the very top of your race report you listed your finishing time as 1:26:51 lol


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