Saturday, April 19, 2008

Race to Robie Creek—April 19, 2008

I did it. I finished my "marathon in a week" by running the Robie Creek Half Marathon today. Total time for the entire "marathon"—about 4 hours 15 minutes. Or, if you're being really picky, 148 hours and 35 minutes. Whatever. (That does, by the way, take into account the one hour time difference between Washington and Idaho!)

Robie Creek bills itself as the "toughest half marathon in the Northwest." And yeah, it's tough. A lot of uphill, and kinda steep in places (you're running up a mountain, for goodness sake!).

But I have to say, this was probably the easiest half marathon I've done. I'm not bragging, because my time was also my slowest half marathon time ever. But the running experience—not so bad.

This is why.

First, I knew it was going to be a tough course, and I just ran another half last weekend, so I had no expectations of breaking two hours. No way. I wasn't even going to try. So I ran a lot easier than I have in races with time goals.

Second, the last mile or so to the summit (8½ miles into the race) was very steep. So steep that I made the decision to walk that part of it (along with virtually every other runner in front and behind me). I'm quite certain that I was walking faster than I could have run, anyway (more on that later). But still, the walking allowed a bit of rest, which left me rejuvenated to start running again at the summit.

Third, after the summit the entire rest of the race was downhill! At least three miles of that was very steep downhill, which I guess bothers some people, but not me. I ran that whole thing at pretty much top speed. Talk about a negative split! Best of all, I totally avoided the 10-mile slump/crash/wall/bonk. Usually the last 5K is the hardest part of a half marathon—this time it was the easiest. Hurrah.

My hard/easy half marathon ended with a not-so-bad/not-so-good time of about 2 hours 15 minutes. (There's a bit of discrepancy in the timing results at this point, but I think 2:15 is a pretty fair call.)

So that's the short, fast, story of my Robie Creek experience. Since I can't possibly write anything short or fast, here's the rest of the story.

I went for my first post-Whidbey run on Wednesday morning before heading to the airport to fly to Boise. My quads were still stiff and sore from Whidbey, but I did get up earlier than usual (miraculously), so I still got in a decent 6.2 mile run (including the walk home from Starbucks with latte). I had a noon flight, so I was on pretty much the same schedule as a workday, needing to be ready to go by 9 a.m.

Luckily I had forced myself to pack the night before. As usual, I packed far more than I needed for a four day trip! I put my essential running clothes and a pair of running shoes in my carry-on bag. In my checked bag I had a complete alternate set of running clothes, plus my trail running shoes which I threw in at the last minute (good call), plus clothes to wear running on Thursday, plus some other things in case I wanted to work out at the Y (which I did not do), plus clothes to wear when not running! Far too many of those as well, it turns out. (How many shirts did I really think I would need?) Not to mention assorted toiletries and over-the-counter meds (Tylenol, Advil, Immodium in case of emergency), snack bars and sports beans, instant oatmeal, hot chocolate, tea, instant espresso (I kid you not), and some satsumas. Plus my laptop computer, a stack of magazines, and three books. (Yes, four days.) Also gifts for my friends, a duffel bag to bring to the race, a warm jacket, and a raincoat. That's about it, in a nutshell. I like to be prepared!

The nice thing about flying to a smallish airport like Boise is that everything is close together. So it was an easy walk to pick up my rental car, even laden with my various bags. It was a nice shiny new small car, amazingly called "mid-size" when I would describe it as compact (but I didn't need anything more), and even more amazingly, fitted with manual door locks and windows. I didn't think they made those any more!

I had a couple of hours before the Robie Creek packet pickup began at 5:00, so I headed downtown anyway to scope out the location. On the way I stopped at an Albertson's (ubiquitous in Boise) and picked up a few more groceries for my stay. (My friends have food, of course, but I feel insecure without my foods around!)

I was able to park right outside the Basque Center (location for the pickup), and walked a few blocks to Starbucks to while away the time. I spent the next hour or so sitting in a sunny spot drinking a latte and reading my book (Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer). (I now must pause to recover for a moment after seeing that Amazon is selling this book as a bargain book for $6.97, while I paid full price less the member's advantage discount at Barnes & Noble! Oh well, I hope she gets a royalty.)

After a bit I pushed my chair out of the sunny spot into a shadier spot and requested a large ice water to counteract the effects of the sun and my extra hot latte!

As the time neared 5:00 I left Starbucks and walked back to the Basque Center. I was shocked to see a line already forming down and around the block! And I had thought I was going to be the first one there. Again, oh well. I got in line.

And actually the line moved pretty quickly. In about half an hour I had my packet in hand and was on my way out the door. Then I just headed to my friends' house where I would be staying until Sunday.

Thursday morning. Even though I had gone for a run on Wednesday I felt like I needed to do another run before resting on Friday before the race. Partly for training purposes, and partly because I would never get any mileage for the week if I didn't get an extra run in (having "rested" on Monday after Whidbey). Plus, I had plenty of time on my hands, not needing to go to work or anything tiresome like that!

I waited until the morning noise subsided, indicating that my friends had headed off to work, school, and daycare. Then I got up and made myself breakfast, a nice bowl of my travel oatmeal, Quaker Weight Control (which has extra fiber and protein, like having an egg with your oatmeal), plus some fruit and extra Fiber One. (Yes, I would be cutting back on fiber prior to the race!) I dawdled around, watched some of the Today show (necessitating a phone call to my friend at work to find out how to use the satellite TV), and then got dressed to go out for a run around 10:30.

The sky was blue, the weather was sunny, and, at least in running terms, it seemed balmy already. After a few minutes I was ready to take off my gloves. I ran down the hill into town (just a little more than a mile) and wandered through the side streets, eventually looping back around to the Capitol. (This looping and wandering is why I was not able to precisely measure the distance of my route later on MapMyRun—I couldn't remember exactly what streets I was on.) Once back by the Capitol building I headed out South Capitol Drive until I got to the river and Boise State University. Then I turned onto the riverside trail and followed it about a mile, crossed the river on Broadway, returned back to my starting point, then went another half mile in the other direction. (I knew this because the path was marked every tenth of a mile. A tenth of a mile has never seemed so long!) So I knew, pretty precisely, that my riverside stretch was three miles. I retraced my route back to the Capitol, then cut over to State and ran on to the Starbucks at 17th and State. I did a little shopping at a running store in the Albertson's shopping center (buying myself a very useful waist pack, which I used on the run, and a cute jacket on sale—which I thought cost $17.99 and was shocked to find cost $77.99—but I bought it anyway).

Finally, I headed back on State to meet Jenifer for lunch at a cafe near the Boise Co-op. Unfortunately (in terms of meeting her promptly) or fortunately (in terms of lengthening the distance of my run), I heard her say "State and Fort" when she was really saying "8th and Fort," so I ran several blocks out of my way and then back again. In Pythagorean terms, I ran a-squared plus b-squared, when I should have run c-squared. (Later, when I attempted to measure my entire running route, I figured it was between 8½ and 9 miles, plus an extra 1.14 miles walking back to the house after lunch.)

Life is good when you don't have to be at work. After a nice lunch, I walked back to the house, took a shower and got dressed, and still had a bit of free time on my hands for the rest of the afternoon. So I hopped into my rental car and took myself down to Starbucks for a latte, then parked in the library lot for a little free wireless work on my laptop.

Around 5:30 Mike picked me up at the house and we drove out to meet Jenifer and Lucas to watch Ellie's soccer game. The good thing about 10-year-olds' soccer games is that they are short! And since we didn't get there until almost half time, we only had about 40 minutes of game to watch. Highlights of the game: Ellie's team scored a last minute goal to finish with a tie instead of a loss! And earlier in the game, the ref chewed out the parents for some reason nobody could ever pin down. There was a lot of post-game discussion about that!

Afterward the whole group—parents, kids, and me—headed to a cafe in Hyde Park for pizza (and wine and beer for the grownups). Being in my pre-race training mode, I had a very large green salad. Plus (she said in a mutter) four pieces of pizza. (But I didn't eat the crusts!) Ah cheese, I do love you ! Eventually the dads took all the kids down the street for ice cream, and the women were left to chat and gossip. I had a nice time listening (and drinking my wine), even though I didn't know any of the people they were talking about!

Friday was not a running day, of course. I was happy to notice by Friday morning that the remaining soreness in my quads (leftover from Whidbey) had completely disappeared. So I decided to keep my legs active by taking Gracie (the golden retriever) on a walk/hike in the neighboring hill trails.

We ended up being out for more than two hours, going up one side, all the way down the length of Camelback, around the other side, along another trail... and still left many trails unexplored. Gracie was great, sticking close to me the whole time (except for short forays into the water and mud). As lovely and enjoyable as trail walking is, it is a little bit frustrating to me because I have such a hard time deciding which trail to take, and leaving some trails unexplored. I really do much better in cities where I have a destination and a specific route to follow. Or, I guess, anywhere I have a map and a planned path (like walking the footpaths in England).

I got back at noon and while I was downstairs I heard the chatter of giggling girls. Hannah had come home for lunch with some friends. (How many? It seemed like lots of girls but was probably only two or at the most three. Jenifer quizzed me later because Hannah was only supposed to bring one friend home...but I really could not recall how many there were! I just said hi then grabbed my things to head out to get lunch.) I hit the salad bar at Albertsons. It took one container for my pile of lettuce and another to fill with veggies and a little bit of "stuff" for my salad. It was a hearty salad!

Later I headed out again for the afternoon. One of the things I wanted to accomplish was locating a place to go for my post-race cinnamon roll tomorrow (if there was time). I detoured into the Hyde Park area to see if there was a cute bakery or something like that there. I didn't see anywhere on my drive through, but I parked and hit the street for a quick survey.

It wasn't a bakery, but I still dropped in to a little shop that sold sport clothes. I was tempted by the sale racks, but didn't really see anything I particularly had to have. I was about to escape without spending any money, when I got chatted up by the store owner who found out I was about to run Robie Creek. She convinced me that because the weather forecast was to be cold and wet, I really needed some wool socks and a packable windbreaker/rain shell. So I succumbed (luckily neither item was very expensive). Spontaneously I asked her if she knew of a place in Boise I could go for a cinnamon roll. After consulting with the shop assistant, they recommended Big City Coffee on 15th & Grove. They assured me that the pastries are scrumptious (and they were right).

It was about mid-afternoon now, so I made my usual pilgrimage to Starbucks and then headed back to the library. First I strolled in to scope out the situation. There were some nice tables where I could sit with my computer. And there were absolutely no signs prohibiting beverages. Still, I was a little nervous about bringing in my latte! I hovered on a bench outside until I saw someone else go in with a drink in her hand. Then I slipped in, keeping as far away from help desks as possible as I slithered through the stalls to an empty table. During my two hours there, I was not reprimanded at all for my beverage, so maybe it is okay after all.

Eventually I felt I should leave and get back to the house. When I got back Jenifer was doing yard work (she's a very hard worker), so I played tennis ball catch with Gracie and sat in a lawn chair reading while she worked. (Hey, I was resting for my run on Saturday!)

At my request, we had pasta for dinner and shortly afterward (it was a late dinner) I went to bed.

And then it was Saturday. Race day. Go time. Well, go time in a few hours.

Unlike the Whidbey Half Marathon, when I had to get up at 4 a.m. and leave home at 5 a.m., for a race start of 8:30 a.m. (and finish at 10:30, hurrah), Robie Creek did not start until 12:00. Noon! And since it started in Boise, only a few miles from where I was staying, I did not need to allow a lot of travel time.

In a way it was nice to not have to set an alarm or worry about leaving super early, but on the other hand the long morning delay meant I would not be done until mid-afternoon, and probably not home until evening. It really made it an all day endeavor. (Unlike Jenifer, who would probably clean the house and put in a new garden in the extra morning hours, I was not capable of taking on any pre-race projects more substantive than eating a leisurely breakfast.)

So that is what I did. I made a pot of oatmeal (regular steel-cut oats, no extra fiber for me today!) and ate a good-sized bowl with dried cherries, a whole sliced banana, cinnamon and nuts. Then I laid in my bunk and read for a while before getting dressed. I had already laid out and packed my race supplies and change of clothes for after the race.

This is what I wore to begin the race: my favorite Nike running pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, and a red running jacket from Lucy's, topped off with the new blue shell and the new waist pack with a disposable camera and some sports beans (which I never ate); my new wool socks and my Asics trail running shoes. (I was ambivalent about wearing the trail shoes because I feel faster in my regular Asics, but I was glad of the sturdier shoes when we hit the dirt and gravel a few miles into the run.) I had brought along an SAS duffel bag (that Gretchen had given me) to pack my change of clothes and other odds and ends (snacks, magazines) to have after the race.

Jenifer went with me and we dropped my car off at a parking area at Idaho Parks and Rec, and she took me to Starbucks before dropping me at Fort Boise where the run was to begin. It was about 10:45 when she dropped me. I had about an hour until it would be time to line up for the start.

Like any big race, there were masses of runners milling about. Unlike a typical big race, there was a mobile fish and chips stand near the starting point! And they were offering samples! I do love fish and chips, but perhaps not right before a half marathon.

I didn't feel as focused as I sometimes do before a run. I doubted that I would manage as thorough a warmup run as I usually like. I had also forgotten to properly stash my ipod, so as to have it available to me if it seemed like a lot of people were using them, or if I was in an extreme state of ipod deprivation emergency! I headed over to an out of the way bandstand, and clumsily positioned the ipod and earphones in my clothes. I don't know why I didn't just wait till I was in the porta-potty—perhaps because of the fear of dropping it right into the potty! I listened to a few seconds of the first song to make sure it was working okay, then turned it off. As it turned out, those few seconds were all the music I listened to throughout the race. In fact, those opening notes played in my head again and again and again throughout the first five miles or so.

I took a short warmup around the park, and popped into another porta-potty in a far corner, undiscovered by other runners (perhaps because it was the baseball field porta-potty). I jogged back to the starting area, and as it was about 11:45, went to the starting area to stand around and wait. There were various announcements, and rousing cries and so forth, and as usual, I wished I could take another last minute potty trip. But the lines were still long, and I knew it was just nerves anyway (I had just squeezed out a few drops, what more could I have left?).

At just about exactly noon, the starting signal went off (for the life of me I can't remember what it was), and we took off!

The race started by looping around the outside of Fort Boise before turning onto a road heading up into the hills. I had stationed myself in mid-pack, I think, and I started out at an easy pace. As we started up the first hill, I heard a woman ask her running companion/husband, "Do you want to walk a little?" He said, "Whatever you want, dear." It was going to be a long run for them!

Since I'd been training for hills for months, the incline didn't bother me that much, but I'll admit I wasn't pushing myself either. (In retrospect I think I could have taken the first seven miles faster than I did. Oh well. Hindsight, and all that.) Within a mile I realized that my windbreaker/rain shell was totally unnecessary, and in fact was a detriment! I slipped it off and tied it around my waist. The inside was already wet with sweat and condensation.

The first four miles or so were on roads, mostly ascending uphill, with occasional flats. After four miles we went onto dirt and gravel for the rest of the run. In contrast to my usual practice, I had already taken water at the first water station, and did so about every other stop (a total of three or four times). That, of course, slowed me down a bit.

The other thing which slowed me down, or at least did not help with speed, was my picture taking. I had bought a disposable camera and periodically slowed or paused to take pictures of the route and other runners. I haven't yet developed the film, so I have no idea if any of my "on the run" photos came out, but I stopped entirely several times so at least those pictures should be in focus.

I did, however, have a slight problem with my gloves flapping in front of the camera! Several of my pictures are marred by an unwanted finger in the frame. Despite the fingers, I had to include this picture because it so perfectly illustrates the agony that some runners were experiencing!

At the five-mile marker I calculated I was running about a ten-minute mile pace. Obviously that's a lot slower than my typical race pace, even going uphill, but it should be noted that this was a steady uphill climb, not just hilly! But I admit, I was running pretty easy (as opposed to "running hard").

(I feel like the gal on the right could be me—but it's not.) (Those are my gloves in the corner, though!)

And I was running without my ipod. I'm sure that affected my ability to set a good pace! One of the things I noticed about not having the ipod on is that I could hear myself breathing. Believe it or not, I did not realize that I breathe heavily while running. I never feel out of breath, except perhaps at the end of a long race when I'm pushing for a big finish. I assume that the fact that I am breathing deeply, but not noticing it, is a good thing.

As we continued to run upward, people all around me were dropping to a walk. I didn't feel any need to walk until we had gone seven or so miles. At that point, in about the last mile before the summit, the climb became significantly steeper. I was still "running," with short, choppy steps, and passing walkers, but I got to the point where I became quite certain I could walk faster than I was running. I broke into a fast walk which was, indeed, faster than the gravity-hindered jog I had been doing. Even at a walk I continued to pass people. During this last mile virtually everyone was walking—I did not see one person still running.

Well, actually that's not true. I did see one person running. As we were almost at the summit I came up beside a young woman who was still plugging away at a run/jog. She looked red and raggedy, but by george, she was running. We proceeded side by side to the summit point, her in a labored jog and me at a brisk walk. The only difference was that she was exhausting herself further and I was getting rested and refreshed by this bit of walking!

Shortly before reaching the summit we passed through another aid station, one which they called McToad's Pub, because the refreshments offered were a bit more than the usual water and fruit. Dramatically dressed volunteers (think Braveheart), offered shots of tequila and cups of beer to those who dared. Others offered pieces of DingDongs and HoHos to less adventurous runners. I passed on the booze, but took a DingDong. After all, this was no place for a diet, and I really did enjoy the bit of chocolate cake!

After the summit the road switched to a steep descent full of hairpin turns. I paused for a moment at the top for a picture—the last one I took before the end of the race—and then threw myself into a hard downward run.

I guess some people find running downhill hard on the knees and joints, but I love it. I ran my legs off. Later I calculated my average paces and while the uphill pace was about 11 minutes per mile (taking into consideration a mile of walking at the top), my downhill pace was about 8:30. Quite a discrepancy!

Of course the distance downhill was not enough to make up for all of the uphill, so in the end my average pace was a bit over 10 minutes per mile.
I pounded across the finish line, then a few seconds later turned around to look at the clock. It said 2:15:45. I figured with my chip difference the time would be around 2:15. (For some reason my published time turned out to be 2:15:59, which makes no sense whatsoever! I'm still calling it 2:15.)

After throwing myself across the finish line and turning in my chip, I set out to collect my race shirt and find my bag. This is where I congratulated myself for bringing a light colored bag, as I looked at the sea of black bags on the ground!

The end of the race is supposed to be something of a party, but I quickly decided I wanted to head back to Boise. After standing in line for the potty (where I changed my sweaty shirt and running jacket for my race shirt and a warm jacket out of my bag), I got in the bus line and made my way onto a bus.

I saw, as the bus headed down the road, that we were 20 miles from Boise. The bus took us to Spring Shores, one of the parking areas for the race. From there, those of us who were going to the next parking area, at Parks & Rec, had to walk to the other end of the big parking lot to catch another bus. It was still 15 miles out of Boise, and so, I guess, about 10 miles to the Parks & Rec lot.

From Parks & Rec I provided a ride to two other runners whose rides were down at Fort Boise, where the race had begun. By the time I dropped them off it was about 4:00, almost two hours after I had finished the race!

My primary objective was to get my cinnamon roll, but first I stopped in to the shop where I bought my socks and jacket the day before. They asked if I was glad to have my layers, and I said (shocking them) "no!" I told them how it had been sunny all the way (without actually accusing them of getting me to buy something I didn't need). I don't mind my purchases, but honestly I should have listened to my own judgment about how many clothes to wear. I have run in all kinds of weather and climates with just the shirt and light jacket. I shouldn't have used more than that this time either.

I arrived at Big City Coffee, my cinnamon roll destination, at about 4:30. The restaurant was open until 6:00, leaving me plenty of time, but was nice and quiet late on a Saturday afternoon. I was charmed from the moment I walked in. The decor, the ambience, and the scrumptious looking pastries and other menu items had me at hello! I ordered my cinnamon roll—a gigantic flat oblong of flaky pastry, with an oozingly gooey center and drizzles of icing—and a giant cup of tea—and settled myself into a cozy sofa seat at the front of the store. I was one of only a handful of customers at this time of day. I flipped through Real Simple magazine and sipped my tea as I savored every delicious bite. I hated to leave, but at 5:40 or so I decided to be on my way before they had to throw me out at 6:00.

I did discover before I left that they have free wireless internet... so while I was sitting in the library on Friday I could have instead been hanging at Big City Coffee like a real writer! I vowed to return to Boise to spend many future hours there.

My last stop before returning to Jenifer's house was Albertson's to get groceries for my dinner. I bought tenderloin steak and salad fixings to make a steak salad. I sometimes like to eat red meat after a long run.

I still wasn't hungry when I got back, though (the cinnamon roll was still hanging around in my stomach), so after taking a shower and changing clothes, I wrote a little then chatted with Hannah (almost 16-year-old daughter of my friends) when she got home. The others were still at the 100-year birthday party for Jenifer's grandma.

Eventually I did repair to the kitchen and made myself dinner while Hannah demonstrated the amazing whirling capacities of their blender by making us fruit smoothies.

Much later that evening Jenifer returned home bearing leftover cake and bottles of wine. I gladly accepted a big piece of carrot cake (with plenty of frosting) and a glass of wine to finish off the evening.

The next day, Sunday, was my return home. My flight didn't leave until 3:00, so Jenifer and I took Gracie out for an hours walk in the hills. Then after eating breakfast, we headed downtown for another visit to Big City Coffee and a little shopping. My oh my, there was a difference in customer volume on Sunday morning compared to Saturday afternoon! The place was buzzing. Still, we managed to find a table to perch at while we sipped our lattes and nibbled on a day-old muffin Jenifer had bought. (I had also bought several scones and a peanut butter bar to bring home. My mother assures me that they were all delicious. I ate part of one of the scones, which I had given to a friend, and I certainly agree.)

After leaving Big City Coffee we headed back downtown for a stop at a sports shop, where I cashed in a coupon from the race for free cookies (oatmeal chocolate butterscotch, currently residing in the back of my freezer). Then we stopped in at Anthropologie. I left Jenifer there in a dressing room (me carrying a bag with a couple of items from the sale room) to head to the airport.

My flight out of Boise was the official end of my Robie Creek weekend. But as it turns out, it was not the complete end. When my parents picked me up at the airport, we headed north to Duke's on Greenlake for an early supper. I had planned on ordering one of my typical salads. I would have done, except I looked at the specials sheets and saw fish and chips. Not just any fish and chips—English style fish and chips made with Kilt Lifter Ale batter. (Remember, I had just run a race with a Scottish theme!) It seemed meant to be. And after all, I had resisted the fish and chips offered before the race!

So I threw caution to the winds and ordered myself fish and chips. They were delicious. And that was the end of my Robie Creek weekend.

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