Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Race Report: Freakin' Fast Marathon

A little under a week prior to the Freakin' Fast Marathon in Idaho, fire broke out in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area just east of Portland, Oregon.  The wildfire, unfortunately started by teens who lit fireworks in the forest, spread to over 34,000 acres of pristine Pacific Northwest forest, long considered to be Oregon's "crown jewel," with North America's largest concentration of waterfalls, and home to 800 wildflower species.  Smoke from the fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes on the eastern fringes of Portland's metro area, as well as cities downwind along the river.  It, along with several other wildfires burning in the area, greatly affected air quality all throughout the northwest; in Idaho, air quality index (AQI) numbers were spiking into dangerous and unhealthy levels.  The Freakin Fast Marathon race director Wayne Ebenroth emailed participants to let them know that the race would still go on, as long as AQI numbers stayed under 200.  On Wednesday, stations in Idaho City, Boise, Garden City, Meridian, and Nampa were elevated - not yet above 200, but very close.  The following day, AQI forecast in Boise was at 175.  On Idaho's DEQ site, Idaho City was listed at 181, Garden City at 95, Meridian at 181, and Nampa at 167.  Those improved even further the following day, and by Friday evening, the forecast for Boise was an AQI of 108.  So we were definitely on for Saturday.

Arriving on the last flight into Boise!
I left work in Jamaica at 4:15pm, and got to my gate at LaGuardia at 5:02pm.  Very impressive, considering in all the commute time it take to get there, and pretty impressive for a Friday afternoon.  My flight left New York only ten minutes late, and we even were wheels up much quicker than I would expect at LaGuardia. I connected in Denver, and grabbed dinner during my layover. My flight took off at 10pm, and would be flying late into Boise, arriving at midnight.  I pick up my car, and it's brand new - a 2018 Nissan Versa with only THREE miles on it.  The counter agent tells me that it was delivered to the airport earlier that afternoon.  I drive the 15 minutes to my friend Kimberlee's house in Boise's North End and went straight to bed, falling asleep around 1am, as she and her husband Eric were already fast asleep. I was getting up at 5am, as we were to get to Riverglen Junior High School to catch our shuttle buses to our respective starts at 6am.

Early morning drive to the shuttles!
Four hours later, I'm awake, and get myself dressed for the race.  Kimberlee is running the half, a new distance for this September event, as the Freakin' Fast Marathon and Half Marathon are usually run separately.  This year, there was a snafu with the buses during the half marathon held in July, so the race director decided to hold a last minute "make up" half, mainly for locals who didn't get to run the July event, as many were requested to help out with shuttling out-of-towners to the start of the half marathon when the buses didn't arrive.  The shuttles were both leaving from Riverglen Junior High, only fifteen minutes away; with the shuttles for the full leaving at 6 and the half leaving fifteen minutes later at 6:15.  We leave the house with more than enough time to spare, and even stop to get Kimberlee her Starbucks mobile order.  I get on the second bus that heads up the mountain, and end up falling asleep on the 50 minute ride up the mountain to the startline at the top of Bogus Basin.

The top of Bogus Basin
The startline is located at Pioneer Lodge, located mid-mountain from Shafer Butte in Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, a popular skiing location up the mountain about ten miles (as the crow flies) northeast of the Boise city limits.  The course would twist and turn along Bogus Basin Road, the road our buses took us up, a two-lane road that turns some 172 times. From the top of the mountain down to Boise, it loses 3,400 feet of elevation as the terrain changes from mountain forest to dry sagebrush foothills.

Marathoners at the ready...
We arrived at the top, elevation 6,765 feet, and it was a bit breezy when we got off, definitely colder than when we boarded down at the junior high school in Boise.  We still had about 40 minutes to go before the race start, and everyone was just milling about, waiting for other buses to arrive, and the line to the five or six port-a-potties was getting longer.  There were less than 150 of us up there, but you know... runners gotta do what they gotta do before a race.  I went over to one of the buildings, and sat on the floor of its shielded porch to get out of the chilling breeze, alongside a couple other Marathon Maniacs from out of town. Soon, Wayne came on the PA and made announcements, giving us the lowdown on where we'd start from and other immediate race logistics. It was all pretty informal, especially with the fact there were only some 120 or so of us doing the full marathon.  We had chips on our bibs, but there was no real start mat - we were all going to start at the sound of the truck's horn that would head down the mountain in front of us, at "gun time."  While we were to start at 7:20, we had about a ten minute delay with some of the last few people using the port-a-potties, and then I sang the national anthem to mark Idaho off my list.

The national anthem with a mountain backdrop

Starting down the mountain...
As soon as I finished, Wayne headed to the truck and coordinated his stop watch with the driver - and "HONK" - at 7:33am, we started off!  In the shadow of Shafer Butte, we started down the mountain along the switchback approach, clocking in some gravity-aided first couple miles - my first two being a mind-boggling 8:14 and an 8:40, losing about 550 feet in elevation.  With it being an informal race, there were no mile markers either, but the course was still well marked with cones and signage to show the direction in which we were to run.  The road flattened out to another level of parking in front of the Frontier Point Lodge and Nordic Center, and we proceeded on an out and back of 3/4 miles in each direction, on loose gravel, with some fifty feet of elevation change rolling upward and downward.  My third mile slowed down significantly, as I began to walk, especially after reaching the turnaround point.  I had thought I was far behind the majority of the runners, as several folks passed me in the first two miles, but upon reaching the turnaround, there were still several behind me still on their way to the turnaround point - but gaining on me quickly.  Despite my lack of oxygen, I continued onward, pausing to walk on and off over the next couple miles, as the road stayed even and actually rose a little bit over the next two miles.  Whatever time I had gained by taking off at a blistering pace over the first two miles was eaten up by some slow 4th and 5th miles.  Add to that - my stomach was in knots, probably from all the jostling caused by running downhill.

Forest views... and some smoky air
After the 5 mile mark, we began to lose some elevation again, and my split time sped back up again, clocking in a 9:13 mile.  There were a set of port-a-potties at mile 6, but I continued on, thinking, let me get the first 10K in, some sports drink, and then I'll finally use the facilities.  Thankfully, an aid station came up just as we approached mile 7, and I had a single port-a-potty available for my use.  I lost about three minutes, but I emerged out of that sauna of a box feeling much better.  And it made quite a bit of difference; mile 8 clocked in at 12:00, but that included my bathroom break - but I put the gas pedal on from then on.  My next seven miles would be the fastest in my entire race - clocking in miles between 8:32 and 8:43, even stopping quickly during the aid stations for water/sports drink.  I was catching up, and catching up BIG time.
The Boise Ridge Mountains

Exiting the Boise Nat'l Forest...
The scenery changed rather drastically from green mountain forest to desert as we continued to descend down the mountain. Coming into view far in the distance below was the city of Boise, shrouded by a hazy cloud of smoke from the wildfires that have plagued the western and mountain states for the last several weeks.  As we continued down the mountain, we moved from rural Boise County into Ada County, just as we also exited the Boise National Forest, near the 11 mile mark.  We passed many a brand-new hillside mansion, obscuring the natural beauty of the landscape.  Speeding down the mountain in the right lane, we also had several cars pass by in the other lane, led by a pilot vehicle leading them up and down the mountain and past the runners without impeding their forward momentum.  We reached the halfway point of the race at 4,062 feet of elevation, and I posted an approximately 2:04:43 first half, one of my fastest half marathon times in quite some time.  Considering I had a three minute port-a-potty stop and it wasn't ALL downhill, I could've pushed even closer to the elusive sub-2 hour half.  From the start to this point of the race, we had lost 2,703 feet of elevation. 

Dramatic change of scenery into desert...
Wildflowers along the road
Chugging forward
(Official photo by
Freakin' Fast Marathon)
My speed continued well past the halfway point, clocking sub-9 minute miles for mile 14 and mile 15, when I finally took my first GU of the race.  I had caught up to some of the back-of-the-pack runners of the half marathon, and even passed some marathoners who had passed me when I took my bathroom break.  Then, all of a sudden, mile 15.5, and I face my first uphill battle in over nine miles.  It was minimal - a hill of only 65 feet of climb, but still enough to force me to take a real walk break, something I had stopped really doing other than at the aid stations since the extreme downhill section started.  My mile 16 split was a 10:27.  Fortunately, the hill was only about 1/4 mile, and was followed with a nice stretch of downhill, but another two hills followed, so my mile split for the 17th mile crested over 11 minutes.  That mile was NOT "freakin' fast." Two more downhill miles followed before it flattened out significantly as we entered Boise city limits.

One of the 172 turns
The scenery changed abruptly to sprawling single family homes along the foothills of Bogus Basin, in the Highlands neighborhood of Boise.  Here was where we first encountered some of the course marshals volunteering during the race to direct car traffic going up and down the mountain; and the half marathon also split off to the left to finish their race just off of Bogus Basin Road in the parking lot of Highlands Elementary School.  Of course, we marathoners were just about to hit the 19 mile mark of the race (and this last bit of downhill got me to return to a strong 9:10 mile split), just as we continued on past Simplot Hill, where the former mansion of potato magnate J.R. Simplot once stood - instead, a massive American flag waved in the breeze.  Another mile down the Bogus Basin Road was left, and the last bit of downhill before we made our first right turn since early on in the race, onto Hill Road.

The scenery changes, houses along the road.  And this amazing photo with the clouds and sun.
By now we were past three hours into the race, and it was bright and sunny at 10:45am.  As the sun continued to beat down on us, we entered the "flat" section of the course, which, on tired and downhill-beaten legs 20 miles in reduced me to run-walk intervals solely based on landmarks rather than actual run time.  Hitting the wall was a factor here, mainly because the temperature made it tough.  Some runners had gone up onto the sidewalk, but I continued to use the asphalt to my advantage, using its slight cushion on my knees as I progressed forward. I continued to pass other marathoners as we made our way northwestward along Hill Road, a long 2 3/4 mile stretch before we turned left onto N. Collister Drive.  My mile splits dropped significantly, but I knew I was well under my PR, based on the fact that I had banked so much time in the first half of my race, and well into the second half, too.  Just how much time, though, depended on how fast I'd make my closing miles.

We reached the 23 mile mark along Collister Drive, which was a short one mile section before we turned right into a residential street.  Here, I managed to pass several more marathoners, who were taking advantage of the first shade trees to cool us down in quite sometime. A large group of marathoners began to walk as we approached an aid station at the 24 mile mark near the baseball park, but I carried on, knowing that as long as I stayed below 12 minute miles, I'd go under 4:30 and have a VERY strong PR in my hands. From mile 24 at Elmer Street, to where we turned right onto Pierce Park Lane, I just continued to surge on.  I was pretty much alone as I ran northward on Pierce Park Lane, a mile where I chose to reflect back on the fact I had run a very strong race, and I just needed another twenty minutes to finish strong.  Along the way, a car passed by cheering me on by name, and I noticed it was Kimberlee with a car full of passengers making their way from the half marathon finish to the marathon finish!  I had told her before the race that I was aiming for a 4:30-5:00 finish, but at that point in time, I was bound to get to the finish line even before that projection!

Coming in for a HUGE PR...
(photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
We re-emerged back onto Hill Road, turning left and encountering our last big hill, before I looked down at my watch and saw that I was approaching 4:20 with a little over half a mile left to go.  This was going to be a BIG PR.  I have to say, at the beginning of this year, I set a quiet goal to break 4:30 in the marathon. My PR for the last two years was set at Rock n Roll San Antonio in December of 2015, a time of 4:37:21. I had never really told anyone that I had that goal, it was just in the back of my mind since I had two stellar marathon finishes to end 2016, just off my PR by about 1-2 minutes. Most of my marathons finish in the 5 hour range- I'm usually quite thrilled if I get under 5.  But the fact that I was going to eclipse it by as much as ten minutes... I was more than thrilled.


With my legs going strongly under me, I crossed the street and made my way for the last push turning left onto Gary Lane, and I could see the cones leading into the parking lot of Riverglen Junior High School not too far in the distance.  Before long, I was there, and at the right turn, I could see the finish line.  Kimberlee yelled out for me, and I yelled back... "I'm going to PR!"  To a barrage of cheers, I passed the timeclock, displaying 4:24:50... which we would later find out was off by just over two minutes.  I crossed the timing mat at the finish and I had a new PR... just what that was, I'd have to wait a little bit to find out. I had run a 4:27:00 flat.  I PR'd by 10 minutes and 21 seconds at my 47th lifetime marathon, and even crazier... my 23rd marathon OF THE YEAR.

50 ST8ERs with our finisher medals!
I was exhausted, but more than thrilled by this result.  I didn't go in with the mindset that I would PR; I just knew I had the capability if I kept my mile splits in check.  I didn't know that I could push my splits as fast as I could, managing consecutive miles well under 9 minutes apiece.  After some orange juice and shade, I got my legs massaged by the onsite massage therapist, before heading back to Kimberlee's place to meet up with her; she had left a little earlier to help out the marathoners still out on the course, as the temperatures had soared well into the mid-80s by that point, nearly 20 degrees warmer than at the start.  We set out for our victory meal, riding together in her convertible back up the mountain to take my customary headstand photo before going to Highlands Hollow Brewhouse for a much needed late lunch. 

A TRUE Victory Headstand!

I ran from here down to here!
We returned back to her house so we could finally shower away the sweat from the day, and also met up with her husband Eric, who had just returned from a long bike ride himself, before heading back out to experience more of Boise for the night. We hit up the Hyde Park Historic District also in the North End, where at Hyde Park Pub, I grabbed a beer and got to try out Idaho-style finger steaks, a Boise-centric food item consisting of 2-3" long strips of steak battered with flour and deep-fried.  We also then headed into the downtown area, parking on the campus of Boise State University before going to the Boise Art Museum's annual Art in the Park, an open-air festival held every year on the weekend following Labor Day in Julia Davis Park, where visitors of all ages and interests can view and purchase arts and crafts from 250 artisans. I even spotted a corgi in the park!


Sunset over Boise
As the sun began to set, we hit up one more spot to check out the sunset... and set it did, quickly... we headed right back up to the Boise Mountains, this time going to the top of Table Rock, a mountain pillar located southeast of downtown Boise.  It's a prominent landmark offering panoramic views of the Treasure Valley and Owyhee Mountains, as well as the Boise Foothills where it sits.  It was still hazy from wildfire smoke, but the sun illuminated the dusky sky a neon pink, as it quickly set over the horizon.  We closed out this eventful Saturday going through the drive thru of Westside Diner, near Kimberlee and Eric's home, to pick up an Idaho Ice Cream Potato - vanilla ice cream, dipped in cocoa to resemble a baked potato, with the requisite whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top.  I slept soundly that evening!

Beautiful graffiti murals in Freak Alley

The Idaho State Capitol
Mmmm... bacon!
The following morning, we headed back to downtown to grab food at BACON (holy cow, bacon flight!) and then meet up with some friends of Kimberlee and Eric around the corner at Alia's Coffeehouse for breakfast.  We walked around the alluring "Freak Alley" area of Downtown Boise, the largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest and a Boise institution since 2002. It began with a painting of a single alley doorway and now extends from the alley itself to a gravel parking lot. Murals are painted over and replaced by new murals (or incorporated into them) every two years; collectively it is the work of more than 200 artists.  We then stopped over at the nearby Idaho Capitol building before heading back to the house for me to grab my stuff and head to the airport for my 2:30 flight.  I headed home happy, with a new PR in my pocket.

No comments:

Post a Comment