After two weeks of marathon routes set in the most transendant places, my next marathon brings me to a somewhat desolate place. Southwest Idaho. Barren fields and boring views. Cheap airline flights dictated my races in this area and the last minute deal I got to Hawaii opened up an extra week in my schedule. Although it was a long haul from San Francisco to Boise where some long time friends lived, I got to break up the trip by stopping by beautiful Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe has been on my travel wishlist for some time. So please realize that after three incredibly beautiful locations to run (Big Sur, Maui Coast, and Lake Tahoe), Nampa can only seem plain and lonely. This was my first impression as I arrived for the Lowell Lake Marathon.
I will start off by saying, I should be a little biased about this race because this was the first time in two months that I beat my personal record. I shaved 7 minutes and finished with a 5:17:21. I was a little disappointed in myself because I was gunning for under 5:15, but a 7 minute improvement is nothing to sneeze about. However, despite this win for me, I was discouraged in how the race was run.
Firstly, I was a little downcast at the race packet pick up. The volunteers were friendly enough. Guest speakers, scheduled demonstrations, great vendors with new or interesting gear are things that I look for in a decent expo. However, when you only have 7 vendors and 3 of them don’t show up, this doesn’t come across as a vote of confidence from the sponsors. I mention this because it eventually has an impact on my race day finish.
The race was abnormally warm for the beginning of April (this is becoming repetative, I know. I’m like the anti-Jack Frost, bringing melting and unseasonably hot weather where ever I go). Clear skies and crisp air started off our morning. The race starts with a quick run down the steepest incline of the course (something you regret as you climb back up to get to the finish line on this out and back course). You only get the briefest glimpse of the lake before you plunge down that hill and surround yourself with plowed empty fields. Most of the course is run along this farmland, plowed empty furrows not even showing the promise of crops to come. The lake itself sits just out of view, hidden behind homesteads, farms, and forrests. Running out the beginning of the course, you barely notice the rolling hills that pyramid up to a point around the fifth mile then taper to the gentlest of downhills to take you to the big turn near mile 6. Here you start to get a good gander at the best feature of the course, Lowell Lake and the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. At mile 7, the road runs along a dam on the western edge of the lake, a flat, hard concrete road with gravel to the side, a little less forgiving than the rest of the road. The next five to ten miles are a good place to pick up some time. The road here is fairly flat compared to the the first 6 miles of the course. There are also wide meandering curves for the runners who like to cut time by “running the tangents”. Five miles of flat curves to the turn around (which was not really well marked. I had to ask the ladies at the 13.1 table and they said it was the end of the table.) Then five miles back to the dam.
This was where this race got a little dicey for me. Just after mile 18 you turn back onto Riverside Road. Even though today was a banner day for speed for me, I’m still slow compared to most runners so this is around 10:30 and the traffic was pretty heavy at this point. Initially, when we were running on the dam, you can run on a gravel path to the side of the road, but after 18 miles, I’m a little leery of this. I’m at my weakest at this point and unstable footing is not something I want to deal with. However the speed of the cars and the fact that the course design put us on the side of the road with the traffic (usually as runners, we position ourselves for safety against the traffic) forced me of onto the gravel. The problem was compounded when we turned onto Orchard Avenue for miles 20 through 24. There were many places where there was no shoulder and we needed to run on the road. Although I saw volunteers putting up signs for the race, they were not runner’s ahead/race in progress signs, they were construction signs. Quite frankly, if I’m a driver and I see construction signs and no construction or people wearing construction worker garb, I keep going the speed I’m going. This was an area I felt very unsafe and unprotected on the road.
I should also note that as you are running back to the Start/Finish Line, those slight rolling hills are much more daunting in the last 10k than in the first. There is a slightly different angle coming back than when heading out, especially in miles 20 and 22. From 22.5 to 25.9 it is either flat or downhill, with that final push uphill to get to the finish line.
One final note of disappointment was the finish line services. This day was a triumph for me and I was looking forward to a little bit of a finish line party. However, it seemed that most of the sponsors/vendors had packed up and headed home after the last of the half marathoners crossed the finish line. This was just annoying. There were supposed to be physical therapists/massage therapists, members of the armed forces were to be serving lunch and other things. Later, a friend who finished the half marathon posted pictures and all of those amenities were in full Highland fling for the half marathoners and fast marathoners. Those of us at the back of the pack got luke warm beer, dried out hot dog rolls and burnt cold hot dogs, brown bananas and over concentrated Crystal Lite. I’ve been told jokingly before that if I want the good stuff at the finish line, I need to run faster. This was definitely the case at this race.
I just feel that if you pay $80 for an event that isn’t going to a charity or worthy cause, that the first priority should be road safety which I did not feel was acheived. This was the second race I’ve been to out here in the west, where there was no police presence to moderate speed or traffic. Support at some of the water stations was lackluster, with one lady not even getting out of her truck or even waving at us, just filled up liquid cups and set out dried-out-from-sitting-in-the-hot-sun oranges. Lastly, you should make sure that the finish line party is as good the first hour as it is for the last. I was grateful for the cute medal and free photos, but between the safety issue and the overall boring views on the course, I would want to find another race to check Idaho off your list.
Convenience Has A Cost
I had chosen this race because I wanted more actual races and it fit my revised timeline. I got to stay nearby with great and supportive friends. I earned a new Personal Record. Did I really stay true to my mission statement – beautiful runs in beautiful places? There is an old sales model that says you can only get 2 out of 3 of the following things: Quality, Price, Convenience. If you want good quality and it’s convenient for you, you’re going to have to pay a higher price. If you want to pay a low price in a way that’s convenient for you quality will go down. Sometimes, you only get one out of three. I could have run a much more beautiful course just an hour away, on my own, for free and felt a lot safer. Choose wisely.
Do Not Wave Off Faster Runners
This is another subtle form of negative thinking. I will be running along and start talking to a faster runner. As we are conversing I will notice that my pace will pick up and that we are running faster. At some point, I will wave off that faster runner and let them know I can’t keep up. It is not my responsibility to worry about their pace, I should just worry about mine. When I get tired, I should slow to a healthier pace and let them decided when they are going to leave me. I certainly shouldn’t skip my walk breaks (certainly no more than one). Now to find a balance between the high of talking to another runner and the discipline of running my own race. I now know it begins with this step.
As you could imagine, after this race I was feeling pretty tired. At mile 20, as I was doing the math, I didn’t think I could PR. Fortunately, a pair of Marathon Maniacs passed me at that time and motivated me to hunker down and give it my best shot. I owe my pace in mile 21, 23, 24, and 25 to them. I was feeling wonderfully strong and accomplished after this race with a very first half and last inning save towards the end. No problems the next day with ankles, knees, hips or feet and two days later I was doing some pretty aggressive hill training. We were even a little bit above sea level (2000 ft) to add a little more spice to the mix. I am looking forward to running next week in one of the legendary running arenas – Eugene, Oregon to run the route of the Eugene Marathon. I look forward to you joining me. As always, I welcome your comments or views about this article and your own experiences with this race.