Robie Creek half marathon is two weeks from today. It’s billed as “The Toughest Half Marathon in the Northwest” and that definition is fairly accurate. The first 8 + miles are uphill – a gradual, long, slow climb to Aldape Summit, where the course almost immediately takes a nosedive down, then levels out for the last 2-3 miles to the finish where you find a noisy, encouraging party atmosphere with lots of eating and drinking and being merry. It’s an event not to miss! Last year was my first time participating and it really did feel like an initiation that I was glad to have passed. Those who have done Robie walk with a certain swagger and like to bring it up in inappropriate times, like, say, when the cashier is telling you the total for your groceries. “That’ll be $75.49.” “Oh, alright.” (Reaching in the pocket), “Why lookie here… right next to my cash, wadded up tight, is my race number for Robie Creek from this year. Would you like to to touch it? You know it IS the toughest half marathon in the northwest (flex flex), but it was no big deal to me at all. Oh, no. That mountain did not take me down! I came. I ran and I conquered.” Cashier. “Miss, that’ll be $75.49.” Some people just don’t get it. 😉
So, today a few of my pals and I met at Fort Boise where the race starts to run to the summit and back. It’s about a 16 mile trip. I knew the weather was going to be iffy, since I obsessively check the hour-by-hour report at night before I run and again before I head out. Glad I did, today, too. What started out as a mild 53 degree, cloudy run turned into rain about a half an hour in, then winds up to 20 mph with icy bits of snow blasting in our faces near the summit. It was intense! It was awesome! It was fun!
I wore my cold gear long sleeved, tech shirt, tights and my trusty Boise State ball cap (GO Broncos!) and my cheapy 99 cent gloves. I was reluctant to wear my nicer gloves since unpredictable weather often means I’m taking off and putting on the gloves a few times and I risk losing one. I also had an extra layer tied around my waist – a thin jacket, for “just in case.” It turned out to be a good thing today.
My pals, Randy and Mark showed up at the start and three other really nice guys did too that I hadn’t had the pleasure of running with before. Everyone was in good spirits when we started and I was happy to be part of such an upbeat group of friends and dogs. I didn’t mention the dogs, did I? Randy brought along Maggie, his beautiful cream colored big dog and Mark had Cali, his longtime running partner Golden Retriever by his side. It was fun to see the pets practically dragging their owners along at times since they were having so much fun running up and down this mountain. I love the way they both looked like they were grinning each time I’d see their faces. Doggie smiles are the cutest things and their passion for running really is inspiring as they can still pull out a pretty intense pace, even after many miles.
My pals are faster than I am and I was feeling some fatigue from the 30 miles already done this week, so I encouraged them to run ahead at their own pace and I turned on my mp3 player to enjoy some tunes. Now, I hardly ever get to run to music, since I like to keep a sharp ear for my cell phone when running during the week, in case my kids needed me when I jog the neighborhood and usually on the weekends I run with other people that I love to socialize with, so I really hardly ever get to listen to music. It felt like a nice little treat rocking out to Pink, Taylor Swift and the Beach Boys as the rain poured down and made little rivers off the brim of my bright orange hat. I felt awesome and right at home despite the odd weather. I ran my first marathon entirely in the rain and always seem to feel pretty happy when I’m doing it. I kept the pace really easy and just took my time getting up the long, slow climb of that mountain. I smiles and thumbs-upped every runner I saw coming down the mountain and there were a lot of them — possibly a couple hundred altogether – also out training for Robie. It felt good to share a smile with so many people today. Runners really are a happy bunch and each smile I gave away was returned and my heart just filled to capacity with kindness, joy and brotherhood as we all jogged along on that hill.
A couple of miles in, I slowed to a walk to take a gel and drink some water. A lady ran up behind me and encouragingly said, “Oh honey, don’t give up yet! There’s still a long ways to go!” I laughed and smiled and told her that I was doing really well, just taking my time since I ran 21 miles two days ago. She gasped and said, “OH! You must be a marathoner!” and I said, “An ultramarathoner, actually.” And it felt really good. We chatted for a bit and she went on ahead.
I thought about it. Last year, I was training for Robie, too. I’d ran my first marathon in October of 2009 and Robie was to be my first half marathon. I had signed up for my first official ultra – the Weiser River 50k which was exactly one week after Robie and I was nervous! Would Robie hurt? Would pushing too hard hurt my chances to even finish the ultra the following week? Could I handle doing back-to-back races like that? I had a lot of fear about it all. Thankfully, everything turned out just fine. I kept my pace conservative for Robie – finishing in 2:20 chip time and went on to complete my ultra the following week. I’d accomplished both goals and become an “Ultra” runner. It was a really exciting time.
I ran my second marathon about 2 weeks after my ultra, then did two more half marathons (breaking two hours both times), PRd at the 10k by about 10 minutes, and PRd my third marathon by 37 minutes in the fall, then gone on to complete the Orcas Island 50k – with 8,000 of elevation gain in February. It’s been a full and exciting year for me! It was fun to reflect on all that’s happened since the last time I ran this hill.
During this time I also started to consider what my goals are for this year. With my ankle injury and the 7 weeks or so where I hardly trained while it healed, I’ve lost some fitness and speed. I don’t really feel like I’m likely to set any PR’s in the next few months and I’m ok with that. Several of my friends just finished a 100 mile race last weekend. I’ve enjoyed hearing all of the adventurous stories about the highs and lows of running such an extreme distance and it’s got me thinking. No – not about the 100 – not yet, at least. But, about the next step up the ultra ladder. I’ve crossed 50k off twice now. The next step is a 50 miler and it’s something I’ve been thinking more seriously about the last few weeks. I have one in mind even — the Bighorn in Wyoming in late June.
When I crossed the finish line at Orcas after nearly 10 hours of running, I still felt good (other than the sprained ankle.) My feet weren’t too sore and I didn’t feel like collapsing on the grass or being hauled into a chair. I felt — great! That’s when the wheels started turning. Hmmm… if I can handle running in the mountains for nearly 10 hours, could I do it longer and farther? That’s the question and I think the answer is “yes.” 🙂 I guess I’ll have to see. Gotta talk the family into making the trip. So.. it’s an interest, but not a firm commitment — yet.
I bumped into my friend, Mark and his dog, Cali about 6.5 miles in. He’d already been to the summit and was coming back down. The winds were fierce at this point and the snow was freezing into ice as it fell. The effect was like a million tiny blades going into any exposed skin on contact. It was painful. Mark’s ears and hands were bright red. He looked miserable and cold. I asked if he was ok. I could tell he wasn’t, so I turned around and decided to stick with him and make sure he was going to be alright. I gave him my jacket that I had tied around my waist and could tell how badly he was hurting when his fingers wouldn’t work enough to pull it all the way on. It was that cold! We ran a little bit and he was still feeling bad. The icy blasts were painful against the face. I gave him my hat and he stopped for a little fuel – Fruit Loops that he carried in a plastic baggie. Now, why didn’t I think of that delicious option? ha ha! Good choice!). Once he’d eaten a bit and gotten his blood sugar up a little and we started moving down the mountain away from the strongest wind and snow, things started to improve. It made me realize how important it is to keep an eye on each other as runners. We’re all in this together and it’s like a big family. It felt good to help.
We ran along a few miles and then our buddy, Randy and his dog, Maggie caught up with us. It was a nice trio to the end. I enjoyed watching the dogs running downhill, practically sprinting as they pulled on their leashes. That made me smile. We were all soaking wet and freezing (did I mention Randy had on shorts?? – so some of us likely more than others.) 🙂 We made it back to the cars, said our goodbyes and I called home. My devoted husband was working on putting the pot roast and veggies in the crock pot (something I’d asked him to do before I left) and it just made my heart melt. What a great husband, I have to let me run off to play in the mountains today while he watched the five kids and got dinner ready. I think I owe him an extra big kiss tonight! I drove home with a smile, happy for the miles, my running friends and most of all – my loving family at home waiting to throw their arms around me as I walked in the door. Life is good!
Happy Running, everyone!!!!
13.27 Miles. 1610 ft gain. 11:35 pace. 2:33 total time. 157 Average Heart Rate. Felt Good.