On May 28, I ran the Coeur d’Alene Marathon in northern Idaho. It seems like I always do a race on Memorial Day weekend, but I tend to keep going back to the same races. This year, I did one I’ve never done before.
I chose Coeur d’Alene this year, because it gave me my third marathon in Idaho. This was my last race before the Bighorn Trail 100. Ideally, I should have done a trail marathon or something hilly to help prepare myself. Instead I chose a road race with only a few hills.
In contrast to other parts of Idaho, the elevation of Coeur d’Alene is only 2,200 feet above sea level. That makes this a good place to go for a fast time. I haven’t been doing speed work. I’ve been building my mileage and emphasizing hills to prepare for Bighorn. Still, it was hard to resist testing the waters to see how fast I could run it. I have three weeks to rest up before Bighorn, so I didn’t see any need to take it easy.
The closest major airport is in Spokane, WA. I flew to Spokane on Saturday and drove about 40 miles to get to Coeur d’Alene. The host hotel for the race was the Coeur d’Alene Resort, but I stayed a few miles away at Hampton Inn. After checking in at Hampton Inn, I drove to Coeur d’Alene Resort to pick up my race packet.
Coeur d’Alene Resort is right on the lake. It was a warm afternoon, so there was a lot of activity near the lake. The resort is also right next to the park where the race starts and finishes. I kind of regretted that I wasn’t staying at the resort.
My race packet included this nice jacket. I’m not sure if they always have jackets or if it was something special they did for their 40th anniversary.
After dinner, I got to bed early. I slept well for about half the night. Then I woke up and had trouble getting back to sleep. At 4:00, I finally got up. There’s a two hour time difference between Minneapolis and Coeur d’Alene, so it felt like 6:00 to me.
The temperature at the start was in the mid-50s. Some people may disagree, but I consider that ideal for running a marathon. It was a sunny day, so I knew it would warm up some during the race, but that’s OK. I’d rather be a little warm in the late miles than cold at the start. I also didn’t have to worry about rain. It was a nice clear day.
The course was mostly an out-and-back along the north shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake. Going through town, we took a different route going out than we did coming back. For the marathon, we ran the same route twice. There was one noticeable hill that we had to run twice in each direction.
This is a small race, but they have awards to the top three men and women in each five-year age group. I’m not as fast as I was a few years ago, but I’m also in a new age group now. I looked up the results in my age group last year. The top three men in my age group finished in 3:19, 3:28 and 4:00, respectively. Based on that, it seemed like placing in my age group was a reasonable goal.
I didn’t know how fast I would need to be to place in my age group, so I asked myself how fast I might be able to run. I’ve felt pretty strong in recent training runs, so I wanted to see if I could break 3:40. That’s the Boston qualifying time for my age group. I’ve already qualified for next year, but that was on a downhill course. I wanted to know if I’ve improved enough to qualify on a course that isn’t downhill.
There were pace groups, but not as many as you would expect to see in a larger race. I saw a 3:30 group and a 4:00 group, but nothing in between. I made a point of lining up in front of the 4:00 group, but behind the 3:30 group.
As we started running, I watched the 3:30 group and made sure I wasn’t quite keeping up with them. As we left the park, the path we were running on was slightly uphill. I felt slightly out of breath running uphill. That was the first sign that I was going too fast.
As we turned onto a street that was slightly downhill, I felt more comfortable. I never felt out of breath again.
The 3:30 pace group was gradually pulling ahead of me. I tried to estimate how far behind them I would be after a mile. I was shooting for a starting pace of about 8:20.
The first mile marker came quickly. My time was 8:06. I suspect the 3:30 group started too fast. I know I did.
In the second mile, I was telling myself to ease up, but I actually went faster. My two mile split was 15:57. The 3:30 group was well ahead of me. They definitely started too fast. So did I.
Early in the third mile, I reached an aid station. They seemed disorganized. They couldn’t fill cups as fast as runners were approaching. I stopped and waited for 10-15 seconds before getting a drink. As I resumed running, it was slightly downhill, so I got back into a fast pace without really trying. Earlier, I was surrounded by other runners. Now I was in a long gap between groups of runners. I had to find my own pace.
At three miles, I checked my watch again. I was slower in that mile, but only because of the time I spent at the aid station.
By now, we were alongside Coeur d’Alene Lake. To our right, we had nice views across the lake. On our left, a hill was providing shade. In the shade it felt chilly, but I knew that wouldn’t last. I enjoyed it while I could.
In the fourth mile, I sped up to 7:59. I knew I was going too fast, but I couldn’t bring myself to consciously slow down. That was the last relatively flat mile. Then we reached the first big hill.
At first, the grade was gradual. Then it got steeper. I told myself not to fight it. I wanted to maintain the same effort, rather than trying to maintain my pace. I slowed noticeably, but it still felt tiring.
I crested the hill and began running down the other side. Then I reached the next mile marker. That mile was 8:37. On the ensuing downhill, I was only trying to rest and recover from the hill. The grade on this side wasn’t as steep, but we were running downhill for a long time. That was my fastest mile so far.
As I neared the turnaround, I noticed there was an earlier turnaround point for the half marathon. The reason for that would become apparent later.
Coming back, it was initially flat, but I knew we were about to begin running the big hill from the other side. I think I slowed down in anticipation of the hill.
From this side, the hill was longer but not as steep. It didn’t take as much out of me. I also didn’t slow down as much. I knew I was reaching the crest when I saw a road sign warning trucks that they were approaching a 6% downgrade.
Running down the hill, I couldn’t help but pick up speed. When I finished the hill and reached the mile marker I saw that I gained more time going downhill than I lost going uphill. My average pace after nine miles was 8:03. I knew that was too fast.
By now, I was seeing a lot more runners going the other way. The half marathon started 30 minutes after the marathon. Those runners were catching up to the marathon field. At first, I saw the leaders moving through the field. Before long, the road was thick with runners.
My pace was beginning to wear on me. I knew I couldn’t sustain it. I was tempted to retreat into my comfort zone and run the rest of the race like a training run. I needed to find a happy medium where my pace was sustainable, but not lazy.
Ahead, I could see a large building next to the lake. At first, I thought it was Coeur d’Alene Resort, but it was too close. It was a different resort. Beyond the resort, I could see mountains in the distance. One of them had snow on it. We were being treated to some beautiful views. I wished I had my camera, but I left it in the car.
Before the race, I made a decision. This wasn’t going to be a “go slow and take pictures” race. I left the camera behind so I could race. Having made that decision, I couldn’t just run easy the rest of the way. I renewed my commitment to run fast, even though it was getting difficult.
The last four miles of this lap would be relatively flat. The first four miles of the second lap would also be relatively flat. I had eight miles to get into a good rhythm before I reached the big hill again.
I ran the next mile in 8:37. That matched my slowest previous mile, which had been mostly uphill. Mile 11 was even slower. I ran that one in 9:06. That almost derailed me mentally. Then I reminded myself that it could have been a misplaced mile marker. I shouldn’t let one split affect my approach to the rest of the race.
As it turns out, it was a misplaced mile marker. My next mile was faster, although I was never going to get back to mile times under 8:30.
In the last mile of the loop, there were an unusual number of turns. We were on residential streets now. This is also how we would finish the race. It made me wonder if there’s some unwritten rule race directors all follow. Thou shalt make it impossible for the runners to see how far it is to the finish line.
I felt like I was struggling to finish this mile. I felt like I would expect to feel in the last mile of a race. This was only the last mile of the first loop. I still had to run everything again.
At this point, I knew I would slow down substantially in the second half. My hope was that I could keep my pace under nine minutes in the second half, but I wasn’t optimistic.
As we reached the park, I could see where the half marathon runners would turn left to run to the finish. We kept going straight. That’s why the half marathon had a different turnaround point. We weren’t running two identical loops.
There wasn’t a half marathon marker, but from my 13 mile split, I estimate I got there just under 1:48. I was on pace for 3:36, which is a Boston qualifying time, but I knew the second half would be much slower.
As I started the second half, I noticed some discomfort on the left side of my chest. I didn’t think it was heart-related, but the location was disconcerting. I asked myself if I had any other symptoms that were consistent with heart problems. I didn’t have any pain, weakness or numbness in my left arm. That was good. I didn’t have any shortness of breath either. I was slowing down, but that was because I ran the first half too fast and I was getting tired. My breathing felt easy. I kept running, but I didn’t want to push too hard.
In my second loop, I segmented the race according to the grade. I started with a four mile segment what was relatively flat. Then I would have the hill – up then down from each direction. Finally, I would finish with four more relatively flat miles.
My 14th mile was slower than nine minutes. Then I ran one in the 8:30s. That’s how it went. I didn’t know if my pace was erratic or if some of the mile markers were off. Whenever I reached a mile marker, I asked myself what my time was for the last two miles combined. As long as my two mile splits were under 18 minutes, I was doing fine. They always were.
In this lap, there was more direct sunlight. The sun was at a higher angle now. There were still shady spots, but in the sun it was getting warm.
When I eventually reached the hill, I took it slowly. I slowed down substantially. Have you ever watched a mountain stage of the Tour de France? You know how a rider looks when they crack and fall off the back of the peloton? That’s how slow I was going. The important thing, however, was that I wasn’t wearing myself out. I was maintaining the same effort as before.
I used the downhill to recover. I didn’t worry about regaining my pace. That would happen by itself. My time doing up was slower than in the first lap, but only by about 45 seconds. That was a pleasant surprise. My time going downhill was also slower, but it’s worth noting that I was comparing it to a 7:47 for the comparable mile of the first lap. I weathered the hill OK. Now I had to turn around and do it again.
As I made the turn, I had another pleasant surprise. Suddenly, I felt a nice cool breeze off the lake. That made a huge difference. It kept me from overheating in the late miles of the race.
As I started up the hill for the last time, I checked my time for mile 20. Either that mile marker was badly misplaced or I sped up to 7:40. I knew I would be slow going up the hill, but I braced myself for an unusually slow time. If the previous mile was short, this one was long.
The hill isn’t that steep in this direction, but it seems to go on and on. When I finally saw the 6% downgrade sign, I was relieved to know I had made it to the top. Running down the other side was just icing on the cake.
My time for that mile was unusually slow, but my two mile split was under 18 minutes. After picking up speed going down the other side, I had just over four miles to go. If I could average nine minutes per mile, I’d finish with a time in the low 3:40s. Even if I slowed to ten minutes per mile, I’d still easily beat the 3:49:33 I ran at the Cowtown Marathon. That’s my fastest recent time on a course that wasn’t downhill.
In the last four miles, I regained my confidence. I gradually picked up my pace as the remaining distance became more manageable.
Throughout the second half, I sometimes asked myself about the discomfort in my chest. I still noticed it occasionally, but it was no longer constant. If I didn’t think about it, I didn’t even notice it.
The last mile still had lots of turns, but this time I was psychologically prepared for it. I kept pressing on and finished in 3:41:04. I was pleased to hold it together so well in the second half, but I was disappointed to learn that I was 4th in my age group.
After getting some post-race food, I started talking to another runner I had seen on the course. He always got to the turnarounds a few minutes ahead of me, and he always looked strong. As we talked, I learned that he was in my age group. He finished four minutes ahead of me. Even in the first half, when I was running too fast, he was always ahead of me. Even with optimal pacing, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with him. He was just stronger. Knowing that, I was no longer disappointed about finishing 4th.
I was also no longer disappointed about not qualifying for Boston. It’s possible with better pacing that I could have done it, but I still have a lot to be happy about. First, I only slowed down by five minutes in the second half. I was expecting to slow down by at least 13 minutes. I kept it together much better than I thought I would. Overall, I ran more than eight minutes faster than Cowtown, despite my poor pacing. That’s a good sign that my fitness is improving.
After the race, I wasn’t noticing any discomfort in my chest. After getting back to the hotel, I felt some discomfort as I was getting cleaned up. I notice it from time to time. It seems to correlate with certain movements of my left side. Hopefully it’s just a sore muscle in my back or chest, but I’m going to pay attention to it.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Average Pace: 8:26
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 336