Potatoes, Pain, and Perfection – Pocatello Half Marathon Race Report

Psst – Hey! I’m on my way to St. Kitts and Nevis right now for the Nevis Running Festival! Follow me on Instagram for the latest adventures.

When asked what I like most about running a marathon or half marathon in every state, one thing I always mention is that races take me to places that I probably wouldn’t go otherwise. While I have visited Idaho on multiple occasions, I had never been to beautiful Pocatello, which sits in the southeastern corner of the state. I chose the Pocatello Half Marathon for my Idaho race for a couple of reasons: first, I heard it was beautiful and well organized, and second, because the full marathon course is known to be a net downhill, which Patty and Kate were excited about!

While Pocatello itself isn’t the cheapest place to fly into, nearby Salt Lake City wasn’t too bad. Kate, Patty and I all flew in from our respective states (Florida, Oklahoma, and South Carolina) and landed in SLC before lunch, giving us plenty of time to make the easy 2.5-hour drive north. If you’re looking into doing this race, this is a great transportation option that can probably save you some major cash, especially if you share a rental car with some friends.

The race itself hosts about 1,000 participants between the marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k, and 1-mile run, and the expo is held at the Clarion Inn, which is the host hotel for the race. Our room at the Clarion was literally ten feet from the expo, so it could not have been more convenient and easy in terms of logistics! There were a few vendors plus packet pickup, so it would be easy to pick up any last minute supplies if you needed them. There were two things about the expo that were extremely exciting for me, though – picking up my free bag of Idaho potatoes AND snagging a copy of the Idaho State Journal, which had my picture on the front page! I was featured in an article about the Pocatello Marathon along with fellow South Carolinian and Marathon Maniac Elizabeth Gray, who is running marathons to raise awareness about domestic violence!

img_7095-3-1024x1024-1-2 When was the last time someone gave you a free sack of potatoes at a race expo? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

We had some time to kill before dinner, and thankfully, one of my Facebook friends made the excellent suggestion to visit the Idaho Potato Museum in nearby Blackfoot. Now, if you know me, you know that I love an obscure museum. I believe that a museum devoted entirely to potatoes qualifies as obscure, and you guys, I am not exaggerating – it was incredible. The gift shop alone was next level – think potato lip balm, potato soap, potato Christmas ornaments, potato shirts, and potato everything. But the absolute best part (besides learning fascinating potato-related facts and seeing the world’s largest potato crisp – not to be confused with chip – obviously) was the giant baked potato out in front of the museum and the smart phone holder that conveniently allowed us to take selfies! Amazing.

img_7110-1024x768-1-2 It is imperative that you visit the Idaho Potato Museum and take a picture in front of this giant potato immediately.

There’s really not enough I can say about the Idaho Potato Museum. You just need to visit it and embrace the kitsch. Thank me later.

Race morning dawned bright and early – for Patty and Kate, that is! While the marathon started at 6:15, the half marathon didn’t start until 8 am, so I actually didn’t have to wake up super early. I have to admit – I had a little (a lot) of FOMO as they were getting ready to leave for the race. Although I know that marathons are not what is best for my body anymore, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little wistful when I’m entered into an event that offers them as an option. Never mind the fact that I am not even a little bit in marathon shape – I’m choosing to overlook that. Anyway, a little tiny piece of me wished that I was headed out with them, but I knew the half marathon was going to be rough enough as it was.

img_7122-1024x1024-1-2 Rocking the red white and blue before the start!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been struggling with some major digestive issues for awhile now and am in the process of eating a lot of food that makes me extremely sick in order to see how my body is affected. In addition to the gamut of digestive problems you might be able to imagine, this process has also left me with terrible headaches and virtually no energy. It’s not the most conducive to running and it’s not the most conducive to living my (rather busy) life in general, but a planned race is a planned race. So I set my goals to have as much fun as possible, absorb the atmosphere, and remember why I was out there in the first place.

I got off to a pretty good start even before the race began, when I met LeeAnn and Trieste – fellow half marathon participants – on the bus ride to the start. All of the races are point-to-point courses, so it is necessary to grab one of the shuttle buses from the host hotel area to the start. We found ourselves chatting like old friends in no time, and I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I have come to love this sport in the first place. You meet the kindest, most fun people in the process!

So, just like I did when I wasn’t sure how my 50th and final marathon would go last year, I decided to Instagram live from the course. While the race was originally supposed to be a goal race for me, that obviously was not going to be the case, so I figured I might as well have fun! I started out with the 2:10 pacer for the sake of having people to run with, but I quickly remembered how hard it is to try and run with a pace group and Instagram at the time. I didn’t fall, but I did basically collapse trying to catch up with my pace group. Oops.

img_7128-1024x1024-1-2 So beautiful!

I can’t say that the race is exactly full of spectators, because it’s not. There were several very enthusiastic families that piled all their kids into a van and would drive down the road a couple of miles, get out, cheer like crazy, and then pile back in and head a couple more miles down the road to do it all again, which I thought was extremely excellent. It’s a pretty rural race, though, so if you need a lot people screaming their faces off for you, this might not be your race. If you love gorgeous scenery and potato plants, though, it is most definitely the race for you.

img_7125-1024x768-1-2 Fields and fields – I like to think they were potatoes (they probably were)

There was a man running with our pace group who was local to the area, and he was full of fascinating facts. Did you know, for example, that southeastern Idaho averages only 9 inches of rainfall per year? Well, it does, which probably explains why the mountains are brown instead of green. The lush green fields come from the groundwater associated with the Snake River. While I’d like to say I was feeling fantastic, that was most definitely not the case, so the facts were a welcome distraction. My stomach was upset from the first couple of miles, but worse was the fact that I was completely lacking in energy. You know that feeling when you take way too much Benadryl, but you are too wired to fall asleep? It was that kind of feeling, but starting at mile 4. Clearly not ideal.

img_7131-1024x768-1-2 Running the gap!

Still, I stuck with the pace group between bathroom and water stops and just did the best I could to keep them in my sights for as long as possible.  I knew once they were gone, I would start moving even slower, and I mostly just wanted to sit down. Around mile 8.5, I lost them for good, but I was pretty pleased that I was able to keep them around for that long, given the circumstances. Luckily for me, my spirits were about to be lifted by the most excellent aid station at mile 10 – the Team USA station! In case you hadn’t noticed, I was rocking a pretty sweet American flag shirt for this race. Patty, Kate and I have tried to wear matching shirts for as many races as possible, so when they asked me which one we should wear for this race, I half-jokingly sent a link to this one. It was during the Olympics and I was feeling particularly patriotic, plus, I knew this race was on a holiday weekend, and I happen to run a lot of international races. To my surprise and delight, they agreed, and I am now the proud owner of this excellent singlet. I may never wear anything else.

img_7136-1024x1024-2 I found my people at the Team USA aid station at mile 10! Here I am practicing my rhythmic gymnastics.

The thrill of doing rhythmic gymnastics at an aid station definitely pepped me up (the medal they let me wear didn’t hurt, either), but I still had a 5k left to go. After making a final bathroom stop at mile 10, I found Trieste on the course and we ended up running most of the last few miles together. She was doing run/walk intervals, which was absolutely perfect to keep me moving, because I probably would have just walked it in otherwise. She meets up with her parents several times a year at races across the country, and her mom runs the 10k! I think that’s so cute. Before I knew it, the race was over and I was crossing the finish line in around 2:18. Not as terrible as it could have been, given the stops and the pain, but not nearly what I had hoped for a few months ago.

img_7138-1024x768-1-2 I have this lady to thank for taking my mind off the pain those last few miles!

My first inclination, as always, was to sit down. The finish line was right by the zoo and had so much food. I’ve never seen a spread like it – steak skewers, rice, baked potatoes (of course!), huckleberry popcorn,  the usual bananas, oranges, bagels, and frozen yogurt. I actually cannot believe I didn’t take a picture of all the food. Even though my stomach hurt, I still ate a baked potato and some steak because I mean…when is the next time I’m going to run a race that offers that? Kate had an amazing race and crossed the finish line a few minutes later (the marathon had started an hour and 45 minutes before the half), and a few minutes after that, Patty crossed, too! Patty also got third in her age group because she is incredible.

img_7146-1024x1024-1-2 Patty and Kate rocked it! So did our shirts, tbh.

In addition to the wonder that was the post-race food spread, I experience another post-race first – I got a massage! OH MY GOSH, YOU GUYS. How have I not been doing this for all my races? What have I been thinking? I thought it might be weird for someone to have to massage my gross sweaty body, and maybe it was for him, but I was just in heaven. Oh, the best thing ever. Purchase the post-race massage next time. It is seriously so, so worth it.

Thanks to the early start of the race and late checkout at the hotel, we had plenty of time to shower and get our lives together before hitting the road. We went to collect Patty’s age group award and got to say goodbye to Mike, the race director, who I will maintain until I die is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Come to think of it, I think everyone in Idaho is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Then again, I’d probably be super nice too if I was constantly surrounded by free potatoes, but I guess we will never know.

We were all flying out of Salt Lake City to head back home, but we had some time to kill before we needed to leave. I had the brilliant idea of visiting the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake City, because I love a good local attraction (note: it’s obviously not an attraction so much as it is an important religious institution, but I’m not Mormon, so it’s an attraction to me). Although we knew we wouldn’t be able to go inside, we decided to walk around the grounds. Little did we know that there are missionary tour guides everywhere and it was not more than 10 seconds before we were offered a tour of the grounds. More fascinating facts? I think yes. The buildings were beautiful and it was really interesting to hear about the Mormon faith from people who actually live it. While I don’t think I’ll be converting anytime soon due to lack of alcohol, it was still a fantastic visit.

img_7153-1024x576-1-2 Randomly a really cute photo at the Salt Lake City Temple

With that, our quick adventure out West was over! I endured a rather painful red eye flight home (although I did meet another new running friend who sat next to me on both flights back to Charlotte) and found myself repeatedly asking how I could possibly have done this so often a few years ago when I was running marathons every other weekend all over the country. I’m not 26 anymore, you guys. Remind me to spring for the more convenient flight next time.

TL, DR: Pocatello is a stunningly beautiful place. The race is impeccably organized. My stomach is extremely rude to me. The post race food is, without question, the best I have ever had. You will get a lot of free potatoes. The race director is the nicest person in the world. The Idaho Potato Museum is not to be missed.

If you’re interested in running Pocatello on Labor Day weekend 2017, register now! It’s only $60 for the full and $50 for the half!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Who else raced this weekend?