We bundled the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon into a summer vacation that included Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Salt Lake City. For anyone vacationing in the area, if you fly into Salt Lake City, Idaho Falls is a perfect stopover on the way to the Parks.
Packet Pickup was held at Bill's Bike and Run from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm on the Friday before the race. Runners were given Idaho Falls Marathon duffle bags which were stocked with some generous offerings: one Huma energy gel, a pen/stylus combo, multiple Jamba Juice coupons, a packet of Deep Blue Rub, and a unisex technical shirt in an appealing bright red.
Race organizers also allowed runners to choose their race numbers at packet pickup. We had a little fun with this. Since Idaho Falls was the last half marathon one of us would run before turning 40, bib #39 was one of our choices.
We usually like to stay as close to the start or finish of a race as possible, allowing us either to wake up late or have easy access to a change of clothes post-race. Our closest hotel option for Idaho Falls was the city's #1 Trip Advisor rated hotel, the Sleep Inn. In addition to being as clean as a whistle and offering both breakfast and dinner, the hotel was only two turns and a few miles to the start. We recommend staying here, but if you do, be sure to book in advance. Many without reservations were turned away after inquiring about rooms. The hotel was booked solid on the Friday night before the half marathon.
On the night before the race we played it safe and carb-loaded at the local Olive Garden, which was a quick five minute drive from Bill's. With that being said, dining options were plentiful in town. The local Idaho Falls travel magazine listed award winners for categories like Mexican food (Jalisco's) and American Food (Snake Bite Restaurant). We stopped at a Trip Advisor favorite, Snow Eagle Brewery. This might be a great option if you are traveling with a large party. The menu was diverse, and runners could order healthier options like the delicious pear and walnut salad we enjoyed, or a tasty grilled chicken/avocado/pesto sandwich which we also happily scarfed down. Anyone wanting the more typical burger and fries would also be satisfied with Snow Eagle.
The Idaho Falls M.A.D Half Marathon was a point to point course. Buses left Bill's Bike and Run promptly at 5:30 a.m to shuttle runners to the top of the mountain where the race began. The only things to be found at the top of this mountain were four port-a-lets, a road, and the 300 or so runners that were part of the event. Runners who weren't on the first shuttle bus spent their 30 minutes prior to the race waiting for one of the four aforementioned port-a-lets. Some bathroom users were lucky to arrive at the starting line in time, as it was a quick 1/4 mile walk from the bus drop-off. We recommend arriving at Bill's early so you can board one of the first buses, and therefore be one of the first in line for a bathroom once arriving at the start. This will save you some pre-race bathroom anxiety.
Fortunately race organizers offered a bag drop at the top of the mountain. Temperatures at race start were chilly, and we were glad to have warm clothes to wear before the race began. Bag drop was the easiest we've ever used. A truck with a trailer was located literally right next to the starting line, allowing us to shed layers, add our bag to the neat pile in the trailer, and begin the race within minutes.
This race began on a downhill, dropping nearly 1400 feet in elevation in just five miles. Views here were awesome, allowing runners to look down on Idaho Falls like kings surveying their kingdoms. After five miles, the course then leveled out and was relatively flat for the final eight miles. Be sure to train for this! A start like this one burned out our calves and quads quickly, leaving them too tired to hold our pace for what was left of the course.
Aid stations were located approximately every two to three miles. Multiple stations were stocked with Huma energy gels and Nuun in addition to water, but look closely for the gels as volunteers weren't always displaying them for speedier runners to see. Anyone not used to the lack of humidity and the gain in elevation in Idaho Falls should consider carrying their own water bottle. Luckily, water was given out in small plastic bottles, and one of us carried one of these offerings the whole race.
Because of the remote start of this race, fan support along the course was minimal. The few people out there were dedicated friends or family members of runners. We appreciated one small group dressed in cow costumes carrying signs like "U=Incredi-BULL." The finish line, on the other hand, was packed with spectators cheering on runners who crossed under the inflatable finish arch. Volunteers draped "the key to the city" finisher medals around runners' necks in acknowledgment of a race completed.
Post-race offerings were generous, and we took advantage of all the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon had to offer us after 13.1 challenging miles. The typical post-race fare was available: bananas, oranges, and granola bars, in addition to some more atypical items. We devoured four Jamba Juice smoothies and a few pieces of dessert bread between us. Bill's Bike and Run, which was open to runners even before shuttles left more than two hours earlier, was once again allowing runners access to their facility. Runners were able to take advantage of indoor restrooms, and even the fitting rooms where we could change into dry clothes before the awards ceremony.
The awards ceremony began just before 10 a.m. Overall winners were awarded with limited edition prints of artwork created specifically for the event. Gift cards to Bill's Bike and Run were given out to age group award winners (age groups were organized into ten year increments). If you run this race, be sure to keep your bib on for the awards ceremony. After the age group awards, race organizers began raffling off prizes by bib, looking out at the audience to call numbers. Justin situated himself front and center, and when bib #39 was called, he was awarded with a gift bag that included some trail mix, specialty bread, jam, and bread knife from Great Harvest Bread Co. Bigger prizes included a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch and a jogging stroller.
Local half marathoners should definitely run this race. Living in the foothills of Idaho and training in this area should better prepare you for the challenging downhill course. A modest entry fee gets you some beautiful views, a technical shirt, finisher medal, and access to a bounty of post-race food.
As runners from the Lowcountry of South Carolina, there was little we could do to prepare our quads and calves for the burn of the race's first five miles. If you are from out of town and stopping in to run this race before a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons, be very aware of what a downhill course can do to your legs. We had to revise some of our vacation itinerary simply because our legs were not capable of walking us downhill or down stairs for two days following this race. With that being said, if we could do it all over again...we would; we would just come into the event better prepared.
- Run hill repeats. Run to the top of a hill, sprint down, and repeat multiple times. Do this at least once a week in your training for this event.
- Arrive early to Bill's Bike and Run, allowing you to board one of the first buses to the start. You'll be first in line at the port-a-lets and save yourself some stress.
- Carry a water bottle. We were affected by the altitude and found ourselves wanting to hydrate more often than we usually do. The aid stations may not be situated in a place where you find yourself needing to hydrate, and a water bottle will ensure you have water or an electrolyte beverage when you need it.
- Be aware of traffic. Many intersections were not manned with volunteers, and runners had to cross roads open to traffic.
- Look down. Turns for this course were spray painted on the road.
For more information about the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon visit http://www.idahofallsmarathon.com/#!half-marathon/c18w3.