The thing about running a marathon or half marathon in every state is that you end up visiting a lot of places that you might otherwise never have a “reason” to go visit. Take, for example, Fargo, North Dakota. It turns out Fargo is a great city with an incredible marathon, but I would never have known that were it not for running the race there in 2013! Then there’s Tulsa, Oklahoma—home of the Route 66 Marathon—a city that has become like a second home to me (and one I return to year after year).
Now, I can add Pocatello, Idaho, to this esteemed list. I probably would never have made my way to this particular portion of the Gem State (it’s not called the Potato State—trust me, I double checked) were it not for the Pocatello Marathon—but I’m so glad I did!
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Held each year on Labor Day Weekend, the Pocatello Marathon offers a marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and 5K. Since I had yet to cross Idaho off my list of states to run in, I headed out to Pocatello (which is in the southeastern corner of the state) to run the half marathon, while two of my friends ran the marathon. We flew in from three different states—South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Florida—and drove the 2.5 hours up from Salt Lake City to southeastern Idaho. Pro tip: SLC is definitely the cheapest airport to fly into if you’re thinking of doing this race!
If you think of potatoes when you think of Idaho, you’ll be pleased to know that all of your potato-related dreams can come true on this trip! At the race expo, you’ll receive a free bag of genuine Idaho potatoes (plus the normal race stuff like a t-shirt and bag, but I was most excited about the potatoes). I also happened to make the front page of the local newspaper along with fellow runner and South Carolinian Elizabeth Gray, who is running marathons across the US to raise awareness about domestic violence!
If you have a chance (or some spare time to kill), make sure you head up to the Idaho Potato Museum in nearby Blackfoot, Idaho. You guys, I’m not kidding. This place is amazing! And there are more potato-related gifts than you could possibly know what to do with, plus the nicest staff in the world. Did I mention there’s also a giant baked potato out front that you can take a picture with?
Race day dawned bright and early, as the marathon started at 6:15 a.m. While I was running the half marathon and didn’t need to leave quite as early to catch my shuttle since that race started at 8 a.m., I still woke up early to wish my friends good luck. The race has a very efficient shuttle system that picks up from the host hotel and takes you to the start line of each race. Before I knew it, I was standing in the beautiful countryside, surrounded by mountains, and waiting for the half marathon to start!
All of the races are point-to-point and have the same finish line, so the half marathon starts at the halfway point of the marathon, the 10k starts at mile 20 of the marathon, etc. There were about 200 participants in the half marathon, which was just enough people to never feel alone on the course while also never feeling crowded. There were more people in the marathon, which shocked me—it’s usually the reverse!
I have been struggling with some stomach problems recently and knew I wasn’t going to have a fast race, so I decided to just enjoy the experience, take pictures, and try and have fun! I started out with a pace group (the race has tons of them for both the marathon and half marathon) and enjoyed hearing fascinating facts about the surrounding area. This race is popular for PRs because of the good weather and net downhill course, so the pace teams are very important! No PRs for me, though—I was all about the scenery!
As you might imagine, a race through the valley in Southeastern Idaho isn’t going to have exactly the same spectator vibe as someplace like New York City, but the people who did turn out were highly enthusiastic, and we saw them time and again! Still, there are certainly times during the race when you could be running alone, so make sure to prepare for that if it is an issue for you!
Luckily, I didn’t find myself alone for very long. When the pace group left me in their collective dust, I quickly came upon a Team USA-themed aid station that cheered me right up! I even got to practice my rhythmic gymnastics for a minute or two. Spoiler alert: I am not very good at twirling the ribbon.
The last few miles of the race, I was really struggling with stomach problems and low energy, but my prayers were answered when I came across a woman I had met on the shuttle to the start earlier in the morning. She was doing run-walk intervals and I asked if I could join her. Before I knew it, my mind was off my stomach and on our conversation. This is why, through 50 marathons and over 20 half marathons, I never run with music! You never know when you might meet a new friend and have a conversation that sticks with you. In fact, I met two of my best friends (the women who traveled to this race with me) during races!
I crossed the finish line exhausted but excited to have another state (#39!) under my belt. As I waited for my friends to finish the full marathon, I marveled at all the amazing post-race food that was available. They had all the usual suspects—bagels, bananas, Gatorade, etc.—but then there was so much more! We’re talking everything from steak skewers to rice, baked potatoes (of course!), popcorn, and even frozen yogurt! I’ve done races all over the country and the world, but this had to be the best post-race food spread I have ever seen. I think my new post-race food of choice is now baked potatoes! I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture.
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As my friends crossed the marathon finish line triumphantly, I was fortunate to think back on how lucky I have been to run races in so many parts of the country. While I can’t say Pocatello was exactly on my radar before, I now know exactly how beautiful it is and why people love it so much!
From the beauty of the course to the kindness and generosity of the race director and committee, to the wonderful runner-centric environment this race creates, it’s definitely worth a visit to southeastern Idaho to run the Pocatello Marathon. Just make sure you leave room in your suitcase for potatoes!