What a race. What a day. But let’s start at the beginning.
I went to bed at 9:00, alarm set for 3:00 a.m. But I kept waking up afraid I had missed it. I woke up at 12:30, again at 1:30 and at 2:15 I never really fell back asleep again. My alarm finally went off at 3:00 and I didn’t miss it. I got up, got dressed, ate half a bagel with peanut butter. Triple-checked I had everything. Matt sort of sat up in bed, squinted at me, and laid back down. I left the hotel at about 3:25 and was on a bus by 3:35.
The bus ride took about forty five minutes. I sat next to a woman who was running her fourteenth marathon in her tenth state. She was very cool and had good advice. It was still pitch dark when the bus dropped us off at the start line. They had fires in the field next to the start line to keep us warm. It was about 4:15.
One interesting thing was that this was literally a rancher’s cattle field, with a house and barn in spitting distance. I was glad I brought a sweatshirt. I ate the other half of my bagel at about 5:00 a.m. Made a bathroom stop. There seemed to be plenty of porta potties and the lines moved quickly. I went back to the fire and chatted with fellow runners.
Sunrise on the distant mountains
At 5:30, I peed and then dropped my bag at the truck. Then we lined up. There were no waves, just pacers. I positioned myself behind the 4:10 pacer, who said she aimed for a 9:32/mile pace, which I thought was perfect. The race was set to start at 6:00 a.m. We were all joking, comparing marathons for scenery, and out of nowhere, the gun went off. Some people actually said, “Is that the start?” And it was. This was one of the starkest differences compared with San Francisco, which had an announcer who I swear did not shut up from the time the elites started until my wave took off (almost an hour later).
The 4:10 group took off but I hung back. It was cold, I hadn’t had a lot of time to stretch, and I always like to start at an easy pace. Almost immediately, on the right was a pasture with a cow and her calf, who mooed to wish us good luck. Definitely different than San Francisco.
The first six miles wove through this tiny town, Wallsburg. Hardly anyone was out but plenty of horses. A few of them were trotting back and forth. I bet they don’t see hundreds of people running by every day. The sun was just starting to touch the distant mountain peaks and it was cold but it was that bracing, cleansing cold.
Right around mile 7, we turned onto the highway and the rolling hills began. It was just the time when things start to hurt but those hills were gradual enough I powered up and down no problem. The 4:10 pace group was still pretty far ahead of me but I tried not to look at my watch too much and run based on effort.
Two other differences from San Francisco I appreciated: there were race photographers in the first half of the course instead of just at the end. And the mile markers were almost exactly matched to my Garmin, whereas San Francisco ended up being 0.4 long.
Mile 12 had a nice downhill that let me build some momentum. ‘Helpless’ and ‘Satisfied got me to the halfway mark in 2:03. I thought that was pretty good and I was feeling alright so I pushed a little. The next few miles ran right above a river that had me daydreaming about sticking my feet into its cold water. Obviously I resisted the impulse.
There was a nice long hill between mile 15 and mile 16 but that was where I finally caught the 4:10 pace group. Evidently my monstrous hill at home prepared me well for gradual inclines. But I was still starting to hurt.
In here is where the miles start to get blurry. Somewhere around mile 17 or mile 18 you run past Bridal Veil Falls, which is gorgeous. And a nice distraction from the pain and knowing you still have a long way to go. But thankfully, most of these miles had a gradual downhill.
I took this picture of Bridal Veil Falls later in the day, not during the race.
It wasn’t until mile 21 that I really entered the pain cave. I considered myself on the pain trail until then I was firmly in the pain cave. I tried pulling out every trick I learned. I told myself pain was a sign I was working for something I wanted, that it was meant to be there. It certainly didn’t help that the last 10K of this race is run down a main street in Provo that was filled with Saturday traffic, and very little shade. After passing the mile 23 marker, I caved and walked. More than once. My body had convinced my mind it couldn’t go on. But my mind came back and I did keep going.
Mile 23 of a marathon is a special kind of hell. And yes, it got in my head. But I kept going and one I passed the mile 24 marker, I caught my first good glimpse of that beautiful blue finish arch. And no, I didn’t sprint or pick up the pace. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other, saying, “I am strong.” No qualifications. One of the guys just ahead of me took off right around the mile 26 marker and I admired his ability to sprint like that at the end of 26 miles.
I saw Matt about a block before the finish line and managed to smile. Because I knew by then. I knew I was going to PR, and was almost certainly going to finish under 4:10. And right before I crossed the finish line, the announcer said my name. I stopped my watch and saw it said 4:07:29. My chip time was the same.
I got my medal and went in search of water. My strongest criticism of this race is that they didn’t hand you a water bottle as soon as you finished. I could only find Nuun but I spotted Jamba Juice and got a small cup-sized smoothie that was probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Matt found me, I gave him a sweaty hug, and spotted chocolate milk. I rang the PR gong. He helped me over to the courthouse steps, which were shady, and went to retrieve my drop bag.
Then I hobbled over to the tent where they were giving free massages. That massage therapist was my hero. It made such a difference hobbling back to the hotel.
I chugged some water and took a gloriously hot shower. Matt got me a bagel sandwich, I drank a Gatorade which was also the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted, I called my mom, and then passed out.
This race had the organization of a major marathon but a small-town race feel. If you feed off the energy of a crowd, it probably isn’t for you since most of the race is run on a highway through mountains. But if breathtaking views are high on your list of priorities, then this is a great race. It’s called a down hill marathon but it has a fair amount of uphill, too. The only two things I would change: the ending 10K is kind of a drag along a busy street. And hand the runners a water bottle with their medal.
There’s a saying that you run the first third with your legs, the second third with your head, and the last third with your heart. That’s definitely true. And there is likely no getting around the pain of that last 10K. So invite the pain in. Tell it you’re grateful that it’s here to finish the race with you.
I was definitely tired, and sore, but I worked hard and came away with a PR. And I’m pretty happy with that.