Coming off of two sequential marathon PR’s at the St. George Marathon and the Phoenix Marathon as well as a PR at the 2014 Race to Robie Creek, I was really looking forward to the Utah Valley Marathon. Unfortunately it didn’t end up being a great finish for me due to an injury and a risky race strategy.
I ran the St. George Marathon in October 2013 after a four year marathon hiatus. St. George was good to me: I loved the course, I loved the event, and I hit a PR after not really knowing what I was capable of. My PR of 3:24:53 made me realize that with more dedication and training I could potentially qualify for Boston at some point. I ended up signing up for the Phoenix Marathon which took place on March 1, 2014 and achieved another PR of 3:21:34. About seven weeks later I clipped 8 minutes of my PR at the Race to Robie Creek half marathon. I had two months of training in front of me before the Utah Valley Marathon and was determined to PR once again. On April 30 I was out on a run with my friend, Greg, and decided to push the last mile after he turned to go home. I hit a nice pace but a few hundred meters before I finished my calf knotted up. This had never happened to me before so I wasn’t very concerned about it. I became more concerned as my calf ached for the rest of the day and I limped around the office. I quickly realized that I had strained my calf and that I was going to need some time off. I did my best to actively recover — doing stationary rowing and riding as much as possible as long as it didn’t hurt. I also found that I could do some elliptical, but of course none of these activities is the same as running. After two weeks I began tacking on some easy miles and I was careful not to re-injure myself. I worked up to a 9 mile run. My overall fitness was capable of more and still mostly intact. On the Saturday three weeks before the marathon I decided that it was time to make a go/no-go decision. The determining factor would be whether I could complete a 20 mile run. Cyndi, my wife, was signed up for the marathon as well and had been building up her training. We got a babysitter for the kids on a Saturday morning and headed to Boise’s Greenbelt pathway to do a big loop. I didn’t feel my calf at all until about mile 6, but after it tightened it began to loosen up and I ended up running ~21 miles and then an additional 2 mile jog while doubling back to meet up with Cyndi. The Utah Valley Marathon was a go!
Due to my irregular training, I had no idea what pace I was capable of for the marathon. To complicate matters, the Utah Valley Marathon has a typical Utah marathon profile: large downhill at relatively high elevation. The marathon begins at 6200 feet elevation and ends around 4500. The Phoenix Marathon only drops about 800 feet, but is at lower elevation — this was my most recent experience I could use to compare.
We drove down from Idaho to Utah and stayed with my big brother, Rich, and his family. We brought our kids so they could stay and play with their cousins, and Rich and his wife kindly agreed to take care of them while Cyndi and I ran. My youngest brother, Jake, was also in town, so it made for some nice family time before the race. The expo was great and Cyndi and I were excited.
I was talking with my brothers the night before the race and telling them of my aspirations to qualify for Boston and my uncertainty of what pace I should run the Utah Valley Marathon in. I also showed them a tantalizing photo of the shirt that any qualifiers would receive which the marathon organizers had posted on Facebook. My brothers convinced me that I should see what I could do. I decided that it wouldn’t hurt (proverbially speaking) to take a risk and experiment a little. Cyndi and I woke up early and excited on Saturday morning. The bus loading went smoothly and we were on our way. The bus took us up the canyon and deposited us in a field next to the starting line. There were bonfires going to keep the runners warm, but it wasn’t terribly cold out (not as cold as St George). We huddled around for about an hour as we waited for the starting gun. There was one memorable lady we were next to at the bonfire. She was older and complaining about her hip hurting when she sat a certain way. It felt ok when she ran but not when she was sitting on the ground. It turns out she had visited a doctor about her hip and she was told she needed a replacement. She asked the doctor if her hip would be ok for a marathon. He thought she was crazy but that it probably wouldn’t make anything worse. She said, “Good, because I have to run 6 more to hit 100.” Utah Valley was going to be her 94th marathon. [I later saw her complete her 100th marathon at St George in October, 2014.] Gun time approached and Cyndi and I lined up to run. After some thoughts from the announcer we were off! One tip for marathoners racing in cool temperatures: Take an old long sleeve shirt you don’t care about or buy one for $3 from a thrift store. Start the race in it and then just leave it at an aid station when you’re warmed up. It’s way better than hanging on to a beloved shirt for 22 extra miles or freezing for the first 5 miles.
Running the Utah Valley Marathon
I pushed the first few miles of the Utah Valley Marathon. My first four miles clocked in at ~6:55. The downhill was nice and I was enjoying it. I had my heart rate monitor on and I could see that I was maintaining 170 BPM, which is just under 90% of my max and obviously not sustainable. Like I said, it was an experiment and I figured I would slow down once the decline let up. I chatted with a guy that looked just like Chris McDougall (author of Born to Run). He was experienced and friendly. I also overheard a young guy and lady talking about their weekly training mileage. The guy was saying he initially hoped to reach 80 miles per week, but ended up only doing about 60 miles. Obviously he was much more prepared than I was — my average was in the low 30’s, EXCLUDING my weeks off for injury. Someone was not happy that the Utah Valley Marathon was taking place, and they had spray-painted obscenities and hate messages in the road for the first several miles of the marathon. I have never seen something like this before and I can’t believe that someone would care that much. Oh well. The Utah Valley Marathon is scenic. It starts high and runs through some quiet towns as the course approaches Deer Creek Reservoir. The course follows a two lane road for the first 8 miles before turning onto a highway. Half of the four lane highway was blocked off which allowed plenty of room for runners. Admittedly, I was a little annoyed by the loud cars driving on the other side at some points. I don’t know why — they were just loud. Otherwise the course follows a beautiful canyon down into the city — passing trees, going through a tunnel, and getting a view of bridal veil falls. At Mile 8 there was a nice 150+ ft climb and my heart rate reached as high as 184 BPM. By this time I knew that I needed to slow down and that I was likely going to pay dearly. I slowed down to about 7:15 to 7:30 pace for the next few miles. Around Mile 15-17 we hit a headwind that sucked out the remaining energy I had. There was one point around Mile 17 where I was running up an incline into the wind and really feeling it. I saw the Chris McDougall look-alike and told him I was starting to feel it. He said, “You’re looking great. Your form is still solid. Hang in there.” Or something like that. Maybe I was maintaining form, but I was falling apart inside. By Mile 18, as we entered Utah Valley, my new goal was to not walk. I tried to hold the line at an 8 minute/mile pace, but at Mile 20 the line broke. I became reaquainted with The Wall: Often talked about but seldom encountered during regular training, The Wall is real and it hurts. How was I going to keep moving for 6 more miles? To make matters worse, the Utah Valley Marathon ends right next to the new temple in Provo. I could see the temple and the finish line for at least 4 miles as the last few miles are “strait and narrow”. At another time, in another situation, knowing the temple was there might have given me some hope or comfort, but not on this day. Fortunately Rich lived close to the marathon course, so I expected to see him and the kids around Mile 23. They were all there waiting anxiously and it was fun to run by them and wave and give high 5’s. It’s always nice to get a little boost at a time like that. I kept trudging onward, at first hoping I could hold the line for a PR, but quickly realizing that wasn’t going to happen either. My final 3 miles hovered in the mid 10’s per mile. It took everything I had to keep from walking. Finally I crossed the line that I had been running directly towards for 4 miles and I could walk.
I grabbed some food (including a Premium Creamie) and stumbled out of the finish area. I kept moving for a few minutes before sitting on some steps at one of the buildings downtown. I felt absolutely terrible. I think I sat there for 20 minutes or so before gathering up the energy to get moving again. I made my way back to the race course and waited for Cyndi to come in. I tried to move around and prevent my legs from locking up too much. Rich arrived with the kids and we waited for Cyndi together. When she came in and all of us started cheering and encouraging her she got emotional and burst into tears. The kids didn’t quite understand, so I tried to explain to them that marathons are difficult and finally arriving at the finish line is both exhilarating and exhausting — emotionally and physically.
Cyndi and I were happy to be finished and it was fun to have the kids there with us. The Utah Valley Marathon put on a fun little 1k kids run after the marathon was over. All our kids participated and got medals and were thrilled. It was nice to be able to jog with them and loosen up a bit.
I was talking to another dad before the kids run. I still had my watch and heart rate monitor on and we started discussing GPS watches. We looked down at mine and my heart rate was still going over 100 BPM! It had been 1.5 or 2 hours since the race by this time, so this was pretty startling to me. I think my body wasn’t happy about what I’d done to it. We headed back to Rich’s house and after a welcome shower we enjoyed a nice burger with everyone at Five Guys. The guy taking Cyndi’s order heard we had run a marathon that day. “You ran a marathon today!? That’s awesome!” Many people take marathon running for granted, so we really appreciated his enthusiasm. We drove home to Idaho later that day after visiting one of Cyndi’s old college roommates.
Marathons can be great learning experiences, and the Utah Valley Marathon certainly taught me some lessons. Coming off two marathon PR’s I was over-confident. That may have contributed to an injury and certainly contributed to a huge bonk on race day. On the other hand, sometimes it’s interesting to experiment. Many people never test themselves and therefore never improve. I learned about pacing and that it really matters. I learned that I wasn’t quite ready for Boston and I had more work to do. Despite the misery of the last few miles, I’m excited for another challenge and I look forward to a better time another day.