My wife and I had a baby over the summer so I didn’t sign up for any fall marathons due to schedule uncertainty. I kept up my training for the most part and stayed in good shape and injury free. As fall approached, I wanted to run a marathon to get another finish in the bag and test my fitness.
I settled on the SoJo Marathon, located in South Jordan, Utah on October 20th. This would be a 5+ hour drive from my Idahome, but Idaho has slim pickings when it comes to marathons.
The SoJo Marathon course looks pretty decent on a map, although I think it turned out to be more challenging than I expected. It starts at 5500 ft, then drops to ~5130 by mile 3, only to climb back up to 5500 by ~mile 6. Then there’s a bunch of downhill dropping all the way down to 4300 ft by the finish line, with an occasional roller mixed in.
Packet pickup was available the evening before and the morning of the marathon, which was nice for those coming into South Jordan from out of town. There is also a half marathon, 5K, and kids run.
I caught one of the buses on marathon morning to the starting line. The start was pretty laid back — located in a neighborhood next to a park. They had a couple heaters going in the ~40F weather. I was bundled up and feeling pretty well. I hoped for 2:55:00ish.
My cousin happened to be doing this marathon, so I found her and we chatted for a while. This was her first.
SoJo Marathon Miles 1-4: 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 7:11
The SoJo Marathon started at 6:45. I took it easy on the first little uphill and tried to run loose on the downhill. It was steep enough that I focused on not restraining myself but also tried not to get caught up in the early race adrenaline. My initial miles were in the 6:30’s. I slowed down for mile 4 since I knew a hill was coming up.
I had the unique experience of thinking I had just started mile 2 and then looking at my watch and seeing I was past mile 3. That’s never happened before.
I met a nice guy named Josh Hernandez who was shooting for ~2:50. He was wearing a Boston shirt. We ran together for a mile or so and eventually he pulled ahead. I met another guy named Jon Harrison shortly after. He was shooting for a time similar to mine. He said he was mostly a trail runner and did Ultras.
SoJo Marathon Miles 5-7: 7:07, 7:53, 6:52
The hill was pretty large, although it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. We had a headwind which I didn’t appreciate. I slowed down to almost an 8:00 pace for mile 6. I didn’t want to burn out early in the race. At mile 7 I believe my average pace was around 7:00/mile, which seemed about right. Josh and Jon both pulled ahead of me.
SoJo Marathon Miles 8-11: 6:15, 6:32, 6:26, 6:48
Then the downhill really started. It was really steep at first and I took advantage of it. I passed Jon back up on the steep part. Then it was a gradual downhill which was pleasant to run in. I saw some deer which is always nice during a race.
Through mile 10 we were in the outskirts of the city. Right at mile 10 the SoJo Marathon took a left turn and started a series of turns on big roads in the city. Mile 10 was the most poorly marked turn, but the course was well marked in general.
SoJo Miles 12-16: 6:45, 6:44, 6:50, 7:03, 6:36
Now the SoJo Marathon course settled down and was pretty flat. The big, long roads were somewhat monotonous, but I was feeling pretty good and staying positive. It was nice to pass half way, and I did so in about 1:29:30. This was a little disappointing as I wasn’t feeling that a negative split would be very feasible. My plan had been to be somewhat conservative for the first half and then see what I could do the second half. I didn’t feel like I had been overly conservative.
Josh was now out of sight and I figured he was on his way to low 2:50’s. Mile 16 had a decent drop which I utilized to run a 6:36.
SoJo Miles 17-22: 7:16, 6:45, 6:56, 7:21, 6:59, 6:56
During mile 17 we passed the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. It’s situated right on a hill, which meant we also got to go up a steep hill. I passed a marathoner right at the bottom of the hill who struggling. At the start he said he was going for 2:50, but I think this was his first marathon and he was a little unprepared. Oops. Been there, done that.
The ~75 foot hill was a challenge, but at least we got to run down it as well. However, on the way down my legs weren’t quite moving like I wanted them to. Thus began a slow slide into the wall. There was a very gradual hill during mile 20 which again slowed me down, and around this time another runner passed me. I ran with him for a bit and it was nice to talk to someone at least. But I was dragging more and more and I told him to not let me slow him down.
SoJo Miles 23-26.2: 7:08, 7:15, 7:40, 8:04, (7:44)
Luckily there was more downhill during miles 23 and 24 because I was starting to hurt. I was definitely hitting the wall and watching my shot at even a sub 3:00 slip away. It was disappointing, but there wasn’t a lot I could do.
At mile 25 we entered a running path. I was passed by a few more runners, including the top female with about a mile to go. I held on pretty well but I was really looking forward to the finish line when it finally came.
Is there anything more relieving than crossing the finish line of a marathon? It felt so good to stop running. Official time was 3:02:59, which earned me 11th place.
Post Race Thoughts
I was pretty disappointed with my time. I really thought I was capable of 2:55, and that I had a shot at 2:50. I’m not sure what went wrong. Sleep was good, nutrition was ok, training was good. I think I may have underestimated the course difficulty. Josh and Jon both ended up finishing just a minute or two ahead of me.
I think my time will be good enough for Boston 2020, but it might be right on the edge, so I can’t depend on it (I’m not sure I’ll want to run it anyways). I still did get another marathon under my belt and it’s always a good experience to run it and finish, even if it’s not what I hoped.
The SoJo Marathon organization was good. The first half of the course had some great views, including sunrise over the city. The second half was nothing to get excited about. I think the only reason I’d run it in the future is if the timing is just right. That said, I’m still glad I ran it. It was my 21st lifetime marathon/50k and my second this year.
We decided to do a family reunion in Aptos, California this year since my brother lives there and we love the beach. I suggested a weekend that conveniently coincided with the Nisene Marks Marathon.
The Nisene Marks Marathon takes place in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This is a beautifully lush redwood forest located just outside of Santa Cruz. The marathon has some significant elevation changes — totaling about 3100 ft up and down. It’s a small event, with only 37 finishers this year. Both the elevation and the size make this marathon much different than most of the races I’ve done in the past. I typically do road races that are either pretty flat or downhill.
Friday was the last day of school for my kids, and my 5th grader had her final “graduation” assembly and ceremony. We left straight from that for the ~10 hour drive from Idaho to California. We picked up some great pre-race nutrition along the way, In-N-Out. We arrived at about 10:30pm Pacific Time, which felt like 11:30pm coming from Mountain Time. We immediately went to bed and I was dreading waking up the next morning for the race.
Fortunately the race was scheduled to start at 8am, which is a bit later than most marathons. They also had packet pickup in the morning, which was convenient. I grabbed my bib and studied the map a bit while I waited. There were a few people I talked to and/or listened to, including one guy who had run ~250 marathons. He’d done all 50 states and was working on doing every marathon in California. Dang.
We started running the marathon about a minute late and the small field of ~40 people quickly spread out. I was running with 3 other guys for the first couple miles. One of them was a runner from New York who was doing his first marathon. He was a college runner and said he’d been training for 80 miles per week, which is more than I’ve ever done. However, I noticed he wasn’t carrying any water. I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but I was carrying my own water bottle since the aid stations were pretty spread out. It turned out to be more of an issue than expected.
About 2.5 miles in there were some cups at an aid station, so I grabbed one. Based on the map, I hadn’t expected water for another mile, but no big deal. A couple of the other 3 runners I was with didn’t grab any.
Two of the runners got a bit ahead of me and the other was several yards behind. I let the two go and tried to run my own pace. My pace was showing low 7:00’s, but with a steady climb that seemed fine to me. It felt about right.
Shortly after mile 4 the big climb started. The two runners in front of me immediately slowed down so I passed them and moved into 1st place.
The climb was pretty tremendous (for me at least). I’m not used to trail marathons. The race had started around 70ft above sea level. The big climb started around 350ft and would reach about 1800ft before turning around. I tried to just keep working at the hill without going to hard. My pace ranged from ~8:30/mi to 10:00/mi depending on the grade.
My left foot started to get irritated at one point so I stopped and loosened my shoe. Still no one caught me, although I could see another runner on some of the big turns.
The scenery in Nisene Marks was great, although it didn’t change a whole lot on this part of the course. We were running through a dense forest with big redwoods. It was very green and almost completely shaded.
Speaking of shade, based on the map I was expecting for an aid station around mile 6. Didn’t happen. Also nothing at mile 7. I was out of water in the bottle I was carrying and I was beginning to worry a bit. Finally at mile 8 I came around a corner to surprise an aid crew. They didn’t have any cups ready, but after opening a big jug we were able to fill up my bottle. There was a turn-around ahead, so I knew I’d get more water soon.
The turn-around was at mile 9.6 according to my watch, which was about a mile earlier than the map said. It turned out that my watch wasn’t very accurate in the forest, so I’m not sure where the actual turn around was.
On my way back I got to see how close the guys behind me were. They weren’t back very far. It was also fun to see other people coming up since I was their first sign that the climb was almost over. I was surprised that my downhill miles were only in the mid 6:00’s to low 7:00’s, but it was on dirt and I was trying to save some energy for the second big climb.
There was more water at the bottom of the second climb, which was around mile 16 by my watch. Once I started going up again I knew it was going to be taxing. My legs were pretty tired and I had not consumed enough water. It was fairly warm even though the trees blocked the sun.
At this turn we moved from fire road to single track in dense foliage. It was a well-used trail and there were lots of marks to keep us on the right path, but it was dense, hilly, and very steep in some parts. We had bottomed out around 250ft and we would top out at over 1100ft.
Some of the climbs got too steep for me, and I had to walk a couple of them. My pace had deteriorated quite a bit, so I figured someone would catch me sooner or later. I started to pass some half marathoners as well as some day-hikers.
Fortunately there was an aid station around mile 20 at the top of the hill. I gave a volunteer my water bottle and another volunteer said, “Only fill it half way so we don’t run out!” He filled it all the way anyways and I moved on.
About the time I started my descent, the next runner caught me. I sped up and stuck with him for a half mile or so, but it was clear to me that I wouldn’t keep up for long. I asked him how far back the next person was and he said we probably had plenty of room. I wished him luck and he moved on.
The last few miles were pretty grueling. I was just trying to finish the race so I could get a drink. My watch was off so I wasn’t sure exactly when it would end. I looked back a few times to see if I could spot any other marathoners, but I didn’t see any.
Finally I came around the last turn and finished. I considered running another 1.5 miles to make sure it was a full marathon, but after running about 150 yards, I realized that was stupid and I was finished.
I ended with an official time of 3:33:00 and confirmed with another runner that my watch was indeed off (his showed ~26.2).
I talked with the race director after and let him know that the water was an issue, especially since the map showed there would be aid stations every few miles. There were only 5 total, and the last one ran out of water a while after I went through it.
Besides the water issues, the Nisene Marks Marathon was enjoyable. For someone that doesn’t run in forests very often, it was a different experience. It’s a small field of runners and mostly on dirt road and trail. The elevation is challenging. I had a good time and I even got a pullover for getting 2nd overall.
After the race I grabbed a hot dog and some chips, walked to my car, and went to the beach to spend a couple hours playing in the waves with my family.
We had some friends move to St. George, UT this year. Obviously this provided an excellent opportunity to visit them and run the St. George Marathon.
I ran the St. George Marathon in 2013 and 2014. In fact, St. George was the marathon that really brought me back into running. I had been an irregular runner for several years, taking winters off, not ever training very hard, etc. After running St. George in 2013 I realized that I liked marathons (for some reason) and that I could potentially qualify for Boston some day. That marathon sparked a passion for and interest in running that I still maintain today. I enjoyed the St. George Marathon both times I ran it and looked forward to running it again this year.
Cyndi originally wasn’t going to run with me, but with about a month to go she changed her mind and ended up signing up as a charity runner (since she was too late for regular registration). I was happy to have her join me in the anticipation, on the bus, at the cold starting line, and at the finish. She blogged about her experience at the St. George Marathon here.
The trip to St. George also happily aligned with our children being out of school the Wednesday through Friday before the marathon, which was nice. I had to work on Wednesday morning, but around noon Cyndi picked me up and we began a nice vacation southward.
After staying with some friends in Springville, UT, we resumed our course towards St. George on Thursday. We made a stop in Kanarraville to visit Kanarra Creek Falls. It’s not far from the freeway and made for a great hike with the kids.
Once in St. George, we stopped by the St. George Temple.
On Friday we went to packet pickup. The St. George Marathon puts on a solid expo. There are lots of booths and picking up your packet is fast and easy. Altra is always there with discounted shoes (I bought my first Altras at the expo in 2014). We had all our kids with us so they got some swag.
After the expo we headed to some other friends’ house where we stayed for the night. Our son coughed a bunch during the night which was really nice. Who needs to sleep before a marathon anyways? We woke up (or rather, turned the light on) at 4am to catch the bus. I’m glad we got there when we did since the line exploded shortly after and one bus was actually a little late to the starting line.
Cyndi and I got to the starting line about an hour before the start and found a spot by one of the many bonfires that were warming the swarms of runners. It was cold, but not as cold as I remember 2014. Maybe that’s because in 2013 and 2014 my father-in-law liked to be on one of the first buses that would leave us on the cold hill for a couple hours.
When the time came, Cyndi and I dropped our bags off at the van and we said goodbye until after the race. Somehow my time from a previous marathon got me a “Wave 3” bib. I didn’t know about these until I got one. There are elites, sub-elites, and Wave 3. All of us got to enter a roomy starting corral with special access to a set of port-a-potties. This was nice, because it gave me a little room to warm up and I really wanted to hit the restroom one last time before the gun went off.
I met a guy named Alex in the starting corral that I talked to a bit. He seemed pretty anxious and nervous. He had been fighting an injury and really wanted a good time. He’d run Boston a couple years back, but had been hampered by injury ever since. We were going for a similar time, so I told him to stick around me if he wanted.
Eventually it came time to start, and I was glad to be on my way once again.
Overall I felt ok for this marathon, but not great. It had only been 4 weeks since I got a PR at Big Cottonwood. I wasn’t fully recovered. Two days earlier I also had some serious intestinal issues, but luckily it had cleared up on Friday. I was still a little concerned. I still hoped for a time in the 2:50’s, maybe another PR if I was feeling great.
The St. George Marathon
Miles 1-2: 6:49, 6:51
The first couple miles were relatively flat, so I tried to take it nice and easy. Having started too fast at way too many marathons, I didn’t want to blow it again. Besides, there was plenty of downhill ahead so no need to rush the first couple.
On the other hand, I saw Alex take off pretty fast and get out ahead of me. It was pretty crowded, but I soon found some fellow runners that were going the same pace as me.
Miles 3-7: 6:24, 6:23, 6:32, 6:13, 6:19
The downhill started in earnest after mile 2, and I increased my pace accordingly. This meant that I passed a few people before falling in with a new crowd. One of the people I passed between mile 2 and 3 was Alex. I gave him a few encouraging words as I passed him, but he had a worried look on his face. I think he had already realized it wasn’t going to be his day.
Each mile of this portion was about 100-200 feet of elevation loss. It was nice to bank a little time and roll down the hill.
Miles 8-12: 7:34, 7:07, 7:00, 7:24, 6:47
At mile 7 we ran through Veyo. There’s a nice crowd here and it was fun to be cheered on right before hitting the big hill. The hill right after Veyo climbs about 200 feet in one mile. I worked up it but tried not to burn out too much.
I remembered the hill well from when I ran the St. George Marathon in 2013 and 2014. What I didn’t remember is that the hill stretches on through mile 12. It’s not as steep after the first mile, but it’s definitely up and it gets pretty tiring. I knew most of the second half was down, but I realized that it would be hard to make up enough time to PR at this point. I was feeling ok, but not spectacular.
Miles 13-17: 6:32, 6:39, 6:16, 6:08, 6:22
I tried to pick the pace back up once we summitted the hill, but my legs weren’t going quite as fast as I wanted them to. When I hit the half at just under 1:29, I figured a PR was probably out of my reach. I still wanted to get in the mid-2:50’s if possible though. Miles 13 and 14 are a steady decline, but then we hit the canyon and a 205 foot and 255 foot drop in miles 15 and 16.
Miles 18-25: 6:39, 7:06, 6:49, 6:29, 7:07, 6:58, 6:57
There’s a final little hill in mile 18 which was a little challenging. It was at this point that my attention moved to my stomach. I noticed that it didn’t feel quite right. I started feeling like I wanted to puke.
Of course, feeling like puking is somewhat normal in most marathons. This was more than the normal though. It became very hard to consume any calories or even water. This section has great downhill, but after mile 21’s 250 foot drop, I was just trying to hold my stomach together. Meanwhile I was getting passed by quite a few people, although I was passing an occasional walker or someone worse off than myself.
Luckily I was still able to keep going and I didn’t have to stop. My pace was decent, although I was relying heavily on the hills. The spectators get better and better on this part of the course, especially after mile 23 when we really get into St. George itself. Around mile 24 I saw one lady puking and another almost fainted (I gave her a pat on the back and helped her stay steady). I was still trying to just push through my upset stomach. My stomach was limiting me much more than my legs but there wasn’t much I felt I could do about it.
Miles 25-26.2: 7:02, 6:56, ~6:30
Finally I started feeling better during mile 25. Even though there’s still a 127 foot drop according to my Garmin, it certainly feels much flatter here. Shortly after mile 24, I switched from getting passed to starting to pass other people. My legs didn’t feel too terrible, and my stomach was finally starting to feel more normal.
During mile 26 I really picked it up. Something switched on, I felt a lot better, so I sped up. The town seems to go on forever, even though we were only in it for ~2.5 miles. There are a couple high school bands that play music every year, which is awesome. When I finally turned onto the last straightaway it was relief, as usual, and I had a strong finish to the end.
I came across at 2:56:46, which was my 2nd best marathon time and 19th marathon finish.
Recovery and Going Home
As I laid on the grass drinking some water and munching on snacks, I chatted with a guy from Texas and a lady from Pocatello. It was fun to talk about the race and see how others were feeling. We had a good laugh watching people either try to sit down or try to get up.
After about a half hour I went to get my stuff and watch for Cyndi. I had no idea when she would come in (neither did she). She finished at 4:13:25, which was her PR. She was very excited at the end and wanted to run another, which is unusual for her. I was excited, too.
Cyndi actually was running this marathon in memory of Boston, which is what we named our baby that we lost this year. She was miscarried at about 4 months, just a couple weeks after we were in New York and Boston for the Boston Marathon.
By the way, the St. George Marathon medals are the best medals ever, hands down. They’re made rock taken from the mountains nearby.
The St. George Marathon is a great race. It’s getting hard for me to pick favorites, but this is definitely one of them.
Our kids had a great time with their friends and the babysitters. We peeled them away from their friends. Some tears were shed, but we wanted to hit the road and make the 10 hour drive home before it got crazy late.
Besides, we also wanted to stop at Leatherby’s, our favorite ice cream place. It was delicious.
Cyndi: My college roommates want to have a reunion in Utah on the weekend of September 9th. Could we make a trip that weekend?
Blake: Sure, sounds great.
Two minutes later…
Cyndi: Did you find a marathon yet?
Blake: Two. How’d you know?
And that’s how I ended up signing up for the Big Cottonwood Marathon. I had thought about doing Big Cottonwood before, so I was happy that things fell into place to do it this year. Besides, I didn’t have any big races to look forward to after the Boston Marathon, so it was nice to sign up for this one. This would be my 17th marathon (18th counting the 50k).
Big Cottonwood Marathon is one of Revel’s races. All of their races have one thing in common: Gigantic downhills. Big Cottonwood is no exception. The full marathon has a net elevation decline of 5255 feet. It starts just under 9700 feet and follows a canyon down into the city. There are two relatively short out-and-backs during the course, but otherwise it’s pretty much just running down the canyon.
We arrived in the valley on Friday afternoon and after visiting my grandmother we headed to the expo. The expo was well done. Getting my number and packet was efficient and easy. They had an area to exchange shirts for a different size. There were a bunch of booths to entertain my kids with free stuff. And there was a nice place to take photos at the end.
We checked in to our hotel and went swimming with the kids before Cyndi went to the first phase of her reunion and I put the kids and myself to bed at about 10pm. I had gotten a full 8+ hours of sleep on Thursday night, so I wasn’t too concerned about sleeping well. That was fortunate, since Cyndi got back to the hotel at about 1am and after that I tossed and turned until it was time to wake up at 4am. I ate my peanut butter honey sandwich and started drinking my Gatorade while getting ready to catch the bus. Cyndi drove me to the bus and I hopped on. I chatted with a lady on the way up. It was her first marathon, so she was excited. I was too.
I think the bus dropped us off at the Big Cottonwood Marathon start area around 5:30am. That gave me about 1.25 hours to use the Honey Bucket a couple times, relax, and get ready to run. I was anticipating a very cold wait for the start so I was well prepared with warm clothes. It turned out to be about 45 degrees, so really not too bad. I never really got cold. We were right on top of the mountain. The marathon would go down the west side of the mountain and I could see a town in the distance to the east.
I made my way to the start line and we were off right at 6:45am.
Miles 1, 2, 3: 5:37, 5:55, 5:57
No, I’m not lying: My first three miles of the Big Cottonwood Marathon were all under 6 minutes per mile! Not because I have some new secret training regimen, but because it was blistering downhill. My Garmin captured elevation losses of 497 ft, 256 ft, and 299 ft for the first three miles, respectively. During the first mile, I turned to a guy near me and said, “Wow. This is really steep.” A little while later I asked him what time he was going for to make sure I wasn’t out of my league. He said he was shooting for “2:40. 2:38.” I didn’t plan on finishing that fast, but I didn’t feel like I was killing myself yet. He actually ended up winning.
It was really nerve-wracking to be breaking 6 minute miles. On the one hand I didn’t want to burn myself out by starting too fast (been there, done that). On the other hand, I didn’t want to fight the downhill, as that would just wear down my quadriceps even faster. So I tried to stay relaxed and make sure my breathing was under control.
Miles 4, 5: 7:25, 5:57
After finishing mile 3 the course does a short loop near Brighton ski resort. There’s a little uphill section on this part of the course, so I was careful to slow down and take it easy. After screaming down the first three miles, it was hard to slow down and not go fast up the hill. Fortunately I knew it was coming and had planned ahead. A few other runners caught up to me and some passed me, but once we made the turn and started heading back down I passed them right back. I figured I was around 10th to 15th place at this point, but I was actually something like 7th or 8th.
This little section reminded me that I was running around 9000 feet elevation. I could feel a little shortness of breath and lightheadedness. I was happy that we were quickly descending into thicker air.
Miles 6-11: 5:56, 5:59, 6:05, 6:24, 6:36, 6:38
The downhill continued and I got into a nice rhythm. I started doing the math and realizing that I had a good shot at a PR and potentially even breaking 2:50:00 for the first time. However, I was very concerned that this downhill would destroy my quads and I would fall apart at mile 20. I knew this happened to a lot of runners in previous Big Cottonwood Marathons and in similar downhill races. Moreover, I was very uncertain of my pace. I continually self-assessed to make sure I was staying relaxed and not spending too much energy, despite the fast pace.
I had my Garmin 235 on, and through much of this section it was telling me that my heart rate was over 170. I really didn’t feel like it was that high, although I knew that it’s tough to tell in the middle of a race. I expected and wanted a heart rate in the low 160’s.
A few of these miles weren’t quite as steep, so I slowed my pace a bit to compensate. Again I could feel the elevation a bit. I made sure to get enough liquids and I was refueling on Jelly Belly Sports Beans (courtesy of my sister-in-law who got them for free) and my traditional Honey Stinger Waffle at mile 10.
About this time we also passed the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon starting line and volunteers were busy picking up Mylar blankets.
At mile 11 I finally caught up to a guy in a red shirt that I had been following throughout the race. He was breathing really hard. I almost told him that he was breathing too hard and he needed to take it easy, but I wasn’t sure that would be appropriate. So I said “good job” and moved on. I looked him up after and found that he bonked at mile 19 and finished about 13 minutes behind me. I know how that goes.
Miles 12-18: 6:32, 6:13, 5:48, 6:07, 5:53, 6:27, 6:22
The course started getting steeper again after mile 11. It also had some fun curves to run around. And the views were spectacular. The amazing views actually started at the beginning. There were some impressive rock faces and cliffs that towered above us puny runners. There were several sections that had avalanche warning signs and I could see why: on one or both sides of the canyon there were steep mountains that rose high above the roadway. I had to remind myself to look around and enjoy the scenery every once in a while and I’m glad I remembered to. There was also a creek along much of the course and I could hear the water rushing down the canyon. The vegetation was plentiful, green, and refreshing.
I crossed the half around 1:22 and realized I’d need a 1:28 to break 2:50. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was curious to try. I knew I still had some serious downhill to bank more time.
Around mile 14 I noticed that my right quadriceps were really tight and getting sore. Once again I worried what would become of me when I exited the canyon.
We started passing the half marathoners. There were lots of them, but since we had a whole lane to run in there was plenty of room and it wasn’t a problem. I said “good job” to many of them until I started to get too tired.
At this point I had maybe one marathoner in my sights, depending on the turn. I didn’t look back so I wasn’t sure how close the next runner was behind me. I just kept running my own race and trying to prepare mentally for the flatter last few miles.
Miles 19-23: 6:29, 7:16, 7:09, 7:05, 7:24
At mile 18.5 the marathon course turned right while the half marathoners continued straight. There were finally some spectators now that we were out of the canyon, and that was a nice boost. Some of them were excited to see marathoners since it had mostly been half marathoners coming through so far.
After the turn the course flattened out. I was bracing for The Wall, but it didn’t come! Instead, it felt quite nice to run on flat terrain and even a little uphill. This was a turn-around section, so I began scanning the other side of the road for the first runners. I didn’t see them come through until just before mile 20, which meant they were only one mile ahead of me! That made me really happy as I expected they would be a good 20 minutes ahead.
My stomach felt about how you would expect a stomach to feel after 20 miles, but I forced down a Gu and some water and Gatorade. The sun was out now so I started dumping water on my head as well.
I counted 6 people ahead of me, but when I made the turn I saw what seemed like 50 runners right behind me! I still tried to focus on my own race, but now I was running scared and I tried to dig a little deeper so I wouldn’t drop from 7th to 30th over the last 5 miles.
Sure enough, I soon heard footsteps. There was a cruel little hill during mile 23 and a guy passed me near the top of it. He was 49 years old and I immediately had a lot of respect for how strong he was running at this point.
Miles 24, 25, 26, and 26.2: 7:03, 6:46, 7:24, 6:15
The guy that passed me provided a nice benchmark to measure myself against during the last 5k. He slowly pulled away, but his strength gave me a little extra encouragement.
Mile 25 had a steep downhill and it hurt. My legs were now in full rebellion. Happily, I wasn’t in total meltdown mode like I have been many times before at this stage of a marathon. That said, I was counting down every step until I could stop. I continually did pace calculations to figure what I needed to do to break 2:50. This kept me pushing to keep the pace as close to 7:00/mile as possible.
I could finally see the finish line with about 0.6 miles left. I was slogging and just trying to get there. There was a great crowd at the finish which was nice. I looked for Cyndi but couldn’t find her.
Suddenly with about 100 yards left I saw another marathon come up to my left trying to pass me! I put on a burst of speed that I didn’t know I had and raced to the finish line. I couldn’t believe that was left, and I was a little chagrined that I was apparently slacking off for the last mile.
I only wish that runner would have challenged me about 50 yards sooner as I might have finished 2 seconds faster, but I ended up with 2:49:01, which made me very happy! That was an 8 minute PR.
Cyndi was at the finish and found me pretty quickly. She was excited and congratulatory for my good race. Apparently I miscounted, because I ended up getting 6th overall and 1st in my age group. That definitely exceed expectations.
They had pizza from Papa John’s, soda from Sodalicious, and protein pancakes at the finish. An excellent selection of food. They also gave us wet rags which I placed on my head for a good 20 minutes.
After the race I sat in the hot tub at the hotel (I know it’s a sin after a marathon but it felt so good) and swam with the kids a bit. Then we had some delicious Kentucky Fried Chicken, because when else can I justify extra crispy KFC? Then we had some amazing ice cream at Leatherby’s after playing at a park with Cyndi’s roommates’ families.
Revel knows how to put on a good race. The Big Cottonwood Marathon was fantastic. The organization was superb. The course was fast and scenic. The aid stations were well stocked. The website results and (free!) photos are best-in-class and were up within 48 hours. I emailed them for a couple of different things and received responses in under 12 hours. I had a great experience and I hope to run another one of their races soon.
On Monday, April 17, 2017, I joined a corral of a few hundred other anxious, jittery runners a few minutes before 10am to begin the 121st Boston Marathon. It took a few years of preparation to get to the starting line, and it was an unforgettable experience.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon
In October 2013 I ran the St. George Marathon. It had been four years since I last ran a marathon, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For the previous 13 years since graduating high school my running was intermittent. I rarely ran in the winter because it was too cold. My weight went from about 185 in 2003, up to 239 in 2007, and then back down to about 205 in 2013.
I ended up finishing the marathon with a time of 3:24:53. It was a major success for me, and it broke my previous PR set when I was 18 years old at the Park City Marathon. I was hooked on running. For the first time I realized I could potentially qualify for Boston — something I’d never considered before. I needed to take 20 minutes off my time, but that seemed doable.
I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in the late winter of the following year and continued training with the goal of eventually dropping my time down to below 3:05. Unfortunately the following year was marred by small, but nagging injuries that stifled my improvement. However, I took the time to heal in the fall of 2014 and then trained hard in 2015. I finally hit my goal time of sub-3:05 at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in September 2015.
Once again my Boston Marathon plans were frustrated as excess demand to run the race reduced the cutoff time and I missed qualification by 1 minute 46 seconds.
I continued training until finally I got a secure qualification time at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon in May 2016. Then I had to wait one year to actually run the Boston Marathon.
Vacation to New York and Boston
This month (April 2017) finally arrived. Cyndi and I decided to make a vacation out of our trip across the United States to Boston. Neither of us had been to New York for more than a few hours, so we wrapped that into our plans.
Airline tickets are generally cheap on Wednesdays, so we booked a flight to New York on a Wednesday and out of Boston the following Wednesday. On the Tuesday evening before our flight, we drove 7 hours to Vancouver, WA to drop our kids off with family. Then we caught a red-eye flight to New York. We spent 2.5 days seeing all sorts of sites and having a great time.
In approximately this order, we saw: all sorts of subway lines and stops, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Central Park, Belvedere Castle, the MET, an awesome Mexican restaurant, the show Stomp, Times Square, delicious cheesecake, a busy but spectacular bagel shop, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Trinity Church, Wall Street, the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, the LDS Temple, Serendipity 3, Rockefeller Center, Highline Park, and also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.
On Saturday we took a four hour Amtrak train to Boston, dropped our stuff off at our South End airbnb, ate at Shake Shack, and met up with my parents. On Sunday we went to church, walked around Harvard, went to packet pickup, and did a Duck Tour.
What did all of this amount to? WAY TOO MUCH WALKING RIGHT BEFORE A MARATHON! To be precise, here is my step count:
That doesn’t even account for the hours of standing around in museums, in lines, and on the subway. We came home exhausted every night. On Sunday I tried to take it easy, but it was too little too late. I knew going into the race that this was a major risk. Still, I don’t regret it since I wanted to see the New York and who knows when we’ll go back.
Boston Marathon Packet Pickup and Expo
Packet pickup and the expo run for three days for the Boston Marathon — Friday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm. We attended on Sunday. It was a great relief to finally have my bib in hand. I also loved the shirt.
The expo was huge and we walked around it for a while. There were several samples of sports drinks and we each got a free Kind bar. There were lots of running products and big stores from Adidas and New Balance (and Saucony maybe?).
I woke up at 5:40am on race morning, ate part of my PB&J, and got ready. I had arranged for an Uber driver to picked me up, and she dropped me off at Boston Common so I could hop on the bus to Hopkinton. There were large crowds, but the organization was superb and I was on a bus pretty soon after arriving.
In line for the bus I met a guy named Sam from Louisiana. We chatted the whole way to Hopkinton. This was his 4th Boston in a row. His wife had also run it in 2013 but finished before the bombing. It was good to talk to him. We discussed past marathons, target times, and training. When we arrived at the Athletes’ Village we snapped a photo at the entrance.
The Athletes’ Village is huge. I have never seen so many port-a-potties in one place in my life! They had everything you might need before running a marathon — bagels, bananas, apples, sunscreen, Clif Bloks, water, Gatorade, etc. (Who eats apples right before a race though?) There was a HUGE line to take a picture in front of the “Welcome to Hopkinton – It all starts here” sign. So I didn’t get a picture there. A guy on a loudspeaker was announcing the same stuff over and over and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Did I mention the police? They were everywhere. From when I approached the buses until I went home that afternoon. Everywhere.
I hit the port-a-potties early and then again about 20 minutes before I would have to head to the start. Right after I exited, around 8:45am, the lines grew exponentially. I couldn’t believe how long the lines got despite the fact that there were hundreds of toilets available.
I ran into Joseph, who I was runner-up to at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in 2015. We sat by each other and talked until it was time for us to head to the start.
The Boston Marathon had four waves this year. I was in Wave 1, Corral 3. I got to head to the starting line at 9:15. I saw an acquaintance from my hometown on the way and gave her a high-five. It’s about a 0.75 mile walk from the Athletes’ Village to the starting line. There were more port-a-potties on the way as well, so I made another stop right before the lines for those exploded.
All morning the energy was electrifying. Everyone was jittery and anxious, including me. I finally got to Corral 3 and waited for 20 minutes. It smelled of Ben-Gay and BO. Most of the people in my corral were similar to me with runner physique. All of us had trained for years to be here. I talked to a runner next to me for a few minutes, but I forget where he was from (Wisconsin maybe?).
A cheer erupted when the elites walked out from an area to the left. When their names were announced there were huge cheers for Galen Rupp and Jared Ward.
A man sang the National Anthem as several flags waved. Right when he finished two F-15’s flew overhead. The timing could not have been more perfect.
Before long a countdown began and at 10am we were off!
The Boston Marathon
Miles 1-5: 6:33, 6:27, 6:19, 6:19, 6:28
We started at a walk and quickly transitioned to a jog and then a run. I was in Corral 3, pretty close to the Start. There were so many runners! I was boxed in and couldn’t move around much, but it didn’t matter since everyone was basically going the pace I wanted to run anyways.
I noticed the energy of the crowd right away. There were loads of people lining the start. Eventually there began to be gaps in the spectators on the sides, but throughout the race I was impressed by the sheer numbers of spectators.
The Boston Marathon has some decent downhill for the first 4 miles. I didn’t feel like I was taking the downhill too fast because I was so boxed in. I actually wanted to go a bit faster, but I was happy with 6:33 for my first mile. The second mile was similar and I came in around 6:27.
I picked it up a bit for the third mile. The runners started to spread out. There were also some nice crowds and I had fun giving high fives to the people on the sidelines. I got a little carried away on a downhill portion with crowds and started running too fast, but I reigned myself back in and ran a 6:19 for miles 3 and 4. 6:19 was actually near my “stretch goal” pace of 2:45:00, so I didn’t mind.
One great thing about the Boston Marathon is the variety of runners. For example, I was near the Blind Runner pictured below for a while. It’s amazing to me that he could move like he did with that disability. I ran by him for a large portion of the race. I also came across handcyclers and people with other disabilities and missing limbs during the race.
Around Mile 4 I took my phone out and captured a selfie. I figured I should get at least one since I was carrying my phone. It was a pain to do since I didn’t want to stop, and as I got more tired later on I didn’t feel like messing with my phone.
I hit my fifth mile at 6:28. Something changed during that mile. I noticed that my legs and breathing were not quite right. If my heart rate was being measured correctly it was way too high. It was hot out. It hit 79 Fahrenheit during the race, and we started out at about 69F. There were aid stations every mile starting at Mile 2, and I was taking one cup of Gatorade to drink and a cup of water to dump on my head. Despite drinking a lot, I could tell that my stretch goal was not likely to happen. I was not feeling well.
Miles 6-10: 6:24, 6:25, 6:33, 6:35, 6:44
I still pressed on and continued hitting my primary goal pace of 6:28.
I don’t recall all the details of the race, just continued amazement at the crowds of spectators. It wasn’t exactly one continuous line of spectators, but there were large groups of people quite often. They were cheering, giving high-fives, handing out orange slices and water. Some were searching for their runners but many were just out to watch the spectacle and cheer us on. It was fantastic. It certainly provided a boost.
A few times during the marathon, a runner would grab a water bottle from a spectator, take a sip or dump some on his head, and then hand it on to another runner. I took part in this a few times during the race.
Miles 6, 7, and 8 were at 6:24, 6:25, and 6:35. I remember distinctly feeling rotten around mile 7. I was drinking a lot (more than planned) and eating my Gu Energy Chews, but I was feeling rotten. I decided to eat my Honey Stinger Waffle at Mile 8 instead of waiting until Mile 10. Unfortunately my mouth was already really dry and it was hard to swallow. This is usually the case around Mile 20 for me, but not before Mile 10 (that’s why I only bring one Waffle to eat). I actually gagged on the last bite and it got stuck in my throat until I hit the next aid station and downed some water. This was not pleasant.
I couldn’t believe how bad I was feeling. I had felt way better on training runs at a similar pace. Five weeks earlier I had run a half marathon at a 6:00/mile pace. Now I knew I had to slow down more, so my next two miles were 6:35 and 6:44.
I was in a pretty dark place at this point, despite the amazing crowds and all the energy. I did my best to think positive and keep chugging on. I was surprised at how lousy I felt, and I even felt light-headed a few times. In hindsight, I’m quite sure this was due to a combination of the heat and wearing out my legs walking all over New York. Touring on foot had taken its toll.
Miles 11-15: 6:50, 6:48, 6:57, 7:00, 7:07
Accepting this, I let my pace drift further. I wanted to finish, no matter what my time was, and I didn’t want a total disaster like when I ran the Hoover Dam Marathon. This section of the course was mostly flat. I tried to regroup and hydrate. I also tried to enjoy the experience despite how terrible I was feeling.
At mile 11 I grabbed a Clif gel and it provided a good boost.
At mile 13 we passed Wellesley College and the “scream tunnel.” I didn’t get a kiss, but a lot of other runners did and it was entertaining. I did give a lot of high fives. I thought the energy here was similar to what we saw in a lot of the towns along the course.
Crossing half way was a relief. I crossed at 1:26:30. This was slower than what I had originally planned and at this point I didn’t expect any kind of negative or even split. I still hoped for a turnaround though.
MILES 16-20: 6:37, 7:10, 7:26, 7:05, 7:18
Finally during mile 16 I emerged from my haze and got a bit of a second wind. In my last couple of marathons (Morgan Valley and Layton) I’ve gotten a second wind at a similar point. There was a half mile where I felt really good for the first time in about 12 miles. I thought there could be a chance of holding the line at a 7:00/mile pace. That didn’t happen for long, but I received a huge mental boost and it was enough to get me out of my despair and through the rest of the race.
My splits for miles 16 and 17 were 6:37 and 7:10, attributing to the second wind I got as well as some downhill during mile 16 and uphill during mile 17.
Now that I was past mile 17 I knew we had more hills coming up, in fact, we had just passed the first one. Given my state at this point in the race, the hills didn’t really bug me much. I mean, I was already somewhat of a wreck relative to where I thought I’d be, so I just took the hills as they came.
The crowds were also growing by now and provided some nice support on the hills.
MILES 21-25: 7:54, 7:26, 7:59, 8:23, 9:15
Heartbreak Hill finally arrived at ~mile 20.5. Similar to the previous hills, this wasn’t a huge deal for me since I was already wrecked anyways. I trudged up it at a relatively decent pace and finished mile 21 in 7:54.
The crowd from here to the finish essentially lined every foot of the course and it was awesome. However, when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill I was starting to get really exhausted and I could feel my quads locking up. Uh oh.
I finished mile 22 in 7:26 but after that it became a slog. My quads became extremely tight and heavy. Every step took effort. I had been here before, but in the last four marathons I’d run I hadn’t gotten to this point. The Newport Marathon was the last time I had hit The Wall like this.
Now the challenge was not to finish in a certain time, but to finish without walking. I knew if I slowed to a walk I’d immediately cramp up and wouldn’t be able to resume running.
I also noticed that I was no longer sweating. This concerned me, but I was close enough to the end that I figured I could make it.
My miles slowed from 7:59 to 8:53 to 9:15. This is always remarkable to me in hindsight (even though it’s happened before). When I am doing training runs, I pretty much never run slower than 8:30, even on recovery days. On those days I can’t imagine ever needing to run slower than 9:00/mile. Yet here I was unable to hold a 9:00 pace!
To make things worse, I was getting passed by what seemed like hundreds of runners at this point. They were like a river running past me. I thought it was even thousands, but looking back and knowing my final placement, it was probably about 1000 runners that passed me between the half and the end, possibly fewer.
While it’s not fun to be passed by 1000 runners, I did see some guys walking or obviously injured or cramped up. I’m grateful I was still moving as fast as I was.
I counted down the minutes until I could stop running. I remember this started when I had about 3 miles left — about 25 minutes.
Cyndi later asked me if I had the classic dark thought of “I’m never doing another marathon again.” I laughed. It’s been a few years since I had that thought (Robie Creek 2012 I think). On the contrary, at this point I was thinking about which race I could redeem myself at…
MILE 26 & 26.2: 9:40, 7:47
One thing that kept me going was that Cyndi had texted me to say that she and my parents were on the corner of Hereford and Boylston, very close to the finish. I didn’t want to make them wait any longer and I wanted to run by them, not walk. From Cyndi’s spot, she saw a lot of my heroes:
I saw the CITGO sign up ahead, then finally I got to make the right turn onto Hereford. The crowd was so loud here! I watched for Cyndi and finally spotted her about 100 yards ahead on my left. It was such a relief and a happy moment to see her! I ran up to her and gave her a kiss. Then I rounded the turn onto Boylston.
Apparently I had a little more left in me because the pace of my last 0.2 mile was 7:47.
About 150 yards before the finish I saw two runners grab a guy in blue that was falling. I started to run up to help on his right, but an officer stepped over to support him, so I ended up going around them. I glanced back and saw him go all the way to the ground. He was later carried across the finish. I found this video:
Crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon was such a relief! I had waited so long, thought about it during dozens of training runs over thousands of miles. It was an accomplishment I’d looked forward to for 3.5 years. It also meant I could stop running.
My official time was 3:08:42, a far cry from my expected time of ~2:48:00, but it could have been worse.
After the Boston Marathon
I soon got my medal and some snacks (which I couldn’t stomach yet). The race organizers made the runners walk what seemed like forever. I just wanted to sit down and rest! I was really light-headed. At first I just stopped and leaned. Finally when I thought I’d puke and/or faint I had to sit in a wheelchair. I rested for a minute then got up and continued walking. I eventually had to find another wheelchair. I rested in that and then continued walking. I found one more wheelchair and sat in it until they threatened to take me to the medical tent. Then I finished the death march to the meetup area and sat on the sidewalk for 10-15 minutes.
I sat next to a guy named Craig Stevenson from Michigan. He was in a state similar to me — happy to have finished, but exhausted and disappointed with his time. The heat had gotten to us both. If I remember correctly, we had both ran a similar number of marathons and were both at Boston for the first time. It was nice to talk to someone and realize that many of us had a tough race. [I later came across this thread on LetsRun.com and saw that many other people had similar experiences.]
I eventually caught up with Cyndi and my parents in a little cafe. It was good to see them and I gave them a recap of the race. They’d had a fun time cheering and seeing the fast runners come through. They said a lady next to them cried when I gave Cyndi a kiss! Cyndi said that watching the end of the marathon was one of the top 10 experiences of her life (I just checked again and she still affirms that even though it’s been a week since the race).
After cleaning up we walked part of the Freedom Trail and ended up eating a delicious dinner at a restaurant called Row 34. I had the “Daily Whole Fish” which was a black bass. YUM.
It was fun to see other runners walking around and congratulate them.
I honestly think that 70-90% of people that want to run Boston could run Boston. The 10-30% that can’t are those that are plagued with injuries or other ailments. I think most other people could do it. What does it take? It takes planning. It takes sacrificing other hobbies for running. It may take losing some weight (I’m down to <190 from my high of 239). It takes patience: I read recently that we generally overestimate what we can do in the short run, and underestimate what we can do in the long run. I think that most people that are willing to put in the time and effort can get to Boston in 3-6 years.
I hope to run the Boston Marathon again someday. It probably won’t happen next year, but maybe in two or three.
Boston was my 17th marathon. It was unlike anything else I’ve done. The energy and excitement was amazing. The organization was superb. I’ve never been in a corral with ~1000 other runners that are my same speed and fitness. I’ve never seen crowds that line a course for miles. I’ve never run next to blind runners, runners missing limbs, runners pushing disabled people, and wheelchair athletes all in the same race. Boston was a unique, memorable, and remarkable experience. How could I not want to do it again?