St. George Marathon 2017

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.

This picture doesn’t do Kanarra Creek any justice whatsoever

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 waiting for the bus for the St. George Marathon. I’m sure she won’t appreciate me posting this photo, but at least I’ll know whether she read this.

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.

Cosie, trying to smile through tears right before leaving her BFF in St. George.

Besides, we also wanted to stop at Leatherby’s, our favorite ice cream place. It was delicious.

Don’t judge an ice cream shop by it’s menu cover.

Big Cottonwood Marathon 2017 Race Report

A text conversation with my wife:

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.

Pre-race

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.

Note happy kids with race swag

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.

Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon
Just after mile 5 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

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.

Around mile 11 of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

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.

Sprinting to the finish line
Because I saw this guy.

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.

Post Race

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.

My body hurts. Just let me sit.

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.

Getting some delicious ice cream at Leatherby’s after the race. Don’t worry, I shared with my kids.

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.

121st Boston Marathon (2017) – Race Report

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.

Someone put a bib on this Samuel Adams at the Tea Party museum

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.

Central Park
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Stomp off Broadway
Times Square
One World Trade Center and the Memorial
High Line Park
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:

Day Steps
Wednesday 15,869
Thursday 27,585
Friday 19,877
Saturday 25,769
Sunday 11,963

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.

Finally have my Boston Marathon packet in hand!
“Be Boston” – the theme this year
Bib in hand with my biggest supporter by my side

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?).

Race Morning

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.

I ran near this blind runner for part of the Boston Marathon

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.

A fuzzy selfie taken while running around Mile 4 of the Boston Marathon. You can see the runners had spread out a bit by then.

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

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

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:

Kiplagat
Kirui
Galen Rupp
Jared Ward
Puzey – the brother of an old friend
Meb – who is very inspiring to me

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.

Hereford Street during the 2017 Boston Marathon
Here I come down Hereford! Almost done!

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.

Runners milling about and looking for friends and family after the Boston Marathon

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 grabbed this photo of Craig so I could remember who he was. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting it here!
Keeping warm after the marathon in a plastic blanket

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).

Heading out for a tourist walk with my medal after finishing the 2017 Boston Marathon

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.

In Conclusion

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?

Race Report: 2016 Layton Marathon (1st Place!)

The kids had a couple days off of school in October for some reason, so we decided to take a trip to Utah to visit some family and friends. Utah has a plethora of marathons, so as long as we were in Utah I figured I should sign up for one. The Layton Marathon’s date and location fell nicely within our trip plans. I debated whether I wanted to interrupt training to run a marathon, but ultimately I decided to pull the trigger as I know I have a long winter training season ahead of me and I really wanted to do three marathons this year.

The Trip

Cyndi, our five kids, and I drove down to Utah after work on Wednesday night. We arrived at my brother’s house after midnight and I got to sleep around 12:40am. Of course, the kids were up before 7:30am (they had slept in the car) and I wasn’t in my own bed, so I didn’t exactly sleep well. I did a 4.25 mile recovery run with a few striders that morning. Then we went to the BYU campus (our alma mater) and walked across campus in search of a geocache. We stopped at the science building and the Bean Museum as well. By the time we were back at our car I was pretty exhausted. I caught a 5 minute nap at home, but that was it.

Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon
Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon

Thursday evening we headed to our friends’ house to play games until about midnight (I lost our game of Caverna). Then our 16 month old decided not to sleep, so once again it was a not-so-restful night. I told Cyndi I couldn’t do a walking tour that day as I wanted to have some chance at a decent marathon on Saturday. Luckily we found a good deal on a bounce house place, so we let the kids play for a couple hours while we mostly relaxed and watched. We then ate lunch at Costa Vida and I ate WAY too much (my full chicken burrito, 1/4 of Paisley’s burrito, and a little of Cyndi’s salad). We ate dinner at Grandma’s and I tried to take it easy, but I still ate too much given the large lunch I had eaten. We headed to my cousin’s house and I topped it off with a couple chocolate chip cookies. I also lost by one point in a competitive game of Settlers of Catan — complete with the Cities and Knights and Seafarers expansions.

My cousin lives right by Layton, so we stopped at packet pickup before we got there. Packet pickup wasn’t too fancy — I got my shirt, my bib, a couple granola bars, and some safety pins. There wasn’t actually a packet with decent coupons or anything special.

Fortunately the baby slept well on Friday night, so I got almost 5 hours of sleep. I was counting on caffeinated Clif Bloks at this point.

Layton Marathon Race Morning

The alarm sounded at 4:10am and Cyndi kindly drove me to the bus pick up at 4:45. We could have used a little more guidance on where the buses were going to be, but we figured it out and I was able to hop on the first bus (which I like to do for first bathroom access — especially after engorging myself the previous day).

At this point I will note that the Layton Marathon website isn’t too great. It is pretty bare bones and confusing to navigate. It left off some information like whether there would be a bag drop-off and if and where gels would be handed out on the course. Not too big a deal, but it was probably my main organizational complaint.

The bus left at 5am from Layton and headed out to Antelope Island. After a long ride it dropped us off on the east side of the island. It was pretty chilly outside and I made a mental note to dress warmer for my next marathon. I was wearing shorts, jogging pants, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, a hoodie, knit gloves, and a beanie, but it wasn’t quite enough while waiting over an hour in the cold. The race volunteers fired up a generator and a big electric heater, but I didn’t feel like huddling with a group of 30 people. I was a bit cold, but I wasn’t shivering at least. Anyways, I milled around and used the port-a-potties three times. I chatted with a couple people, including one younger lady that was running her first marathon. She asked me for tips and I gave her two (which I have learned by sad experience):

  1. Don’t go out too fast.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids — more than you think you need.

As race time approached I stripped down to my tank top, shorts, and knit gloves. It was really cold, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly.

I was secretly hoping for a PR — perhaps a pace of ~6:45/mi to beat my PR of 6:48/mile. However, I was concerned about my lack of sleep and how my recent training would translate into marathon performance. I’d clocked a lot of miles recently, but my last marathon, Morgan Valley Marathon, was just over two months before. I finished in 3:00:08 at Morgan Valley, so I hoped I’d do better at ~1000 feet lower altitude.

The Layton Marathon Course

The Layton Marathon course starts on the east side of Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. The first 10 miles of the course follow the east coast of the island with the Salt Lake to the right and a ridge rising to the left. On the slopes you may see some herds of Bison grazing. The vegetation is dry and mostly brown. The first 10 miles include some light rolling hills, most of which are probably beneficial since they work slightly different leg muscles on the inclines and declines. There is one notable hill that rises 200 feet or so.

At Mile 10 the course turns right and for the next seven miles it follows a causeway across the Great Salt Lake. Note that the lake is not a normal lake — it is really shallow and the water recedes quite a bit from its highest levels. The causeway is straight and flat. Around Mile 17 runners are back on the land and run the rest of the course on large, straight roads, some of which have a gentle incline. Initially the roads are among farms and marshland, but eventually the course starts hitting suburban areas before finally turning to the last stretch near a school and park.

Running the Layton Marathon

Miles 1 to 4: 6:57, 6:40, 6:40, 6:50

The race started right at 7am and I took it easy for the first half mile — clocking in above a 7 minute pace. I didn’t want to go out too fast like I normally do. I was surprised how much I was able to control my pace as I usually have to really restrain myself.

A runner named Caleb took off ahead, and there were two other runners near me: a lady who I passed within the first few hundred yards, and a guy named Eddie. I introduced myself to Eddie and we talked a bit. He’d done several half marathons but no full marathons — this was his first. His best Half time was 1:23, so I thought he could potentially be under 3 hours depending on his training regimen. However, I asked if he’d done any “long” runs like 18 or 20 miles and he said he hadn’t. He usually just does 10 or 12 miles per day. That’s still a lot of mileage, but I wasn’t sure if that would give him the endurance required to do a 3 hour marathon. I told him I’d be right around 3 hours if he wanted to stay with me, but after 2 or 3 miles I slowly pulled away.

I hit a couple 6:40 miles which is right where I wanted to be at this point in the race. My 4th mile was a bit slower at 6:50, but still in a good range for a 6:45 average. There were some herds of bison to our left which was pretty cool. I also saw several mule deer prancing around the side of the road, across the road, and up the ridge. I was closing in on Caleb, who was leading in 1st place.

MILES 5 TO 8: 6:40, 6:47, 7:03, 6:58

Mile 5 and 6 were right in line with my target average. The gentle rolling hills were nice — flat enough that they didn’t overwork my legs but inclined enough to mix it up. The view across the lake was pretty nice. The sun was rising over Layton and the whole Wasatch Front, and it was cool to see.

I caught Caleb at some point around Mile 5 and learned his name. He hadn’t done a marathon in a couple years. I was amazed to hear he’d done a 35 mile training run just two weeks prior! That either meant he would have plenty of endurance or he’d be a little burned out. He got through the water stations faster than me, so I would lose a little ground on him only to gain it back within a few hundred yards.

Starting at Mile 6 there is a 200 foot hill. We both charged up it at a decent pace of just over 7:00/mile. It didn’t feel too strenuous to me, so I was OK with that pace. Besides, I’d recently done some hill training, so I was somewhat prepared for it. Mile 8 was on top of the hill and Caleb and I were still together. I thought I could potentially make a move on the downhill, although I knew we had plenty of miles left to jockey for position.

There were a couple bison right next to the road somewhere around mile 8. They are huge! Frankly, I was a little concerned. Fortunately none of them charged us. One of them actually started thundering away when we approached it.

MILES 9 TO 12: 5:52, 6:33, 6:45, 7:47

I took the downhill pretty hard. Well, I didn’t actually exert myself very much, but I didn’t hold back either. Downhill is a little tricky: your mind wants to slow down, but if you do you’ll actually do more damage to your quads than if you just roll with gravity. I passed Caleb on the downhill portion and clocked a nice sub-6 mile, followed by another fast 6:33 mile as the hill petered out.

Caleb passed me back right after the downhill and put 20 yards between us. He was now getting some nice cheering from his parents (presumably) who were leap-frogging us every couple miles. They were friendly and cheered for me, too, but not as much as for him 🙂

After Mile 10 we turned onto the causeway and suddenly I needed to use a port-a-potty. This was uncalled for. Only one other time have I taken a bio break during a race, and that was my 3rd marathon (Salt Lake City) back in 2004! Really though, I wasn’t too surprised given my binge eating the previous day. Still, I was mad at myself, especially given that I was within 20 yards of 1st place.

I knew there was a port-a-potty at the Mile 11 aid station, and the closer I got the more I needed to use it. I was worried that there would be some volunteer in it or some other issue. To my great relief there wasn’t. I was able to get in and out in exactly 1 minute. (Sorry if this is Too Much Information, but such issues can really affect overall performance!)

Back on the course, I knew that I had plenty of time left to catch Caleb. I looked behind me and couldn’t see anyone, so Eddie wasn’t a present concern. It was actually kind of nice to have a 1 minute buffer with the leader so I could run my own race.

MILES 13 TO 16: 6:43, 6:50, 6:41, 6:46

My watch was at about 1:29:00 at the half way mark. This meant that I was right on pace for a PR if I didn’t hit the wall, and that includes my break.

I then had a thought occur to me: while eating too much the day before cost me a minute break, it also meant that my muscles should be chock full of glycogen. I should have all the energy I needed to PR and then some! I liked this line of thought, and I began to push a little harder.

I started passing the half marathon walkers. I cheered some of them on and they did the same for me. This gave me a welcome distraction and also made it harder to see where Caleb was at.

Around Mile 16 I was really starting to feel good and I began to gather some speed.

MILES 17 TO 21: 6:37, 6:40, 6:36, 6:37

We got off the causeway and back to land right around Mile 17 and now I was cruising. I did a sub 6:40 mile. During Mile 18 there was a turn and I could see Caleb ahead. I began to think I was closing on him. It reminded me of one of my best 5k races in high school when I just stared at the back of the 1st place runner’s shirt. (I passed that runner for the first time in my life after 4k, only to be passed back a couple hundred yards later.)

Caleb was still a ways ahead, but I was trying to do a sneak attack. I tried keeping half marathoners between him and me in case he looked back. He never did though, he was just focused on his own race. Kudos to him for leading the race for ~20 miles and maintaining a great pace.

My mile times were awesome at this point and I was feeling good. I was really closing in on Caleb and I hoped to pass him after the Mile 21 aid station. This would let me take my slow water break and then have a two mile stretch before the next one. It worked out just how I wanted. I was only a couple dozen yards behind him at the aid station.

MILES 22 TO 26.2: 6:39, 6:42, 6:46, 6:47, 6:30, ~5:38 pace

During Mile 22 I finally caught Caleb and passed him. I passed him going fast because I really didn’t want to have to go stride for stride with him. My pace was still pretty healthy at this point and I did another sub 6:40 mile.

Then the course started to incline a bit and my legs started to tighten up. I didn’t hit The Wall, but I could definitely feel more resistance. I didn’t know how close behind Caleb was, so I kept pushing. I also realized that I had a good shot at a PR, although my watch was off by ~0.2 miles so it was difficult to tell exactly how good of a PR opportunity I had.

Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon

My main ambition now was to secure a sub 2:58 finish. The final few miles felt pretty good overall. I didn’t let my pace get too slow. The last mile felt great and I tried to pick it up and leave everything on the course.

There’s only so much you can do at this point in the race, but I was ecstatic to be running at a ~6:30 pace for the last mile! Finally I could see the finish line and I sped up even more, doing a sub 6:00 pace for the last few hundred yards.

Final stretch of the Layton Marathon
Final stretch of the Layton Marathon

It was nice that there weren’t many half marathoners for my last quarter or half mile (they were spread out), so it was just me and the finish line. There was a small crowd at the finish and they gave me a good cheer. Cyndi was also there and it was great to see her. I sprinted into the finish and was happy to see that I got a new PR of 2:57:07 on my 16th marathon+.

Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon
Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon

AND FIRST PLACE! My first 1st place finish at a marathon. I’d gotten 3rd a couple times and 2nd once, but never 1st. It was pretty awesome.

I liked the medal as well.

The 2016 Layton Marathon medal
The medal I received from the 2016 Layton Marathon

Post Race

Cyndi and I milled around as we waited for the awards ceremony. I took a little walk and tried to stretch out a bit. About 10 minutes after finishing I got that post-marathon-I-want-to-throw-up feeling, but it dissipated and I was able to eat half a PBJ and drink water.

Wearing my Layton Marathon medal
Wearing my Layton Marathon medal

I saw Caleb come through and chatted with him. He did great and it was nice to meet him. I’ve never had someone like that to compete with during a marathon. He had hit The Wall around the time I passed him I think, so he finished in 3:03. That was fantastic for a second marathon and I’m sure he’ll improve a lot in the future.

Layton Marathon podium
Shaking Caleb’s hand at the Layton Marathon podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium

After the awards we headed back to my cousin’s where I showered. As we walked away I saw Eddie finishing up around 3:50 and we cheered him on. We gathered the kids and hit the road for the 5 hour trip back to Meridian. I drove for the first three hours then had to take shotgun so I could stretch my legs out.

Overall it was a great experience. I was satisfied with my time and especially my place. Despite being a small marathon, there were no significant issues: the bus left on time, the aid stations were well stocked, and they gave awards to all age groups. The course terrain was fast and the scenery was pretty good. I would happily run it again.

Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque
Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque

Race Review: Morgan Valley Marathon

A shooting star, a skunk, some angry dogs, a beautiful sunrise, verdant farms, goats, little rolling hills, magnificent mountains in every direction, great organization: these were some of the things that made the Morgan Valley Marathon a memorable event that I would happily do again.

Morgan Valley Marathon Banner

Background

My youngest brother, Jake, was getting married on July 30 in Utah. Since Utah is chock full of marathons and Idaho (my home state) isn’t, I decided it might be worth seeing which events were happening around that time. (I might as well run a marathon if I’m going to be in Utah, right?) I found two prospective marathons: the Deseret News Classic on July 25th and the Morgan Valley Marathon on July 30th.

I’ve wanted to run Deseret News for some time, but it was looking to be a busy week at work so I didn’t think I could get away for a whole week. It took place on Monday this year in conjunction with Utah’s Pioneer Day.

That left the Morgan Valley Marathon. It’s a fairly small event — about 100 runners in the marathon, but more than that in the Half and also some in the 10k and 5k. I only found one or two reviews of the marathon online, and they were very positive. I finally decided to sign up about two weeks before the race as I didn’t have any injuries and felt that I could have a good run. We had actually ran/driven through the area during the Ragnar Wasatch Back in June and I knew it was a nice area.

The Morgan Valley Marathon Course

The Morgan Valley Marathon course is a little challenging. It takes place around 5.000 feet, with some little rolling hills throughout the course. No big hills, just little rollers. The course is basically a loop, although there is a little backtracking on one section. Net elevation change, therefore, is zero, but the gross elevation gain (total climbing) was about 620 feet according to my Garmin.

I checked out the Morgan Valley Marathon course map while I was milling around near the starting line
I checked out the Morgan Valley Marathon course map while I was milling around near the starting line

That describes the course’s difficulty, but not its beauty. The course turned out to be right up my alley. Most of the course is on along a lightly used country road with hills on one side and green farms on the other. There were American flags proudly displayed, tethered goats taking care of weeds, cows, horses, deer, and even a skunk. As if that wasn’t enough, the course is in a valley which means huge, rocky mountains in every direction. Moreover, since the start time was at 5:30am, we were graced with a gorgeous sunrise on a thin layer of stratus clouds. The only downside to the course was a ~4 mile stretch near a freeway which was a little noisy. Otherwise it was amazing.

Here’s a shot of part of the course, but imagine it under a morning sunrise:

I think the Morgan Valley Marathon course was my favorite I’ve ran so far. I probably preferred it to the St. George Marathon.

Tapering and Preparation for the Marathon

Given that this wasn’t a great course for a personal record (elevation, rolling hills), I decided to do a softer taper than normal. I didn’t want to do a full taper and interrupt my training too much. I went backpacking to Hell Roaring Lake two weekends before the marathon, which meant no long run that weekend (although I did do a 14 miler on the Wednesday before backpacking). The week before marathon week, I did 13 miles on Monday, 9.5 miles on Wednesday, and 14 miles on Friday. I also cross trained and did a little recovery running on the other days. I’d never done a 14 miler the weekend before a marathon, so that was somewhat experimental.

I did a full taper the week of the marathon: 6.5 miles Monday, cross training Tuesday, 5 miles Wednesday, 4 recovery miles Thursday, and resting on Friday (actually driving).

I caught a cold starting on Tuesday, so I did everything I could to shake it. This included drinking a ton, some vitamin supplementation, medicine, and zinc lozenges. My main fear was getting a cough, but I was very blessed to be feeling mostly better on Friday as we drove to Utah.

We had a pretty big family lunch of pizza, salad, and fruit on Friday. I only ate three slices of pizza but I ate a lot of salad and watermelon. Since my brother was getting married on Saturday, we had a little bachelor party for him on Friday evening. They all wanted to do sushi, so I joined in despite never having really tried sushi. It was pretty good and I ate quite a bit — a variety of rolls mostly. I figured the rice would work well for the carbs, although all the fish was more questionable.

I got to bed a little before 11pm on Friday, and then I woke up at 2:45 (ugh). We were staying with a friend in Springville, UT, which is 1.5 hours from Morgan, UT. I hit the road just after 3am, all alone, and arrived in Morgan at about 4:30am to pick up my packet and get ready.

Picked up my packet in the wee hours of the morning at the Morgan Valley Marathon.
Picked up my packet in the wee hours of the morning at the Morgan Valley Marathon.

I started finally feeling pumped at about 5am. Up until that time I was a little concerned about my unusual taper, my cold, and my lack of sleep.

Is that a Creamies trailer I see? Something to look forward to after the Morgan Valley Marathon.
Is that a Creamies trailer I see? Something to look forward to after the Morgan Valley Marathon.

I lined up with just under 100 other runners at about 5:25. I talked to a guy named David who told me he had ran a 1:21 half in Wyoming (at high elevation) and did a lot of trail running in the mountains. This was his first marathon.

The Race

The gun fired and we began the Morgan Valley Marathon. I really didn’t want to go too hard in this race, particularly early on. About a quarter mile from the start I saw a nice meteor cross the twilight sky to my right, which I thought was pretty cool. I held myself back really well for the first half mile as three runners took the lead ahead of me: a lady named Rosy, David, and another guy named Matt. They ran stride for stride about 30 yards ahead of me for a while, so I decided to catch up with them. I did so at about Mile 1, but then I let them go again as they were going too fast for my liking. I figured the lady meant business since I haven’t seen many women go out that fast in a marathon.

A police officer in an SUV with the police lights on escorted us for the first 3 miles or so. We went through a neighborhood from about Mile 1 to Mile 2. I trailed the three leaders by 50-100 yards. After the neighborhood we started running by houses on farms. Then at about Mile 3, I heard some dogs and saw the three runners ahead of me have to stop and shoo away two big dogs that were in the road from a nearby house. Luckily the police escort noticed. He got out of his car and was yelling at the dogs by the time I got there. He guided them back to the house and presumably knocked on the door and woke the family up so they would get their dogs on a leash.

There was a right turn at mile 3.5 and I noticed that Matt started to fall back from David and Rosy. I stayed about 100 yards behind Matt for the next few miles while David and Rosy slowly pulled away.

Around Mile 4.5 of the Morgan Valley Marathon we made another right turn and this is where I really started falling in love with the course. There was a hillside on our left and beautiful farms along our right. The road wasn’t closed, but there was hardly any traffic. It was a little curvy and very rural. I saw a deer at in the hills at one point, and I’m sure I could have seen more had I opened my eyes a bit more.

There were also a lot of goats near the road. They would be tethered to a tree or pole in order to keep the weeds down (I presume).

Right at Mile 7 I was minding my own business when I spotted a skunk crossing the road ahead of me on a direct intercept course. I’m so glad I noticed it! I would have ran right into it. I quickly moved to the other side of the road and even stopped to wait for it to cross. It raised its tail but luckily didn’t spray me. I passed by once it ducked into the weeds.

There were plenty of aid stations. They were placed about every two miles along the course. I was worried about hydration since the low on Friday night was 62F, and I figured it would heat up in the last hour of the race. I drank Powerade at several aid stations and water at some of them. When I woke up at 3am, I had downed a Gatorade and then some extra water before the race.

I noticed I was started to gain a little on Matt. It was just a few yards per mile, but I was definitely closing. We turned right again after Mile 9 and made our way through a little town called Stoddard, established 1860 if I remember correctly. I liked this since I live right by Stoddard Road (in Idaho). We approached the freeway and crossed it over an overpass. I spotted Rosy and David as they turned left after the overpass and determined that they were about 3 minutes ahead of me at this point.

Around Mile 12 there was a quarter mile hill. Not too steep, but probably the hill I noticed most. I worked my way up and then went down pretty fast.

I finally caught Matt after the half way mark. That’s when I first learned his name and we talked a bit. He had done even less tapering than me, although he said he normally ran 70-80 miles per week, which is a lot more than me. After talking to him a bit, I found that we had many similarities: we’re both in our mid-30s, we had both PR’d and BQ’d on May 21st with sub 3 hour marathons, and we were both just hoping for low 3:00’s in this Morgan Valley Marathon. He was very friendly and it was nice to talk to him after running behind him for the last 13 miles. We stuck together until around Mile 15, at which point I sped up a bit and started to separate from him.

Post race photo with Matt
Post race photo with Matt

I felt some tightness around Mile 13, but I still felt good. In miles 15-18 I felt pretty strong and the tightness hadn’t worsened. I tried to surge a bit to take advantage of it while I could. I don’t think I actually sped up, but I did hold my pace pretty well.

Around Mile 15 I noticed the sun was shining. From then on the temperature slowly increased. However, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was a bit warm in the last three miles, but I didn’t feel like it affected me. I think my focus on drinking extra fluids paid off.

Around Mile 18 I choked down a Gu that I had picked up earlier on the course. I felt like my stomach could handle it, which was unusual for me this late in a marathon. I wanted the caffeine boost and the nutrition for the last few miles. A couple miles later I ate my last piece of Gu Energy Chew. The total consumption for my marathon included: two packs of Gu Energy Chews, one Honey Stinger Waffle (Gingersnap), one Gu, and a bunch of Powerade.

There was a little more uphill in the second half of the marathon, but it really wasn’t too bad. I didn’t mind the little rolling hills as they provided a little variation.

After Mile 20 I found myself slowing down unintentionally a few times. My mind would wander and my cadence would slow. When I realized it, I would immediately pick it back up, mainly by focusing on faster cadence.

I looked back a couple times for cars and for other runners. I had pulled away from Matt, but I could still see him and I was worried I would slow down and he wouldn’t.

At Mile 23 we turned left and joined up with the half marathoners. This was nice to have some company and a little more excitement. My pace was faster than the half marathoners at this stage, so I was passing people from this point forward.

One word on the Morgan Valley Marathon organization: it was spectacular. There was a volunteer at every turn and I never really had to worry that I was off track. This was important since the marathon was so spread out. I literally only saw three other marathon runners after the first half mile. I only saw Matt from Mile 13 to Mile 20. Then it was just me and the half marathoners that I saw.

The only issue I had with organization is that on the left turn at Mile 23, the aid station was on the wrong side of the road. I would have had to cross the road to grab a water, and I really didn’t want to, so I just didn’t drink at that point. It wasn’t a huge deal since I was almost done and I had consumed so much water already, but it was the one spot I thought could be improved.

I was doing a lot of math in my head to see where I’d end up. I had already eliminated the idea of matching my PR, but I was thinking about hitting sub 3:00:00. It seemed like I was about 30 seconds slow, which I didn’t think I could make up in the last couple miles, but I kept pushing.

This was by far the strongest I’d felt in the last miles of a marathon. I pushed hard for the last mile, and saw that I actually did have a shot at a sub 3 hour marathon. After Mile 26 I picked it up even more, but alas, I came in at 3:00:08, just 9 seconds shy of 2:59!

Post Race

Standing in front of the Morgan Valley Marathon finish line... with a Premium Creamy in my hand.
Standing in front of the Morgan Valley Marathon finish line… with a Premium Creamy in my hand.

I was really happy with my time at the Morgan Valley Marathon, and with my 2nd place male finish. David and Rosy ended up finishing at 2:53. This was the second marathon in which I had taken 2nd to a first time marathoner that I talked to before the race (the first was the Mt. Nebo Marathon). Of course, since Rosy beat me I was 3rd overall.

Top 3 male and top 2 female finishers of the Morgan Valley Marathon
Top 3 male and top 2 female finishers of the Morgan Valley Marathon

Matt finished just two minutes behind me. He had a great race as well and I’m guessing he’ll PR again in his fall marathon when he’s more rested and has an easier course. I’m hoping to do so as well, although I need to pick a marathon to run first.

I drank some chocolate milk and ate a couple Premium Creamies and chatted a bit with Matt and David. They handed out awards pretty fast, and we snapped some photos afterwards.

Morgan Valley Marathon finish line and post race party
Morgan Valley Marathon finish line and post race party

By 9:30am I was back in the car to make the 1.5 hour drive back to Springville. I spend some quality time with family that afternoon and had a fun time at my brother’s wedding that evening.

After the Morgan Valley Marathon I went to be a groomsman at my brother's wedding.
After the Morgan Valley Marathon I went to be a groomsman at my brother’s wedding.

The Morgan Valley Marathon was a great experience. Kudos to the race organizers who put on a great event. The course was striking and fun to run. Between the Morgan Valley Marathon and the Ragnar Wasatch Back, I have a new appreciation for that area of Utah.