Race Review: Morgan Valley Marathon

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

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.

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