The COVID pandemic was a big interruption to everything in 2020, including running. I had a St Patrick’s Day run scheduled for early March, and it was cancelled the week of the race. I signed up for the Big Cottonwood Marathon in September and it also ended up being cancelled. Fortunately my friend, Chad, and I found the Jackson Hole Marathon, and we both got to run it on September 26, 2020. It would be my only race during all of 2020.
I’d never been to Jackson Hole and I’d never seen the Teton mountains up close, despite living in the Boise area for most of my life. We approached Jackson Hole from the Idaho side on the day before the race and saw the glory of the Tetons. Unfortunately when we got through the pass it was cloudy, and it would remain that way until we left.
Cyndi came with me on this trip and we did a drive-through packet pickup. One of the items I received was a mask, which became one of my favorite masks to wear throughout the pandemic. Since hotels were so expensive we ended up splitting a room at the Mountain Modern Motel with Chad and Julie. They arrived a little after we checked in and we went out to eat at Miazga’s, which was good and didn’t have too terrible a wait. After dinner we went to Jackson Town Square and got a scoop of ice cream. (Cyndi and I were about to sign a lease for Lovejoy’s Real Ice Cream, so we critiqued flavor options and got ideas.) We went back to the hotel and soaked in the hot tub for a bit before going to bed. The hotel was nice.
Chad and I woke up early to get ready and walk to the starting line. It was drizzling outside, but it wasn’t too cold or windy. The marathon starts right at Jackson Town Square. Due to COVID, they had everyone spread out and start by walking towards the Start line and then taking off. We had masks on right until the start and then we could take them off and put them in our pockets.
Jackson Hole Marathon Miles 1-4: 6:46, 6:44, 6:30, 6:33
I had been battling a strained calf for a few months before the race, so I hadn’t been able to do any speedwork. I was still able to put in a lot of miles though, so I was confident I could run a decent marathon, I just wasn’t sure if I could go very fast. I was targeting around 6:45/mi for the Jackson Hole Marathon. Chad thought he’d be a little behind that. We went out together and kept in control for the first couple miles. There was a slight downhill on mile 3 and Chad and I began to separate. There were three guys ahead of me at this point, but I passed one of them pretty quickly (a runner who had gone out way too fast).
The first 3 miles are on roads, but during Mile 4 we transitioned to a bike path which is where we’d be for most of the rest of the race.
Jackson Hole Marathon Miles 5-8: 6:45, 6:48, 6:51, 6:47
During Mile 5 the Jackson Hole Marathon course turns left and heads due south. The bike path parallels a highway and opens up quite a bit. At this point the wind had seemed to pick up. There was enough cloud cover that we couldn’t see the mountains. There were also some small rolling hills. I could see the #2 runner ahead of me still and I was able to keep my pace mostly in the high 6:40’s.
Jackson Hole Marathon Miles 9-13: 6:52, 7:04, 6:58, 6:43, 6:47
The course makes a right turn to the west right at Mile 8. After 1.5 miles, the course turns north and becomes very straight for a few miles. This portion of the course is a very gradual uphill and there was some headwind. I was feeling pretty good at the half marathon mark. I came in around 1:29:00, which I was happy with. While I wouldn’t have minded a little faster, it’s worth noting that the Jackson Hole Marathon course averages around 6200ft elevation. My calf was a little tight, but it wasn’t hurting so much to slow me down.
Around the halfway mark the rain started up in earnest. It alternated between a downpour and a light drizzle, but it kept up for the rest of the race. I’d never raced in rain for that long and it made things interesting. I was amazed at how hard it came down at some points during the rest of the race.
Jackson Hole Marathon Miles 14-19: 6:36, 7:00, 6:39, 6:49, 6:53, 6:51
The few miles after the halfway mark are the most interesting part of the Jackson Hole Marathon. The course winds up and around a small hill as it turns west — this is the biggest hill in the race and comes at a somewhat challenging time. The course then declines before flattening out and crossing the Snake River. From here the view of the Tetons should be spectacular, but it wasn’t to be on this rainy and cloudy day. All I could see was grey. Around this time I could see that I was starting to close the gap with the runner in front of me and that gave me some extra adrenaline and hope.
Jackson Hole Marathon Miles 20-26.2: 6:37, 6:29, 6:31, 6:38, 6:44, 6:42, 6:38/mi
Now I was closing fast on the 2nd place runner, and I over took him as we completed a side loop and turned north again. Mile 20 is often where a marathoner can tell whether they’re going to have a good race. In this case, I was feeling quite good (all things considered) and I felt strong. I was able to consume a last gel and I put in some strong miles as the rain came down in torrents at some parts.
The turn north also put us on the same path as the Half Marathoners, who were doing an out and back. I had the #1 runner in my sights and I was able to slowly reel him in, finally passing him around Mile 23 or 24. Cyndi and Julie were also stopped near here and cheered me on, which was fun.
I pushed really hard through the end although I did waver a little in the last mile. The marathon runs through a little grass for the last hundred yards and it was muddy and sloshy with all the rain. Overall my body felt great and I finished in 2:57:29. That meant that I did a negative split, which I believe was my first ever! The second place runner came in about a minute behind me.
The rain was still coming down and I grabbed my gear and got some pants on while I waited for Chad. He came in 4th place at 3:10. Shortly after he finished he began shivering almost uncontrollably and then puked quite a bit. The rest of us had a good laugh about it, especially when we had to stop the car on the way back to the hotel so he could puke again. I felt surprisingly good after the race. I’ve felt both good and bad after races, and sometimes it’s hard to explain why.
After a shower and a little rest we went to Jackson to eat, but it was absolutely packed. Cyndi and I decided to head home and we grabbed a burger at Stagecoach Bar in Wilson before heading over the pass.
I was very happy that Jackson Hole Marathon went through with the even in 2020. It was a good race and well organized. My only regret is that I couldn’t see the scenery due to the rain.