I’ve been looking forward to this race for quite a while. Well, okay, maybe for the last three months. I wasn’t planning on racing this weekend because I needed to get a 20 mile training run in for my marathon and ultra training. I was reserving my goal half marathon race for the year for the Nebo Half which is happening this upcoming weekend.
BUT — I do a little switcheroo, because I have a family reunion this upcoming weekend in Idaho. And, as much as I love Nebo, I kinda love my family more. Don’t ask me to gauge that, because there may or may not be that much of a difference when you’re talking about the Nebo Half.
I love that race.
So, since I wasn’t running Nebo, I decided to pick up the Run Elevated Half Marathon instead — another equally fast canyon race. I’ve been running Run Elevated for four years now — ever since it’s inaugural run in 2013. I love it. I PR’d on the course in 2013. I feel intimately close to the race — well, okay — that sounds like a bad choice of words. Basically, I know the course really well and love every bit of it.
The infamous hill — can’t remember what they call it — doesn’t phase me. I’ve gotten use to just jogging that blasted hill. It’s a pace killer, but I’ve learned it’s better to keep a slower pace up the hill then to walk the hill. Even if that pace is slower than your usual walk. Trust me — that logic makes sense to a runner.
Then there’s the whole canyon that I love — Little Cottonwood Canyon lends itself as one of the prettiest canyons here in northern Utah. It’s less traversed than Big Cottonwood and Emigrations, mainly because it’s roads don’t lend itself well to runners. They’re smaller shoulders compared to the other canyons. I’ve only ran the canyon once outside of this race.
Additionally, this is the only road race that goes down the canyon. I think it’s mostly because the community tries to limit them as much as possible — which I would understand. It is a watershed after all. All of that makes this race kind of a special treat. It’s capped off at 2,000 runners — so it’s small and intimate enough that it really feels like a special event.
The numbers felt really low though this year, which honestly wasn’t surprising. There were a number of races held this weekend. And, by a number, I mean — too many. There was besides Run Elevated — Top of Utah Half, East Canyon Marathon, High Unitas Marathon, Rivalry Relay and Lake Relay. When people point to saturation problems here in Utah this weekend is a good example. The High Uintas Marathon ended up being cancelled this past week — probably because of low registration? I’m not sure.
Either way — I really hope race directors correlate a bit better next year, because there’s still a market for these races, but you’re just going to kill yourself if you keep competing against each other like this. There are plenty of underutilized weekends for races. But, this post really is one for another day. Regardless, I noticed a difference at this race compared to year’s past.
But, to this race. So my goal — one that I’ve been trying to hit since June is that of a sub-2:30 half marathon. I try not to think too much of where I’ve been in the past. Because a few years ago — I was hitting 2:10-2:20s quite regularly. And, because of my health issues and that I’ve basically been at ground zero building myself back up. Which is fine — because I gotta get back somehow, right?
Anyways — I’ve come close to this goal. And, after not hitting it at Drop13 in June and the Deseret News Half in July — I really wanted to reach the goal at the end of summer, especially since September and October were my marathons and ultra. Speed wasn’t going to be priority — especially since that’s not my goal for my marathons.
So this was it.
Going into August — I felt really optimistic about my progress towards the goal. I had some really great runs and I felt stronger, especially as I transitioned my diet from the Whole30 to a Paleo 80/20 diet. Things were just clicking.
But, then about two weeks ago — I got sick. And, it just sucked pretty much everything out of me. For a good week I just didn’t get in the kind of runs I wanted to and last Saturday I got in less miles I wanted to — but they were still miles. Needless to say — I just didn’t know where I would be physically going into this race? Especially considering I was still dealing with congestion and a mild cough.
So the week leading up the race — I wasn’t sure how to approach the race. Do I just go for it as planned or do I go by feel and just push myself? Going through with the race as planned meant I’d be running with my Garmin watching my pace carefully as I ran down the canyon.
But, if I didn’t have it in me to reach the goal, the last thing I need is a constant reminder wrapped around my wrist of how horrible of a runner I was because I didn’t hit my goal. Normally, I would just say — let me stick with the 2:30 pacers and I’ll be fine. But, considering the race doesn’t have pacers — that wasn’t an option either.
I was grappling back and forth with this mentality all week long. And, it wasn’t until Friday night that I just told myself — “screw it! I’m running Garmin-less.” I just knew if I didn’t hit my goal it would have ruined my whole race. I had to run the race oblivious to the time and just go out there and with my best effort. That’s all I could ask for, right?
The morning of the race — I felt good. I did have a bit of congestion. But, otherwise I felt good. To make sure I didn’t have a coughing attack mid-race I made sure I had my inhaler. I felt good to go. I still didn’t know how my race would end out, but I was ready to take a stab at it.
After meeting up with Dith at the bus pick up I hopped on the bus with the Skinners and rode up the canyon where we hung out until the 6:30am gun time. Thankfully the weather was doable compared to a couple years ago when it was snowing at the starting line. I’ll never forget that — it was such a buzzkill. There’s nothing like getting excited for a summer race, only to be meet with snow.
Anyways — crossing the starting line I just let gravity do it’s thing. I focused on not going out too fast, because I knew how easy it was on this course. I ran the first mile somewhat fragmented. I ditched my hoodie a half mile in before retying my shoes. My legs were still a little sore from leg day on Wednesday, so I just needed to warm up a bit.
A couple more miles into the race I started hitting my stride and feeling pretty good. I just focused on my breathing, tempo and effort. It was around this time also that my two month old headphones decided to die. Well, half of them died. I suspect my headphones were a Chinese knockoff. But, that’s a story for another day.
After I settled for one ear stereo I just ran. I felt good and I just focused on my effort. I didn’t know where my pace was and while I cared, I didn’t. I just wanted to — dare I say — my best foot forward.
I stopped at each aid station to refuel. Not only did I refuel with water and a swig of Gatorade, but I brought some an applesauce packet to eat midway through. I tried to not stop too long at the aid station. I did have to stop once. And, I took a few pictures at the stops, because the scenery was just BEAUTIFUL.
In retrospect I probably wouldn’t have taken a few of those pictures. I couldn’t have held through my pit stop, but I did take a pit stop for a posed race picture. That one I probably should have ran through, because I was much closer to my goal than I thought. A lot closer.
The first 7-8 miles are all canyon miles and I knew once I was out of the canyon — it would be MUCH tougher. That happened to me at Timp, Deseret News and Drop13. But, when I was hitting the mouth of the canyon I just went into a beast mode. Mainly, because I knew it was going to get tough, especially as we approached the hill.
I ran into my friend Shaylee at the mile nine aid station as she was pulled off the course due to injury. I felt bad because I know how much she loves this fast race as well. Injuries just suck. And, this course can lend itself to some fun ones if you’re not careful.
Once we got onto Wasatch Blvd. the downhill around mile 10 was welcomed, but I knew the blasted hill was around the corner. So, I just kept at it. My approach to the hill was simple — just run it. And, if I couldn’t run it, just pretending your running — even if it’s at your normal walking pace.
So, yeah, that was basically what I did up the hill. It’s not that long of a hill, but it will kill your pace if you’re not careful. Especially if you walk. So, when it comes to hills like this one, I just keep myself in the running motion so I keep the mechanics going. I find it’s easier to get back into my pace if I do this.
Now, if there’s a science to all of that — I don’t know? But, it’s saved my races in this race, St. George and a couple others.
Once I was past the hill, there was about 2-2.5 miles until I hit the finish line. I took a quick glance at my phone’s clock and realized I was making great time. I tried to do some math to see if I was on target — I figured I was, but I wasn’t sure. So, I just ran like I was going to hit my goal.
The last two miles felt strong. Both mentally and physically. I just kept moving forward. My legs were burning, but I didn’t care. I tried to numb everything below my neck and just focus on running. It honestly felt like the last two miles flew by fast. And, I am sure if I ran with my Garmin those last two miles would rival my canyon miles. Or at least it felt like it.
During the last mile as I was making my way towards the finish line, I started getting a little emotional. It wasn’t because I felt like I was on pace or that I was going to reach the goal. But, it was from the feeling that I put everything into this run. I was feeling spent. I was feeling sore. I was feeling strong. I was feeling focused.
It was around this time that OneRepublic’s “I Lived” came across my playlist. And, that didn’t help either. It’s one of my favorite songs. The lyrics, music and message — were just what I needed as I ran towards the finish line. It’s one of few songs on my life playlists.
But, as I hit the homestretch I just hit another gear and sprinted towards the finish line. The clock said something like 2:32, so I knew I was going to be close — after considering when I crossed the finish line and all. I didn’t think I got it, but I knew not only that I was close, but that I gave it everything in me.
Once I refueled and got my drop bag I headed over to the results table and got my card. The card read … 2:31:00:03. A mere 1:01 minute from my goal. Oh, so close.
I won’t lie — I reanalyzed every pit stop, picture and aid station — because a few tweaks here and there and I probably could have gotten my goal. But, I wasn’t feeling a sense of disappointment. Far from it. I gave everything during those 13.1 miles, despite not knowing how my body was going to react after being sick the week before. Despite feeling under the weather still — I pushed forward.
Plus, it was still a year best time for me in the half marathon. How can I feel about that?
Sure there are a lot of shoulda, coulda and wouldas. But, that gets you nowhere dwelling on for a race already ran. Will I learn from it? You betcha. Not just in race plan management, but maintaining race pace and pushing through pain. There’s a lot there that I could talk about — but, really, that’s a post for another day.
I feel great about my race and look forward to breaking through that goal time — this year or 2017. Looking back at my running patterns too, I ran 2:30-2:40 pretty consistently for my first year of running until I broke into the 2:10-2:20 the following year. So, in a way, I feel like I am following that pattern. Hopefully that means 2017 will be a fast year for me. I feel confident enough that it will be if I continue working hard and pushing myself.
After the race I still had to get seven more miles in for my 20 miles needed that day. I was originally planning on running seven miles in Sandy near the finish line, but I had to get home and decided to do them at home on the treadmill.
My goal for these miles were really to simulate fatigue — and my legs were fatigued. I waited a couple hours after getting home before doing my miles — and they definitely hurt. It was hard getting into a rhythm, but I pushed through the pain and eventually found one. I really tried to visualize myself out on the course of my 50 miler going through that kind of fatigue.
I’ll tell you what — it’s been fun training for my 50, because it’s so different from a marathon. There’s so much mental preparedness I need to prepare myself for, that I look for way to do it. Whether it’s running 20 miles on a treadmill or running 7 miles hours after a fast paced half marathon — I always look for ways to prepare me for October 21.
This upcoming month is going to be the real test. I’ve got three marathons coming up — Big Cottonwood (Sept. 10), Huntsville (Sept. 17) and St. George (October 1) along with my miles this weekend and a special relay with AIIA on Sept. 24. So, I’ll be doing big, big miles — and really getting myself ready for October 21. I’m nervous — but, more excited than anything.
And, really it’s just focusing on one foot in front of the other — much like I’ve been doing since I ran my first 5K.
MY NEXT RACE
My next race isn’t until September 10th. And, I’ll be sweeping the Big Cottonwood Marathon once again. I did it last with my friend Ramie and had a blast and a half (not to mention a Slurpee). This year I’ll be sweeping with my friend Chanda — I am anticipating another blast and a half (and not to mention another Slurpee).
This will be the fifth time that I’ve ran the Big Cottonwood Marathon. Well, okay — fourth for the 26.2. I did the 13.1 once back in 2013. The funny thing is that when I’ve signed up for the race — I’ve never registered for the marathon. I always sign up for the half marathon, but I either upgrade to the marathon (like I did in 2012 and 2014) or get asked to sweep the course (like I did in 2015 and last year).
Now, I’m planning on signing up for JUST the half marathon in 2017, but we’ll see how that pans out come next year.
Anyways — there’s no real game plan for this marathon other than sweeping the course. Well, okay, I lied. The first 14-15 miles in the canyon I just have to maintain a 13 minute pace until we get onto Wasatch Blvd. for the out and back. After that — it’s just being as fast as the slowest runner. So, really there is a technicalness to the course even if I’m sweeping.
And, if you’re wondering — yes — I stop for Slurpees at Mile 20. There is a 7 Eleven at the mouth of the canyon and it’s just a crime to bypass the opportunity to grab a mid-marathon Slurpee.
I love this race — and even if I’m not running it for myself, there is nothing quite like running Big Cottonwood in the fall. Totally gorgeous and worth the registration fee. Plus, this will be great ultra training being on my feet for 6:30-7 hours. It’ll be a fun loooooong day.
THE NEXT RACES ON DECK
TOTAL MILES TO DATE
MILES TO GOAL
This is one of my favorite episodes of the AIIA Podcast. Jed was one of the first athletes I met in AIIA and seriously, he’s one of the greatest guys I know. He helped run me in at the Provo City Half back in May and, really, he just embodies everything that AIIA stands for.
This is definitely worth the listen. I love uploading these podcasts to my phone to listen during my races or runs. Sometimes I’ll listen during my morning commute, but when it comes to the AIIA podcasts, I’d much rather be inspired out there when I’m running. Really help me connect to the message.
Give the episode a listen …