What?! I had a race?!
I did. I haven’t mentioned it much on my blog recently because I was kind of trying not to think about it. My original plan was to continue focusing on running after my marathon and keep running strong and fast until the Salt Lake City Half Marathon. I wanted to run a strong race and get a solid baseline PR for the half marathon distance.
Then, my IT band happened and my post-marathon focus switched to recovery so that I could start my Ironman training healthy and strong. I wasn’t sure I was going to run the race at all. However, my knee has been feeling strong, and after a great 11 mile run last week, I decided I would not be hurting my knee by running the race. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run my full potential, but I knew I could have a good experience and hopefully get a great workout in by feeding off the energy of the race.
Despite my reasonable expectations, I still planned on racing the race because I had signed up for it and I might as well. I just knew I couldn’t go out too fast and shouldn’t expect any breakout performances. I spent the weeks approaching the race re-evaluating my goals. I thought about setting my sights pretty low (for me) and going with a 1:50 or 1:55 as my goal. However, after going to the kickoff party for my triathlon club and hearing Matt Fitzgerald say that the most effective goals are those you only have a 50% chance of meeting, I decided to set something a little more lofty—something I knew I could do, but just didn’t know if I could do on this day and under these conditions. But I still had a couple back-up goals, just in case!
A-goal—1:45 (8:00/mile pace)
B-goal—1:50 (8:23/mile pace)
C-goal—Solid, pain-free long run
Because I wanted to run well, I organized my Ironman training so that I would have a mini-taper. I took my rest day on Friday (the day before the race) and planned a relatively light load of swimming and strength training on Thursday.
On Friday, Rob and I headed over to the packet pick-up/expo. The parking situation was rather unfortunate (they were charting $5 to park in the lot), so our plan was for Rob to just drop me off and pick me up when I was done. However, we lucked into a spot on the street right near the expo building, so we went in together. I was a bit disappointed at the quantity and quality of the free stuff at the expo, but the packet and t-shirt pickup was very well-organized, and Rob and I were able to get in and out quickly. The grab bag included a really light-weight t-shirt (that I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to wear the next day!), a variety of kind of crappy coupons, and a sample box of Kodiak Cakes protein pancake mix. I’m excited to give them a shot and see how they taste.
After the expo, Rob and I got back to his place. I mentioned dinner, and we kind of stared at each other. I’ve been meal-planning, but I didn’t have anything planned for Friday. We briefly considered making something, but we decided instead to get take out from the Middle Eastern place down the street. I had a lamb sandwich (and then some Cap’n Crunch for dessert). I actually made it to bed around 8:20 and turned off the light around 8:40.
I had dreams all night long about missing the race. I was constantly waking up and checking the time to make sure I wasn’t late. I never was, and I got up at 4:45am as planned. I ate a banana with peanut butter and a bowl of Cap’n Crunch at home. Then I went to Rob’s house and ate some eggs. I was able to get down quite a bit of food before the nerves took over, and I think that helped me a lot during the race. Rob drove me to the train station to ride up to the University of Utah where the race would be starting. All racers got free admission onto the train in the morning to get up to the start, which was very convenient and shows just how invested the city is in the marathon. It’s a big deal here in Salt Lake City, and everyone gets involved.
I ended up getting to the start line right around 6:30am for the 7:00am start. It was perfect timing. I had plenty of time to go to the bathroom one more time and check in my gear back to pick up after the race, but I wasn’t waiting around forever either. Everything was organized, and while the bathroom wait was pretty long, the gear check wait was almost non-existent. Then I headed over the start line. I was in corral C based on my 1:50 prediction back in the fall when I signed up for the race. The 1:45 pacer was in the corral ahead of me, and I decided to try to keep him in my sights.
The gun went off right on time. The start was actually not nearly as crowded as I thought it would be, so since I was right at the front of my corral, I caught up with the 1:45 pacer within a few hundred yards and decided to stick with him. He had paced a lot of half marathons and marathons in the area, but he said he wasn’t pacing as much this year because he was training for something. I asked him what he was training for, and he said he was training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene! So we chatted about that for a bit. He wasn’t a swimmer, so that was his biggest worry with training. I suggested he look for a masters team because I suggest that to all triathletes whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The first couple of miles were mostly downhill with a few steep, short hills thrown in. We hit mile one a little fast, which makes sense considering the course profile. There’s not a ton to say about these miles. It was still a bit dark outside, and I was still pretty chilly because I was just wearing my compression capris and a long-sleeve dry-fit. However, I was feeling strong, even if I was a little worried about wearing my legs out on the uphill bits. We hit mile two at just ahead of an 8:00/mile pace.
We had another few climbs throughout the first half of mile three, but after that, we had a long downhill section for the next couple of miles. This portion of the race was the prettiest by far. We ran through a wooded area on a single lane road. The sun was still coming up, so everything was still lit with that soft light of dawn. I was still running with the pace group, which gave me a bit of security and made the miles feel easier. The fact that it was downhill only added to the enjoyment.
I saw Rob for the first time near the end of mile five as we came back into the city. After dropping me off at the train station, he had gone home and gotten on his bike with the plan to see me several times on the course. The bike allowed him to get around quickly while avoiding a lot of the hassle of stopped traffic and closed roads that cars were dealing with. I can’t remember how many times I saw him on the course, but it was a lot. He’s a super-spectator!
After mile 5, we were basically back in the city. At this point, I felt myself pulling away from the 1:45 pace group. I was a little concerned about going too fast, but my legs felt strong and I was running with another woman from the pace group. We hit a long-ish incline, and I felt quite strong going up it, even though I could feel it on my legs. This was one moment where I was glad I was running a local race. I “knew” this incline. I knew to expect it, and I knew it would be a pretty low grade but that I’d feel it. I also knew that I’d be greeted by a nice downhill section after the climb.
As we descended, I found I was getting passed more often than not and that the woman who I had left the pace group with was getting further ahead of me. I knew it wasn’t yet time to push, so I just let it happen. All the mile markers were still showing me about a minute ahead of a 1:45 pace. I lost a bit of time for one or two of these miles, but not much. Right near the end of mile 8, we went up a fairly steep and unpleasant hill. However, I started passing some people on the climb without increasing my effort too much. All those hills I ran up during my long runs this winter have paid off! The hill was followed by another easy decline, and I knew the rest of the course would be either an easy decline or flat.
The marathoners broke off right near mile 9, and I was pleased to see that a decent number of the folks who had passed me the previous mile were marathoners. Of course, some were also half marathoners that I never saw again! Because I was still running about a minute ahead of an 8:00/mile pace, I felt fairly confident that I’d hit my 1:45 goal. However, I still felt pretty strong, so I started to push the pace a little bit more during this section. We ran a little twisty route through a neighborhood (which meant some quality spectator support) and then hit familiar streets for me, so this section went pretty quickly. I was feeling the “homeward draw” that happens near the end of races and long runs. I knew that the faster I ran the faster I would be able to sit down.
Mile 12 took us through the park that I have been running in quite a bit the past few weeks. It felt good to be somewhere so familiar. I wasn’t reeling in people left and right, but I did pick up the pace, and I was passing some people which also gave me some energy. When we ran track in high school, my dad always used to tell us that when we passed someone, we sucked up some of their energy. I always try to think of this when I’m passing people. (I try not to think about it when they are passing me!) There was another Rob-sighting in the park which boosted my spirits as well. At this point, I could feel my form flagging a bit. I was moving away from my quick cadence and midfoot/toe-striking and moving back to my slower cadence with a heel-strike. I was pretty fatigued at this point, so I didn’t work too hard to correct it, considering I was so close to the finish.
Since I had sped up some and was actually increasing my gap on the 1:45 goal time, I wondered if I should push the pace more during the beginning of the final mile. I went back and forth between “I feel okay—I should pick it up more!” and “I still have over a mile left… I think maybe I shouldn’t pick it up!” In the end, my intuition did the work for me. I do think I picked it up in the final mile, but I didn’t wait too long because I didn’t have much left at the end. Rob showed up again partway through the final mile, giving me a boost that I needed. Right after seeing him, I managed to pass a woman who I had been in my sights for a while. Then, we made the final turn. I could see the finish line still about a block away, but I pushed myself as hard as I could. I didn’t have a sprint finish, but I did have a bit of a kick. I crossed the line and saw 1:42:38 on my watch, which was far beyond what I thought I could do on this particular day (and which ended up actually being my official time).
I found Rob pretty quickly after the race. Turns out, it’s not all that hard to find a tall guy with a helmet and bright blue jacket. After a few minutes of sitting in the wet grass, we looked for somewhere dry to sit. After a few minutes of sitting on a bench, we set off to round up the stuff I had checked in at the start. I had no idea where to look, and I didn’t see any helpful signs, so I approached a group that already had their gear (I recognized the plastic bags we had been given). To my surprise, it was the woman who I bought my car from a couple months ago! We chatted a bit, and I told her my car was doing great.
After Rob and I got my stuff, we decided to head back to his place. I thought about sticking around at the finish line, but I was tired! He asked me if I wanted him to ride home and get the car to pick me up, but since the finish was just a few blocks away from his place, I told him not to worry about it and to just go ahead and ride home. The walk back was pleasant. I walked for a bit along the course and cheered for the runners and enjoyed the morning. Several people noticed the medal and congratulated me which was surprising (and fun!). And I got back to Rob’s place in time to listen to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” on NPR.
I feel like I executed an excellent race and ran almost as fast as possible at my current level of fitness. I started off with the pacer and stuck to an easier pace the first few miles, even though the downhill would have made it easy to blaze through the beginning of the race. I kept my pace through all but one or two of the middle miles and was able to speed up at the end. I ran a 7:36/mile pace for the 5k of the race. Passing more people than were passing me at the end helped keep my morale up, and I think high morale is a big factor for me at the end of longer races.
During the race, I ate three gummies on two occasions—one around mile five and the other around mile eight or nine. I initially planned on fueling one more time, but I started to feel my stomach get a little funky. Since I was feeling fine, I ended up not fueling that final time to avoid feeling nauseated. I drank water from a few aid stations. I didn’t use all of the aid stations, but I tried to use most of the ones in the middle. I skipped the first one because I was still well-hydrated from my pre-race water, and at the end, I knew the water wouldn’t do me much good because I was almost done.
The race was very well executed. There wasn’t a ton of free stuff involved in running this race, and the quantity of swag was a little sad. However, everything that was offered was high quality, and the convenience of a race that runs smoothly outweighs a bunch of free crap that will just end up in the back of my closet anyway. I paid $50 for this race back in the fall, and it was worth it. I would definitely run this race again.
10-mile split—1:18:58 (7:54/mile)