Race Recap: St. George Marathon 2016

I did it! On Saturday, October 1st, I ran the 40th annual St. George Marathon. This was my second marathon and I consider it a success, even with being short three minutes of my initial time goal. It's easy to think about all the what-ifs after the race and what I could have done to meet my 4:15 goal, but I'm trying to think about the positives because I'm still proud of the outcome. Having worked with a coach for the past three months, I was able to gain more confidence in my running. I was stronger and faster this time around and the results showed it, even though I wasn't at 100 percent on the course. It was a vast improvement over my first marathon and I'm so grateful for that.

On Friday, Geof and I drove four hours to St. George in southern Utah. I've lived in Utah for my whole life and have never really visited the St. George area. Sometimes I forget just how much warmer it is than Salt Lake. It was apparent right when we got there. The air was hot and dry. The entire state of Utah is a desert but St. George was more of a true desert landscape with palm trees and red rock cliffs, so unlike Salt Lake with its mountains and aspens. We dropped off our gear at the hotel and made our way to the Dixie Center, where the expo and package pickup was taking place. We visited some booths and I bought Body Glide for the first time. I've been lucky and have never really experienced chafing from running—except lately. I've been getting some chafing below my armpits on my last half marathons and wanted to be preventative. We picked up our bibs, shirts and packets and headed to the next room over for the all-you-can-eat pasta dinner. I love that they did this because it was easy and we didn't have to think about where to eat that night. We had dinner around 5 p.m. and I ate two platefuls of spaghetti and three breadsticks. Oh, and a brownie.

We wanted to be prepared and get a lot of rest before the race the next morning, so back at the hotel, I started to get all of my gear ready. That's when I noticed they didn't include safety pins in my package, even though I was told there were some in there. We had to drive back to package pickup and grab some pins. While we were there, we walked further into the building and realized there were a few things we had missed earlier. There was a big banner showing the names of every runner registered this year, a three-dimensional map of the course and another room with all of the previous STG race shirts and medals on display. Seeing all of this began to get me excited yet I felt more calm than I thought I would be the night before a big race. We settled back at the hotel and watched reruns of Survivor and it was off to get a good night's sleep.

The view of St. George from the hotel.

The view of St. George from the hotel.

My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. I ate avocado toast, drank nuun, got dressed, grabbed my things and Geof and I were headed out the door to the buses around 4:30 a.m. It was raining pretty hard and I had flashbacks of Ogden. Geof assured me it wasn't going to be raining at the start. It's funny but I always fall asleep on the bus ride to the start of races and this was no different. I think it helps me to not know the course and how far I have to run to make it back to the finish line. I just closed my eyes and they didn't open again until we were up at the race start in Central, Utah. I remember the announcer saying how warm it was this year. We were at an elevation of 5,240 feet and it was 55° at the start. He was mentioning how in previous years, it's been in the 20s and 30s. That's when I knew we would be in for a warm race. With an hour to wait until the start, I stood by the fire for a bit, drank my water bottle and took three potty stops before the race began. I lined up between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers. The butterflies were kicking in but I still felt relaxed. I was ready.

Coach Emily told me in the week leading up to the race to come up with an A, B and C goal. Goal A was what she thought I was capable of. She believed I could do a 3:59 marathon. I thought she was crazy! I don't think I truly believed I could but knowing that someone else thought I could run a sub-4:00 gave me hope and I started to think what if it were possible? Everything would have to align and I would need to run the race of my life but her confidence in me gave me more confidence. My B goal was the initial goal I had when I began training for St. George. When I hired my coach, this was the time I told her I wanted to reach. C was racing a good race, no matter how long it took me (but secretly wishing for 4:30 or less). I had no idea which goal time I could reach, but my coach and I had a game plan and I was ready to work for it. Soon, the race start of 6:45 a.m. came and we were off running into the dark.

I went by feel for the first six miles. The only time I looked at my watch was at each mile when it beeped. I would look down to see how that mile went and the rest of the time was just running. The first few miles were slightly downhill so I let gravity do the work. I didn't try to push it but wanted to conserve energy for the hills that I knew were coming up. It was getting light fast. 5K—28:24 and 10K—55:41.

After mile 7, the Veyo hill was looming in the distance. I could see it before I even reached it and knew what I had to do. My plan consisted of slowing up the hill, going by effort and to take one step at a time. I think trail running helped because I ran consistently up that whole thing and it never felt too hard and I never felt too out of breath. I just took it little by little and before I knew it, we were at the top. The next few miles were considered the toughest of the course for their rolling hills. Even though St. George has a net elevation drop, there are some hills that you have to mentally prepare for as you see them coming. I tried to patiently make it up each hill while letting gravity take me down. At mile 12, I felt a stabby pain in my left knee. I instantly knew it was IT band pain and it had just appeared for the first time since the Ogden Marathon (it had been over four months with no pain). I don't know if it was the hills or running on cambered surfaces that did it, but it happened and it started to get in my head a little. I began to worry but didn't want to show it. Geof and I had run together for the whole race so far, but I didn't tell him what I was feeling in my knee. I knew I had to block the pain from getting into my head and keep running. I did my best and maintained a good pace. At mile 13, Geof told me he was going to head off and try to run a negative split so he ran ahead while I stopped at an aid station to get Icy Hot put on the side of my legs. 13.1—2:01:31.

Photo: St. George Marathon

Photo: St. George Marathon

The Icy Hot felt nice and helped distract me from my knee. I was able to keep going at a decent pace. The sun was out now and it started to get warm. I took a potty break at mile 14 and began to make my way toward Snow Canyon. This part of the course was beautiful and I pushed through miles 16, 17 and 18. I knew the rest of the course was mostly downhill and I could make up some time. My legs didn't want to cooperate though and began to feel tight. I started to think about walking. I just remember what Emily said about having something positive to think about when my mind went negative. I thought about the podcast Geof and I listened to on the drive to St. George. Charlie Engle, an ultrarunner, was talking about how runners have become so preoccupied and obsessed with hitting certain paces and times that they forget about the joy of just running and why they run in the first place. That really stuck with me and I changed my mindset of being happy with the day and not putting too much pressure on myself. 30K—2:56:00.

Miles 18-23 were the hardest for me. My knee stopped hurting sometime here but I think this is where the 4:15 pacers passed me and I knew I had to keep them in sight if I wanted to hit that time goal. I ran ahead of them for a while but they ended up passing me again a short while later. At this point, I could feel the 4:15 time slipping through my fingers. My calves, hamstrings and hips were on fire. They began to feel so tight and they felt worse the further I got. I had to alternate a few walk breaks in and my short walks through the water stations started to get a little extended. I kept reminding myself that I was strong and I could push through it. I took time to enjoy my surroundings and ate an orange slice, stretched occasionally and gave high fives to any kid holding out their hand. Another runner saw me massaging my hamstrings and advised me to get Icy Hot rubbed on them. He told me he pulled his hamstring at mile 16 and had been walking ever since. I took his advice and at the next aid station, around mile 23, I got some Icy Hot put on my hamstrings. A guy cut in front of me while I was waiting in line here, which was so rude but I let that exit my mind and thought about how close I was to the finish.

When I had just three miles left to go, I forced myself to take quick steps and not stop running—even a snail pace slow run was better than walking (but I still walked at water stations). The pacers were out of sight by now but I felt I could barely squeak it in under 4:15 if I moved fast. I ate an Otter Pop (grape, my favorite) and told my legs to keep going. I somehow had energy I didn't know I still had. I was able to find life in my legs and passed runners in these last miles and down the finishing chute. My name was printed on my bib and it was so encouraging to hear spectators cheering for me running down that last stretch. It gave me such a boost. Final chip time—4:18:05.

How cool is this medal? Each one is made from sandstone so they're all unique and different.

How cool is this medal? Each one is made from sandstone so they're all unique and different.

Even though I ended up barely short of my B goal, I'm still so happy about it. I can blame my body getting tight or the heat or stopping three times for Icy Hot, but I know I did the best I could that day and I'm proud of that. I still took almost forty minutes off of my first marathon time and that's something to celebrate.

After crossing the finish line, I walked through a misting spray to cool down, received my medal and was handed a bottle of water, Cocoa Metro chocolate milk and lemon-scented wet towels. Geof and I found each other in the finishers area and we sat on the grass, where I ate an orange Creamie and drank some soda. It was 80° out now so that ice cream bar was just what I needed. I was still in disbelief with finishing my second marathon and that feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day. In case you wanted to know, Geof finished with a time of 3:49:59. Is that amazing or what?

It's only two days later and I think I want to try another marathon next year, but I need to play it safe and strengthen my hips and glutes some more to prevent any ITB pain from flaring up randomly. I have two more half marathons to round out this calendar year and I'm going to work on building strength over the winter. I feel more energized and focused than ever.