On Saturday, June 9th, I ran the Utah Valley Marathon in Provo. Now that it's been over a week, I've been able to let my feelings of that marathon sit and formulate my thoughts on it.
The race was at times fun, enjoyable, tiring and challenging. It made me focus on overcoming my doubts, trusting my training and believing in my body’s ability to go the distance. As I got further into the race, I was able to break down some mental barriers and push through to a sub 4 hour finish (and an almost 10 minute PR)! Getting through the mental blocks and running strong when my legs wanted to slow is one of my biggest accomplishments through it all. Marathons are never easy but finding that mental toughness and holding strong is something that I'll remember when I think back on this race.
Going in, I had loosely been following a plan, making sure to get in the long run each weekend. Other than that, I ran on the weekdays for fun, doing more trail runs, an occasional speed workout and throwing in a bike ride here and there. I averaged around 25-34 miles of running each week. I liked this approach. Without a regimented training plan, I wasn't sure how I would fare during the race, but knew I was running better than ever. I had some confidence heading in with two half marathon PRs in the last couple of months, so I knew I had to be going in the right direction, but you never know what can happen in a marathon distance. My goal with this marathon was to run a sub 4 hour race and I did it!
Geof and I booked a hotel in Provo for the night before the race. Even though Provo is only a forty-five minute drive from Salt Lake, we would have a very early start on race day and needed that extra rest. The night before, we had a pasta dinner in Salt Lake City around 5 p.m., drove to Provo, picked up our race packets and checked into the hotel. I got all my race gear ready and was in bed by 9 p.m.
I woke up at 3 a.m. to eat breakfast, drink nuun, foam roll and get ready. We left the hotel around 3:40 a.m. to walk to the bus pickup area. Runners were required to board the buses between 3:15 and 4:15 a.m. We got on the bus that left right around 4 a.m. It was a long drive to the start in the dark. I tried not to pay attention to what was going on outside the bus windows, in order to not make me nervous for the course I'd be running on a short while later. When we got to the start in Wallsburg, it was chilly and we warmed up by the firepits that were set up in the field. It smelled strongly of smoke and campfire and was beginning to make my eyes dry, so I took a walk to the port-a-potties. By the time dawn came around, it was almost time for the race to start. Geof and I did a little warmup on the path by the start, dropped off our gear check bag and walked to the starting line. I lined up further in the pack than Geof (he's faster than me) and soon enough, 6 a.m. came and I was running my fourth marathon.
The race started off pretty chilly at 54° with a tiny bit of wind. My hands were so cold for the first couple of miles. We were running a slight downhill but I wanted to keep my pace in check. Instead of using that downhill to start off too fast, I started conservatively, knowing I needed to average a 9-minute mile (for a sub 4 hour time) and how important it was to conserve my energy for later on in the race. Not even a mile in, I knew I had to pee, having drank so much water in the morning. I kept running and knew the first aid station and port-a-pottie would be at mile 3.
When I came out of the port-a-pottie, the 3:55 pacer was right there so I ran with that group for the next ten miles. The sun began to beat in the sky, making it warmer and warmer. Miles 8–10 consisted of a lot of small, rolling hills. I just put one foot in front of the other, concentrating on my nutrition and staying within striking distance of the 3:55 pack. I ate PROBAR Bolt chews for the race and took one single chew at every mile, starting at mile 3. I tried to stay on top of hydration for the duration of the race, grabbing either water or nuun at every aid station (mostly nuun—I knew I'd need more electrolytes the further I got). I ended up having to pee again at mile 13 and after that second port-a-pottie stop, the 3:55 group was too far ahead, so I settled into my own pace. 13.1 mi—1:56:33.
The next few miles meandered through Provo Canyon and by Bridal Veil Falls, running on the highway. Every once in a while mid-run, I noticed the back of my legs felt tingly and realized it was because one of my shoes was tied too tight. I stopped quickly to retie my shoe and that tingly feeling went away. I tried as much as I could to run on the least cambered part of the road, to not create any weird imbalances that might trigger tightness on one side. I began to take some salt tabs too, as the temperature started to rise.
Around mile 18, the feelings of self-doubt began to trickle in. I was running well still, but noticed my pace was slightly slipping and the sense of fatigue was creeping in. When I ran the Portland Marathon last year, miles 19–21 were where I hit a wall. I kept thinking that was going to happen again. I began to recite a mantra in my head—you can do it. stay strong. I kept moving along and focusing on the mile I was in. Before I knew it, miles 20 and 21 came and went, and you know what? I didn't ever hit a wall. I was definitely getting a little more sore, but fell into a rhythm and embraced it. I think I was just happy knowing my body was still feeling pretty good.
Getting past that mental wall lifted my spirits. I focused on form and quick cadence and used that through to the end. After mile 21, it's a long, straight shot to the finish. From here, you're in the city, heading toward downtown Provo and getting closer and closer to the end. I loved the grape Otter Pop I ate at mile 23. It was so refreshing after being in the heat for so long. I tried to run with it in my hand but it was hard to eat while running, so I took a quick walk to eat a little bit more of it before zoning in to run the final miles. It was now about 86° so the bits of shade from the trees provided some relief from the sun, as well as the two water misters that I ran through. Those last miles seemed to go on for a while but I stayed focused. When I was just a few blocks from the finish, I could see the arch in the distance and knew I could pick it up. I ran my heart out and crossed that finish line! Final chip time—3:56:56.
I was so happy that I felt pretty strong throughout the race, with no real pains and only mild soreness. I get in my head sometimes and this race proved to myself that I'm tougher than I think. Every marathon I've ran before this one, I've had to walk portions of it in the latter stages, due to something getting tight or some sort of random knee pain that comes and goes, but none of that happened during this race. I kept anticipating that was going to happen again instead of believing that I was strong enough for it not to happen this time around. Now that I know I am capable, I'm excited for what's to come. I think I'm finally figuring out what works for me, which is more fun miles, more trail runs and more cross-training.
average pace: 9:00
After I crossed the finish line, a woman put a medal around my neck, congratulated me and another volunteer gave me a fist bump. I continued through the finish area and grabbed water, a cup of Jamba Juice and an orange Creamie ice cream popsicle. I think I was still so thrilled and surprised at how I ran this race that I was a little out of it and skipped over some things (Geof said there was a waffle and chocolate milk and I somehow missed those). I found Geof sitting on the grass and we talked about our races (he ran a PR of 3:44:48). I must have sat down too fast after running, because my legs began to tighten up as I was eating my Creamie. I had to get up and walk around for a bit. We grabbed the gear check bag, took a couple of photos and walked back to the hotel.
Now that I've reached my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon, I might be done with road marathons for a while. I've found my true love on the trails and want to do more of that. With a trail 50K coming up in November, I've begun training for that and I'm excited to do even more trail running this summer.
Have you ran the Utah Valley Marathon? Do you prefer roads or trails?