Sunday, June 15, 2014

Utah Valley Half Race Report

Ahhh, what a wonderful, whirlwind few days it's been. It's been epic, and so shall be this race report! And so it begins:

Thursday morning after the usual frenzied kid drop-offs, I headed to the airport to pick up my friend Rachel, who was flying in for from St. Louis vacation time and to run the Utah Valley half with me. After getting her stuff deposited at the house, we headed out for some ridiculously yummy lunch at Niche (elk burger's to die for y'all), then in the afternoon decided to head downtown for a tour of Temple Square (where the Mormon temple is, along with their visitors center, tabernacle, and other buildings). There are several varieties of these tours available, and I'm not sure we found the one we were really looking for, but that was fine. I learned more about the Mormon faith and history. After the tour we went through part of the Church History Museum. While the Mormon faith is not one I am looking to join, I really appreciated the time and welcome given to us by the missionaries who led our tour. I'm happy to know a bit more about their faith. Afterward, we wandered across the street to the grand City Creek Mall for a little retail relaxation.

On Friday we got up into the mountains, first for breakfast then for some exploring in Emigration Canyon. You might recall that I described the same trip taken another day here. Gorgeous day, gorgeous terrain, great company (my older son joined us too).
At Emigration Canyon
After dropping my son back off at home so he could go to his afternoon activities, we headed to Provo to hit up the expo and drive the course. The expo was typical--no surprises there, except the guy wearing his 2014 Boston jacket despite the 80+ degree day. I'll return to this detail later. 

Packets in hand, we headed up Provo Canyon to the start line for the race, then turned around and drove the course. This is something I've come to appreciate doing. Sometimes the hills that look inconsequential on an elevation profile map turn out to be a HUGE F'ING DEAL on race day. It's also great to be able to anticipate where there will and won't be shade, where the course will be on partially-open roads and where it's on residential streets, etc. An added bonus for this race: the course is jaw-droppingly beautiful, so we got to play in nature a little bit. 

We went down to the water's edge and dipped our toes in. That water was COLD!

Tunnels in races--love them or hate them?
We turned in early Friday night--I was in bed by 9:25, my race clothes laid out for morning and my gear ready to pick up and go. Predictably, I slept in fits, waking every 90 minutes or so, until the alarm went off at 2am. Race day!
Bibbed up and ready!
I was really startled to find a packet of leg cramps in my race bag. Don't they know we're trying to race?!?
You know the routine. Stumble out of bed. Fall into the clothes so carefully laid out the night before. Force yourself to eat, or bag the breakfast & force yourself to eat on the way to the race (the latter happened in my case). I have to hand it to Rachel here. She had no trouble at all downing an entire pre-race sandwich and chocolate milk. Girl's got this running nutrition thing figured out.

We arrived at the race parking lot at 3:30, just as planned. We did some last minute drop-bag adjustments, donned our throw-away clothes, and boarded a bus up the canyon to the start line. Once there, we huddled momentarily around one of the many bonfires before Rachel decided to do a little warm-up. When she came back we abandoned the fire (and its smoke) for a darker, colder spot near the port-a-potties (of which we made repeated use) and the start line. In line for our final trip through the port-a-potties, we were behind a shirtless runner. It was maybe 50 degrees out. We were wearing Goodwill zip-up hoodies and I was still chilly. We were giving each other looks like, can you believe this guy? I'll return to this, and Boston jacket man, again below.
At the start line, dancing in the pale moonlight
The start area was laid back, and I loved it. They played music, let us know when the bag drop van was coming, and didn't roll out the timing mats until maybe 20 minutes before start time. We watched the sky start to lighten behind the mountains as sunrise approached. As we got near the start time, Rachel and I split up to find our pacing groups. I waffled about starting with the group, then remembered her telling me about a race where being known by the pacers had really been what pulled her through. So I approached the 1:50 group and introduced myself. The pacer was really energetic and outgoing. He asked what my goal was, what my PR was, where I earned it and when. Then assured me that I was going to crush it. I chalked it up to pre-race enthusiasm on his part but appreciated it none the less!

In all of this excitement, it never occurred to me to turn on my Garmin. $h*t!! With less than a minute to go I started the satellite-finding process (did I mention that we were in the middle of nowhere??). With maybe 5 seconds until the gun, it found a satellite, I breathed a sigh of relief, and we were off. Since the half was only 1500 runners, we sort of casually walked to the start line before running.

The pacer's plan was to bank a little time in the first two miles, then spend it in the ~175 feet of elevation gain we would face in mile 3. It's a fine plan, but as I'd planned to negative split, I let the pace group get a bit ahead of me while I hung back. Second reason to hold back: my right shin was cramping. This had happened during our Thursday late morning run, and for a few minutes I really worried that I'd tied my right shoe too tight and would lose feeling in my foot. Thank goodness, the cramp eased up and my pacing plan worked. I headed into the big mile 3 hill feeling good. It's by far the hardest spot in the course, and I took it without incident. I didn't know it then, but Rachel was facing altitude issues through these early miles, which we'd known was a risk coming from sea level.

Splits: 8:25, 8:11, 8:42

The hill reached its apex just after mile marker 4, then a steep descent followed before the course became more gradual, easing out of the canyon around mile 7. I took the steep descent just a hair too fast and paid the price in my quads, but was having a blast. I felt strong, felt good, and when I started to get tense I repeated Coach Mike's race mantra, run easy, run free. By about mile marker 5 I'd caught the pace group again. This time I didn't let them go. The scenery was breathtaking. The sun was rising, casting shadowy light across the rocky edges of the mountains. Gorgeous.

Splits: 8:27, 8:07, 8:02, 8:17

The one and only timing mat on-course was at 9.17. Random, I know. This timing mat also housed a fun new service where people could make a sign for runners, have their picture taken with it at the expo, then that picture was displayed on a huge screen at this spot on the course. Rachel and I made signs for each other and it was fun to watch for mine to show up on the board. There she was, holding a sign that said "Joanna: you'd better negative split!" I fist pumped and yelled "Yes ma'am!!" At this point my quads were starting to whisper about being tired, and I knew it, but I was ignoring them. The rest of me was feeling great. And I was really enjoying the casual, lighthearted, fun conversation going on in the pace group.

A few miles prior, my pace group leader had told me that I was looking strong, so after the (much smaller) hill at mile 10.5, he thought I should go ahead of the group. Dutifully, right after that hill he sent me on my way. I thought 2.5 miles out was too far out to gun it, so I went ahead of the group but sped up only a little. I kept gradually pushing the pace until I hit 12.1.

Splits: 8:15, 8:13, 8:11, 8:06, 7:59

One mile left to go. Slight downhill. I could see the finish line. All of that = international sign for let it fly. I flew down the final few blocks, past the huge banner on the side of a building that read "FINISH STRONG", and toward the finish. I'd trained for this last mile. I thought about all those speed sessions. I glanced at my Garmin and wondered if I could finish under 1:48. I pushed hard. I was farther out than I thought, and couldn't quite make it in, but I came close, and I didn't care. I'd exceeded my goal for the season. I'd finished in 1:48:04. A freaking 5 minute PR.

Splits: 7:47, 1:21 (distance read 13.15)

Although Rachel and I had a plan in place just in case we couldn't find each other, she was standing almost immediately over the finish line waiting for me. Panting, I showed her my Garmin. And she'd hit her goal too, of going sub-1:40 for the first time. We were flying high on adrenalin. What an incredible feeling!! I honestly cannot describe it. Just bursting at the seams with energy and excitement and badassery!

We walked slowly through the finish area, picking up that all-hallowed Utah staple, Creamies, plus water and a few other snacks. We left the finish area, wandering to get post-race "massages" (really assisted stretching), watch the elite full marathoners come in (we met the family of the #5 overall full finisher--really nice folks), and eventually retrieve our bags, take pictures, pick up Rachel's plaque for finishing fifth in her division (again, badassery), and eventually find the buses back to the parking area.

Since Rachel was visiting the western US, we'd planned for some "passive recovery" at In & Out Burger on the way home. Being my inaugural trip, I wasn't sure what to expect. The rumors are true. It's a little bit magical. The whole menu is about 15 items, total, and it's super cheap. I practically inhaled my cheeseburger and milkshake, plus a coffee from the Starbucks next door (one cannot survive on the caffeine found in Gu alone!).
In & Out Burger
When we got home, I promptly collapsed on the couch and was so far asleep that when a phone alert woke me up 30 minutes later, it took me a few seconds to figure out where I was and who was in my house. Out cold. Slowly I pried myself up, got a shower, and moved on with the day. And what a day it was! Rachel and I took my older son to Antelope Island, this magical place at the Great Salt Lake where bison and antelope roam, migratory birds appear, and lots and lots and lots of bugs swarm the shores in the summer. Getting down to the shore, then getting back up, was by far the most disgusting hike of my life. There were so many insects on the rocks that they hummed and appeared darker from a few feet away, until you realized that it was thousands of tiny black insects hovering just above the rock surface. Then there are the brine shrimp, but we won't get into that.
Rachel & my kiddo. It was an unholy mess getting down to the shore, but we made it.
That evening we had a yummy dinner out, where Rachel and I hatched the plan to someday do a race where our sole purpose is mockery of race stereotypes--clearly inspired by the few we saw along the way. Our weekend would include:

  • gratuitous appearances of elite race jackets
  • showing up just in time to run to the last bus/train/car heading for the start line
  • unnecessary clothing removal, including both going shirtless and wearing teeny, tiny spandex shorts that stretch credulity
  • matching shirts on race day that aren't the race t-shirt
  • running 4 abreast in mile 1
  • sprinting past clearly newbie runners in the chute to claim a 2:30 finish time, while wearing our matching shirts, and while clutching hands and screaming
What else am I missing? Who wants in on our escapade? It's going to be fun. 

And there you have it. A wonderful, relaxing, adventuresome race weekend. Rachel and I have had an easy friendship from the moment we met volunteering at Rock & Roll St. Louis in 2011. I can't wait to see what other adventures in running lie ahead for us!

Final stats
Chip time: 1:48:04
Pace: 8:15
Overall place: 222/1503
Gender place: 88
Division place: 20/156

1 comment:

Suz and Allan said...

Sounds like a really fun weekend and a great race! Congrats!