The Utah Valley Marathon is a tremendous course, and a great one for qualifying for Boston. My backstory leading up to this race is speckled with friends and family that supported and inspired me, hours of hard work on the treadmill and in the canyon, issues with peroneal tendonitis and shin splints that sidelined me for a time, and many small victories that kept me moving toward my goal. But first, the people. The people I have in my corner are THE best.
A month or so before the race, I had the opportunity to run 20 miles of the course while visiting my family that live nearby. My brother-in-law, Jarom, and my husband, Stephen, ran a good part of it with me and drove a support vehicle for me for the first half, while my sister-in-law, Michelle, with my kids (she was watching) made a huge banner for us to drive through when we returned congratulating me on finishing 20 miles. Their support meant so much to me. Having the opportunity to run the course before race day helped me visualize what I needed to do and calmed my nerves.
It was also great that my friend’s husband was also trying to qualify for Boston at this race so we were able to ride up on the bus together, hang out before the race started, talk strategy, and encourage each other. He had completed two marathons not long before Utah Valley and had a wealth of information to share while I was training and leading up to the race. (He and his amazing wife–who you will learn more about in my next post–have been a part of all four of the marathons I have raced. They are pure gold.)
I tried to do most of my long runs when the kids were in school, but when this was not an option, my husband, or the gym child care personnel really helped me out. On a few occasions my husband and family came and tracked me down on their bicycles/in the car when I was doing a long run. Seeing their smiling faces and hearing their encouraging words as I ran made what I was doing that much more enjoyable. My kids were my best cheerleaders!
I also had great friends who were encouraging me and supporting me throughout my training. Natalie Brown, the superstar that you will learn about in my next post, and wife of the aforementioned Clint above, surprised me the morning we were set off to drive to Utah for the race with a card, 26.2 sticker, and an impressive car deco job. (See image to the left.)
People make all the difference in the world.
Why the Utah Valley Marathon?
I picked this marathon for my Boston Qualify (BQ) attempt because the majority of the race is downhill (you drop about 2900 feet over the 26.2 miles) and it had a reputation for being fast. The course runs down a beautiful canyon I visited frequently when I was a student at BYU.
The night before the race, my husband and I stayed at the beautiful Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah, so that I would have a shorter shuttle ride to the race start. This was a great idea, but had disastrous results. The hotel was extremely noisy. There were kids running up and down the hallways by where I was trying to sleep. It was horrible. Stephen tried to (kindly) quiet them twice, but to no real avail. They would retreat into their rooms but the walls were paper thin. They also didn’t have a microwave so warming up my oatmeal for breakfast wasn’t going to happen. (I used the coffee maker to heat it….) The cell phone reception was spotty and overall, it was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for the night before my first marathon. I maybe, maybe got three hours of sleep since I had to be up at around 3:30 am to eat, prepare, and meet the shuttle for the 6:00 am race start time. (I have been told the best place to stay is at the Provo Marriott Hotel near the finish line in Provo. Soooo wish I had stayed there instead. This hotel is right by the race expo too. They fill up fast, so book early.)
The morning of the race, the bus drops you off in a corral up in some beautiful farm country right by the race start in Wallsburg. I had to laugh when I saw that they were, quite literally, rounding up all the athletes and putting them in a corral.
I won’t soon forget that dark, cold, June morning. The moon was out and illuminating the sky with an inspiring brilliance. Everyone who wasn’t in line for a porta potty was staying off of their legs–conserving all energy–chatting quietly together in small groups or listening to music on their shuffles. My friend’s husband was also running the course, but we got separated from each other after the first porta potty stop so I was by myself taking in the scenery and going over my race strategy in my mind; running the course in my mind.
You can follow the marathon training book to the letter and be physically ready to race one, but whether you succeed or fall short of your goal hinges on how much you mentally prepared for your race. I could write a whole blog entry about this–and maybe I will–but don’t neglect this part of your training. I incorporate visualization techniques in my training to prepare for my race and to improve my training sessions. You have to create a mental image of what you want to see happen before you do it, and not just once, but many, many times. It is also important to know beforehand what you will do if you are faced with different scenarios. It is important to have practiced mental skills in training that help you combat fatigue, anxiousness, sickness, or anything else that may hit you. Beyond, visualization, don’t forget to pack some tools that help distract you when you need to be distracted. Music is a huge tool for me. I handpick songs that move me. The best ones not only move me, but really take me somewhere else entirely. (A suggested tunes section will be forthcoming on this blog).
Okay, back to the race recap….
Heading for the Starting Line
Turning in the gear bag before the race starts is always a dreaded chore for me. All those articles of clothing keeping me warm are removed and placed in the bag for pick up after the race. Immediately after all my layers were off, the shivering began, but luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long before it was time to run. (Once I’m running I am oblivious to the cold.) I have since learned that you really should bring a couple of space blankets that you can toss to the side when you start running, but that can keep you warm between the time of turning in the gear bag and starting to run.
When it was about time to start the race, I found the 3:35 pace group, prepared my pace watch and turned on my music. There is no gun for the start, just more of a “ready, set, go” from a guy and a megaphone. The race conditions were perfect. I settled in with the 3:35 pace group and just committed to staying on their heels through the course.
You hit your first hill–one mile in length–just as you join with the highway around mile 7. I was really glad to have the pacers to get me up that hill. I would have held back more than they did and in the end I was glad that I went with their strategy and ran it a little faster.
Our group of about 20 was down to just me and one other at mile 18. We hit some wind coming down the canyon and one of the two pacers told me to get behind him so he could block it and I could draft. Like I said, he was awesome. He even offered me swedish fish to suck on at mile 22, but I wasn’t about to incorporate anything–even a swedish fish–that I hadn’t used in training. You have to be really careful with the GI tract in marathons. I didn’t need to visit a bathroom and lose precious time.
As we passed mile 20, I began to get nervous. I had yet to pass 21 miles without hitting the wall and I knew there was another hill coming, but I pushed out those thoughts and concentrated on picturing myself running across the finish line and meeting me goal. I concentrated on how that would feel. These mental strategies, coupled with all the carb loading I had done the four days prior to the race, and my Gu Roctanes, seemed to do the trick because I passed mile 22 and didn’t have any race fatigue, cramps, or pains–I felt great.
I stayed completely focused on my pacer’s feet all the way to mile 25. I was so worried that I was going to still, somehow, not be able to complete the race. I had never ran this far in my life. What was my body going to do? But, I continued to feel the same.
Around mile 25, my pacer prodded me to put it all out there and let go. He had to continue at the 3:35 pace (8:12 per mile), but I didn’t have to. I could see the finish line at the end of the street. The crowds were finally beginning to appear–no real crowd support before mile 25. I started to feel their energy and I also began to feel the reality of where I was. I was going to pull this off. I started to run as fast I could to the finish. My kids saw me and started to bolt out to me–luckily their uncle stopped that near catastrophe. I ran as fast as I could and over the finish line to a 3:34:08. For my age group I needed a 3:40 to BQ, but I wanted to run Boston in 2015 so I planned for some wiggle room.
I don’t remember much after crossing the finish line, other than I rang the PR bell, I walked over to what I thought was the water table and was surprised when I tasted chocolate milk in my mouth–not exactly what I was going for right then, but a good recovery drink for my depleted muscles. I remember finding my husband and his big hug and telling me “You did it!” I remember Natalie, giving me a huge hug with tears in her eyes–she had been crying for her husband’s victory but still saved some for me. I remember the cheers from my children and their limbs all wrapped around me–I was like a celebrity to them. It felt great.
I was still shocked that my legs felt great. I had thought I would feel like death at the end of the race and was enjoying this new territory in my running history. Adrenalin is a powerful thing.
And I was just so relieved/joyous to have met my goal. All that training, planning, preparing, fearing, hoping–I had done it! I had just qualified for the Boston Marathon. I had just ran farther than I ever had in my life. I just ran a marathon! That was a moment I won’t soon forget.
I took some pics with my friends, my children, and my father and went to find my “Boston Qualifier” t-shirt. Man, did I want to put that on!! (This is the only race that I know of that has a specific finishers shirt for those that BQ that is included in the price of the race.)
It was fun wearing it because I had so many coming up and congratulating me and talking to me about the race. I was also surprised to have a couple come up to me and thank me for helping them! Unknowingly, they were pacing off me from behind. “I kept my eye on your red hair and cap.” There is such a strong lesson in that. You never know who you might be influencing–for good or for bad–with your actions. I hope my ‘running story’ helps my kids see/learn that you can set big goals, give them all you have, and succeed. Failure is only failure if you stop trying. Failure is part of success.
- Be mindful of the hills. The course has 3 significant hills to be mindful of. The first one is right after you hit the highway around mile seven. This hill is about a mile long so you want to pace yourself well. You don’t want to go too fast and burn through too much of your energy stores, but you don’t want to let yourself lose too much speed either. Try to keep up a consistent effort. If you are racing for a specific time goal, I would suggest staying with your pace group at least through this hill, and then if you want to break off after that, go for it. The second hill is around Vivian Park. I want to say this is mile 16. This hill is about 2 miles long. It isn’t a really steep hill, but it is a consistent climb and you will feel it. The third hill is short, but it comes at a dreaded point in the race for many–mile 20. Once you have cleared this hill, it is a straight shot all the way into Provo. The last six miles have a slight downhill grade to them–just enough to give you the reprieve you will be looking for after the canyon.
- Don’t take your GUs on an uphill. Anticipate the hills on this course–7, 16 and 20 and make sure you have your GUs before you hit them. You won’t want to be worrying about taking one in while you are climbing. Best time to take a GU is when you are descending and gravity is taking some of the pressure off of you for a while.
- Stay at the Marriott in Provo the night before. It is close to the expo and great for post race recovery. They book fast so book early. If you have kids, have them bunk somewhere else that night. You will want to get some good sleep and be able to mentally prepare for your race without distractions, as cute as they may be.
- Be prepared for wind. The canyon, especially toward the bottom, can get some pretty good gusts. If you feel some coming on, don’t panic, find a group you can draft behind.
- Take a space blanket. You have about an hour or so before the race starts where you are sitting around waiting. Luckily, this race has fire pits, so that helps a ton!
- Get a pace band.I didn’t use one on this course only because I was new to marathons and didn’t see the need. But, in my last three races I have used them and they have been essential. I really like this distributor because they customize the bands for the course profile: Race Smart Pacebands. You can sometimes find these at the race expo, but I would recommend ordering yours a few weeks before so you know you have it.
- Hydrate, but don’t over hydrate. Before the race I take in a good amount (16oz) of water 3 hours and 2 hours before, but then I start to pull back. I don’t want to have to stop and use a bathroom on the course. An hour before the race, I am not really taking in much water other than what I have to take with my first GU. All the other water I took in the early hours of my morning and in the couple days before the race should have me very hydrated. Then, I do always grab a water cup on the course when they are offered. If you have hydrated well, and also due to nerves, you will find that you have to go to the bathroom pretty much from when you get off the bus until they line you up for the race start. My tip, get in line for the porta potty and when you are done, get back in line. The lines move slowly and you don’t want to be racing with a full bladder.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Take in your surroundings. Look around and be part of what you are a part of. Allow yourself enough mental space to really appreciate what your body is doing and what it can do. Feel it fly and when it isn’t feeling it, will it to do so. You are in control. Tell your neurons what you want them to do and where you want them to go. Stay positive. If a negative thought or feeling comes in, be prepared (because you practiced this in training) to immediately eliminate that with something positive.
- Have fun.
Favorite Places to Dine:
- The Pizza Factory (Great breadsticks and a great place to carb load or celebrate after the race).
- Waffle Love (Great for breakfast or any meal really!) 1796 N 950 W St, Provo, UT 84604
- Kneaders (Breakfast and lunch foods).
- Granny’s (in Heber City. Great for shakes, burgers and fries).
4 Days Before: 300g of carbs per day
Night Before: spaghetti, bread, small salad
2 hours before: 1/2 cup oatmeal; orange juice, bagel, peanut butter
1 hour before: Crunchy Peanut Butter Cliff Bar; Advocare 02 supplement.
During: 15 minutes before race start Gu Roctane with 2oz. water; gu roctanes at miles 3, 7, 11, 15. 19, and 23. Water at every aid station accept the first–too crowded. (I have revised how many GUs I take in now, but this is how many I took then. You have to practice this on your long runs and find out what works for you. Everyone is different).
Shoes: Pearl Izumi M3s
Clothes: Pearl Izumi singlet, shorts, compression calf sleeves, toe socks–to help prevent blisters.
Earbuds and iPod shuffle