One of My Favorite Marathon Experiences
A couple months ago, on July 24, 2017, I completed my eleventh marathon. Reflecting on this marathon experience still makes me smile. There was beauty. There was struggle. But neither could have existed without the other. We went in with a plan and after 18 weeks of effort–and 3 hours and 27 minutes on the course–we achieved it.
For me, this was an especially meaningful race. I had failed to achieve two marathon goals prior to it and was really needing a “win” so to speak. Wanting to run the Boston Marathon course for my 4th consecutive year in 2018, it was especially important to me to put down a Boston Qualifying (BQ) finish time to secure my spot. I had come close in the two marathons prior, but had missed a BQ by extremely close margins both times (largely due to technical issues, improper training, and overestimating the pace I could sustain for that distance.) I’ll explain more about that later.
A Historical Race, A Historical Course
The Deseret News Classic is billed as the oldest marathon west of the Continental Divide and the oldest road race in Utah. The full marathon starts at 7,900 feet to a finish at 4,400 ft. The marathon course follows the path Mormon pioneers took when they first settled the valley.
The Deseret News Classic takes place on July 24th, Pioneer Day, every year in downtown Salt Lake City. The Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k routes all join the Days of 47 Parade route where runners will be greeted by over 100,000 cheering Utahns! Running along the parade route is one of the most fun and unique aspects of the Deseret News Classic. All of the races finish at the same location on the north side of Liberty Park. Once you cross the finish line, enjoy the post race festivities and join your friends and family watching the parade come in! Utahrunning.com
So, Why the Desert News Marathon?
I chose to run the Desert News Marathon for a few different reasons. The first reason was because my good friend and training partner, Brooke Clayton, invited me to run it with her; I knew that would be fun! The second reason was because I still didn’t have my BQ for September’s Boston Marathon registration and wanted that. And the final reason was because the course ran through an area I group up in. Ages one-eight, I spent in the foothills of Salt Lake City.
Returning to Where I Grew Up
The Deseret News Marathon course runs down a canyon I frequented in my youth and in my college years when I attended Brigham Young University. The marathon course goes right by an LDS chapel that I attended in those early childhood years. It also runs a block away from the elementary school I attended back then. The race runs all around areas that I have associations with dating back more than 30 years!
The Desert News Marathon was also an extremely convenient race for me to attend. I have lots of family that live nearby to visit and stay with and the drive over from Fort Collins, Colorado, is easy.
Find My Marathon Course Research
Find My Marathon (FMM) also ranked the Deseret News Marathon as a good course for qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Its Course Score of 100.11 ranked it as the 32nd fastest marathon course in the U.S., and the 4th fastest course in Utah. Because the course has some nice hills, and because of high temps/humidity levels in late July, the FMM gave the course a PR Score of 98.74. This PR Score ranks it as the 166th fastest marathon in the U.S. and the 4th fastest in Utah. In other words, this wasn’t going to be my easiest marathon, but it wouldn’t be my hardest either!
The Path of My Ancestors
This course was meaningful to me in other ways too. I had many ancestors that traveled west to find religious refuge. The fact that the marathon course follows the route the pioneers–my ancestors–crossed when they first entered the valley was meaningful to me–especially to be able to do it on Pioneer Day! Poetic indeed.
Deseret News Marathon Course Information
I don’t like to go into any marathon without some serious research. Map My Run provides a good map of the route and some kind soul even created a YouTube video of the course. Both references are helpful as you work on your individual race strategy.
The Deseret News Marathon begins at the top of Big Mountain above Emigration Canyon, descending a 3,200 foot total elevation drop. This hill, mentioned in the graphic above, is something to prepare for, but not fear. Run it at an equal effort to how you run the rest of the course and you won’t burn out at the beginning of the race. I was really afraid of this hill going into the marathon, but it ended up being much more manageable than I had anticipated.
The rolling nature of this mostly downhill course offered good recovery options for your lungs and muscles as you traversed the length of the course.
Definitely do you hill training, and try and simulate a 2.5 mile climb, with a 3-4 percent grade, to help you ease right through the major hill on the course.
Where We Stayed
The Salt Lake city Marriott University Park offered great accommodations for runners the night before the event and houses the expo adding to its convenience factor. The hotel was extremely comfortable and offered easy access to Rice-Eccles Stadium where you meet the buses the next morning.
My marathon piggy-backed a trip I had planned to San Francisco. I flew back to Denver on Saturday morning, then, a couple hours later, jumped in my car with my kids and drove to Little America, Wyoming. (I was too tired to drive the entire distance to Salt Lake, and was extremely glad we chose to stop at the Little America Hotel for the night. (I had one of the best night’s of sleep ever at this hotel!) Slept in as long as my body would let me, and then we drove the rest of the way into Salt Lake on Sunday. A good night’s sleep, and staying of my feet for most of Sunday were great helps for my race on Monday.
After spending some time with my family in Highland, Utah, I left my kids in the care of my awesome sister and drove the 45 minutes to Salt Lake to prepare for my marathon.
The Night Before
So, I started carb loading for this marathon on Thursday before the race. I used Carbo-Pro to help me reach my daily carb goals–in addition to other carb-heavy foods–which was something I hadn’t used before that I feel helped me load my muscles without getting that super heavy feeling. I also carb loaded the night before the race with white rice and some protein. This was a new approach for me. I typically go for pasta or pizza. I think the rice option was a better choice for my GI tract and stomach on race day. I try to complete my last meal 12 hours before race start so my body has ample time to absorb the nutrients my muscles need, and so my stomach isn’t bogged down on race day!
Laid out my clothes and went to bed early!
Awoke early and had my instant oatmeal breakfast in the room. No microwave so I just mixed it with hot water. I also had a half a bagel and some peanut butter–my typical pre-marathon breakfast.
Marathon buses pick up runners from Rice-Eccles Stadium between 3:30 am – 3:45 am to shuttle runners to the start line location. We drove my car to the parking lot–about a mile and half away–and met the buses about 3:45. We didn’t want to get there any earlier than we needed! Buses transport you to the top of Big Mountain. You can’t drive yourself. They close the roads and only allow the buses up. Don’t drink too much water before boarding the bus since you have about a 30-minute trip up the canyon!
Important Pre-Race Tip
Waiting at the top, and for the first mile or so after race start, it is really dark. I had read about this factor before the race on a race review. I purchased the Swift-Clip Cap light by Amphipod to give me light so I wouldn’t trip all over myself on the way down the canyon (see it on my cap in first pic in post). It was also extremely helpful for being able to see in the porta potties at the top. DO plan on bringing some sort of light to help you–you won’t regret it!
We brought throw-away clothes and donation blankets to the top to stay warm pre-race, but it was warm enough we didn’t really need them. I would still take them again, because you never know. Shivering for an hour pre-race is NOT fun.
On the Course
Because of the elevation drop at the beginning of the race, you will be tempted to run really fast. Be careful with that. You can burn out your legs in the first few miles if you aren’t careful. I always use a pace band during my marathon to help me stay on track. FindMyMarathon.com has course-specific pace bands that are great for keeping an even effort and planning your strategy.
We actually ended up negative splitting pretty much every mile of this course so I ended two minutes ahead of schedule at the finish. I was a little worried about this early on in the race–that we would regret “banking time,”–but in the end, it worked out!
We chatted back and forth over the course of the marathon which was such a nice change to my usual solo marathons. We also picked up a couple of new friends that ran along with us for the first half.
Brooke had some family in the area and they had positioned themselves at different points along the course. This was so fun! Especially since none of my family was able to be there that day. Around mile 21, her sister had bags of ice for us! It was warm at this point so the ice was welcomed! Knowing we only had 5 miles left was exciting! I was encouraged because we had passed the “wall” and I was still feeling strong. My two marathons prior to this I was dying at this point, so taking inventory and feeling strong here was an awesome point for me during this race.
Around mile 23 or 24 we hit another hill which was not a welcome sight this late in the race, but luckily it wasn’t very long. This area of Salt Lake is so pretty with all the lush trees and victorian architecture. We were also starting to see more race spectators and people which was fun.
Surprisingly, the parade route–which was lined with thousands of people–was super quiet. The parade hadn’t started yet, so you would think the spectators would have been entertained by the runners coming by, but they were pretty absorbed in other things, which is understandable since they came to watch a parade not a race. There were a couple groups of people that were cheering racers on, but the majority of the spectators were oblivious to the inner fight that was going on in each of those runners running down that strip towards the finish line.
At this point in the course I was feeling really great. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t feeling the distance, I totally was, and I knew I needed to keep my legs moving or they would stiffen up and slow down. But, it was looking like I was going to accomplish my goal so I was feeling pretty happy.
About a mile or so from the finish, I broke off from Brooke. Since we were two minutes ahead of schedule, she was on track to meet her 3:29 goal, but was slowing down and her rhythm was no longer matching mine. With my glycogen stores near empty, I felt I needed to keep on pace to avoid cramping or other issues. We had discussed beforehand what we would do if one of us slowed down, but it was hard to break off from my running partner. We were (are) an amazing team!
Running towards the finish line, my tunes beating out a rhythm in my ears and seeing all the people out celebrating the holiday was such happy moment for me in this race. Even with the quieter crowds than I anticipated, I was so happy to being finishing strong and fast.
I was a little disheartened when I passed 26.2 miles on my watch and still didn’t see the finish line! My watch clocked the course at 26.4 miles. (You wouldn’t think that extra .20 miles would matter that much, but at that point, believe me, it does!) But, once I crossed the finish line, this factor was history. I had done it! I was elated. Brooke came across a couple minutes later meeting her 3:29 goal and earning first place in her age group! She did amazingly well, especially when she started to feel knee pain in the later part of the race. I was so inspired by her ability to run through that pain and to her goal!!
I was really happy with my results of this marathon. We had a plan, we stuck to it and we achieved. I earned 2nd in my age group, and 5th overall for my gender. This graphic below also has an Age Grade time. This is something that I learned about recently and that you rarely see reported with the race results. Age grading is a formula for putting all race participants on a level playing field, regardless of age or gender. It compares your race times to older and younger runners, as well as those of the opposite sex. My age grade time for this course was a 3:17:48.
After the race, there are shuttle buses at the finish line area at Liberty Park to transport runners back to their vehicles at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Since Brooke’s family was there, we hitched a ride with them back to the stadium. It was so great having them there! It was fun to celebrate our accomplishment with them.
Sore But Blissful
Post-race I was feeling a little dizzy so I sat down and drank gatorade and tried to help my body stabilize. Walking was–as always–slow going until the carbs start to hit the system. (If you are new to marathoning, take this tip: you may not feel like eating at the end of the race, but if you want to be able to recover more quickly–and walk relatively normally–you need to get some carbs into you as soon as you can after you finish. Believe me, it makes a world of difference in how you feel following the race. )
No awards ceremony at this race, but they mailed both of us our additional medals a week later. The medals are really nice quality (see medal picture up above).
This race was a great learning opportunity. It was great to see that post my serious calf injury in February of 2016, I could still finish the marathon distance at a respectable pace. It further validated my theory that I needed to run more outside, incorporate more hill training, and that I am not yet able to sustain the 7:15 per mile paces over the marathon distance that I thought I could. I really think that was a huge reason I failed to meet my goal finish times at the two marathons before and hitting the wall. While I can sustain those faster paces over shorter distances, my body is not able to over 26….yet.
I would totally recommend this marathon to anyone looking for a new marathon to challenge themselves with. Do your homework, do your training, lock-in your mindset and go for it!