Short version: I ran the St George Marathon not knowing what to expect since the race was only 13 days after I ran 89 miles at NC24. I hoped to get a negative split due to the elevation profile of the course. I ended up finishing in 4:20:12 (2.5 minutes slower than my PR), but I officially set a new half marathon PR. And I ran a 7-minute negative split. Oh, and I passed 480 people in the last 7.5 miles of the race (and only got passed by 4 in that section).
Much longer version:
I originally had no intention of entering the lottery for the St George Marathon because I didn’t think my chances of getting in were very good and it was also 13 days after North Coast 24 (NC24), which was my goal race for the fall. However, my husband, Asa, really wanted to do it; he’d heard great things about the marathon and grew up in southern Utah so he was very familiar with the area. Since it’d be his first marathon, I entered our names into the lottery (on a both or neither condition, so either we’d both be picked or we both wouldn’t be picked). I doubted we’d even get it. However, we did!
At NC24 two weeks ago, I set a distance PR of 89.28 miles. Asa, despite not training for it (or the marathon, actually), completed just over 35 miles. However, he had a recurring foot issue crop back up during that , and it’s caused him issues since then. He was disappointed because he really wanted to do it, but in the end, he decided it would be a bad idea. We’ll choose another marathon down the road once he’s recovered and actually trains for it. 😉
The news of Asa not doing the marathon made me totally reconsider how I was going to do the race. I had planned on just going at whatever his pace would be (which I assumed would be slower than mine) and not worry about time at all. This made sense, especially considering my long race two weeks prior. Since NC24, I’d run minimal miles—only 17 between the two races (plus an additional 21 miles of walking), but I felt I recovered a lot quicker than I thought I would. However, there’s a difference between feeling good on a 3-5-mile run (5 was my longest run since NC24) and being recovered enough to put in race effort in a much longer race like a marathon. Also, I wasn’t sure how the course would affect my time, for better or worse. On the bright side, the course had a net elevation loss of over 2,000 feet! On the not-so-bright side, it had some decent uphill sections too; additionally, the start line was over 3,000 feet above where we live.
I saw a mention of breaking the course into three sections, which made a lot of sense to me: the first ~7 miles which were mostly downhill, miles~ 8-13 which had the majority of uphill and hills, and the last half which contained a lot of downhill. After driving the course with Asa the day before the race, the reality of how not easy the course was became more real. So many people talk about the course in terms of the elevation loss, but they seem to ignore the elevation gains which were way more prevalent than I would have preferred. I decided to approach the course in this way: Keep the first section conservative and avoid the tendency to do it too quickly to save energy for the middle section. Keep the middle section at an easy pace, which I knew would mean my overall pace would slow as a result. Then, use whatever energy I had at the end of the first half to run a smart, hopefully quicker, second half. And an overarching tenant of the entire plan was to pay attention to how my body was feeling because it was possible that I actually wasn’t fully recovered and that it would not turn out to be a good race day. Of course, in the event of that being the case, I planned to still finish, assuming I wasn’t risking serious injury, but I would flip my switch from “racing” to “just for fun.” No big deal.
I will mention here that my previous marathon PR (okay, spoiler alert: that is STILL my PR) was 4:17:41. It was done as a goal race in the spring, six weeks after my 50-miler. The course at Ojai 2 Ocean had a net elevation loss of about 700 feet with only one uphill section that was a gain of 200 feet over a couple miles (so nothing significant at all) in the first 6 miles; the rest of the course was either flat or downhill. The entire race took place well below the elevation at which I live, and it actually ended at sea level. It was the ideal course for a PR. In that race, I ran a negative split of about 3 minutes (2:10 and 2:07), however, the race did not provide official splits, so I opted not to claim the halves as half PRs.
Prior to this race in the spring, my official half marathon PR had been 2:18. I knew I’d easily shattered it but didn’t have anything official to back it up with. I’d done a half marathon in the summer in Las Vegas on an anti-PR course (aptly named Running with the Devil) and set a new official PR of 2:17:01, so barely, but given the circumstances, I was happy to have lowered it. I haven’t “raced” a half marathon (except the summer one) in for time in nearly 2 years, so I fully admit the 2:17 was super soft (actually done at a slower pace than my PR marathon).
The night before the race, Asa and I met up with my online friend Patrick and his 3-year-old son for dinner. He was hoping to go sub-4 and had the half marathon stats plus training runs on the actual course to support that. When he asked me what time I was aiming for, I really couldn’t give him an answer. I finally told him I hoped to go under 4:35, since that’s when I got to the marathon distance at NC24. However, I wasn’t even sure that was feasible since I knew the weather would be warmer at the St George Marathon and that the course would be a LOT more difficult. Patrick also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Asa that he should run the marathon even with his hurt foot since he’d already paid the money and the cutoff was 6.5 hours. Asa has good common sense, so he laughed off the idea. 😉
Funny side story about my wardrobe for the race: I normally run races in one of my “normal” running skirts that have short shorts built in (but that don’t have much compression at all. However, with all of the downhill on the St George course, I decided that something with compression would be better. The majority of compression gear I have go down to my mid-calf and they’re black; I figured (rightfully so) that these would be too hot. I have a single pair of good compression shorts that go to right above my knees. This pair has two flaws, though: One is that it is the least flattering set of running bottoms I own (not that I try to make a fashion statement with everything I wear, but it really made my lower half look pretty horrendous). Also, they had a hole the size of a quarter on my upper left thigh (classy, right?); normally, this is a non-issue as I rarely wear these shorts, and when I do, it’s dark outside. I had a remedy, though: I would “paint” the area of my skin under the hole with a black permanent marker so the hole would not be blatantly obvious. Yes, that was my legit idea. However, at the expo, I had an unasked prayer answered when I found a booth selling cover-up running skirts; unlike all of the running skirts I already owned, these didn’t have anything built in underneath. This meant I could wear it over my hideous compression shorts AND hide the hole. And I found a sparkly purple skirt that I figured would match the purple shirt I’d brought perfectly. So I splurged and bought it.
On race morning, Asa dropped me off at the bus pick-up area, which was actually the finish line, and buses took runners to the starting point since it was a point-to-point course. I knew the weather would be cold (well, 40s), so I brought a sweatshirt and sweat pants I picked up at a thrift store as “throw-away” clothes. The starting area was neat. There were a bunch of little warming fires that people stood around. There were also more porta potties than I’ve EVER seen at a race, including the RNR mega-races. There was also fruit, Gatorade, water, coffee, and even hot chocolate! There was also music playing over the loud speakers between announcements.
What I did NOT intend to have happen was the immediate coughing when I got close to one of the fires from all of the smoke. Evidently, smoke is one of my asthma triggers. Lovely. I used my inhaler, although it didn’t seem to do any good, despite that I’d moved away from the direct area of the fires. The coughing before I even started running was annoying, but I can’t say it impacted my running any more than the running-induced coughing does (it just began over an hour before the race started instead of a couple miles into the race).
I tentatively lined up near the 4:30 pace group because I didn’t have a better idea. I knew it’d take several minutes for all of the ~7,000 runners to cross the start line, but while I was standing there waiting, I decided to use the porta potty one last time (and since the race was chip timed, it really didn’t matter when I crossed the start line. When I got out of the porta potty, the mass of people at the start line had significantly dwindled and I was toward the end of the runners. I crossed the line nearly 12 minutes into the race. I was concerned I’d have to weave around a ton of people right away, but this wasn’t the case. I think at least part of this was due to the fact that there was a 6.5-hour cutoff, meaning that while walkers weren’t prohibited, the race wasn’t very conducive to walking.
I decided to stick with my plan of running the first 7 miles at an easy pace. My pace was in the high 9s to mid-10s, and it felt easy. I wasn’t trying to keep any particular pace but instead trying to conserve energy for the hills ahead. I didn’t walk at all in this section. My 10k split was 1:02:37 (10:05 average pace); my predicted finish time based on that split was 4:24:22. This info was posted directly to my Facebook profile and also texted to Asa so he knew where I was and when to expect me at the finish line. The couple mile or so was done in the dark before sunrise. Southern Utah is beautiful.
The biggest incline was just after 7 miles and lasted about a mile. I hadn’t developed a strategy ahead of time for the hill. I’m not keen on walk breaks, but I also know I’m not a super strong uphill runner and sometimes it wastes more energy to try to run. I ran about half a mile up it, just trying to keep a pace that was manageable without caring what it actually was, before I realized my breathing was really labored (not from the asthma but from running uphill, lol), so I opted to walk. After a minute of walking, my breathing still wasn’t recovered, so I walked one more minute. This was my slowest mile of the race: 11:17; I’m still not sure how it was that fast with two minutes of walking.
After that hill, there was a downhill section followed by another uphill section that was less steep but seemed to go on for nearly as long; I didn’t remember this one from the drive the day prior. Up through over about 12 miles, there seemed to be a LOT of uphill. As I expected, my overall pace got slower. However, I was still feeling good, so time at that point mattered less; I really wanted enough energy to run a negative split. If I was able to run a negative split, it would tell me I was right in going out conservatively. However, if I were to get a positive split, it would tell me I was not truly dialed in on what constituted a conservative effort. To me, the course seemed designed to pretty feasibly run a negative split, but this was based on the assumption of not wrecking oneself in the first half (particularly the first 7 miles before the toughest section).
When I got to the half marathon mat, my time was 2:13:39, which was associated with an updated predicted finish time of 4:27:25. (Yay, new official half marathon PR by over 3 minutes.) My average pace for the entire race to this point had slid to 10:12. I was actually pleased it was not slower. I pretty much knew at this point I wouldn’t get a PR, but I still wanted to see how much of a negative split I could get. There were some pretty decent downhill sections, and I loved these. I feel like I was made for downhill running because I never end up with quad issues. I felt bad for people later in the race who were hobbling down the inclines sideways because that appeared to be the only way their muscles would work. I had two miles that were sub-9:10, which I thought was crazy. I continued running pretty much everything, although sometimes I would stop at an aid station to get Gatorade; I had a 20-ounce Amphipod handheld bottle with water that served me very well. “Stops” at aid stations would consist of about 10-15 seconds of walking while drinking followed by continuing to run.
I can think of two occasions on longer uphill sections in the second half where I walked a minute apiece; this was a strategic move as I took the walk toward the top of the incline knowing I’d be refreshed a bit just before heading downhill again. As a distraction to the uphill parts, I tried to focus on the scenery. It was so picturesque! There were also lots of signs spread throughout the course made by family members and friends of runners.
As a side reference, the aid stations had TONS of volunteers and were awesome. Some of them had fruit, Icy Hot, and Vaseline in addition to the normal water and Gatorade (and sometimes gels). They were also equipped with some “lucky” volunteers whose job it was to kneel in front of runners and rub Vaseline/Icy Hot all over their lower legs/thighs. While I didn’t partake in any of that, I thought it was a nice touch, albeit not likely what the volunteers had in mind when they decided to help out.
I was surprised how warm it started to feel in the second half. I think it only got up to the 70s, but it felt hotter than that. It’s funny because I live in Las Vegas and trained through the summer, so there’s no reason anything below 80 should feel even remotely hot, but for whatever reason, it did.
I was continuing to run and was trying to get my average pace below 10:00, not because there’s anything particularly special about this value but instead because it gave me numbers to play mental games with. For so long, I’d almost be there, then I’d walk through an aid station and take the next mile or so trying to make up for it. I knew a 10-minute mile would equate to a 4:22 finishing time, which would be less than 5 minutes off of my PR. I had a pipe dream that I could get it below 4:20, but as the miles ticked by, I was still having a hard time making it to a 10-minute mile average overall, let alone finding 2 extra minutes somewhere. My 30k split was 3:06:20, which awkwardly was listed as a 9:60 average mile, haha.
In the final 8 miles or so, I got a bit discouraged because whenever I thought I’d run the final uphill section, I’d find another one. Remember, this was supposed to be the fast, downhill section! 😉 I also noticed some soreness in my piriformus muscle (located in the left cheek of my butt). I tried walking a few seconds and pressing on the area, but I wasn’t able to locate the trouble spot. I also noted that it was sore whether I walked, ran slowly, or ran quickly, so there was no reason to not run quickly (well, my version of “quickly”).
The final 3 miles or so were neat because they were in the city of St George so we had some crowd support. It didn’t compare to one of the massive races in terms of size, but it was a small-town welcome which I really liked. There were lots of people with signs, people cheering, and little kids standing out high-fiving runners. I sped up, knowing I only had about a half hour left.
At the 24-mile point, I saw my husband, he took a photo of me, and he ran with me for a few steps. I love him so much! Somewhere after that point, there was an aid station handing out cold wet towels, which felt amazing. There were also a couple aid station in the second half that had misters spraying runners who wanted it. The last couple miles were essentially flat. I never saw a mile 25 mile marker, but I did see an official 25.2 one. When I saw this, I looked at my watch and saw it was at just under 4:10. I realized that if I could maintain under a 10-minute pace that I could break 4:20.
I switched my watch to current pace and consciously kept my pace under 10:00, actually closer to mid-9s (mile 26 was done in 9:30). When I turned the last corner, the finish line seemed a bit farther away than it should be, based on the time my watch said. I think their mile marker may have been a little bit off as the last partial mile was .25 according to my Garmin (done in 2:01—8:04 pace) and I didn’t cross the finish line until 4:20:12. I was a little disappointed about this, but then I realized I was only about 2.5 minutes off of my PR time on a more difficult course, so my time was okay. My average pace for the entire race was 9:55. My last 10k was actually done in less than an hour (which I’d only ever done in a single 10k race).
While I didn’t get a marathon PR, I walked away with an official new half marathon PR, which I decided to claim since I had official published splits to “document” it. After running the first half in 2:13:39, I’d managed to complete the second half in 2:06:33. From my previous official PR of 2:17:01, this was a huge difference; from the second half of my spring PR marathon, it was really only about 30 seconds faster, but regardless, it was still faster! And I ran over a 7-minute negative split!
My Garmin mile splits for the race were: 10:27, 10:32, 10:03, 9:58, 9:54, 9:44, 9:42, 11:17 (Veyo hill), 10:19, 10:16, 10:36, 10:05, 9:38, 9:37, 9:05, 9:11, 9:40, 10:07, 10:42 (Lodges hill), 9:43, 9:30, 10:13, 9:44, 9:07, 9:39, 9:30, and 2:01 for .25 at the end (average pace of 9:55 overall).
In looking up my results after the race, I found an interesting stat saying that in the last 7.5 miles of the race, I PASSED 480 people and only GOT PASSED by 4 (that’s not a typo). So I really can’t be too disappointed with my performance. I know a few other people who should have finished way before be and they all finished within 13 minutes, so I really can’t complain.
After crossing the finish line, I walked around the finish area; there was so much going on that I was a bit overwhelmed. I grabbed a popsicle (yes, they had TONS of food, including all the free ice cream and popsicles you could want!) and walked around wondering where my husband was before deciding to sit under a tree for a while and stretch. I found my way over to a booth where volunteers were typing bib number into a computer and handing out labels with official finish times—very cool!
I found Asa, his parents who had come (since they don’t live too far from the race site), and one of his cousins. Asa surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of a dozen long stemmed roses! They were so beautiful, and he was so thoughtful. I guess he’d contacted a florist earlier in the race but requested to pick them up closer to the end so they wouldn’t wilt in the car. He’s such a sweetheart!
After walking around, I felt surprisingly fine, and even my piriformus muscle had become a non-issue. No chafing or blisters either. Strange, but okay! Looking back at the race, I really can’t say I would have done anything differently. Of course I would rather have run it with Asa, but that would not have worked out today. We will do a marathon together sometime, though. 😉
Below are a bunch of photos:
Photos from driving the course to show some of the scenery:
This is during the first “downhill” 7-mile section (evidence net elevation loss does not equate to all downhill, haha)