Warning: this is a long post! I have been meaning to write about my BQ at Big Cottonwood Canyon UT for a while and wanted to include info on the training leading up to the race as well as an overview of the race itself. If you don’t want to read about the blood, sweat, and tears I faced in this race, I won’t be offended if you click away :)
After my annual viewing of the Boston Marathon this past April, I found myself more determined than ever to attempt to re-qualify for the marathon (even despite the horrifically rainy and cold conditions of the 2015 race!). I decided that day in April to find a race in a unique location, which had a favorable course for a PR. I perused through my marathon go-to source (www.marathonguide.com), and quickly found my race of choice: Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah. The race is put on by REVEL, and had great ratings. I watched some footage on a previous year’s race and promptly signed up.
My Big Cottonwood marathon training cycle started in mid-May. I had already built up a solid base after running Philly marathon the previous November, and had also run a couple of half marathons in the spring. But in general, I was starting this training cycle with fresh legs, and was determined to train hard and with consistency.
As a part of this plan, I hired my first running coach because I needed to make some changes to my training, and needed someone to push me. I also work best (like many others) when I am held accountable to someone other than myself- and this ended up being the missing link for me.
My coach set up my training schedule on google calendar a month ahead of time. I would log each run, and she would comment on occasion. Throughout summer 2015, I built my long runs up to 22 miles, and also added in speed work and tempo runs (400 meter, 800 meter, or mile repeats, with cool downs in between). I incorporated 4 half marathon races into my training, and at times added on more miles post-race if the day called for more miles.
Providence half & Gloucester half this summer. Love incorporating half marathons with marathon training!
Some of my long runs were “fast finishes”, ie- the last several miles were at marathon pace. One long run included a couple mile warm-up, 10 miles at marathon pace, and a couple mile cool down.
In general, I think I was prepared for Big Cottonwood Canyon on marathon day (September 12th, 2015). Some of my long runs during the training cycle did not go as well as I had wanted, particularly because of the time of year (summer), but I usually hit my speed work splits, so hoped that those runs would help me run strong in those last few precious miles.
Big Cottonwood is known as a fast race, amenable to PRs. The first 19 miles of the course are mostly downhill, but miles 19-23 have some rolling hills. The last 2 miles are mostly back to being downhill, a change which is subsequently very tough on the legs (well, more tough than usual for the last two miles of a marathon). My sig Mark (who was running the half) and I decided to drive the course the day before the race, which helped me mentally prepare for the downhill and course logistics. I highly recommend driving a race course to prepare if you can, especially if the course is completely unfamiliar!
Race expo was easy, on the small side. Plenty of parking, but you’ll need a car. Note that Utah is a very car-friendly, car-necessary state.
Our hotel was not one of the official hotels for the race, as those had sold out, but we were fine with the Courtyard Marriott in Sandy, UT. On race morning, we had to drive a few miles to the shuttle pickup. The lines for the shuttles were VERY long, but moved surprisingly quickly. They took us to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, roughly 9700 feet high in the sky, to where the marathon starts. Half marathon started a couple of hundred feet south of us at 7300 feet. Coming from Boston, I felt a little hard core being so high in the mountains.
REVEL runs an organized race- the top/start had plenty of porta potties, and our bags at bib pickup included mylar blankets and gloves, which were perfect for early mornings on the top of a mountain. Coming from sea-level, I could feel the effects of being almost 10k feet high, but the downhill nature of the course outweighed some of the effects.
True to the course description, the first 19 miles of the race were basically a steady downhill (with an exception of a steep hill at mile 4, which was at an elevation of roughly 8500 feet high- this was tough on the lungs to say the least). I maintained a 3:25-3:30 pace for this portion, and was determined to stay well ahead of the 3:35 pacer. A 3 hour 35 minute (or less) marathon finish was the time I needed to qualify for Boston.
After the half-way point, I desperately wished that I had trained on downhill courses more frequently to prepare for this terrain. But despite the deep fatigue my legs were feeling from all of the pounding, I felt great and ran consistent 7:30-7:45 minute miles. At mile 19, my pace slowed up as the course became hilly. Hills at 5500 feet elevation were no joke. At one point I had to stop and stretch, and also just catch my breath. It was a very interesting feeling, being out of breath at this point even in the flat sections. I knew that I was far from home.
At mile 23, I noticed the 3:35 pacer slowly creeping up to me and at that moment felt very emotional and overwhelmed. The pacer caught up to me at 24, and asked me how I was doing. I was honest and told her that I was very disappointed to see her. She said that she was running a minute or so ahead of a 3:35, that the rest of the race was downhill, and that she knew I had it in me to push myself. I know she had no idea, but her motivational lines helped me push through.
At that point, I was determined to reach my goal and pushed as.hard.as.I.possibly.could. I crossed the line @3:33.06 and saw Mark, who promptly yelled “you friggin qualified!!!”.
The rest of the day was a blur, but I remember bits of the following: devouring pizza and Gatorade at the finish, crawling to the car, showering off the massive amounts of salt that caked my body (maybe the dry air evaporated the sweat?), passing out for a long time, then crawling to the movie theatre and lastly eating amazing Mexican food at a restaurant in SLC where I devoured so many chips and guacamole, that I got my fill for the year…almost :)
End of story: run this race if you can. Loved everything about it, and it’s a great one if you’re serious about qualifying for Boston (aren’t we all?).
What is your favorite running memory?
Anyone else on the road to a BQ?