Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Part 2:Revel Big Cottonwood Half Marathon, State #18. UT

4:15 am arrived quickly, and I was up going through my pre-race routine to ensure I caught the 5:00 am bus to the starting line provided by the hotel. My early morning routine usually consists of a quick wash up followed by getting dressed in the clothes I set out the night before. I heat up a venti bold coffee from Starbucks in the hotel microwave and prepare a packet of instant oatmeal with chia seeds & fresh blueberries mixed in. I drink a small amount of G2 lemon-lime flavored and a bottled water. Before walking out the door, I pin on my number and make sure I have all the gear I need to get me through the race (sunglasses, running hat, sports watch, GU, phone, ID, medical card and $20). This morning followed the same routine. Not too neurotic or anything, right? 
I took the elevator down to the lobby which where it was already loaded with runners waiting in line for the bus. I chatted with some nice folks from Texas who were full marathoners. They told me about their many travels for marathons and we swapped some recommendations on good races. When I got to the front of the line, a woman checked for my name on her clipboard, and upon finding it, I was released to climb on to the bus. The busses were really nice coach-style busses with reclining seats and foot rests! Not too shabby for this marathoner! (And seriously, I've never seen this kind of luxury at any other race. Another great perk!)
The ride up to the canyon was dark (the sun was not yet up) and the road was twisty and turny most of the way. Unbelievably, I sat with a man on the bus who was from Trumbull, CT! This really was a destination race for so many racers. His name was Bill, and we had fun chatting about our races. He was an accomplished marathoner and ultra-marathoner. We had fun discussing races in CT and our kids and other common topics. 
The bus ride took a good 40 minutes or so, and I started in on my breakfast near the end of the ride. I didn't want to eat too early so that I was starving by the 7:00 am race start time. As we neared the drop off point for the half marathon, I knew I needed to find the dreaded porta-potties ASAP! I hopped off the bus at the Spruces Camp Ground which was the staging area for the half marathon start, and located the porta-potty bank way in the back of the furthest reaches of the campground parking lot. Not to worry, I made it in time just fine, but trying to use one of those things in the pitch black of pre-dawn is damn hard! 
After that, I just kind of hung out in the general area. It wasn't that crowded back by the porta-potties (amazingly), and they created a barrier against the wind and cold. It was about 10-15 degrees colder up in the canyon than it was back in town at the hotel. When we left, I think the temperature was around 50 degrees. As we waited, I asked some women next to me to snap a pre-race photo. 
Literally glowing with excitement in the pre-race pre-dawn!
As the time crept closer to 7:00 am and start time, I made my way to the forward staging area so I could hear announcements and be in closer proximity to the starting corral. Even though I didn't have high hopes for a PR in this race (as I had been nursing a sore hamstring and glute the last two months since my Oregon run), I was hoping to at least keep the pacing groups in sight. Unfortunately, there wasn't a 1:45 pacing group (my current PR). There was only a 1:50 or 1:40, but as it turned out, the race ended up being delayed for about 30 minutes and I didn't get up to where any of the pacing groups were lined up. C'est la vie. 
View of runners just prior to the start of the race.
Finally it was time to line up and get started. I took off my long-sleeved zip-up, tossed it in my gear bag and passed my gear bag off to one of the guys loading them in to trucks. I kept the complimentary gloves and mylar blanket on as I walked to the starting area. Once the go signal was sounded and we started to run, I tossed the blanket but still kept the gloves. They were a godsend. 
The sun was coming up, but the canyon hills blocked much of the sun for most of the run. I didn't mind, as it kept me cooler. The run was absolutely majestic from step one. The surrounding canyon rocks were red and brown and gold as the tops received the light of the sun. Aspen trees and cedar pines were plentiful along the way. In fact, the smell of cedar surrounded us. What a switch from breathing in nauseating car exhaust back home! A rushing stream ran along the left side of the road at the start of the race and for the first miles. Mile markers were clearly visible, and I have to say, the downhill nature of this race made me feel like I was ticking off the mile markers more quickly than usual. Aid stations were also well stocked and plentiful along the way. Runners were jovial along the way, and I think we were all glad to have gravity on our side.
I am not a big hill runner, either up or down. In the spring and beginning of the summer, I started running hill repeats on the Powder Hollow Hill where I live, but after Oregon I cut that from my routine to give my injury a chance to heal. Aside from my run in Oregon which was half uphill and hence, half downhill, I hadn't run any hills for two months. I was worried that my quads and toes and knees would take a beating in this race, but after the first few miles, I was still feeling fine. I also caught up to the 2:00 pacing group and passed them, followed thereafter by the 1:50 group. Hot dog! I was moving! 
I took my gloves off somewhere between miles 5 and 6 and tucked them in my belt. About a mile later, one fell out, so I ended tossing the other one off at the 7 mile marker. Oh well. They were great while they lasted. My fingers were warm now, so I didn't really need them anymore anyway. I continued on my great downhill feeling speedy through mile 9. After that, we were out of the canyon hill and heading in to the town of Cottonwood Heights. The road flattened out at this point, and it suddenly felt like lead weights had been added to my legs. Wow, what a difference gravity makes for sure! At least there were spectators along this part of the race. That really helps pull you along when you need it. By mile 10 1/2, a slight downhill returned, so I tried my best to take advantage. The remainder of the race was a slight downhill in to the finish line area. The finish chute was jammed with spectators and was very festive. It was a great way to end. My finish time on the clock as I passed through the gate was 1:47. I knew I was close to a PR, but still wasn't sure what my net time would be and if it would be enough to break 1:45. Needless to say, I was psyched, and I still felt pretty good. No toe or knee issues, but I knew my quads would be sore the next day. For now, not so bad. 
I went in to the finisher's area to stretch out and grab some food. I texted my husband and found out that he won two blue ribbons for tallest and best head on a sunflower at our local Four Town Fair! Awesome! I found out moments later that my net finishing time was 1:43:34! A new PR for me! I couldn't believe it, but gravity really was my friend in this glorious downhill race. 
Finish line selfie. The medals were huge and awesome!
The finish line area was getting more crowded now, so I got in line to get my official time printed on a card, then I made my way over to the bag check. I picked up my things, changed and went to wait for the cushy bus to bring me back to the hotel. One benefit of being a half marathoner is that you get back to the hotel before many of the other runners, so in that respect, I was already showered and my laundry was done in time to head out and grab lunch. As I was leaving the hotel, many runners were just arriving back. 
Snapped just before I got on the bus to head back to the hotel. View of finishing area.
I walked around the neighborhood in the downtown area where I was and found a brewpub called Squatters. Bill, who I sat with on the bus ride in the morning, told me he and his party ate there and really liked it, so I went in for a post-race celebratory beer and lunch. It was a great local spot with all the beers brewed on site. I ordered a beer and a Nicoise salad and sat back to enjoy the local atmosphere. The restaurant was fun and featured a terrific 80's soundtrack that day. Bowie, The The, Depeche Mode, so many of my old favorites were featured, and a few songs I literally hadn't heard in over 20 years. It was a great place to hang out for a bit. 
Beer taps at Squatters.
After lunch, I decided to take the train up to the University of Utah to take a look at the Olympic Torch from when the 2002 Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The university is up on a hill overlooking the city with great views all around. The football stadium was impressive and the torch was located there. As I approached it, the torch was actually much smaller than I would have thought. I took a few pictures and then walked up the hill toward campus. It was a very warm day at this point, and I was hoping I could buy a bottled water in the campus bookstore. 
U of U stadium and Olympic torch.

I got to the campus just as the bookstore was closing, so I walked toward the student union. I figured there had to be a fast food something there that sold water. The campus was completely empty except for a few students walking to and from the library. I entered the student union, and all the fast food counters were closed, but a little further down, it seemed something was open. I found a few students hanging out at the billiard room and bowling alley. Yes, BOWLING ALLEY! How cool is that?! They had snacks and drinks for sale, so I grabbed a water there. I wished the students well and got directions back to the train. 
I headed back to the hotel after that, as all the walking around the U of U was hot and tiring after 13.1 miles in the morning. I rested for the remainder of the late afternoon and started to pack my things. I decided to try a bistro in the city that night for dinner called Bistro 222. Again, it seemed like there were very few people in the city, and at the restaurant there were a few of us, but not many. Most folks were sitting outside, but I opted to sit in. My waiter was a young guy named Alan who was very nice. We ended up talking about running, and he told me he was a runner but had never done any races. I told him about my journey, and he seemed really enthusiastic about it. He told me he mostly runs trails up in the hills behind the city and can eke out about 7 miles at this point. I told him for sure he could work up to a half marathon if he wanted to and that the Big Cottonwood half was all downhill. 
When dinner was done, I declined dessert, but told him how lovely the gelato selection looked. (I spied it on my way to the ladies room earlier.) Just before the check came, the owner of the restaurant came by with a small scoop of pistachio gelato for me "the runner" he said. So sweet. I left feeling special. It had been a wonderful day and a wonderful race. 
The trip home the next day was uneventful, and as always, I was overjoyed to be back with my family. We celebrated all of our weekend successes over a sushi dinner at home. The Revel race series is hard to beat! I might be checking out Revel Denver some year...
One of the free race photos offered at the race. Look at the amazing scenery!

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