Bryce Canyon Half Marathon. The race has the distinction of going through Bryce Canyon National Park, a beautiful park full of amazing rock formations and colors in Southern Utah.
My hotel was this goofy, small place… kind of quaint in a way. It had several units that people could stay in: either hotel rooms, tiny cabins, teepees and campsites. I stayed in a hotel room, which was a small little box with 2 beds and a TV crammed in there. The room had a door that led to the bathroom/closet. So the amenities were there, it just was kind of cramped and old.
There was a spaghetti dinner that runners could pay $10 for the night before the race, but we ate a pasta salad we had packed and taken with us. It was actually pretty nice because it was warmer than usual for the region and eating a hot dinner in a park didn’t sound particularly refreshing. We had a Pasta Tropical Salad from Runner’s World, but with edamame in it instead of peas (because I hate peas). The chilled meal was pretty nice, we ate it in these big wicker chairs on the patio at our hotel.
I woke up at 4:00 AM to get ready, but that was kind of cutting it a little close for my standards. I think I’m better off giving myself a little more time to mill about and get my body moving before a race, if you know what I mean.
At 5:00 AM I stepped out of the hotel room and the corridor was sooooo dark. It’s just soooo nice that the hotel didn’t provide any extraneous sources of light, like fixtures in the hallway or clocks in the room… just to make sure we got a good night’s sleep. So I stumbled my way to the door to emerge into an outside world that was still pretty dark. Not a lot of street lights in little tiny towns. But there were several runners walking about, making their way to the shuttle station that had been established to take runners to the start line.
The first bus filled up before I could get on, so I boarded the second bus. We drove very slowly to the start line, apparently the bus couldn’t handle the hills very well! I made a new friend momentarily on the bus, a gal named Kelly from San Francisco. We chatted about our past race experiences, made our way to the port-a-potties at the start line and went to the gear check together.
This race had a UPS truck at the start where runners could drop a bag with some of their stuff. The runners had to use the bags that were provided at packet pick-up because they were pre-labeled with the runner’s info. But for a small-town race, this was the most organized gear check I’ve ever seen. (Especially in comparison to my experience with running and volunteering at some local events in Las Vegas which are a MESS!)
There was a forest fire just 4 miles away from the start line. The smell of burning was heavy in the air. The air was thick and hazy. It did make me a little concerned about breathing during the race, especially since my asthma inhalers had been EMPTY for a few days.
Everybody was just milling about on the sides of the road because the road was still open to a select amount of traffic until the announcer said, “We’ll start the race in one minute.” People started to file into the road and the announcer said, “Starting in 45 seconds.” That’s when all the runners realized that they were pretty serious about the time. After a 30 second warning, everybody was pretty much all gathered in the road. There were about 1100 runners. We got a 10… 9… 8… countdown, which all the participants joined in for, a gun was fired and the race was on.
The first couple miles are pretty much flat. I lost my new friend from SF pretty quickly. I hadn’t realized how far back we were starting, so I spent a good amount of time passing people. But then, that feels kind of good too. “I’ll smoke you… and you… and you… and you…”
The next 4 miles are all downhill through the park. The race started at about 7700 feet in elevation and by mile 6 we were down to about 6400 feet in elevation. The downhills lead to some pretty good pacing, I was a little over 50 minutes into the race after covering 7 miles! I was having a great time, marveling at how fast I was going and how incredible it was to run through such beautiful scenery.
But around 7.5 miles, things weren’t as peachy. My stomach started to seize up and just before mile 8 I had to make a quick stop to… lose my breakfast. Unpleasant and I wish I knew why my stomach decides to get angry. My only guess is that it has something to do with electrolytes. Some people get cramps in their muscles while running, my digestive system cramps up. But I remembered when I did my 20-mile that turned into an 18-mile training run for Phoenix and I got sick. I got driven off the course, puked at the gas station and then I was fine. My friend advised me that maybe I just need to let myself puke. It sucks, but it seemed to work in this case. I walked about a quarter mile after that to the next aid station, had them fill up my water bottle (I used my handheld Amphipod instead of a belt), dropped in some more drink mix and started to run again.
Mile 8-9 was still kind of hard, my stomach still felt a little queasy. But by the time I reached the flag for mile 9 I was feeling better and cruising along, passing people on the uphill stretches. And I like passing people on uphills, that just makes me feel tough.
Miles 9-11 were okay, I was just trying to get myself back in a “happy place”, telling myself that it was just a minor setback and I was still rockin’ the race. I kept repeating little mantras to myself, like “You are stronger than you know.” and “Don’t Deny Your Awesomeness!”
It worked and mile 11 felt pretty good. When I passed mile 12, I was cruising along again. Shortly after that I passed a girl and she said to me, “Are we almost done? Is this over yet?” I looked at my Garmin and told her we had about .7 mile left, that we were almost there and could definitely finish this thing. She thanked me and sounded so relieved. Maybe she missed the last mile marker?
They had a pancake breakfast at the finish line that cost $5. There were some bananas and oranges, plus water for the finishes. But anything more substantial had to be purchased. But considering my $35 entry fee got me a tech shirt, a medal and a run through some pretty beautiful country… I’m fine with the food being a little extra.
My mom got a new PR in the 5K AND she scored 2nd place in her division. She got an additional medal for that!
The race was organized pretty well. There are some big flaws with the race website, and perhaps I’m hyper-critical in areas like that. But a race website that has a link for “course map” and just shows the entire southern region of a state… that’s flawed. And the fact that they don’t say anything about aid stations, beverage served on the course, bag check, etc…. well, they could really clean that site up without too much effort.
This race felt pretty significant for me. I had done a couple 5K’s and a 10K since the Phoenix Faceplant aka my DNF, but this is my first real distance race since that time. It bolstered my confidence in myself and I’m eager to do more. I really think I am a distance runner. Even though I’m a mid-packer… it’s where I feel happiest.