Marathon #24- complete! On Saturday, September 10th, I crossed my 24th marathon finish line at the Big Cottonwood Marathon.
I ran this race as my last chance BQ (Boston Qualifier). I had a qualifying time from the Phoenix Marathon this past February, but 3:39:26 (or 34 seconds under the qualifying time) would not historically be enough for me to actually get into the race. Since Dustin qualified at the Richmond and London marathons, I wanted to qualify to be able to run Boston with him next April 2017 (checking Massachusetts off of our 50 state goal together!)
This marathon was my fourth this year- Phoenix, London, Grandma’s, and now Cottonwood. It’s been a very busy year of training hard! I had a lot of pressure on myself for this race. I mean, the flight, the hotel, and particularly all the training, it was all for one goal- the goal of running a Boston Qualifying time.
So the pressure was on…
We arrived in Salt Lake City the Thursday before the marathon. As I mentioned in this post, we drove the course the day before and it was BEAUTIFUL. The canyon was gorgeous. But it did psyche me out a little…so much downhill! Yikes!
Anyways, we stayed at the Hyatt Place Cottonwood Heights, which was one of the host hotels. We were very happy with this hotel. Since the marathon was a point-to-point course, we had to take a shuttle to the starting line, which picked us up right by the hotel. The hotel also included a decent free breakfast. On race day, the breakfast started at 3:30 am! This was perfect since the shuttles picked us up between 4 and 5 am.
The shuttles had to start early because it was a long, slow climb up the canyon to the start line and the marathon started at 6:45 am.
You can bet that I did not talk a lot on the bus ride to the start. As always, I retreated into my shell, napped a little, and mostly got super nervous as the bus made its way up the canyon.
We arrived at the starting area via the shuttle around 5:30 am. The start line was pretty cool. The sun had yet to rise, but there was music, some lights of course, and then plenty of water, gatorade, extra safety pins, extra gear bags (which was great as my bag was stuffed to the brim and it ripped!) They also handed out mylar blankets, which were much needed as it was chilly up there! I think the temperature at the start was in the low 40F and breezy.
The one downside of the starting line was that the porta-potty lines were a little disorganized. I made the mistake of not getting in line one last time before the start of the race, which came back to haunt me later…
Around 6:30, we made our way to the starting line for the 6:45 am start. Dustin and I lined up between the 3:35 and the 3:40 pacers. A Marathon Maniac sang the national anthem, and then we were off!
The first 18 miles of this marathon are almost entirely downhill, with some flatter parts and one uphill at mile 3. The course starts at 9,731 feet and ends at 4,455 feet. That’s 6,234 feet of decline and 960 feet of incline (that 960 of incline was TOUGH, seriously.)
Take a look at the elevation chart for Boston; it starts just under 500 feet and decreases a few hundred (I don’t have the exact numbers).
Now, I heard a lot of people say, if you can’t qualify at Cottonwood you can’t qualify anywhere! And the downhill definitely helped. Cardiovascular-ly, I never felt like I was working that hard. Looking at my heart rate data from my Garmin, my heart heart was never above 140, until the final 10k. The heart rate data is very similar to when I ran the London marathon, which I finished in 3:49 and had a blast running for fun. It seemed like a similar effort based on heart rate data alone.
But yet there were plenty of people who totally blew up at this race. The challenge was really more about how long your quads could hold out without totally seizing up. The challenge was also about holding back on those downhills in the first 18 miles to have the energy to push through the tough out-and-back and hills in the final 8 miles of the race. Fortunately, I had a smart pacer to help hold me back!
At the start of the race, I wore the throw-away gloves that all participants received in their gear bag. I also wore a new pair of Louva arm sleeves. I wish I hadn’t worn the sleeves though, as I ended up tossing them pretty early on, as well as the gloves. I should have know I would heat up quickly, even with nice cool temps in the 50’s at that point. I love my Louva sleeves and I wish I wouldn’t have wasted them! But fortunately they’re not too expensive.
I wore an Athleta chi tank, Oiselle Mac Rogas, Brooks Ravennas, fitsoks, SPI belt for extra GU’s, and Lululemon bitty bracer bra (no longer available). For anti-chafing I used GoodSport which is awesome. (I wrote about it here; you can try out with my 20% discount code “RIGHTFITS.” )
I ate a bagel with peanut butter and extra salt, NUUN, water, and a small cup of coffee around 3:30 am. Around 6 am, I took a GU with water. I took a total of 4 GU’s throughout the race, noted below, alternating between water and Gatorade at each support stop.
The race website offered up a pacing chart that was seriously all over the place- by entering a 3:35 goal time, it had the first mile at 7:22! It was really inconsistent. My coach didn’t want to follow that chart; he told me to make sure I didn’t let myself run too fast on the downhill- at the same time not holding back so much that I was damaging my quads. He didn’t want any miles faster than 7:50. On the uphill portions, he said I should be okay with 8:40’s.
Here’s how it went.
Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:43 (whoops…sorry coach)
Mile 3: 7:58
After mile 3, we did a little loop by the Brighton ski resort. This loop was very much uphill and at 9,000 feet altitude. I saw people walking already at this point! I could feel the altitude here for sure, but I tried to keep an even effort. Pace was much slower.
Mile 4: 8:53
Then it was downhill again!
Mile 5: 8:03 (took my first GU here)
Mile 6: 8:02
Mile 7: 8:03- Dustin had to pee so he ran off to the bathroom lines here. He wasn’t worried about catching up with me afterwards- the course wasn’t that crowded. He did say he picked up the pace to around 6:30’s to catch me though!
Mile 8: 8:02
Mile 9: 8:05
Mile 10: 8:08
Mile 11: 8:05 (second GU here)
And then I really had to pee…I have never had to pee during a race. Not to be TMI, but honestly usually I’m sweating enough that it sort of goes away!? But I guess the colder temps, I HAD to stop. Now, at some marathons (i.e. Berlin) you see people peeing all along the course. But the Cottonwood Canyon is a watershed for Salt Lake City and they were very clear in the marathon instructions that you would be disqualified if caught going to the bathroom along the course. How awful would that be- to qualify for Boston and then be disqualified for going to the bathroom? So I HAD to stop at a porta-potty. We passed a few where the lines were 3-4 people deep, but by the time we hit mile 11, I had to stop so I didn’t care how long the line was. I was going to have to wait.
Of course there was a line of 3 people and it felt like I was waiting FOREVER before I got to pop into one of the porta potties. Dustin was an amazing pacer and grabbed me water to take my GU while I waited in line.
Mile 12: 9:17…shoot, we lost a lot of time with that darn bathroom stop! It was hard not to get a little psyched out that my bathroom stop would lead to the loss of my BQ.
After the race my coach told me I should have just peed on the go. I have heard that a lot of runners do this, but I never have…I think I’d need to practice first! Have any of you done this? It’s something I need to learn how to do apparently!
Back to the race…time to get out of my head, forget about mile 12, and focus on the next mile.
Mile 13: 7:45. Whoah, a little fast. I was trying to make up for lost time. I crossed the chip timing mat at the 13.1 mile mark and thought about all the people who had signed up to track me and I wondered what they were thinking…One of my friends had said, “When you start to struggle, remember we are all watching you and BUCK UP!” Ha!
Mile 14: 7:53
Mile 15: 7:42
Mile 16: 7:57
Mile 17: 8:03 (took my 3rd GU here)
Support Stops: The support stops were every 3 miles in the beginning and then more frequently in the last 10k. The frequency was great, but to be 100% honest, they were just a little too lightly manned; i.e. I often had to wait for a cup. But they’re all volunteers and I appreciated that they were out there for us. I still got plenty of fluids, which was important considering the very dry air and altitude!
Mile 18: 7:51
And with that, the downhill section ends. I had read reviews that this marathon is basically two races- the beautiful 18 miles in the canyon, and the remaining 8 miles.
At this point, the marathon heads out on Wasatch Blvd on this horrible out-and-back. It was sunny, it was hot, and it was UPHILL. Brutal. My quads were so beat up at this point.
Mile 19: 7:58…somehow still holding it together.
Mile 20: 8:28…things were really starting to get tough.
Mile 21: 8:26- I took my 4th GU here.
Mile 22: 8:36
Mile 23: 9:08
OMG. This was a very dark place…I lost it. I started to panic that my BQ was drifting away. I cried. I yelled at Dustin. I dropped an f-bomb. I thought it was over. Poor Dustin made the mistake of telling me that there was going to be downhill in just a short bit…and there wasn’t! I was angry. I was not a happy runner.
It was all very dramatic…
But even as I was freaking out, I had done the math in my head and knew that I could slow to 10 minute miles and still set a PR. So I quietly told that negative Jessie to STFU. I did as my friend Nordica had told me.
BUCK UP Jessie! You’re almost done. Just stick with it.
This is what I came for. I couldn’t give up. Dig deeper.
Mile 24: 8:21
Mile 25: 8:03
The last few miles were run on the middle of a busy road with traffic on both sides. Not ideal. The sun was blazing. My quads were on fire.
Mile 26: 8:30
Final 0.2: 8:11
OFFICIAL TIME: 3:35:37
The finish line- the glorious finish line!
And I qualified. I set a new PR!
I was so excited to cross that finish line and see 3:35 on the clock. I broke down right at the finish and cried for a minute.
FINALLY. I have had this Boston goal since Grandma’s 2015, when I ran a 3:42 and I started to think that Boston might actually be a possibility….Then I missed it at Richmond, barely got it at Phoenix, was injured going into London, and it was way too hot at Grandma’s 2016.
I was so, so happy.
And so, so sore!
I have never been more sore after a marathon than I am now, even compared to the Imogene Pass Run, which I thought was the most sore I’ve ever been. One thing about training with my coach over the past 6 marathons is that the high mileage leads to a very quick recovery post-marathon; I usually feel pretty good. But this one- with all that downhill- was a whole other beast! Dustin and I are both incredibly sore!
(Actually the Imogene race had MORE downhill in terms of feet over just 7 miles vs. 18 miles, so I guess I would say that Imogene was tougher, just shorter overall and I was going much slower on that race.)
Spectators: There are not a lot of spectators at this race. For the miles in the canyon, it just wasn’t possible for there to be fans. So if you need crowd support, this is not the race for you. But if you love beautiful scenery, you won’t miss the crowds!
The scenery though….spectacular! I recommend running Big Cottonwood just for the scenery.
The finish line had coke, water, gatorade, pancakes (?!?), pizza, and live music. Volunteers also handed you cold wet towels, which were awesome. The medals are HUGE (see above).
Other awesome things about this race?
- Free race photos and a free highlight video!
- Free throwaway gloves in your bag at the expo and a free hat!
- Organization was really superb, from the pre-race communications to the shuttles to the start line to the finish line/chute
- Accurate text messaging/runner tracking- and it was cute too!
After a shower and a quick soak in the hotel hot tub, we drove to Park City for food. We went to High West Distillery for a lovely meal and a BEER! It had been awhile since I had a beer, so it tasted SO good.
We walked around Park City for awhile before heading back to our hotel for a nap. Eventually we made it out for dinner in Salt Lake City at the BeerHive Cafe. Everyone there was cheering for the football game between BYU and the University of Utah- apparently its a big rivalry!
I’m very proud and very relieved that I got the BQ time that I needed.
Was it just because of the downhill? Maybe. It’s hard to say. Downhill helps, but I think Cottonwood is a challenging course. Without training on downhill, it can be really hard to run a marathon on this course. I personally found it pretty tough. I have an old acquaintance who was there for his last chance BQ as well (sub-3:10 for him) and he blew up at mile 17 and ended up with a 3:40. Such a bummer.
I have confidence that I can repeat a BQ time again on a flat course. I was so close at Richmond, I qualified at Phoenix, and I felt trained to qualify again at Grandma’s if it had only been cooler. I hate to sound overconfident (though half the battle is mental, right?), but I am really proud of how far I have come since my first few marathons.
The first time I crossed a finish line at the Twin Cities marathon in 2005, my time was almost 5 hours!
What’s next? Recovery. A break. Officially registering for Boston on September 19th. I might pay it forward and do some pacing of some friends but no more intense training until it’s time to train for Boston.
Thanks to my pacer, who was super patient with me even when I got pretty down. Thanks also to my coach Antonio Vega of Zoom Performance, Sound Probiotics for getting me to the starting line healthy, to my awesome running friends who logged many, many miles with me, and to you all for reading along with my journey and supporting my efforts.
You guys are the best! I love running!