Entry into the St. George marathon used to be on a lottery system, which always turned me off because I hate the unknown. However, in 2017 they scrapped the lottery system due to the decrease in demand thanks to a crop of new downhill races like Revel siphoning the runners. So this year, I decided I’d run the St. George marathon. The goal was to qualify for NYC. NYC is another lottery race, but there is a guaranteed entry if runners can meet the qualifying standard. For a woman my age, I’d have to run faster than 3:38, which I missed at this year’s Boston by a minute and 18 seconds (interestingly, qualifying for NYC is harder than qualifying for Boston).
I felt that my chances of qualifying for NYC were pretty good at St. George given the monster drop in elevation (2000+ft) from start to finish. The problem with downhill race is that if not trained properly, the race eats up your quads and you’ll end up finishing slower that you had planned. So for this race, I was OK missing a lot of my tempo stamina runs, but I made sure I did a lot of lower body strengthening exercises focusing on my quads and gluts – squats, lunges, dead lifts, bridges, you name it, I did it all. My peak weekly training miles never exceeded 35 miles a week, as opposed to a normal training cycle, that peak mileage would have been closer to 50 miles a week. As race day approached, I started to worry that I wasn’t running enough and started to have doubts about being able to qualify for NYC, so I begrudgingly adjusted my goal to just qualifying for Boston 2020.
The race was on a Saturday, which meant we had to take Friday off to drive over to Utah for packet pickup. We left early in the morning because we wanted to hit Vegas for lunch. Stopped by Block 16 at Cosmopolitan for some donuts @ the District and some fried chicken @ Hatti B’s for Joe.
Walked around Aria and the Crystal shopping center to burn off some of the food we just had before getting back on the road.
St. George is about an hour and 45 minute drive from Vegas. By the time we got to the Dixie convention center for packet pick up it was almost 5PM, which was perfect for dinner (for me). To make things easier, I decided to have their pasta dinner at the convention center since I didn’t want to run around town looking for pasta.
Runners at the pasta dinner…
After scoffing down 2 full plates of pasta with bolognese sauce we were off to check-in. The plan was to go to bed ASAP, but I had to get in a shake out run to loosen up the muscles. Luckily, no one was on the lone treadmill at the facility, and I was able to get the 30-minute run out of the way. Unfortunately, the room we stayed in was too loud (street noise and AC noise), I ended up getting only 3 hours of sleep before getting up at 3AM to get ready.
Having run a few races, I’m pretty good at figuring out how to prepare for the pre-race wait. Knowing that it was going to be cold and possibly rainy at the start, I brought my Boston heat poncho with me, and it worked like a charm. Found a spot with good wind protection and waited until the race was about to begin.
St. George had pacers for 3:35 and 3:45, and nothing in between. The last time I ran with a pacer was back in 2013 at CIM since Boston doesn’t have pacers and the only races I’ve done since CIM were all at Boston. My goal was to run a sub 3:40 so I positioned myself between the 2 pacers.
My plan was to run conservatively the first half so that I wouldn’t blow up in the second half. It was kind of hard to gauge my pace in the beginning as some people were taking off like rockets, and others were running at a much slower pace. Unlike at Boston, everyone around you is running the same pace as you would be. The 3:45 pacer started catching up to me and I knew my pace was too slow. I decided to run with him for a mile so that I could settle into a rhythm, and then I asked how he was planning to run the race. When he told me he was running even pace throughout, I knew I had to take off.
My first 2 miles were in the 8:44, 8:36 range. For the next 5 miles, I averaged a 8:08 pace, and it felt effortless thanks to the downhills, and this was when I thought, maybe I could go for a 3:35. Then the big Veyo hill came, and my pace dropped to a 9:10. Miles 8-12 were slower miles (8:45) thanks to the tiny uphills. I knew once I was past this point it was all downhill. Miles 13-18 averaged 8:00, then something happened at mile 19 when my pace dropped to a 8:44. I think it was the headwind and slight incline that I wasn’t expecting. This was about when I was attempting to draft off people, and when the shin splints and calf cramps started. Both these cramps could stop me dead in my tracks, and I decided to change my running gait to ease the pain. I started lengthening my strides, and that worked, which would explain the 7:51, 7:25, 8:04, 7:58, 7:59 pace for the next 5 miles. I took advantage of the icy hot aid stations (they have volunteers rubbing icy hot all over where your cramps are). I was amazed that it had actually helped – LOVED IT.
At mile 25 I caught up to a girl who had been running and chatting with me at around mile 6. She was walking and I asked if she was OK. She said exasperatingly, “I just want this to end”. I decided that I’d run with her to get her going again through encouragement and mental games. Obviously this was one of my slowest miles (8:53), but it was also my most memorable mile. However, I had to take off when I saw the clock on the road, and had erroneously thought that I was about to miss my 3:40 goal. I hadn’t realized that the time on the clock reflected the time that had elapsed since the start of the race, and I didn’t cross the start line until a minute and 38 seconds after the race had started. When I had .2 miles left, I saw that I was on pace to possibly finish under 3:38, and it was a race against time to the finish.
Final time – 3:37:44. I qualified for NYC!