It seems like we signed up for the St. George Marathon a year ago — like this race has been on the calendar for an abnormally long time. In reality, I think we put in for the lottery in April or May, maybe. It was shortly after Boston, and Michael and I both had that kind of euphoric marathon high that gets us in trouble because we sign up for another race before the pain of the last race has fully set in. I’d heard from friends and in running blogs that the course could be fast if you knew how to run it. But I’ve never had a crazy PR at a fall marathon, and I thought I wasn’t great at downhill running. My stretch goal for the race was to try to break three hours. We drove the course Friday. Even in the car, the hills felt intense. Honestly, I didn’t think my quads could handle that much pounding.
We woke up at 4 a.m. to be to the bus loading area in downtown St. George by 4:45. I remember thinking that people didn’t seem to be getting on the buses quick enough, but it didn’t matter to me too much because I wouldn’t have a problem getting to the start with plenty of time. We got on the bus around 5:20 and made it to the start line right around 6 a.m. The last buses were supposed to leave at 5:30, and I guess I should have realized they weren’t going to make their loading cutoff at that point.
As we got off the bus and turned toward the porta potties, a crazy headwind hit us. The campfires at the start line were blowing smoke downwind, and people were legitimately shivering. Just hours before, I was worried about overheating. I considered running in a sports bra. Instead, I grabbed a space blanket from a volunteer and headed to the fire. The wind would be at our backs for the race.
So much tailwind. So much downhill.
— AmandaHi (@amandahi) October 4, 2014
My secret race goal was still to try to break three hours, but the course was intimidating. The wind might help, but some serious uphills in the middle miles (I say 7 through 12, but Michael swears they stopped at 11) could slow me down. And I wasn’t used to running at more than 5,000 feet of elevation, so for the first half of the race I might be short of breath.
We were ready to start the run at 6:45, but around 6:40, an announcer told us the race would start late because the buses were not all at the start line. Michael and I shared my space blanket for another 15 minutes and shuffled around nervously while we waited for the buses.
A little after 7, another runner sang the national anthem, the wheelchair runners started, and we were ready to go. I fell in with the 3:15 pacer quickly. The pace felt slow, and my feet were numb from standing in the cold. My legs were a little stiff. My first mile at 7:18 ticked off a little slow, but I tried to not let it get to me.
The next stretch of miles until the Veyo hills were faster than they should have been. I could feel my quads starting to warm up around mile six — way too early for a marathon. Michael and I were running close to each other through somewhere in the middle of the Veyo hills. I guess living in Mt. Pleasant for this training season and forcing myself to finish hard up the hill on Harvard or Irving paid off because I was able to easily cruise past a lot of people on the biggest uphill. After the Veyo hills, I felt relieved that the hardest part of the course was behind me. Most of the middle miles are a little fuzzy, but I do remember the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen during a race somewhere around mile 16 or 17. I tried to take it in as I was shuffle-stepping my way through a cavernous downhill section.
Around mile 18, a few guys next to me said they were trying to qualify for Boston with a 3:05. At that point, I said I was just trying to not run the same damn 3:07 I’ve run for three marathons. One of the guys asked me what was stopping me from running faster than a 3:07, to which I replied that I didn’t really know, and I thought about that question for a few miles. I tried to turn to tell him that I thought it was probably because I’m terrible at tapering, but he was gone. Then the road started rising to meet my feet (not normal) instead of my feet hitting the road (normal). I kind of freaked out mentally because my hallucinations usually start around mile 23, and they don’t usually last that long. This seemed early. I turned off my music to try to concentrate on my breathing and to give myself a pep talk, which, you know, was probably just gibberish at that point. A motorcycle drove by, and I swear it revved its engine and instead of hearing a purr, I heard Michael’s voice saying, “Aaaaah-man-dahhh.” I saw a bird flying really near an overpass and then I tried to remember the name of the thing that flew too close to the sun. Then I worried the bird would eat me. I think the mental fog passed around mile 20.5 when I had an orange from a child. I think it was a child. I don’t even know. Some benevolent thing gave me an orange. I kept going. My pace was, remarkably, still fine, but the road looked a little squirmy.
Thank god I kind of knew where I was on the course and could focus on the approximate distance to the start line around mile 21. I started to calculate that I could break 3:05 if I ran even an eight-minute mile. An older man ran up beside me and said, “You know [pant pant] we can run a [pant] eight-minute pace …” and I said, “And still run a 3:05?” “Yeah! Let’s do it.” At some point I said we would need to slow down to hit 3:05, and we laughed. Then I sped up, and he told me to go get ‘em.
The last few miles take you through St. George where the crowd support increases. With the exception of a cheering section around mile 17 or so, most of the course has no spectators. That’s fine because the views are top-notch.
I kept a decent pace for the final miles, thanks in no small part to the gentle downhills. My overall pace was a 6:57. That number is the one that sticks with me. That’s faster than I ran 5Ks when I started running.
The field for this race was about 5,800 runners with 2,700 women. I came in 25th woman and 180th overall, which tells me this course lends itself to fast times.
Next up is Marine Corps in three weeks. My quads have three weeks to come to terms with what happened. I still want to run a sub-3:00 marathon, but that will have to wait until next year — maybe Boston?
Late start. After all the race reviews I’ve read promoted this marathon as being so well organized, I expected that the school bus situation would have been better handled. Nobody likes their race morning spoiled by bad planning, especially someone else’s bad planning.
Cluster of a bag check. I finished the race and gleefully (OK, maybe I was still hallucinating) trotted over to the bag check area. The time was 10:07. My bag didn’t come off the baggage truck until 10:47.
Water and Gatorade order switched at some stations. All the aid stations were stocked, and the volunteers handed out fluids well. But! The race literature made it clear that Gatorade would always be first and water would always be second. At some stations, this was reversed. At the LATER stations, keeping the two straight is especially important. I really can’t think straight at that point, and if the order is reversed, I’ll think I’m crazy.
Beautiful views. This was certainly the prettiest course I’ve ever run. I can’t do it justice with descriptions or photos. You must run this race if you have the opportunity. I’m looking forward to Big Sur taking over as most beautiful next year. For now, though, I’ll put this race at the top.
Downhill course. The gradual downhills took several seconds off many of my miles, I have no doubt. The downhills also trashed my quads, but I’ll take that.
Well-organized expo. While the expo wasn’t huge, it was an easy-in/easy-out experience.
Decent SWAG. The goodie bag had a long-sleeved tech shirt that was a little over sized (oh well), a cute drawstring bag, trail mix, corn cakes and a random book about reaching your full potential. I threw that away.
Campfires and space blankets at start. Nobody wants to stand around in the cold darkness for an hour waiting for the race to start.
Misters at the finish line. Directly after the finish line and before the chute to get race medals, a genius set up a line of spray misters. The temperature at the finish was probably around 66 degrees, but the sun was blazing. A little bit of coolness helped.
- Course: point to point
- Terrain: well-kept roads with massive downhills and surprising uphills in the middle miles
- Website: St. George Marathon