Picture this…you’re running a marathon while surrounded by big, majestic trees…on a canyon…with waterfalls sprinkled throughout. It’s fairly quiet, and everywhere you look just takes your breath away. You’re literally flying down the canyon for miles and miles and your feet just cannot stop going. Sounds incredible, right?! Sounds like simply the most PERFECT race scenario. Right? Well, in theory…absolutely. So, allow me to tell you about my experience running the Revel Big Cottonwood marathon. Grab a seat, and a snack and I shall tell you the tale.
I arrived to Salt Lake City on Friday night…the night before my race. I stayed at a beautiful AirBnB…a historic cottage in downtown Salt Lake. This was probably one of the most eclectic AirBnBs I’ve stayed at, and I’ve stayed at a few across the U.S. The bathroom had a clawfoot tub and a shower with shower heads that came out from different directions. To say I took the most heavenly shower that evening is just an understatement. The host even had epsom salt bath products and all kinds of lovely amenities. It was the most perfect situation after dealing with a flight delay and long travel.
I woke up SUPER early Saturday morning feeling relaxed and rather well rested. I grabbed my things and headed over to Cottonwood Heights, where the race was held. Thankfully since I arrived late Friday, the race staff so graciously let me pick up my race packet the DAY of. This was so awesome and I was so very grateful for their kindness. I got in the shuttle with my things and took a quick pic of my race bib for social media since I knew my friends would be tracking my progress.
Just after 6 AM we arrived to the top of the canyon where the race would start – at over 9,000 feet of elevation! There were tons of folks lined up fired up and ready to go. The gun took off, and we were off down STEEP canyon as we watched the sun rise.
The first few miles were quite lovely…I enjoyed bombing down the hill and it felt like that first drop of a roller coaster. There was a quick incline up mile 3-4 or so that sorta kinda slowed me down…but then we continued firing down the canyon. Man…this is awesome…I thought to myself. I turned my music up as we continued on down the drop. This continued on and I continued feeling alright towards the half marathon mark. I finished the half at 1:56 and felt okay. Not amazing, but okay. I also kind of felt like the altitude was starting to do something to my body. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was happening. But…at a few points it felt like it was a struggle to get my breathing straight and I just felt winded. Like my mojo was slowly slipping away. And that, it was indeed.
We reached about mile 16 or so, continuing to bomb down this same mountain. My legs started talking back to me angrily. Calves, hamstrings…everything just started to NOT feel good. I never had them seize up or anything. It actually just got to a point where I didn’t feel like I could go any further. This was here that I wanted to find a sag wagon and for real call it a damn day. Why was this happening? It made me mad. It made me feel defeated. I had trained my tail off for this race. Granted…we have no real mountains in Dallas and training for altitude changes is not really an option. But. This year, I took a different strategy. I focused more on the marathon distance (as opposed to my usual ULTRA stuff), speed, hill repeats. Everything a good lil marathon runner is supposed to do. Rest. Recovery. Cross training. A tad…less mileage. Last year around this time I was running 90-100 mile weeks. It was starting to feel like I did the hard and fast work for nothing. As I watched pace group after pace group pass me…I knew that this wasn’t going to be my best day. We kept bombing down the hill until we reached mile 18. And then. This was where it got REAL.
The course kind of bottoms out to the canyon floor and then starts going through the city. We do this out and back that is in the straight up SUN. Temps were close to the 90 degree mark that day and the sun was in absolute full effect. The out and back apparently is where everyone just kind of falls apart. It becomes a walk-a-thon of sorts. I have honestly never seen SO MANY people start walking during a marathon like I did here. And also it was here that I started walk/run/shuffling. I stopped to use the restroom twice and really just tried to keep my legs going as much as possible. The legs were toast after flying down the canyon.
I reached mile 23, I started wagering with myself. From now on…don’t stop running. Even if the run is slow. Go. It’s a 5k to the finish and you have no excuse. I also knew that I would never forgive myself if I let my marathon time creep to the 5 hour mark. You are not a punk ass. You are not a quitter. Go and when you see the finish. Go harder. Relentless forward motion.
When I saw that finish I was overjoyed and relieved. It took me back to the days where, when I would see a finish line, I would literally start crying as I ran towards it. It was a somewhat emotional finish. NOT because I ran a PR. Not because it was some strong monumental finish time.
Because I talked myself out of quitting this race. Because I traveled all the way to Utah from Texas, alone.
I did not have a cheer section or a husband that greeted me with flowers at the finish line. I did not have a pacer or someone on the course kissing my ass and telling me how amazing I am. I did what I went there to do. I gutted it out. I finished a hard ass race. At high elevation and altitude. Something I’ve never done before. I’ve run 50ks, I’ve done 50 milers, 100k. 100 miles. None of these races took out of me, what Big Cottonwood did. And, it truly gave me the mental fortitude to know that when the chips are down- when shit falls apart, that I can tough it out and finish what I started. Even if it hurts. Even if the outcome is NOT AT ALL what I expected. There will be another day for a PR and a chance to brag to my friends and social media about what happened. And when that comes, it will be lovely. The rough days are what makes the good days even better.
There I am, smiling when I felt like absolute shit. Sometimes you have to smile, through the bullshit.
So. Thank you, Revel Big Cottonwood! Thank you for showing me what I’m made of. And thank you running, for continuing to show me that I’m stronger than I think I am. Hey Revel. I can’t say I’ll be back for your race anytime soon. But you did show me what you needed to show me at the time and for that – I am absolutely grateful.
So now, it’s time to go back into the ULTRA training trenches. Brazos Bend 100 miler. Get ready. I’m so coming for you in December.
How was your weekend? Is anyone else running a hundo/mountain race/ultra this year?! Tell me about it!