I went into this race expecting for it to be fun and no real expectations as far as finish time/ placing in my age group. I ended up with a 90 second Half Marathon PR (unintentionally) and snagging 3rd place in my age group. I am so grateful for the opportunity to race and run and check off another state that I was able to explore with my own two feet. The excitement, anticipation, and happiness that encompass races never gets old. I went into the race wanting to use it as a workout and while I didn’t completely hit my average pace for my later miles, I got pretty close considering the second half of the course had some hills. Miles 1-6, I planned to keep these miles “easy” - I averaged 8:48 for these miles with the first two being over 9 minute miles. Miles 7-13.1, I had planned to hit these paces at (or below) my goal half marathon pace of 7:42-7:47- I ended with an average overall pace in these miles at 7:58 and my last mile was my second fastest at 7:32! SO let’s rewind back to the expo……
There was a fairly long line to pick up your bib, but it went pretty quickly and it’s always fun to chat with the other runners around you (I think something like 25% of the field were using this as their FIRST HALF MARATHON EVER! So exciting and I hope they all had fun! I remember I was so exhausted after my first half- you would have thought that I had just run a marathon!). I didn’t get any race swag, but the hats that they had there were SO CUTE!
We ended up camping at Wahweap campground (within a mile of the finish line), with views of Lake Powell. This was an excellent place to stay and I cannot recommend it enough if you’re running this race. The campground has showers to rent for $2.00 and while they aren’t exactly hot, it works for race-camping.
I originally planned to take the shuttle the next morning from the finish line to the start line, but I would have to have gotten the shuttle by 4:45am which seemed slightly crazy (I remember a similar situation for the Zion Half that is also a vacation race series event). Alex offered to drive me to the start line, so I got up at 5am and we left the campground at 5:30. I got to the start line by 5:45am and had plenty of time to do some dynamic stretches and a mile warm-up run. The bag check was super easy and I dumped all of my layers in there (it was upper 40s at the start). I opted to wear a thin long sleeve, my Oiselle Volee Racer, shorts, and my sparkle athletic skirt. The race is also a cupless event, so I carried my tailwind (that I previously split between a water bottle to drink prior to the race & in my nathan on the course) and two Gu Roctane gels (I also took a caffeinated Honey Stinger gel just before the race with some water). I think I’ve finally gotten my nutrition figured out!
The race had self-seeded waves so I decided that since I wanted to hold back in the first few miles, I would start in Wave 2 (1:55-2:05 group). There was a thirty second wait between each wave and soon enough we were off! It is a slight uphill for the first mile or so and then downhill until just past mile 3 where you enter onto the single track dirt trail (which spans a little less than 3 miles). I was pretty concerned with getting on the single track because I originally planned to start my goal race pace miles at mile 5, but knew that if I had some bottlenecking that I would just begin my tempo miles once I got off the trail.
There were definitely frustrating sections of the singletrack when we would be going up a slight incline and slow way down (at one point my watch said 9:45 pace), I started passing a few people when the trail would open up, but you just had to accept it (at least the views were absolutely INCREDIBLE). I had wanted to get a few photos along this section, but was too concerned that if I stopped to take a picture then I would have a lot of trouble getting back into the line, so I opted to just keep running (ha)!
The trail dropped us out onto a nice decline for around a mile (until you hit mile 7ish), which helped me get into my tempo rhythm. I took a gel immediately after I got off of the trail (a bit later than I would have liked (I normally try for 45 min or so), but it was too hectic to take a gel on the singletrack dirt). You then cross the dam (over Lake Powell) and then head up a nice little incline for maybe ~1/4-1/3 mile, which slowed me down a bit. I just focused on keeping my effort high. We then crested the hill and headed off onto the Lake Powell boulevard towards the finish line (around mile 8/9?)! There were some loose gravel sections, so you just had to watch your footing a bit, but the runners had dispersed quite a bit here so that helped find a nice rhythm.
I took my second gel around mile 9.5 (I started to feel a bit tired) and headed up the second slight incline around mile 10.5/11. Once I hit the top of the hill, I knew it was all downhill from here and started picking off the runners (especially ones that I thought would be in my age group) like cherries (thanks Allie Kieffer for that metaphor!). I felt so strong and kept on cruising past so many runners that I remember passing me in the beginning (always the best feeling I think).
I passed by our campground and knew that it was less than a mile to the finish and really kicked it into high gear. I rounded the turn onto the Boat Launch parking lot and knew that we had less than .1 to go. Alex and Stella were there cheering me on! I couldn’t believe that I had just PR’d without even trying! I really thought that I was going to be around 1:55, but it felt amazing to cross that finish line with still a bunch of gas left in the tank and not sore at all! Even more amazing? Realizing that I had snagged 3rd in my age group- icing on the cake! I can’t wait to really see what I can do in Vegas next month!
Overall, I LOVE the vacation race series. They are a bit pricey (thank you, Honey Stinger for the comp race entry!), but so beautiful, well put-together, and organized. They award age groups five-deep so that’s more incentive (I think!) and really do their best to promote environmentally safe practices (cupless and they even had make your own “t-shirt bag!”). It’s such a fun way to tie in visiting or exploring a new National Park (especially with their “trifecta” or hiking challenges) and both races that I’ve done now (Zion & Lake Powell) had finish lines that were SO CLOSE to the park campgrounds.