My First St. George Marathon

I’m no longer a marathon newb. I took care of that back in April in Salt Lake City. So as I approached the St. George Marathon, I thought I kind of knew what to expect.

Nope.

I prepared for this race a lot differently than I did for the one in Salt Lake. First of all, I had a (relatively) low-mileage August, followed by a 200-mile September. So I was putting in the time. I also ran a PR (personal record) in the Cedar City Half Marathon on September 9, finishing in just under 90 minutes (a 6:51 pace). I did the Hurricane Half the next week as a training run, taking it easy and tacking an extra seven miles onto the end to make it a 20. Aside from a little ankle pain, I was injury-free and feeling great.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a running buddy. My friend Doran one of the main reasons I race. I watched him do it for too many years before jumping in and trying it myself. He lives up in the SLC area, and came down to St. George to support me. He also provided a place for me to sleep the night before the race. I truly don’t deserve him.

The day before the marathon, I was feeling great. I had mapped out a taper plan and followed it to the mile. I’d increased my water intake for the week. I had been really careful about what I was eating. (Lesson learned!) Leaving work an hour early, I drove west to Beryl Junction and then south through Enterprise to Central, so I could drive the race route again. The starting line was already set up, so I stopped and took a few photos there.

I met Doran and we went to the race expo. It was a good one, though the “goodie bag” was remarkably light on the goodies. We hit the all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner, then headed back to Doran’s parents’ condo. The plan was to run an easy couple of miles together, and then Doran was going to get a longer run in while I prepped for the morning. But his levels were all messed up (he’s a T1D) so I did my two miles by myself. I came back and we chatted for a while, then I set out all my gear and went to bed.

That 4:00 a.m. alarm always comes too early. But I was alert and feeling great. I took a quick shower—yeah, I know that’s weird—and was out the door by 4:15. I found a parking space close to the finish line, then headed for the buses.

My first “failure” happened when I pulled out my race bib. The night before, I’d clipped my safety pins to the bib so I wouldn’t have to worry about them. But on race morning, they were gone. I searched my drop bag and looked around for a race organizer to see if anyone had extras. Striking out, I got on the bus, and was joined in the seat by a super nice guy from Phoenix. I was still digging through my bag, and he asked if I had lost something. I told him I couldn’t find my safety pins. He smiled and said, “Oh, that’s good, because they gave me an extra set.”

So … whew. That was great.

We arrived at the starting line to find a carnival atmosphere. It was cold, but people were milling around and being super friendly. There was a big group of young women in these unicorn-footie-pajamas getups. Most people had brought jackets or sweats, and the race people were handing out foil blankets. The bonfires at the far end of the waiting area had already been lit, but it was maybe 45 minutes before they get the rest of the fires going. Everybody huddled together for warmth and talked and joked. Runners are great, that way.

As I stood with the others, this old guy asked if he could squeeze in. He was one of those guys you wish you were related to, with a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. I moved aside and he wedged himself between me and the next person over. Then he asked us all about our running and what our goals were. Then he informed us that this would be his 40th St. George Marathon! He was turning 80 soon, and still going strong. What an amazing guy, and what an amazing story.

Right about that time, my watch beeped. I had bought myself a relatively inexpensive Garmin GPS watch a few weeks before, and had come to rely on it for my distance and pacing data. Instead of a text or IM, the message was “Phone Disconnected,” which didn’t make any sense. The only time it did that was when my phone was out of range, and my phone was right there in my—

No, it wasn’t. My belt pouch was empty. I had finally warmed up, but got a sudden cold chill. I ducked away from the circle and went to look for Lost and Found.

Luckily, someone had found my phone and turned it in. I retrieved it, only to find that the battery was already down to 64%. Was that from somebody trying to get into it, or did I have a rogue “battery burning” app draining my juice? I couldn’t do anything about it, because people were already starting to line up for the start. Pushing away my concerns, I took off my jacket and dropped my stuff back and found a spot on the pavement.

They did the national anthem. It was getting close to 6:45, the scheduled start time. Then an announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were still waiting for one bus, so they would delay the gun. I went ahead and pressed Start on my Garmin, and it acquired the GPS satellites. We all stood there, talking some, shivering from the cold, anxious to get going. I checked my phone again—61%. Not great. I’d brought a portable charger, but of course it was in my drop bag. Nothing to do about it now.

My goal for this race was to run it at 3:30:00, which would bring me within five minutes of hitting my 3:25:00 Boston qualifying (BQ) time. I figured if I could run at that speed, I could amp up my training and hit my BQ in my next race. I’d never run an event with even half as many people as this one … 7,000 runners is a lot. I finally managed to find the 3:25 pacer, and I positioned myself close enough to see him. The next one back was 3:35. If I could stay between the two of them, I figured, I’d be doing great.

The gun finally went off and we began to inch forward. The first few minutes it was nothing but walking. Even as we crossed the starting pad, we were barely shuffling along. Then the pack started to break open a bit as runners began to spread out. The sun wasn’t up yet, and I was wearing my sunglasses, so I was having trouble seeing. But I knew I’d want them later.

As I started picking up speed, I saw a few people stumble on jackets and sweatshirts and other articles of clothing that runners had simply dropped on the road, rather than tossing them to the shoulder. I really couldn’t see the road very well, at at about the quarter mile mark I stepped on a baseball-sized rock that was sitting in the road, turning my ankle. I was able to run it off, and by the first mile I was starting to warm up.

That’s when I noticed that my Garmin was measuring my pace in steps, not in minutes and seconds. That didn’t help at all, since I had very specific pace goals that I wanted to hit along the way. I tried fiddling with the settings, but couldn’t figure out how to change that. So as I started racking up miles, I really had no idea how I was doing, other than the simple math I did at each mile marker. I knew I was going faster than I’d planned, but now I was second-guessing everything. Finally, at mile four, I made the decision to stop my watch and restart it. Whatever I did, it worked, because after that I was getting better pace information. I just wasn’t really sure how I was doing “in the long run,” so to speak.

After that, I just tried to relax into the run. A helicopter kept swooping down the highway, and I made sure to wave each time. I kept up my hydration and followed my fuel plan. I was feeling pretty good when we ran the downhill stretch into Veyo and started chugging up the Veyo hill, which winds around the base of a giant volcanic cone. I’d been ready for it, and I think I did really well. I often pass people on the uphills because I do a lot of hill training. I kept up my cadence but shortened my stride. The main climb is about a mile, and it soon passed. Then we descended into Dammeron Valley and began the gradual climb up to where the road heads down to the Snow Canyon turnoff.

We passed the 13-mile mark, and a few people let out whoops of joy. We were halfway there! The woman beside me said, “The race starts here,” and I think I knew what she meant. I checked my time/pace sheet and realized I was over 10 minutes ahead of my goal for the 13-mile mark.

“Well, crap,” I said, looking at my watch. I was running next to a woman named Bonnie, trying to keep my pace under control. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her I was running too fast.

“That’s a good thing, right?” she asked, smiling.

I told her I was worried that I would burn myself out too early, and finish weak.

“How are you feeling?” she said.

“I’m feeling great.”

She looked at my bib, which had my name printed on it. “You got this, David. Go for it!”

Bonnie urged me forward, saying she needed to slow down her own pace. So I gave in to it. From that point, it was game on.

I read somewhere that, from mile 18 on, each mile is twice as hard as the last. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I experienced, but as the highway ran down into Bluff Street, I was definitely feeling used up. Luckily, that’s also where the crowds started to appear. The sidewalks were lined with cheering people. I got slapped on the butt by a line of women. I ran past people offering popsicles and lemonade. I high-fived a bunch of kids. I passed by a couple of running friends from Cedar, Randy and Tara, and was cheered on by strangers I’ll never meet.

The last mile and a half was pure willpower. I was pretty much done. Then I looked at my watch and saw how where the time was, and that kept me going. If I kept it up, I wasn’t just going to approach my BQ time … I was going to smash it. You’ve got this, David. Go for it!

For the first time in a while, I didn’t have to force myself to smile as I ran the final 50 yards to the finish line. I saw Doran, and I saw my wife and daughter, who’d come down to see me finish. Good thing the race was delayed, or they might’ve missed me.

I ended up with a chip time of 3:16:57, with an average pace of 7:31. I beat my BQ time of 3:25:00 by over eight minutes, which will give me plenty of cushion for the 2019 selection. Overall, I placed 431 out of 4,720 finishers, which put me in the top 9%. I finished in the top 13% of my age group, number 40 our of 297.

After receiving my medal, I walked through the finishers area, looking for my “fans.” I was experiencing a weird cocktail of elation and relief—feeling like I wanted to jump for joy while at the same time bawling like a baby. I finally found a place on the grass to sit down. It felt heavenly, though I was seriously concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again.

Later, as I hobbled back to my car, I chatted with a much-tattooed, much-younger guy wearing a matching medal. He asked me how I felt, and I told him the truth: “I qualified for Boston … and then some.”

He swore. “Damn, dude,” he said. The guy looked as tired as I felt. “I’ve been trying for, like, five years and still haven’t made it yet.”

A week later, I still can’t believe it. I qualified for Boston. In my second marathon. Holy shit.

I still want to jump for joy.

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2 comments on “My First St. George Marathon
  1. Samuela Langi says:

    So proud of you my bruddah!!! Good luck on the prep for BOSTON!

    • David says:

      Thanks, Sammy! It’s weird to go from “There’s no way I could do that” to “Holy crap, I did that!” in a matter of hours….