Hi everyone! Guess what: I FINISHED!!!! And it wasn’t my slowest race ever! But we’ll get to that later 🙂 For now, let’s start with day 1 of our trip!
Day 1: We woke up at 2:30 and flew out of Anchorage at 5:00 am AST. The flight was rough – I couldn’t really sleep much and the descent hurt my ears as always. We had a connection out of SeaTac for our final leg of the flight at 11:30 PST and landed in Las Vegas at 2:00 PST. I was an exhausted mess, but managed to see the light at the end of the tunnel:
CHIPOTLE!!!! And right next to it was a Dunkin Donuts! After eating a ton of food and coffee we headed out to the nearest Trader Joe’s to stock up on cookie butter before driving to St. George, Utah where we’d be spending the next week. We got in around 8:00 MST and we were looking around for a place to eat, and we found a Chick Fil A which was totally unexpected! I ate at almost all of my favorite Lower 48 places in one day so I was a happy girl.
Day 2: I had been up late due to some very loud kids playing in the pool all night, so we slept in a bit before heading over to Springdale for the race expo. Driving to the park wasn’t really exciting, but when we entered Springdale I was DYING. The scenery was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I’d be racing there the next day!
After getting my own bib and shirt, I started my volunteer shift at bib pickup. It was fun getting people all set up for the race and meeting other runners, but I didn’t realize I’d be standing the whole time and the combo of my lack of sleep, the elevation, and being on my feet all day totally wiped me out. I carb loaded on some pasta before heading to sleep.
Zion Half Marathon Race Day: I woke up at 4:30 and got dressed in a tank top, a thin long sleeved shirt, capri pants, and a hydration belt. The race was cup free, but had water stops about every 2 miles and I knew I could refill as needed. My goal for this race was pretty simple: I just wanted to finish without any injuries! Zion National Park is about 45 minutes from St. George, so it was a long and dark 45 minutes for me to contemplate all the things that could go wrong and how much I was afraid to run this race. I just kept thinking about my MRI and the pain I’d had 6 weeks ago, as well as how sick I’d gotten after my last 10 miler. Oh, and our elevation above sea level and the elevation chart.
Seriously though, has anyone ever had a calm race morning? Mine are always filled with nerves! Andrew dropped me off around 6:30 so he could drive to the finish line (it was a point to point race) and I did not want to get out of the car. It was around 50 degrees out but it was dark and super windy which made it feel so much colder. I hung out in the warming tent until it was time to line up for the race. There were so many of us running it that they had to stagger the race to get us to all fit into one lane of the road, so I didn’t actually start the race until 7:50 instead of 7:30. By this point I was frozen and I didn’t really warm up until about 3 miles into the race. During this time the sun began to rise over the mountains and I was so distracted by the beautiful sights that I forgot to take any walk breaks! We had beautiful desert and mountain views all around us, and we also frequently ran past ranches with cows and horses in fields. I felt like we were going downhill for the first 4 miles and didn’t want to stop until we starting going uphill, but I forced myself to take some Sport Beans close to the 5 mile mark and walk a bit.
I kept waiting and waiting for those gradual uphill climbs that were promised on the elevation chart, but they never came! Instead I felt like we spent the first half of the race going downhill. I had been riding the downhills and going way faster than I wanted, so when I hit a giant hill at the halfway point I just couldn’t do it anymore…and I walked the whole thing. It was a mile long. I felt like I should be beating myself up and pushing myself to run, but I just couldn’t do it. Because first of all, the views were amazing and I was noticing them so much more while walking. Second, everyone else was walking. Third, I was at the halfway point of a race that I almost couldn’t even start because of an injury – why push it now? Fourth, this was in no way a PR race and I was on vacation – I can walk if I want to and I don’t deserve to feel bad about it. I assumed I’d have a hilly second half of the race so I walked up that hill and then ran down the other side. And then kept on running downhill again until around mile 8. It didn’t make sense how I was still running downhill when the elevation chart said otherwise, but I just went with it. After mile 8, I started walking a lot more than I wanted. I was so tired, and I felt really weak and had a bit of a headache (later I found out this was probably from the elevation) and running for a few minutes at a time took so much out of me. I began to worry that I hadn’t actually been running downhill and it had been some kind of mind trick that had caused me to use up all my energy early. At mile 10 we entered Springdale and the combination of incredible views and lots of spectators caused me to speed up a bit, although this section was definitely uphill.
I walked probably half of every mile at the end because my legs and hips were starting to hurt a bit and I was so nervous about re-injuring myself. I just wanted to finish in one piece! I knew when I hit mile 12 that this was not going to be my slowest half, and I tried to push to make it across the finish line as soon as possible. I seriously gave it my all and could not have run any faster during this race given the circumstances. The last 0.1 miles were downhill and it was an incredible feeling sprinting down that hill while the announcer called my name. I was so excited to finally be a finisher!
The post-race food was awesome – we got a box of recovery food including Honey Stinger waffles and a mini cliff bar, plus chocolate milk! Oh and we got this:
This is the biggest medal I’ve ever seen, and I felt amazing wearing it. We took some time to walk around near the entrance of Zion to stretch out and take pictures before heading back to St. George.
Overal, this was an awesome race! I felt incredibly exhausted afterwards, but you know what? I MET MY GOAL! I finished and although I felt a lot of leg pain, it was pretty normal stuff (and I was able to hike in Bryce all day on Sunday, more on that tomorrow!) and I know I didn’t re-injure myself. And the fact that it was faster than Beat The Blerch and only about 1 minute slower than Disney Princess is pretty awesome too. I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in visiting Zion National Park runs this race. It’s so awesome how much they encouraged visiting the park after the race, and I felt that it was a perfect excuse for a racecation.
- Beautiful scenery. It was the most beautiful race course I’ve ever seen!
- Lots of water stops that were stocked with Nuun and Honey Stinger gels, as well as bananas and oranges!
- Lots of quiet sections that were perfect for just taking it all in
- Really cute swag and a giant medal!
- It wasn’t super expensive
- It finished at the entrance to Zion National Park
- Did I mention the views?
- The elevation above sea level was pretty rough – it ends at around 4,000 feet above sea level. I trained at sea level and I could definitely feel it.
- It was cold at the start and warm at the end, and windy throughout the race. That made it hard to pick a race outfit, but I did pretty well!
- The sun rose right in our eyes and I totally didn’t think to bring sunglasses. I also got a bit sunburned, so be aware that you need to think about the sun!
- The course is definitely not flat.
- We were running either on one side of the road that was shut down (making it into a one lane highway for anyone driving into the park) or running on the shoulder and sometimes there was a lot of traffic which was distracting.
Overall, I would highly recommend this race and might try to do it again someday. I will definitely be doing more races in the Vacation Races series as soon as possible too!
Would you run Zion? What is the highest elevation you’ve ever run at?