Salt Lake City Marathon 2014 Race Report

This past weekend I competed in the Salt Lake City Marathon, a one-way course that starts at the University of Utah, skirts around the city, and ends up downtown. I chose this marathon because 1) It was in April (and I wanted something at least four months away from Ironman Wisconsin in September) and 2) It's close-ish to us - less than a 1.5 hour direct flight away. This would be my second marathon, my first having been last June in Vancouver, WA. Salt Lake City is of course at elevation, but I didn't think it would be TOO bad as the course is between 4400 - 4700ft, not like 6000+.  How hard could it be, right?

Race Checkin - Energy Solutions Arena

We arrived on Friday afternoon - in order to try to minimize the effect of the elevation.  Check in was inside Energy Solutions Arena on the floor which was kind of neat - but it just made you feel really small looking at all of the empty seats around.  It was a new course this year, and judging by the elevation profile it was hillier this year than last. Well ... hindsight is 20/20 - I didn't actually realize it was a new course, I was prepping for the 2013 course.  More to come on that later.

Last year's course vs this year's course

The first five miles are mostly downhill, and then a number of rolling climbs following. I'd say Salt Lake City did a great job with the course - plenty of scenery, landmarks, using up the whole lane for running and lots of police officers maintaining the intersections. There is also a half marathon that shares much of the course and shares the exact same start time - which I wasn't really a big fan of.  I prefer when the different distances have different start times (or dates) - I like knowing that the people next to me are doing the same race I am. There was a decent crowd along the course - lots of people on their front lawns, more people in smaller city centers, frequent water stations and really great views of the mountains at times!

In the starting corral

And we're off (I'm at the far left)

The First Half

If I remember to my last marathon, the first 13 miles of a marathon are supposed to be pretty easy.  Well ... they were, except that I started blistering around mile 8 - I did a 15k trail run three weeks prior where I picked up some new blisters.  Oof.  I let the downhills come to me and didn't push too hard on the uphills.  However, I noticed that my GPS watch (which beeps every mile) was beeping several seconds before each mile marker, then more, and then over one minute beforehand! It wasn't just me either, I'd hear other GPS watch beeps around the same time as mine.  Ugh, so do I pay attention to the pace on my watch or the clock?  

GPS Avg Pace at 13.1: 7:13 (Great! 2 seconds faster than goal time!) / 152BPM (Great!)
Official Avg Pace at 13.1: 7:20 - still not bad, I have every intention of running the second half faster than the first so not a big deal

The Second Half

My plan was that once I reached the end of the hills around mile 13.5, the course would start dropping.  So when I see miles 13/14 taking 7:35/7:43 I'm thinking "Oh shit, I'm falling behind pace on the downhill" - I was thinking of last year's course.  I did kind of notice the course was uphill, but I'm losing 20+ seconds from my goal time for each mile and thinking this isn't great.  My legs are also starting to feel heavy, really heavy.  I'm wondering if that elevation is catching up to me.  Things are starting to hurt, it's almost a struggle just to keep moving, and it's only mile 16!  How am I going to put up with 10 more miles of this - it wasn't this hard the first time! Half of those last 10 miles were run at 8:00 min/mi pace or slower.  It's funny, those miles were long - but I don't really remember that much of them. I remember a few things that helped -

1) Changing up my breathing pattern - I found I could breathe more frequently but my HR wouldn't go up as high as it normally would - I think this is due to elevation.  More beaths = more oxygen?  
2) A spectator wearing an Ironman Louisville shirt gave me a high-five and I said "Yeah, Ironman!" to which he responded "Heck yeah, good luck!".  Somehow, this gave me a ton of momentum - my run form kicked back in, my pace quickened, and I felt good ... for about 5 minutes until the next hill started, but still!

As the miles ticked away finally I see the mile 25 mile marker, only 1.2 miles to go.  I start my normal "last mile to go race kick" and I speed up, but it's nowhere near as fast as I would normally be for that amount of effort!  I must be tired.  I cross the line with a time of 3:20:12, avg pace: 7:38/mi.  My official pace for the second half 13.1: 7:55/mi (oof!) 

So I was a bit disappointed, I was shooting for a 3:10 and was pretty far off.  Well, upon further inspection I learned some things that made me feel a bit better:

  • The course I was prepped for in my mind was fairly different than what it actually was. Oops. My fault for not catching that in my race prep. 
  • My GPS said I ran 26.6 miles at an average pace of 7:31 (which is a 3:17 marathon, that sounds a lot faster in my head). Now I know probably no course is 100% exact, but I did a decent job of running the tangents and 0.4 miles is kind of a lot.
  • I finished 34th overall out of 881 total finishers, 6th out of 89 in my age group (Men 30-34)
  • Out of the 247 finishers NOT from Utah or Colorado, I was 4th! Maybe a little bit of fuzzy logic assuming anyone from Utah or Colorado lives at elevation, but oh well.

So in the end, I am pleased with the race. I think it's easy to get to obsessed with a finishing time without truly considering the qualities of the course.  I'll hit 3:10 (and eventually 3:05 for Boston-qualifying) eventually.  This marathon was certainly a lot harder than the first one, sure maybe the elevation or the hills, but I think there is some definite truth to that saying "It doesn't get any easier, you just go faster".

Later that day we went to Red Butte Garden to look at some blooming daffodils and then Sunday went to Snowbird to try to attempt to ski!  It wasn't easy, in fact - at times skiing was as hard as the marathon!  All in all, a pretty great weekend.  

Post-Race with finisher medal

Red Butte Garden

Red Butte Garden - the small hills in here are quite tough after a marathon

Snowbird on Sunday - Happy Easter!