I am The Trail Snail. I (slowly) roam the dirt and mud, the rock, dust and sand. My natural habitat is covered in pine, or sagebrush, or quaking aspen, or cactus.
But each year, near the end of summer, I return to the pavement where my running began, and I train for the St. George Marathon. I confess that I don’t train much on pavement. Probably not enough. But I do the requisite long runs on pavement. Usually at least 16, 18 & 20 miles. I fill in the rest of my training on the trail.
There are many reasons this road marathon draws an avowed trail runner back each year. To give you some idea, let me just describe this year:
1- Expo. Awesome. Bought some stuff, got a cool poster of runners sitting around the bonfires at the start line. More on that later. Packet pickup is always smoooooth.
2- Family. My husband’s parents live in St. George, so we stay with them and they wake us up and feed us and take care of us. This year my daughter, granddaughter and brand new son-in-law came along for the ride, so that was even more cool.
3- Organization. Things go wrong, even at the St. George Marathon, but compared to every other event I have been a part of, the planning and organization are amazing. Too organized? Being herded like cattle into buses is not a bad thing, is it? Hmmm…
4- Start line. Flags line the starting area from all the nations represented at the event. Dozens of giant bonfires have runners collected around them. The start line is chilly. Usually I stay clear of the bonfires to save my lungs, but I’ve been running for weeks in smoke due to wildfires, so this year I figure it won’t make much difference. The bonfires are wonderful. I rotate, toasting each side like a marshmallow. It is cold enough that most runners start out with some spare clothes that they drop at the first six mile markers. I always do this, because for all my outdoorsiness, I’m a pretty big baby about cold.
5- Downhillish. The start line is at 5,243 feet. The finish line is at 2,678 feet. Awesome, right? Until about mile 7, when you reach Veyo, which is the name of a town and a dormant volcano. Volcanoes are usually hills. If I could get an adrenaline boost for every time I’ve overheard a runner saying, “I thought this was a DOWNHILL marathon!” Veyo Hill would be much easier. From Veyo Hill until about the halfway point, there is a lot of uphill. Not crazy, but still…
Nevertheless, numbers don’t lie, and you drop A TON! If you run St. George without training for downhill, your legs will be very cross with you for a few days.
6- THE SCENERY. If you want to run through city streets, this is not the run for you. Here you will find domes that look like ice cream topped with whipped cream… chocolate ice cream, and strawberry ice cream, and raspberry ice cream and caramel ice cream. When you were a kid, did you obsessively sort your crayons by color? If so, imagine your set of 200 crayolas and just as the light blue turns to darker blue, all the way through the purples and the magentas and the reds and rusts and oranges and all the pinks, and all those hard-to-sort browns… those are the colors of the St. George Marathon. Vegetation is almost non-existent, but you really don’t need green with all those other colors. Far in the distance jaggedy blue peaks stand as a backdrop. The beauty of the St. George Marathon is not something that is easy to describe, or even capture in photos. You have to see the sun coming up, angling over a landscape that could be on any world… but it’s right here, on Earth!
7- The volunteers. So many volunteers, so nice. After halfway, there are even volunteers waiting to rub Icy Hot on your legs. Each aid station (and there are seventeen) has huge numbers of volunteers. St. George is a pretty small city, but somehow they find hundreds of energetic and spirited people willing to get up long before the crack of dawn and hand water to complete strangers.
8- THE SPECTATORS. The St. George Marathon is run almost entirely down SR-18, a two-lane state highway running through some relatively inaccessible land. Does this stop the incredible spectators that line long sections of said road? NOPE! People living in remote ranch homes blast Queen from loudspeakers. Adorable kids hold out their hands for high fives (kids, I hope you wash before you eat). A trio of white-haired ladies in pink dish gloves with flowered cuffs offer FREE BUTT SLAPS. Of course I got a free butt slap. Wouldn’t you? This is all before you even reach town, and then ALL the streets are lined. Kids hand out otter pops and popsicles. Spectators hold up signs that make me laugh… or cry. I can get pretty emotional twenty four miles into a marathon. With about a mile to go, there are wash cloths in ice water! I can wipe off all the sweat and Gatorade/otter pop/popsicle drool!
The finish line is lined with screaming, clapping, cowbell-clanging spectators. The voices and the energy carry me to the finish line with a last burst of adrenaline.
9- The finisher’s medal. The finisher’s medal is a disc of smooth red rock, a year-round reminder of the beauty of the St. George landscape. Each medal is unique. Each medal is beautiful.
So. There you have it. This year, I get to see my daughter, son-in-law and toddler granddaughter just before the finish line. After I stop to say hi, my daughter says, “Go! Kick it!”
So I do. I finish with a big kick and a big smile. After the finish, I see a tunnel of spraying water. I take off my sunglasses and walk through. I collect my medal, two bottles of chocolate milk, a lemony fresh washcloth, and an orange Creamies. And some potato chips, barbecue and regular. We learn that my granddaughter loves barbecue potato chips.
The drop bag pickup goes so smoothly that a volunteer is holding out my bag before I even get to him, but the clothing drop is not too organized this year. After a brief attempt to retrieve a jacket I dropped at mile 4, I give up. I never drop clothing that I can’t bear to lose, so it’s not a big deal. Besides, the clothing will be cleaned up and donated.
I get a new second quick time, by just a few seconds. My husband B misses a PR by just a few seconds. He’s pretty bummed, thinking of where he could have trimmed that few seconds, but overall, we both had really good days.
The next day, as we drive home, the weather turns bad. It starts to rain. Some of the rain looks ominously white. The temperature drops about thirty degrees by the time we reach home. That’s the other thing about the St. George Marathon. At home, summer is over. In St. George, I get an extra weekend of summer. A little extension. A day of running in the sun in temperatures that are almost too hot.
So, don’t worry, St. George Marathon. I’ll be back.