St. George Marathon 2017 Race Report

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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:

This year’s poster

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.

A Gandalf misquote

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.

Under the Bridge

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There is no troll under the bridge in this story. There’s not even a trail in this story…

100_1215The sun is beating down mercilessly, so hot it takes my breath away. The air is so hot and dry that drinking doesn’t even help any more.

I stop and look up. Runners pass me, heads down, looking defeated. The sun, strangely, looks tiny, a tiny little dot that is taking away every will I have to keep going. Ahead of me is an overpass, promising a brief moment of shade. Beyond that, the road continues uphill. It’s not steep, but at this moment it is just too much. Maybe if I could get just a tiny bit of cool water, instead of the warm water at the aid stations, maybe then I could go on. Maybe some shade, more than the tiny bit that the bridge will offer, maybe then I could go on. But beyond the bridge, the heat shimmers on top of the pavement and the sky is clear from horizon to horizon. I stand as runners shuffle past, and I know I can’t go on.

2014-10-04-10-50-38I walk to the bridge and stop in the shade. A low concrete barrier lines both sides of the road, and I sit down. Here I will sit until a sag wagon comes. I’ll flag it down and climb in. Inside, the air will be cool. Maybe a sympathetic volunteer will give me an ice cold bottle of water. I’ll ride in comfort to the finish line. I know I won’t have to wait long, there are plenty of shuttles, one goes by every few minutes.

As I wait, I think of how long I have wanted to run this marathon. I think of my joy when I made it through the lottery. I think of my training runs. I put a lot into this, my training was perfect. I think of the medal that would have been waiting at the finish line, and of my family, who will be waiting at the finish line. I think of their reactions, surprise followed by sympathy. Like all good families they will help me rewrite this story so that it’s not really a failure. It was just too hot. It’s amazing that anyone finished… and then I’ll try again next year.

100_1218I think that’s the thought that got me, waiting a whole year to try again, remembering for a whole year that I climbed into an air-conditioned van instead of finishing what I came here to do.

I start to cry when I realize that I can’t get in the shuttle, that I can’t give up. It’s hard to breathe when you’re sobbing. I think somebody asks if I’m okay, but maybe I imagined that, in any case I don’t answer. I’m not okay.

I stand up and walk through the remainder of the shade, then I start to run. I start at a shuffle, but I gradually pick up my pace and make it over the hill. I’m just past the marker for mile 19 when a shuttle passes me.

100_1214Now I’ve completed the St. George Marathon six times, it’s the only road race on my calendar these days. The second time, the bridge seemed to appear so soon, I felt so good! When I saw the bridge, I smiled, probably a big, stupid smile. When I ran under the bridge, I was startled when a sob escaped me, and then another. I had to walk, trying to breathe normally, trying to keep my emotions a secret. I’m not really a crier. A lot of people cry during and after events, from happiness, relief, pain… a section of Daughters of Distance, by Vanessa Runs, is dedicated to this phenomena, and it seems to occur regardless of gender, fitness level or experience in the sport. My daughter cries at the end of most events, something that was pretty confusing for her husband the first time he witnessed it.

“Are you okay? Was it bad?”

“No, it was great! I’m so happy!”

But I don’t really do that. Except EVERY SINGLE TIME I run under that bridge. Six years. No reason to think it will change. Some of the years have been relatively easy, like that second year (the bridge is here already!?!) and some have been closer to that first year (there’s that cursed &#*$&%@ bridge!).

A Gandalf misquote

A Gandalf misquote

Now the bridge is a symbol to me. It reminds me what I need to do when struggles seem too difficult. That few moments of my life, six years ago, was actually an epic battle of my mind against my body.  One of the benefits of endurance sports is that you learn to triumph. You learn to suck it up. You learn to think of that year of regret, and decide that you really can take another step.

Struggling through a marathon isn’t the same as raising a child, making a marriage work, or maintaining a successful career. It’s not the same as having a sick parent, losing a family member, or dealing with illness and injury.

And yet, in a way, it is.

So my advice, take it or not, is this:

When you think you can’t, even when you absolutely know you can’t, maybe just take one more step. Maybe, after all, you can.20161113_092958