Updated: Mar 30
If you are looking for a fast race, this is the race to sign up for, just beware the downhill! I have run in several races, but have always avoided the full marathon until I knew that I had time to adequately train and qualify for the Boston Marathon. Sound familiar? I've heard this from several people. I figured that after I qualified and ran Boston, I would be done with full marathons--wrong. I'm hooked now!
The Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon starts at 9,626ft and ends at 4,440ft, losing 5,186 ft in elevation. This course kicks off fast for the first 3 miles. It hits an uphill at mile four, then is literally all downhill until you come to the start of mile 19 at Wasatch Blvd. At this point you have a 4-mile out-and-back. It is fairly flat, but a bit rolling. After the out-and-back, you have a flat portion that begins to gradually decline until mile 25, where you hit a steep downhill, losing about 200 feet. It then levels out more gradually for another 0.25 miles and continues a steady decline all the way to the finish line!
PROS & CONS
Fast downhill course
Well organized, even with any cons below.
Plenty of near-by parking in the morning
Bus system runs smoothly and on time
Plenty of aid stations
Cool medals and shirts
Great medical staff
Free photos and video, plus lots of photographers along the course
Crammed and narrow starting area
Couldn't hear announcer at the start line
Out-and-back, miles 19-22 (some people avoid this race because of it)
Temperatures can shift from very cold (50 degrees F) at the start to fairly hot (mid 80's) at the end
Need more photographers just for the finish line
The Race & Course
That first mile is fast! I was doing my best to hold back, but with all that downhill, holding back was more work then just opening your stride and letting gravity carry you down the hill. I clocked a 6:02 min/mile and averaged 6:30 min/miles for the first 8 miles. At mile 4 there is a mean little incline. There are a few small inclines prior to that, which trick you into thinking that you passed it, but you'll know it when you see it ahead. It's over faster than you think.
At mile 7, I decided to change my nutrition strategy a bit from my races in the past. I'm always hesitant to do any thing different with food, because my stomach usually wigs out on me. However, after bonking hard while training for the marathon, I started practicing eating more food and drinking Gatorade along the way. So, I devised a plan to eat a GU at miles 7, 11, 17 and 20.5 where there were aid stations with water to wash it down. In between these aid stations, I also drank a Powerade, washed my mouth out with water, and threw water on myself (I overheat really easily). At one point, I even braved a small banana on the out-and-back at the end of mile 19, by squeezing it in my mouth like Popeye and a can of spinach. Not too shabby.
My hamstrings were a bit stiff for the first 7 miles from over doing it a couple weeks before, but I experienced zero pain. Awesome! By mile 8, they were completely loose. At mile 9, I realized that I was well under my primary goal of a 3:05 marathon. This is where I started telling myself, "Race the course, not the competitors." So I dialed it down to 6:50ish min/miles for the for the next 4 miles.
Around this time we started running along side with the back of the pack, Half Marathon runners. This was by far my favorite and the most inspirational part of the race. It was a privilege running with the half marathon runners in the back. I loved running next to these amazing people and saying, "Good job," to each of them that I possibly could, and then hearing them cheer me on too when I needed it most later in the race. It was awesome! Seriously. I don't care if you run a 5-min pace or 30-min pace. I don't care if you run less than one mile a week or 100. I don't care if you weigh 100lbs or 400lbs. You inspire me! Anyone with the audacity to run a half marathon or marathon has grit!
The proceeding 4 miles (13-16) had another nice drop that I was saving up for. Swiftly losing more than 1,200 feet in elevation, I clocked a 6:13, 5:53, 6:17 & 6:14 min/miles respectively! I flew past guys that were ahead of me and never saw them again. It felt great! I was dreaming of a 2:45 marathon (even though I was actually closer to a 2:55)...but I knew that I needed to save up for the out-and-back. Plus, my calves started to feel a bit stiff and I didn't want to overdo it. So, at mile 17, I dialed it back down to 6:45 min/miles, which was perfect timing because the decline was more gradual.
I continued to feel great for the first part of mile 17, when out of nowhere, my calves both started spasming--yikes! I slapped them like a caveman and kept my pace steady. I knew that if I could maintain 7 min/miles I could still easily get a sub-3 marathon. However, the spasming continued until my calves completely seized (Whyyyy!!!???...I think we all know why...dang you miles 13-16!). Soon, a couple of competitors I had not seen yet passed me, I told myself again, "Race the course, not the competitors." I made it to the out-and-back in one piece and was still on pace for a sub-3.
Normally on this course, the temperature starts to warm up by this point. It was supposed to get into the mid-80's by 10 am. However, I felt a little trickle on my shoulders and looked up to see nothing but big beautiful clouds covering the expanse of the sky. I raised my arms up, thankful for clouds and a few sprinkles to help me along, particularly knowing what I was about to face.
The out-and-back is a physical shock to the legs. With soooo much downhill, my calves didn't know what to do when everything leveled out. In some ways it was a relief, but slowing it down so dramatically caused my calves to continue their vengeance. But I persisted and ran like an old cowboy that just got off his horse after a long ride. This unique stride looked especially dramatic, because when my calves seized, so did my ankles. Regardless, my out-and-back pace was on mark with what I had planned all along--just under 8 min/miles. I still had a chance at going sub-3!
As I approached the end of the out-and-back, any thoughts of sub-3 ended almost as soon as they started. I finally had to stop and stretch. I knew that in the end, if I wanted to meet my goal of 3:05, or at minimum qualify in my age group for Boston at 3:10, I needed to stop and stretch. So I did. Four or fives times. Each time costing me about 20-30 seconds--but I knew it was worth it in the end.
A couple more guys caught up to me and eventually passed me, including an ultra runner wearing an Ultimate Direction (UD) hydration vest and holding steady. I thought, "This dude is crazy for wearing that vest, but hey, he's holding strong." After the race, I realized that "this dude" was actually an old co-worker from 10 years ago. Hey Kendall! He hit that sub-3 mark, hydration vest and all. At a boy!
Regardless of being passed, I wanted to continue play my cards right and hit under my main goal of 3:05. "Race the course, not the competitors." Mile 22 clocked in at 8:21. Mile 23 was an 8:45. Mile 24 was a 7:55. Although I was bummed to see those times, I had a specific reason for slowing it down and stretching during this part of the course--I was saving myself for mile 25!
When I came to the beautiful downhill slope of mile 25, which I had run many times over the years, I felt great (holistically speaking)! My calves were still spasming, but not enough to hold me back! Taking advantage of the hill at the start of mile 25 got me back into the groove to finish those final 2.2 miles strong.
Mile 25, I brought it back down to a 7:19 min/mile. Mile 26 was a 7:35 min/mile. Then finally, the last 0.20 was a 7:06 min/mile pace all the way through the finish line--just enough to beat my original mara