In this episode Angie recaps the Revel Wasatch Marathon in Utah, her 67th marathon to date. Plus you will hear how to modify your goal when things go wrong.
The limited edition Revel Wasatch Marathon and Half Marathon took place on April 30 & May 1st, 2021. The race had a 6.5 hour time limit from the time you started and was a Boston Qualifying course. Because of Covid restrictions they designed the races to have wave starts in order to socially distance runners at the start and along the course and I think they did a great job.
I flew in to Salt Lake on Friday (the day before my race). At the airport I faced an hour and a half line to get my rental car and that along with misplacing my driver’s license made for a stressful afternoon. Still, I was able to get to the expo with plenty of time. It was located at the Charleston Town Hall on Thursday and Friday and the expo was easy to navigate and well organized. They put each runner’s name on their bib and offered athlete tracking.
Along with the short sleeve shirt (we could choose between a regular shirt or tech) they gave out an insulated drink tumbler and some misc snacks and products in the swag bag. Race organizers also had some props set up for taking pictures before and after the races.
After getting my race bib and swag I checked into my hotel and then had just enough time to get to the MTA meet up at the Back 40 Bar and Grill outside of Heber. It was a warm and sunny day and we had a nice outdoor table to talk and eat. It was wonderful to meet Alan, Laurel, Peter, Lisa, Denise, Kevin, and Lynn at the meet up. After a fun meet up I went back to my hotel room, laid out my race gear, and went to bed early.
The race bused participants from the Walmart parking lot to the starting line. The buses were split up depending on which wave and race that you were running and there was only one runner per row of seats to distance people.
We were required to wear masks up until we started and they also did temperature checks and required COVID forms to be filled out to get on the buses. It was around a 30 minute drive up the mountain to the starting area. One great feature was that we were able to stay on the bus until very close to the start time since it was chilly and in the low 40’s. Lines for the port-a-pots were relatively short and I was thankful for the mylar blanket and gloves provided by the race. Our race drop bags were put under the bus that we’d used and transported to the finish line.
MTA coaching client Bill Drinkward (who went on to run PB of 3:07:56 that day!) was in Wave 2 with me and we were able to chat on the bus which was fun. The race waves started from 6:00-8:20 am on Saturday. Our wave got going close to 6:20 am and they released runners one by one to keep people spaced out along the course.
The marathon course started along Hwy 40 at around 7,800 feet of elevation and finished at 5,400 feet for a net elevation drop of 2,312 feet (800 feet drop for the half marathon). The race was run on an “open road” format along Highway 40. This meant that there were traffic barrels lining the eastbound shoulder, with traffic flowing up and down the canyon. Runners were required to remain on the eastbound shoulder of the road and not use the vehicle travel lane. There were some big trucks traveling through the canyon and at times I had to hang on to my hat because of the force of their passing. At all street crossings, vehicles were stopped and runners were given the right-of-way.
The marathon course offered beautiful views of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Although traffic was a bit intense at times it was offset by running through forests and seeing mountain peaks along with glimpses of mountain wildlife and the sound of small creeks.
The marathon began near Strawberry Reservoir. The first 2.5 miles contained the only significant elevation gain of around 200 feet on the entire course as runners made their way up Highway 40 to the summit at Daniel’s Pass. I immediately noticed the elevation when I started running. During that time my chest felt tight and my legs felt a bit wobbly from lack of oxygen. After cresting the summit we began a downhill drop that continued nearly all the way to the finish line.
Battling My Hamstring
Everything was going fairly well until mile 10 when I noticed discomfort in my proximal hamstring. This was causing a hitch in my stride which did not feel comfortable on a downhill course. I tried to stay relaxed and positive but over the course of the next two miles the hamstring pain radiated down into the belly of the muscle giving me a sensation of weakness and like my leg might give out. Now the mental battle was on. My goal going into the marathon had been to run 3:15 or at least PR (sub 3:20). At this point I could clearly see this was not going to happen. But I still wanted to run strong, even though my left leg was feeling anything but strong.
I started experimenting with altering my pace to see if the hamstring improved to no avail. So I threw in a couple short walking intervals. When I was walking it was much more comfortable but I didn’t want to walk. I was getting upset with my body.
It Could Be Worse
Just after this point we had passed an aid station and I came upon a woman running a short distance in front of me. Suddenly she pulled to the side of the road, whipped down her shorts, bent over slightly, and explosive diarrhea shot out of her backside. I was a bit stunned and it must have shown on my face. When I reached her she’d just pulled up her shorts (with diarrhea clinging to them) and said, “Sorry about that. My stomach isn’t feeling that great today.” That was the understatement of the day! I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through that. I hope your stomach feels better.” And off she ran.
Having that short encounter gave me the reality check that I needed. I was not having the marathon experience that I wanted to have. But at least I didn’t have explosive diarrhea. I realized that if I continued running it would most likely result in a serious hamstring injury and any one race wasn’t worth that. So at the halfway point I decided to walk the rest of the marathon, or, more accurately speed limp.
I still wasn’t excited about this but my attitude did improve. I was able to enjoy the beautiful weather, the scenery around me, and the mountain views. I also tried to get my mind off myself and encourage the many runners who passed me.
Shortly after mile 16 the course entered the small community of Daniel and and there were various farms and homes to see along the way. At various points along this portion of the course the cones that we were supposed to stay to the left of were placed at the very edge of the road.
In order to stay to the left of them (and off the road) would require running in a ditch or in people’s lawns at times. From miles 20-23 we were again running alongside a busy road with lots of traffic, but a fairly wide shoulder. When we got off the highway near the town of Charleston the roads became more rural. Spectators were discouraged due to Covid regulations but I did notice a few along the way. The race also had a variety of witty signs posted along the way like “Chaffing the dream” and “All toenails go to heaven.”
In the final few miles of the race I noticed that my hands had become very swollen. This continued to the point where I hardly recognized them and the fingers had trouble bending. I’m guessing that the combination of the altitude, warm weather, and my hands being in a dependent position for a longer period of time contributed.
The aid stations had water, sports drink, port-a-pots, and basic medical supplies and were located approximately every 3 miles and more frequently in the later miles. Drinks were pre-poured and runners were required to grab their own items. I carried a small hand-held water bottle which I refilled from aid stations and that ended up being a good choice because of how much I walked. For fueling I used UCAN snack bars along with some chews with caffeine to give myself an extra boost of energy. My fueling felt on point, my energy was solid, and my stomach felt good.
I managed to talk my hamstring into running the final 0.2 miles and over the finish line where I got my very nice large medal. When I finished I learned that my official time was 4:37:32 from the cool finisher’s cards they give out.
- The total number of half marathoners between both days was 310 (192 on Friday and 118 on Saturday).
- The total number of marathoner finishers was 656 (302 on Friday and 354 on Saturday).
Revel gives out free race photos and did a great job with the finish area. They provided masks at the finish and gave out boxes of food along with a bag to carry it all. I saw MTA listener Shaun at the finish. After eating we caught the bus back to the parking area and I spent the remainder of the day eating, resting and processing how the marathon went.
On Facebook I saw a friend had posted that it was her friend John Bozung’s 499th marathon. I actually saw him out on the course walking. He’d posted, “499th marathon done at the 2nd day of the Wasatch Limited Marathon. 2nd marathon in 2 days and 3rd marathon in 8 days.” It was cool to see that because it’s interesting for me to know the back story of marathoners.
As you heard on this recap, things went awry and I had to modify my goal mid-race. On this podcast we talk a lot about doing hard things, pushing yourself, and getting comfortable being uncomfortable. All of these are necessary elements in long distance running. But we don’t often talk about is how continuing to push yourself can sometimes work against you whether in training or during a race. It’s important to stay strong but also be mentally flexible. There is a point when pulling the plug on your race goal is the hard thing to do but also a necessary choice.
Now I’m not talking about deciding to change your goal solely based on mild discomfort or your mind telling you to quit. Our brains are invested in protecting our bodies (because having a functioning body is the only way our brains can get around). In your long distance running journey you will be faced with multiple instances when your mind will tell you that you should quit or back off from pushing yourself. You will be faced with multiple aches, pains, discomfort, niggles, GI distress and more. So it can be challenging to figure out when you should keep pushing forward and when you should either slow your pace or even drop out (DNF).
There are no clear cut rules here. Everyone has that breaking point and the key is to get the most out of yourself without causing lasting damage. So, let’s talk about some indications that you should definitely DNS (did not start) or DNF (did not finish) your race (or long run).
Physical Warning Signs:
- Fever: This is your body telling you that the immune system is already stressed and trying to fight off illness. Continuing to push your body through a fever is only going to stress your immune system more and probably prolong and/or worsen the illness.
- Chest pain: Any cardiac related issues or chest pain should not be ignored. If you are experiencing a feeling of abnormal indigestion, a tightness or heaviness in your chest, or pain or numbness radiating down one arm these can also be warning signs. Get help immediately and proceed to the nearest hospital.
- Difficulty breathing: If you’re dealing with persistent shortness of breath or difficulty breathing this can be a sign of a cardiac emergency or even an asthma attack. This is also a situation to seek help medical help immediately.
- Dizziness: If your vision becomes blurred, you notice the horizon narrowing drastically, or you experience abnormal dizziness or confusion stop running and seek medical attention. Your risk of falling is greatly increased and this can be a sign of interrupted blood flow.
- Severe GI distress (vomiting/diarrhea): This is an area where people have different comfort levels. But if you’re unable to keep food or fluids down, have severe abdominal pain or bloating, or have vomited or had diarrhea multiple times it’s a sign that your body is already stressed and needs to rest and hydrate. Continuing to push yourself can result in dehydration and low blood sugar at the very least.
- Sharp pain that changes your running form or sudden abnormal weakness. Pain that results in changed running form is an indication of injury. Continuing to run through it may result in further injury or even new injury as the body has to compensate for the issue. It’s wise to experiment with changing your pace (running more slowly or walking) for a period of time or even stopping to briefly stretch to see if that resolves the problem. If the pain continues or gets worse it’s wise to stop.
There is no shame in deciding to live to run another day. In fact, amongst professional runners it’s common for them to drop out if things are going badly so that they can save themselves for another race. While I believe in the concept of not giving up, that’s not the same thing as making the smart decision to quit. Our culture glorifies the idea of prevailing through incredible odds and stories like that are incredibly inspiring. But it’s not a sign of weak character, laziness, or lack of strength if you decide to pull the plug on a long run or race. In fact, it may be a sign of maturity. It could be a sign that your ego is not so wrapped up in any one race that you can’t keep the big picture in mind.
I’ve been very fortunate through the years that I’ve never had to DNF a race. A few years ago I was dealing with hormonal imbalances that resulted in very low energy levels and I decided to DNS a race. And there have been many times when I’ve modified my race goal so that I could safely finish. Sometimes this was due to a potential injury and other times due to the heat. I think the biggest challenge to overcome is actually making the mental shift to accept the reality of the situation and not being overly attached to your goal.
We heard from a MTA listener named James recently who said,
“So never thought I’d have a race impacted by ants, but there is always a first. 32km race today and my second ever DNF. Working in the yard yesterday and had my knee in the dirt and it appears I had disturbed an ants nest. After about 20 painful bites I woke up in the morning with a swollen knee and lower leg. Thought I’d see how I got but at 20km with a lap to go, my knee was throbbing and opposite calf started hurting, I’m assuming from running differently to make up for the swollen knee. So I thought better to call it and not risk any additional damage. Hopefully the swelling is down soon so I can get back to the last 4 weeks of my marathon training.”
Developing Mental Flexibility
Mental flexibility allows you to make the mental shift between wanting to meet your goal and dealing with the reality of the situation. It allows you to separate from your ego and look at the bigger picture. Here are some ways to be mentally flexible in the moment:
- Go into a race with multi-layered goals. For example your A goal may be to PR, your B goal may be to hit another less rigorous time goal, and your C goal may be to finish strong and healthy. This is not an excuse to give less than your best. It’s simply an acknowledgement that every race isn’t going to be amazing.
- The mental struggle may be intense. Ask yourself what advice you’d give a close friend in this situation. We’re often kinder (and wiser) when dealing with other people. Show yourself the same love and care that you’d offer to your best friend.
- Acknowledge your disappointment and any other emotions you’re having. There is no right or wrong way to feel when things are going wrong. You may feel embarrassed, like a failure, like you’re letting yourself and others down, like you’ll never reach the goal you’ve set, like your body is betraying you, or even relief. Allowing yourself to go through the stages of grief helps you come out the other side mentally and emotionally stronger.
- Make the decision with your long term goals in mind. For example, my main running goal is to be a strong and healthy runner for life. No one race is so important that it’s worth injuring your health or compromising your safety.
- Don’t let any one race define you. I know it can be agonizing when you’ve trained hard for months to accomplish something and it slips out of your reach. Goals are important but you are more than your goals. You are more than your identity as a runner. If you make the right decision there will be other races and other moments to shine.
- Look for ways to be grateful and stay in the moment. So much of our suffering is caused by holding on to the past or an imagined future. It takes strength to love what is. Even in the midst of disappointment there is still good all around us. If we stay in the moment and look for things to be thankful for it helps ease the sadness. And we’re more likely to learn and grow from the experience as well.
Also Mentioned in This Episode …
The 700 Mile Challenge. Rack up 700 miles on our hilarious online run tracker and earn this Andy Warhol inspired medal.
UCAN -try their new UCAN Edge performance fuel! Use the code MTAChallenge to get 20% off.
Beam -maker of Dream Powder -a tasty nighttime cocoa drink with CBD to help you get more restful sleep. Use code MTA for 15 percent off your next order.
Magic Spoon Cereal. Use the code MTA to save $5.