Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marathons, Mountains, and Mormons, Oh My!

Big Cottonwood... It touts itself as a scenic, fast race, one full of Boston qualifying times and setting personal records.  Well, for me, only 2 out of 3 of those held true.  It was incredibly scenic running down those 15 miles of canyon.  And  I set a personal record.... for the most painful marathon yet.  When you live in Chicago, it's pretty darn hard to train for a race that's more than 50% down a hill at altitudes ranging from 8700 ft to 4800.  My legs felt fatigued more than usual.  Staying hydrated was harder than usual.  For me it was all harder than usual.  

Arriving at the start, sparkles of Mylar
But I finished!  And can say that I was part of the experience that is the Big Cottonwood Marathon.    

So you start the race at the Brighton Ski Resort  You hop on a bus and head up the canyon, ears popping as you creep up.  I arrived at the start area around 6:30 a.m.  (the race didn't end up starting until 7:30).  It's pitch black and about 40 degrees.  They do give you gloves and mylar blankets in your goody bag, which helped, but I was bundled up like I was ready to run on a snowy winter day. I had three layers on under my warmest running jacket.  I shed the jacket at the start and slowly shed the other layers as I made my way down the mountain.  Maybe some of you might remember a certain pink Miley Cyrus hoodie I purchased at an Arizona Wal-Mart before running the marathon in Phoenix.  That hoodie brought me luck in Arizona.  Ran my fastest race there.  But Miley certainly failed me here.  Maybe it's because she was more pure back in 2011.  Now the hoodie is clearly tainted.  I ditched it at mile 6.  Good riddance to you Miley hoodie. 

Fortunately the sun was up by the time the race started, but we were still in the shadows of the canyon running down.  I gotta say, it was really beautiful seeing the sun hitting the tops of the mountains as it made it's way up.  And there were some parts of the race where a river was running alongside the road.  I took out my headphones for some of those stretches just to enjoy the sound of the water making its way down the canyon. 

After 15 miles downhill, you're at the bottom, where you now have the pleasure of running a 7 mile out-and-back stretch of highway of rolling hills, sunshine, and limited spectator support.  By this time, it was probably in the mid-70s.  (Wait, wasn't it just like 30 degrees cooler?)  This is the point when I realized this race was flipping hard.  In every single marathon I've run, there is always a moment when I realize that I'm incredibly tired, and stopping would feel amazing. A common misconception is that if you run lots of marathons, it starts to feel easy.  Wrong.  It never does. At least not for me.  But rarely do I think to myself, I don't think I can finish this race.  Well I thought that here.  So I walked. And then I ran a little here, a little there.  Then I stretched. And walked some more.  This cycle repeated from about mile 18 to the finish line.

My favorite the part! The end!  Big Cottonwood = Big A$$ Medal. 

This is the first race that I've actually done an ice bath afterwards.  Downside of traveling to run a race by yourself.... no one is there to get you more ice when the ice in your ice bath has melted.  It's a shame the hotel didn't just fill their pool with ice, as it was filled with runners later in the afternoon who would have all appreciated it I'm sure.  Yep, I spent about 2 hours laying poolside post race.  It felt awesome.  

That was probably the last time I felt close to awesome until about Wednesday following the race.   To give you an idea how crappy I was feeling, for those of you who know me, I had purchased 2 individual beers of Utah brewed loveliness, and I couldn't even finish one.  The horror!  Hopefully housekeeping enjoyed the second.  

The day after the race, I wasn't real ambitious, but I slowly made my way to downtown Salt Lake
Shady nap view
City to make a visit to the Mormon Temple Square.  It was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon.  I ended up spending the entire afternoon there, walking slowly (the only speed I was capable of) through the park filled with fountains, flowers, and sister missionaries.  (Don't stop and stand still for too long...they'll catch up to you.)  I was still not feeling great so I laid in a shady spot in the grass and ended up dozing off.  I woke up just in time to catch an organ performance in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  This was no ordinary organ.  This thing had 5 panels of keys, 32 pedals, and 11,623 pipes.   The best part is they back-light it and it changes colors based on the song.  So the first song was an ominous, horror-movie-sounding piece.  The organist starts up, and the light changed from blue to red.  Babies started crying.  It was fabulous.

Just a tiny portion of the conference center
The gold speck on top is the Angel Moroni
I always hear how everything is bigger in Texas.  Now I wonder why no one says that about Utah.  They've got big canyons,  big organs, and really big temples and conference centers.  Maybe it's just the Mormons who like to do things big, but all the buildings seemed enormous.  And also beautiful.  I was a little disappointed that while taking pictures I wasn't chased away by guys in black suits and ear pieces like Bill Maher was in Religulous, but maybe that's for the best

Although I couldn't walk comfortably for 3 days following this race, I'm glad that I chose this one to run in Utah.  And guess what?  With that being state #20, I'm 40% of the way to my goal of running a marathon in every state!  I plan on countering all that Mormon purity by heading to the Jersey shore for my next race in a few weeks.  Snooki, get yourself a sitter and lets hit the town!
Where to stay: I highly recommend staying that the Cottonwood Marriott Residence Inn.  They had a great breakfast spread for the runners, shuttles to the start and from the finish.  They were awesome, and I had a fabulous view of the mountains from my room.

Where to eat:  Pallet Bistro, in downtown Salt Lake City.  The building was built in the early 1900s and served as the loading dock for the Salt Lake Valley's first creamery.  They try to keep with the era by using 100 year old reclaimed wood.  I recommend trying the lamb.