#Chimarathon Participant Guide comes in the mail

Two weeks from now it will all be over.  The Chicago Marathon is on October 12th, approaching at light speed. I really want to enjoy the time leading up to the race, and then thoroughly experience Chicago while I am there.  What better way to enjoy Chicago than on foot through all of its neighborhoods?

On Saturday, this came in the mail…..

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It will go with me to packet pickup, along with my ID, to pick up my bib.  I’m starting in Corral D, bib # 12273.

Chicago will be my first of the World Marathon Majors, which also includes Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin and New York.  Let me just say that unless I amass a large fortune in the coming years, Chicago may be the only Major I run.  Well, maybe NYC one day.  I cannot imagine how much it would cost to get to and from Tokyo to run the marathon there.  The Berlin Marathon was just held yesterday, I know someone who ran it.  Let me just say that it’s not a cheap trip from the States.  Boston?  I have to earn that one, and although not cheap, would probably be the most affordable.  But, I have to earn it.  I haven’t yet.  I’ve come close, but I’m not there yet.

So, Chicago awaits.  My recovery/training runs this past week were good.  The body feels better and better every day.  With my last marathon just two weeks ago, I am feeling pretty good about my recovery and prospects for a good race in Chicago.  September overall, has been a moderate to low mileage month for me because of the marathon a few weeks ago.  You can’t, well I can’t run multiple marathons during a season and back that up with high mileage training before and afterward.  I listen to my body, and react accordingly.  I want to have the legs to run Chicago, not burn them out.

Another interesting fact about October is that I have another marathon planned just six days after Chicago.  Wow, I’ve barely even thought about that.  Hummmm…..  Chicago first, Chicago is the focus.

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Chicago Marathon Preview

It’s time to get down to business, because the Chicago Marathon is just 19 days away.  I’ve had a couple of awesome weekends, back to back in Utah and Tennessee, but now I have to shift my focus to my next challenge.

Chicago!  A city that will be completely new to me.  I’ve only ever been in the airports there on layovers, and have never stepped foot in the city.  I am so excited for this trip.  A few weeks ago I got an email with my corral assignment, I will be starting in corral ‘D’.  Then last night an email came with a link to the participant guidebook, which will also be mailed to me.  Wow, this is getting serious.

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Since I made my travel arrangements and booked my hotel many months ago, it’s time to really get my homework done.

I’ve been mapping out the area.  Extensively checking out maps.  I have figured out the ‘L’, and which train I need to take and to where upon arrival. I’ve got my bases covered on a late check out for Sunday, and how to get to Grant Park on foot from my hotel on race morning.  I am trying to study all of the little details so that race weekend I will be as prepared as I can be.

My next focus will be on getting to and from the expo.  I arrive very early on Friday morning, so it might make the most sense to just go directly to the expo when it opens.  Gotta figure that one out.

Where to eat?  I’ve even been looking at the best places to go to get authentic Chicago food.  Deep dish pizza, etc..  I have to get a feel for the city before I get there, so studying city maps is critical.

I am enjoying the preparations.  Have you ever run the Chicago marathon, or have a good knowledge of the city?  I welcome any and all comments related to what might make my weekend there smoother, more fun or just all around more eventful. Please feel free to share your experiences.

Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon – Race Recap

Another weekend has come and gone, and another race was run. This one however, was unique and special in so many ways.  An inaugural event put on by Vacation Races (@VacationRaces), the Great Smoky event on September 20, 2014 was a pure joy to run in.

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My weekend in the mountains began fairly early this past Friday morning.  Living in central North Carolina, I had a long drive in front of me.  About a 360 mile drive across the state, and into Tennessee.  If you’ve never been in the mountains of NC, or the Great Smoky Mountains, the drive through them is really beautiful.  Luckily the weather was absolutely perfect for a drive, and the mountain views along the way did not disappoint.

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I had actually signed up for same day packet pickup for this race because I wasn’t sure if I could get out there with enough time left on Friday before the expo closed.  A good plan, and easy (but long) drive, got me into Townsend, Tennessee in about six and a half hours.  Plenty of time to head to the cabin I rented first, unload my bags and freshen up, and still make it to the expo with about an hour and a half to spare.  The expo was only about a four minute drive from my cabin!  Townsend is a small mountain town, with only one stop light.  I loved it.

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The expo was quite small, but very well organized.  This race wins the GRAND PRIZE for the most beautiful expo views.  Outdoor expo?  Yes, and huge bonus points because of it.  Just visiting the small expo got the juices flowing for a beautiful run the following day.  A beautiful setting, super friendly race staff and volunteers, happy runners all around.

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After the expo I set out to find a grocery store in town.  About a half mile away, I found a small store, and grabbed a few necessary items and headed back to my cabin.  Let me just say that I looked for quite sometime online for a nice place to stay, and I found the perfect spot.  I love spending time in the mountains, and have rented homes and cabins many times.  Due to the short nature of this trip I thought about getting a hotel room to keep the trip super cheap, but decided against it.  I found a very affordable cabin right in Townsend, so it was nice and quiet, and felt like a little slice of heaven with most of the comforts of home.  I think the bed was probably one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in.

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A nice quiet evening to myself, I went to bed around 10pm.  This allowed me a nice rest, even with my early race day wake up call.  This race is a point to point race, starting in Maryville, Tennessee.  Because of this, I needed to be at the race finish area (about three miles from my cabin) at 5:30am, to board a bus to Maryville.  Race morning went off without a hitch.  So easy.  Parking was plentiful at the race finish, and a huge line of school buses came rolling down the street right on schedule.  After boarding the bus, we made the 20 minute trip to the race starting area.

It was still dark when we arrived, but amenities and runner facilities were perfect for the number of runners that day.  There was music going, raffle give aways every 5-10 minutes, tables set up with hot coffee and hot chocolate, and plenty of port o potties.  I found that most runners spent the hour before the race chilling out, stretching and snapping pictures of the sunrise over the beautiful Smokies in distance.  For an inaugural event, everything was going very well.  About fifteen minutes before the start of the race, the National Anthem was played while a flag was flown.  Right after that, pacers got into place, the chute was prepared and at 7:30 sharp we were off.

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When looking at the course elevation chart online, I noticed that this race is mainly uphill.  The net elevation gain is 364 feet, but is seemingly spread out over the distance very evenly.  I do have to say that some of the uphills really surprised me.  The whole time running I kept thinking “I don’t remember this hill on the elevation chart”.  So, needless to say, I found the course much more of a challenge than the chart displayed.  I just don’t think I was ready for how tough it was.  After my calves took a huge beating at my marathon one week prior, they gave me fits on this course.  Luckily I never cramped, but was on the verge almost the entire race.  As a result, I never really felt like I could just go for it.  I was always holding back even the slightest bit, to avoid locking up.

Vacation Races, began in 2012 with the Zion Half Marathon.  Since then, they have added 5-6 races that are all centered around our National Parks here in the U.S..  This was my first, as this is the only event within driving distance from my house.  Because this race series revolves around nature and our National Park system, they practice a unique and innovative cup-less race policy.  You either bring your own hydration system, carry a water bottle or partake in their system.  Runners are given the option.  I chose to participate in their plan, as I don’t like carrying a water bottle.  They are dead set against unnecessary waste and trash at their events, which is a great thing.  I was given a hydrapouch at the expo, and had a quick demo on how to use their self-serve water stations.  The pouch is practically weightless, clips to a race belt, and you just fill and go at stations.  Nuun hydration was also available in large spigoted coolers so you had a choice.  I found it to be very easy, and wish more races would do this.  Think Green!  I had to point this out, as I never once saw not even one cup, bottle or Gu packet on the race course that had been thrown to the ground.  It definitely added to the beauty of the race.

My race was tough, I’m not going to lie.  I started ok, but just never really got into a good groove because of my calves.  Plus I think I was just so focused on the breathtaking surroundings that my focus was never on running a spectacularly fast race. I find that the older I get, my speed has become less of a focus.  This race was more about the location, sights and sounds for me.  And that’s ok.  Much of the race was run parallel to the Little River, including many ups and downs and just spectacular countryside views.  There were not a lot of spectators along the course, so if you run this one day, please just be in it for yourself.  You have to be your own cheering section.  Again, not an issue for me, it just added to the quiet and serenity of race morning.

My pace was all over the place on race day.  Up and down with the hills.  I made my way.  Because the marathon distance has been my focus this year (six Full’s so far in 2014), this race was only my second Half of the year.  Another reason my pace was all over the place.  The race did go by much quicker.  :). I had almost forgotten what it was like to run just 13.1 miles.  Did I just say that?  By no means do I mean anything negative about the distance, as last year it was my race distance of choice.  In 2013 I ran nine halves, and loved every minute.  It was so nice to be able to just run for the fun of it, and enjoy the environment, without worrying about time pressures like last week in Utah.

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As I neared the finish, it was very obvious by the time ticking away on my Garmin that this was not a race for my record books.  Hey, no problem, that was not why I was there.  I was there for a much needed mountain getaway, and a beautiful run.  The finish line in view, spectators now everywhere to push you to the finish line.  I crossed the line in 1:51:48, for an overall pace of 8:32.  Pleased, given my calf issues.  We were in the mountains after all, so there were a few issues with timing and chips, which I didn’t know until after the race was over.  Results were not easy to get, I suppose a result of GPS or cell coverage.  Whatever the issue was, complete results are still not posted as the race is making sure all runner times are correct before Spring final results.  At this point the best I can figure is that I came in 6th out of 28 in my age group, and about 68th out of 643 overall.

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As I made my way through the finisher area, runners were treated to bananas, snack boxes and chocolate milk.  The weather was perfect for just relaxing on the hillside and enjoying watching other runners finish.  As I sat on the ground stretching, I could see my calf muscles twitching uncontrollably.  I almost took a video of it, as it was quite entertaining.  The young woman sitting next to me was intrigued by it, too.  So my calves were part of the post race entertainment!  Lol.

The town of Townsend opened its arms to welcome us.  We had a beautiful day to run, and the rest of the weekend to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains.  I have to say it was the perfect getaway.  After milling around a bit after I finished, it was a quick ride back to my cabin where I showered and changed.  I relaxed a bit on the deck, ate a sandwich and then decided to go out for a drive.  Two minutes later I was in the Park, driving on a long and winding road toward Gatlinburg.  I stopped many times for pictures.  Driving through Gatlinburg on the main drag is not easy.  Bumper to bumper traffic.  Not something I was in the mood for, so I never even stopped to look around.  Once I got through town I drove on to Pigeon Forge (Dolly Parton’s stomping ground) and stopped to eat again.  Yep, post race hunger pangs.  Then I drove back to the cabin, to enjoy the rest of the day in quiet, just listening to the Little River flow by down below the deck.  I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep around 9pm.

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It was a great trip to the Smokies!  If you’ve never been at this National Park, I urge you to go.  It is beautiful.  Rent a cabin, go alone or take family and friends.  Sign up for next years race, and enjoy a scenic run.  I, for one, am going to try to figure out how to get myself to one of their other races in the coming year.  The Vacation Races motto is “Run where you play”, and I have to agree.  Other races they put on in our National Parks are all Half Marathons, and include Zion, Grand Canyon, a Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain and Lake Powell.  If I was retired, I think I’d hop in the car and attend each event next year.  Now doesn’t that sound like fun?  Road trip!

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Smokies Half Marathon teaser

Yes, I survived.  I could barely walk at the beginning of this week, but I knocked out my 21st Half marathon today in beautiful Tennessee.

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If you’ve never been to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you are really missing out.  There is just something so majestic and beautiful about this area.  Sure, towns like Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg are very touristy and I would rather steer clear of both of them, perhaps it’s best to just drive through on your way to what they call “the quiet side of the Smokies”.  I am staying in a small town named Townsend, the host of today’s race.  I have been very impressed with this small, quiet town.

Vacation Races put on this inaugural race today, their first venture east of the Mississippi.  It turned out great.  As with any race, improvements can be made, but kudos to the race team and volunteers for putting on a top notch event.

I mean, come on, look at the setting for the outdoor race expo on Friday.  I mean, wow!

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Do I pick up my bib here, or get married?

I have many, many photos to share, it’s just too early to wrap up my experience just yet.  My six hour car ride home tomorrow will be a good time to process my race, the entire experience, and I will share a full recap with you by Monday.

Today was a huge race day around our country,  Did you race today?

Tennessee Racecation

I got my legs back yesterday.  Well, somewhat.  Certainly not at 100% at all, but my legs and feet are capable of running.  Couldn’t say that a few days ago, as I could barely get down the stairs.  Progress!  Hurray for progress!

That being said, my outlook for the next race on my calendar became a thousand times better after my first recovery run last night.  Yep, took it easy, but got out the door about 7pm last night and hit the hood for a comfortable, yet slow two miler.  I wasn’t trying to set any records, in fact I really was just trying to prove to myself that I still had the goods.  It was still a little wobbly and painful, but I got it done.

What does this mean then?  Well, immediately after my run, while still sweating, I jumped on my computer to make sure that I found a nice cabin in the woods for my race this weekend.  I had purposely not booked anything yet, not knowing if I could even think about attempting a Half after suffering such painful legs after this past weekend.  So, here are the details.

Accommodations booked, race guide reviewed and full on plan is in the works.

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I am driving to Townsend, Tennessee tomorrow morning.  A long drive, for sure, but the views will be worth it.  I will be running (slowly) the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon on Saturday morning.  A point to point race from Maryville to Townsend along the Little River.  Views should be fantastic, sounds of the great outdoors all around.  Do I hear banjos?  Oh, side note, the scab just fell off my right nipple from last weekends marathon.  Yes, I forgot to lube up the nips prior to the race last weekend.  That won’t happen this time!

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The weather is looking great, and I plan on enjoying this race and my time in the Smokies.  Vacation Races is putting on this inaugural event on Saturday morning, and I couldn’t be happier to join in.  Hopefully I will see some of my running friends there.

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Cheers everyone!  Where is your next race?

I didn’t qualify; but I’m ok

Now that a few days have passed since my BQ attempt at Big Cottonwood, with each passing day I am becoming more and more comfortable with the idea that I will not be at the 2015 Boston Marathon.  Looking at pictures from my days in Utah, how can I really be disappointed?  I ran an amazing race, my fourth best marathon out of 14 overall.  I got to see a new part of the country.  I got to run in beautiful natural surroundings.  At the end of the day, it was incredible.

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As I sit here I can’t help but feel that it still stings a little bit, but soon enough I will be over it.  There will be other chances for Boston, just not next year.  All things happen for reasons though, so as I come to terms with it my focus turns to qualifying for 2016.

I still have a very busy fall running schedule.  I actually have two more marathons this fall, so I may qualify at one of those.  Maybe I won’t.  After giving it my all this past weekend in Utah, I am not sure I really have the legs to be honest.  It may have to wait until next year.  I’m ok with that.

Next up is Chicago.  Yes, running in Chicago will be just a treat.  I am looking forward to the crowd support and running the streets of Chicago, one of the big marathons in the world.  Time to turn my focus to that.  I just want to enjoy the marathon in its simplest form, feet on pavement.  I will run it keeping in mind how lucky I am to be healthy enough to run 26.2 miles.

Big Cottonwood Marathon – Race Recap

A whirlwind of a trip, I got home from Utah late last night.  I had the most amazing time not only traveling to Salt Lake City for the first time, but participating in the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon as well.  I have so many images and memories fresh in my mind, that I think it’s time to share them.

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Saturday morning, September 13th, 2014.  The day that would find me competing in my 14th marathon, and 6th this year.  I had everything I needed for race day laid out for my wake up call at 3am.  I have been struggling with a bad case of bronchitis, so upon wake up, I was happy that I felt fairly good.  I worried a lot however, about how my lungs would react to running a downhill course starting above 9,000 ft. In elevation.  My sea level training runs certainly wouldn’t help, so the nerves of coughing attacks had me a bit on edge.

Staying at a host hotel, the Crystal Inn (a mile from the finish) has its advantages.  Three charter buses pulled right up to the street outside of the hotel at 5am sharp for those of us staying at the hotel to board, and immediately ride right up to the start at Brighton Ski Resort high in the mountains.  Equipped with my race bag, a long sleeve shirt and throw away gloves, I was on my way.  The buses left about 5:25am.  It took about 40 minutes to make it to the start, in the utter darkness of an early morning.

We piled out of the bus, greeted by 36 degree temperatures.  Glad I had the extra layer, and race provided Mylar blanket for the wait.  The starting village was well equipped with port o potties, had plenty of space to walk around, and even had a tables set up with cups of water and Gatorade.  At over 60 races, I have never seen pre-race drinks available.  Certainly a nice touch.  As I looked at the stars in the clear dark sky, I prepared my mind and stretched my legs.  I threw my drop bag into a large truck at 6:45 to make my final preparations.  About a minute later an announcement was made that the race would be delayed 15 minutes so that several late buses had enough time to get to the start.  With that news, I was irritated that I had just gotten rid of my long sleeve shirt.  The race was delayed again about 10 minutes later, the eventual starting time being 7:25.  Certainly the longest delay for a race I have ever been in.  I tried to take it in stride, and just enjoy the rising of the sun and the illumination of the surrounding area.

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Lined up with over 1,500 runners, the gun went off.  Knowing that I was hoping for a BQ at this event, I started just behind the 3:25:00 pace group leader.  My plan was to wait until the crowd thinned a bit, and then increase my speed and catch up to the 3:20:00 pacer.  We started actually uphill, running through a little village of ski chalets that surrounded the base of the ski resort.

As the course turned downhill, I thought ok, here we go.  The views were amazing.  More beautiful than I had ever imagined.  So much eye candy to keep focused on.  My neck still hurts today from straining and enjoying all of the views along the way.  No lie!

One of the biggest treats ever during a race came up just a mile and a half into the race.  A moose!  Right on the side of the road.  Seriously, I thought, am it really seeing a moose in its natural environment?  Wow!

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See?  It was unreal.  Photo credit to this woman’s friend.  I knew that stopping for picture taking wouldn’t bode well for a Boston attempt.  The first few miles I just tried to find a good rhythm, taking advantage of the downhill grade.  I felt like I was flying, and yet there were tons of runners ahead of me, flying even faster.  It truly was a unique running experience, and I knew that I had 15 miles through the canyon to enjoy.

I made my way.  I passed that 3:25 pacer, and then passed the 3:20 pacer.  I was clipping along.  In  looking and mapping out my race a few weeks back, I figured that I wanted to be coming out of the canyon, 15 miles into the race at an overall pace of 7:30.  I figured that pace would give me enough cushion to hit my BQ goal over the remaining miles which included about 6 miles of rolling hills.

Hitting the timing mat 5.3 miles into the race at 37:50, my pace was 7:08.  Happy, for sure.  Can I keep it up though?  That was my question.  My lungs were holding up ok a few coughing attacks, but tried hard to keep them under control.  A few tenths of a mile later was moose sighting #2.  This moose was further back from the road, standing in a clearing and just watching the running spectacle in from of him/her.  I was amazed how many runners around me completely missed seeing both of those majestic animals.  So many runners has ear phones in, and just were focusing on the road ahead.  I didn’t understand.  Weren’t we there to enjoy the views?  To enjoy the sounds of the rushing waterfalls, babbling brooks and streams?  For me, the views and sounds will last in my memory longer than the run itself.

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Moving right along I hydrated when needed, and tried so hard to keep focused on my breathing.  The combination of my illness, the elevation and running at a pace I don’t often run at, has left me with a very sore chest today.  Nearing the bottom of the canyon, I crossed over the half way point in 1:38:05.  Overall pace 13.1 miles in was 7:29.  I was right on track with where I wanted to be coming out of the canyon.  Turning onto Wasatch Blvd., the race became a whole new beast.  Coming out of the canyon, no longer shaded from the sun, my pace began to decline.  Having just run 15 miles downhill, a change of elevation from near 9,000 ft. to just under 5,000 ft., heading out onto a 7 mile out and back stretch with rolling hills completely in the sun was a massive challenge.  This challenge greatly affected my pace.

I watched my overall pace on my Garmin tick further and further upwards.  I was disappointed, but trying to stay positive.  I was losing speed at an alarming pace, and was not thrilled about it.  Even though there were beautiful views of downtown Salt Lake City in the distance, I found it harder to concentrate on my surroundings.  I was laboring more and more.  My lungs were killing me.  Right around the turnaround point on Wasatch was the 18.75 mile mark timing mat.  I crossed in 2:27:01.  Still ok overall, even with my struggles, but with twinges of calf cramping and aching Achilles on both sides, I knew this overall pace wouldn’t hold up.  At this point my overall pace was 7:50.  Totally thrilled with that on most days, going for a BQ meant it had to be better than that.

Trying hard to keep hydrated to stave off cramping, I spent too much time at the next two aid stations.  I also had to take my one and only potty break.  Paying a lot of attention to my Garmin, my pace was dropping.  Between miles 19 and 23 my Boston dream at this race went up in smoke.  I knew it, but couldn’t do anything about it.  I couldn’t push myself any harder.  I wasn’t giving up, but I felt the pangs of disappointment.  Looking back at my pace during this section, I am actually a bit disgusted.  Why couldn’t I have been healthier?  Why couldn’t I have felt 100%?  During this four mile rolling section heading back toward Cottonwood Heights my pace was 10:21.  Ugh!  Goodbye Boston.  This wasn’t the day.

I still had a great race going, and I wanted to finish as strongly as possible.  With the out and back section behind me, I turned onto Fort Union Boulevard for the final 5k, the race finish in the distance.  23.1 miles in, at 3:12:04, and overall pace of 8:19.  Time to push, and finish this race.  Because of the unique nature of this race course, it doesn’t lend itself to much spectator support.  I missed it.  This last section though, running through Cottonwood Heights, the support was tremendous.  People in passing cars on the other side of the road yelled out words of encouragement.  Family and friends and residents gathered all along the road to support us.  Many thanks to you all!  It’s always just what I need at the finish.

Getting closer and closer, I could see the finish approaching.  I ran as fast as it could.  Finally running through the finish at 3:41:59.  Greeted by smiling faces of a crowd of awesome volunteers, an amazingly huge, beautiful medal was placed around my neck.  No matter what, I was still proud, I was happy.  I then was given a freezing cold towel, which was a blessing.  I draped it around my neck while I grabbed a water and a few cups of diet coke.  I stopped for a moment, leaned on a table and washed my salt covered face with that refreshing towel, washed my hands and neck.  It was a moment of refreshment that I truly needed.  Looking back toward the finish line I snapped the picture below.

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I can’t imagine a more gorgeous finisher area.  I ran right down that canyon in the background.  Hobbling a bit, as my legs started stiffening up, I walked further into the finisher village.  Lots of great food choices, but I only grabbed one slice of pizza, and gnawed on that as I proceeded down toward drop bag pick up.  Because of the late start of the race, I had very little time to recover and rest before I had to head out and back to the hotel.  As I searched for my bag, I was greeted by Jared Rohatinsky, who so graciously offered to find my bag so I wouldn’t have to bend down to pick it up.  Yep, it’s the little things sometimes that can make a race.  Was great to meet Jared finally.  Barely able to walk with any pace now, I had to summon up some final energy to walk back to my hotel.  I had 45 minutes to walk that mile, shower, pack, checkout and board the shuttle by 12:15 back to the airport.  I made it though.  A couple of flights later, I landed in Raleigh and drove home.  I arrived at midnight, and couldn’t have been happier to lay down in my bed.

My take aways and final thoughts about this race?  I’m sure there are few around that compete.  This race was amazingly organized from start to finish, had great volunteers, course and swag.  The weather was perfection.  A nice chilly start, and a mild finish.  Finally, let me just say that from every direction, the entire time I was in Salt Lake, Murray, Sandy and Cottonwood Heights, every person I met was super friendly and polite.  What a great first impression of Utah.

Big Cottonwood Marathon finish:

Chip time: 3:41:59.  Pace: 8:28. Overall finisher 379/1487. Age Group: 56/124

To Revel Races and Brooksee Events, thanks for the memories!  Big Cottonwood was incredible, and I cannot wait to participate in more of your events.  I’ve got Revel Rockies and Canyon City on my list already for next year.

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