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.


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!


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.


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.


28 thoughts on “Big Cottonwood Marathon – Race Recap

  1. I’m so sorry you did not BQ… but you still had an excellent time for a difficult course, doing so many training runs at sea level, bronchitis, and little spectators. I think you should be very proud of your time.

    One of the hard things about marathons is that so much can go wrong, you can train for everything to be right but then on race day, something unexpected happens like sickness, late starts, rough weather, etc, that can really throw you off- and marathons aren’t like 5Ks where you can run one and if you don’t meet your goal, just run another next week because most people only do maybe 2 marathons a year. Sometimes a time of a marathon and a BQ is just out of your hands.

    Looks like a very beautiful course, and the host hotel sounds great for doing the bus service for the runners! Glad you got to do this race and good luck with recovery.

    • Thanks! I am still really proud of my accomplishment through all of the challenges. One of the best things about blogging is being able to captures your thoughts, pictures and memories all in one place. Sort of a diary of my running. The race was fantastic, BQ or not.

      • That’s another thing I love about blogging. I love sharing my running experiences with everyone but also being able to look back on them myself 🙂

  2. Awesome race and really great race recap. Please don’t be disappointed, you gave it your best shot! I’m still getting over bronchitis and it really does nasty things to lung capacity, and your time is still really awesome. There will be a next time to qualify!!!! (big hugs of congratulations for just getting out there and doing it!)

    • Thank you! I am happy with my finish regardless. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to get to Boston, and I am just going to continue to enjoy the journey. I hope you get better soon, as well. Three more days of antibiotics for me, and hopefully it will be gone.

  3. Great recap. I give you major credit for staying strong to finish. That’s got to be hard seeing your pace drop on the down and out section.

    You were booking it on the first 10k!.

    Marathon #6 for this year alone speaks volumes!

    Where’s the next marathon/ BQ attempt going to be?

  4. Very cool, congratulations! Scenery and nature are part of what I love most about running, so I can only imagine getting to do it in that setting! And putting things in perspective, you still ran a MARATHON in UNDER 4 HOURS. The distance itself is an accomplishment, but your overall pace is nothing to sneeze at. Good show and great recap!

  5. Nice to meet you Paul and I am glad you had a good experience in SLC / Utah. Next time you are in the area, you know you’ve got a friend here. Those downhill races certainly can be challenging and I think they sound appealing on paper but they really are tough once you get back on the flats. Also that Wasatch Blvd is anything but flat, so you had to make some decent climbs on the way back.

    As far as Chicago goes, as a former native IL person here’s my advice: get there early (be sure you have prequalified for your corral), your Garmin isn’t likely to work with the tall buildings, and be ready for anything temperature-wise. They can have snow to blistering humidity at that time of year. Everyone tells me that race is fantastic though, so enjoy the experience.


    • Thanks Eddie! Was great to meet you as well. I am very sore today. Spent most of the day on the couch. I loved my trip to Utah and hope to return not too long in the future. See any moose today, or did they just come out for my run yesterday?

  6. Kudos to you mate that was an awesome effort you couldn’t have asked any more of yourself 😉 Hard luck with not qualifying but like everyone already said there are race to use as qualifiers. Head up Paul your pace was awesome but I think if you had eased up a little on the down section you’d have been even closer but its my personal opinion ;);) once again congratulations on being an awesome,inspiring runner to us all.

  7. First of all, you need to rest. How do you feel? Are you taking those antibiotics? Sorry, mom mode kicking in. Sounds like you had a great race under the circumstances and I have no doubt you will BQ SOON! Join me and other fellow Revelers at Canyon City! 🙂 Congrats!

    • I spent Sunday on the couch mostly. Yesterday I was back to work, and I find that constant movement is best, and keeps me looser. A few more days and I should be good to go. I think I am almost over the bronchitis. I don’t think the altitude, the air travel or race helped me to get over my illness as quickly as I would have at home, but it is what it is. Onward to Chicago. Really hate I can’t run Canyon City, but it’s on my list next year. You guys have fun!

  8. You weren’t alone losing sight of Boston on Wasatch Blvd. I ran the marathon and did the 1st 13.1 in 1:40…I fell apart on Wasatch and finished at 3:52. The late start was frustrating because I have asthma and took my inhaler at 6:30 thinking it would last until 10:30 when I planned to finish – I couldn’t breathe by mile 19! Great job you got an awesome time especially since you were sick!

    • You did great too, considering the circumstances. I think a late start affects everyone’s nutrition, hydration and a myriad of other things including issues like you had with the inhaler. It’s tough. Well, we just have to qualify now for 2016 instead. I can’t attempt again so soon, but I am running Chicago next month. Where will your next marathon be?

  9. Truly enjoyed reading your recap. I ran the half marathon. Coming down the canyon was truly breathtaking! Your time was great too! Good luck on the rest of your races. Crossing my fingers that SOON I will be able to read your recap from Boston 😉

    • Thanks! You enjoyed the Half too, huh? You guys didn’t have to run that out and back on Wasatch Blvd., so hurray for you. Did you see any moose? I appreciate the kind words, maybe 2016 Boston for me, we’ll see.

      • My calves were on fire coming out of the canyon, I saw the runners taking that right turn and my heart sank for them. I did not see any moose unfortunately but I do keep my eyes/ears open for any encounter of that kind! My next canyon race is in Ogden, Ut. next spring…might be my first full 😉

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