Saturday, September 19, 2015

Race Report: Mt. Nebo Half Marathon

With Eva, pre-race
I didn’t intend to come back to Utah so soon after my first trip out there to do my Idaho race, but when I decided to step up my schedule and tack on a Utah race this year, it became necessary to do this race to start off my Labor Day weekend. The Mt. Nebo Half in Payson, Utah (an hour south of Salt Lake City, only 20 minutes from Provo) is a fast downhill half marathon, starting at roughly 8,070 feet above sea level, descending down Payson Canyon down the Nebo Loop Road to 4,766 feet, a 3,304 foot elevation difference. If there was any race to PR at, this was it. And that was my goal… the elusive “sub-2,” which after 45 races I had still not successfully achieved – my closest was the flat Best Damn Race in Cape Coral, Florida in December 2014, where I ran a 2:00:18. SO close, yet still… 18 damn seconds.

This race is run by Runtastic Events, who puts on some great downhill races in and around the Salt Lake City area, such as the Dino Half and the Timpanogos Half.  Mt. Nebo is another race in their arsenal that boasts some spectacular views in addition to that harrowing elevation drop.  I was a little worried because I had tried to get in touch with the race organizers on both email and their Facebook page in the weeks prior, but I do have to admit, the communication was, at times, a bit shoddy -- questions that should have been easy to answer took several days, or were not even answered at all without some additional prodding from other resources who did have connections with the race organizers.

Fifty staters, pre-race...
I had initially made arrangements with my friend Eva (who I had stayed with when last in town) for pickup from the airport as I convinced her to run the race as well – we’re both running the NYC Marathon in November - but with some unintended last minute happenings that day,  she was unable to make the pickup and would have to drive directly to the race early the next morning.  Thankfully, due to my connections with people in the Fifty States Half Marathon Club, I was able to get in touch with my new online friend Peggy to arrange for pickup.  I arrived in Salt Lake City around 8:30pm and headed down to Springville, where Peggy and her husband Derrick and I had booked rooms at the Days Inn only 15 minutes away from the shuttle pick-up spot/finish line at Payson High School.  On our way, we stopped for some much needed dinner at Utah’s answer to Chipotle (and in my opinion, fresher and MUCH better), CafĂ© Rio, and had their delicious fish tacos as my carb loading for the evening.

Welcome runners...
We had a SUPER early wake up, because the school buses taking half marathoners to the start line were picking up as early as 4:15am from the school, for only a small half hour window.  This was actually advertised incorrectly on their website, and one of the complaints that were aired on the Facebook page stemmed from the very late announcement as to when people needed to be at the school for the shuttle pickup.  As I prepared, I realized that while I brought my Camelbak and it’s water bladder (added positive to help me with the PR, bypassing the water stations along the course), I had forgotten the tube that went along with it.  When Peggy and I arrived, we met with Eva, who had driven in from Centerville about an hour and 20 minutes away.  The parking lot was packed with people and lines had begun to form at the school buses to be ready for boarding.  After shuffling between a few lines (it wasn’t really that organized), we finally got into one that got us seats on the bus, and we made our way up the canyon for the roughly 20 minute trip to the start line.

It was a definitely a winding road getting up there.  It was still dark when we arrived, and thankfully the organizers had prepared a clearing with fire pits spread out around and port-a-potties ready to be used.  We had waited for quite some time before we actually got ready to start, as it seems the buses that were contracted for the race didn’t send enough (thankfully, they actually sent buses, and it wasn’t a disaster like many had to endure at REVEL Rockies in Colorado earlier in the summer).  We bided our time by gathering around the fire pits and mulling around with other runners – I got to meet fellow half fanatic Karrie, and another Fifty Stater, Kate.

The only picture I took the
entire race...
At the same time, the last buses to arrive with runners became repurposed as gear check buses, so those who were needing to check bags, yet again scrambled to get their bags onto the buses.  Again, slightly disorganized, but everyone who needed to check their bags managed to get their things onto the bus.

The race started about 10-15 minutes late due to the late buses, but we were happy to get going.  Pacers, provided by xxx, were clearly marked and spread throughout the start chute.  Eva and I positioned ourselves around the 1:50, 1:55 and 2:00 pacers, with the intention to stay close to these folks as much as we could for the race – the downhill profile of the race provided a very strong opportunity to set a personal record.

Some of the views
(Photo by Peggy Shadel)
Before long, we were off, and we were off like bats out of hell from the start.  Immediately, you could feel gravity helping to carry you down the mountain.  I managed some of my most impressive first miles in a race, clocking a sub 8 first mile, and two miles just above 8, my fastest 5K I’ve ever run.   The course provided some of the most BEAUTIFUL views I have ever run, with the morning sunlight dancing against the expansive canopy of pine trees that dotted the surrounding mountainsides.  The course winded around curves, some steeper than others, some sharper than others.  I stopped at all the water stations (which were scattered roughly every two miles along the course) for much needed hydration and a quick walk to rest the legs a bit.

Spectators! (Photo by Peggy
I stayed pretty consistent over the next few miles, managing 8:30-8:45 pace up until mile 8.  Around mile 8, I caught up to Eva, who had been doing well as well, but needed to stop to eat something.  We chatted while making a quick walk break, and then went back on our descent.  Miles 9 and 10 were rough, as we began to exit the canyon, and the race began to flatten out – whatever carried us down the canyon at the speed that we did was gone! We found our first non race-personnel spectators…  of the four-legged variety!  We passed a ranch on the side of the road, and we encountered our first “hills” – it seemed as if there were some sections of this part of the course actually had some uphills that we weren’t aware of.  Thankfully, those subsided, and the downhills came again, up to mile 11.  But we had slowed down significantly from the pace we had kept from earlier.

Official race photo from
Runtastic Events
Official race photo from
Runtastic Events
Just after mile 11, there was a left turn into the town of Payson.  Eva was only about 100 feet in front of me.  Mile 11 soon turned into mile 12 as we saw Payson High School coming into view.  But these last two miles proved to be some of the toughest closing miles of a race I’ve ever run in all the half marathons I have done; everything I put into my fastest miles started to show, and the elevation started to take its toll on my performance.   I struggled to catch my breath as we passed the mark with only 1 mile to go.  As we turned into the high school’s parking lot and made our way through the crowds of folks cheering us on, we turned into the Payson High School football field and around the track to the finish line.   I was just on the other side of the track when Eva finished, and I made my way as fast as my legs could take me.  The clock showed 1:58:58 as I crossed, and Eva managed to take a photo as I finished my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon.  I caught my breath and proudly grabbed my finisher medal, checking off my 37th state in my journey to 50.  While the race lead up had been lacking, due in part to communications with the race organizers, the race itself was very well run, with aid stations scattered properly throughout the course as needed, and the finish was well stocked with volunteers handing out medals and vendors providing services to finishers on the football field.

Eva captured this awesome
moment just after I finished!
Eva had to head back to Centerville, so I stuck around with Derrick and his family for Peggy, who successfully conquered a downhill course this summer – something that had eluded her because of injuries.  We got back to the hotel so I could check out and take a quick shower, and then met up with her daughter’s family for much needed lunch; they then drove me back to Salt Lake City (with a stop for cookies at Ruby Snap… thanks Donna for the suggestion!) to the airport so I could catch my flight back to the east coast – because the weekend wasn’t done yet!  To be continued…

Victory Headstand and BRAND NEW PR!!
Polygamy Porter at the airport.  Because I'm in Utah!
Showing off the bling!

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