Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Race Report: Jackson Hole Marathon

With Carrie, Nadia, and Donna!
The decision to do the Jackson Hole Marathon over Labor Day weekend was a late one.  I had barely visited it the last time I was in Wyoming; last year, I drove 1 1/2 hours from Pinedale after my half marathon for a quick picture under the famous antler arches in the town center, and then sped off to drive another 4 1/2 hours to get back to Salt Lake City for an evening flight to California. I also knew that flying into Jackson Hole was abhorrently expensive, with flights upwards of $700-800 roundtrip.  I was able to secure a decent $500 airfare to Idaho Falls (not bad for a holiday weekend roundtrip to that part of the country), with a connection in Salt Lake City.  The catch; with the race on a Saturday, I had to get in late on Friday - and that meant arriving at approximately 11pm in sleepy Idaho Falls, and having a two hour drive ahead of me to get to Jackson Hole.

Pre-race corgi!  My first WY Corgi!
I picked up my car (thankfully the rental car was still open, we were the last flight to arrive), and drove those two hours to Jackson Hole.  I had been monitoring the internet for the last week because of wildfires that had sprung up in the area, one of note that could have impacted my drive from Idaho Falls to Jackson Hole, but seemingly it had died enough down to open up the roads again.  Of course, the entire time, I'm white knuckled because driving through this part of the country at night is dangerous because of the ample amount of wildlife.  Not only that, but half an hour in, I see a thunderstorm brewing in the distance, with prominent strikes of lightning revealing the climb I'd have to make through the mountains.  Oh great, driving through a thunderstorm in the mountains, what could possibly go wrong.  My GPS took me through some back country roads with no light whatsoever except for my headlights, almost constantly on high beams, and lightning flashes.  At one point, the rain came, and it was no ordinary rain -- it was horizontal rain.  And I wasn't immune to the wildlife sightings - I noticed several deer just minding their own business on the side of the road (the entire time, I'm literally praying for them to just STAY ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, PLEASE)

Startline pre-race...
I eventually made it through the mountain pass, and arrived at the Ranch Lot in Teton Village just before 1am.  Because of my late arrival, I decided to do the sleeping bag thing, and not spend unnecessary amounts of money for a hotel room I'd barely spend time in.  So, I get all my stuff for the race the next morning ready, and then jump into my sleeping bag and sleep in my car.  I get about 4 1/2 hours of sleep, thankfully, and wake up at 5:30, just as other runners begin trickling in from Teton Village hotels or from other accommodations nearby.  The first shuttle arrived at 5:40, and I'm able to get onto that first bus to the marathon start; our busload heads down to Jackson Town Center. Upon arrival, we are literally the first ones there - the race organizers are still setting up, and getting the custom antler-pattern "start gate" inflated.

Soon, more of the marathoners began to appear at the start area, while the sun began to rise.  I had gotten in touch with my friend Nadia beforehand to pick up my race bib, and after taking photos with the Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters at the race, I ran back to their hotel nearby to pick up my bib, before returning to the start.  It also just so happened to be Nadia's "Titanium" race, elevating her to the highest level in Marathon Maniacs; and her boyfriend Halbert's birthday race!  Upon returning, I got to hang out and chat with Donna, Seth, and Carrie, who had all also made their way into town for the race.  I quickly got my bag over to gear check, and then got the opportunity to sing the national anthem for the small crew!

Singing the national anthem at the start of the race

Running through Jackson
The race was to start at 7am, but for some reason or another, we're a little delayed to start.  Our 7am start becomes 7:07.  We took off, heading southward on Center Street, then immediately turning left onto East Broadway.  Within minutes, the 6,000+ feet of elevation I'm running in begins to rear its ugly head.  In addition to the elevation (and the slight 85' uphill over the first mile), the lack of sleep is also taking its toll.  After a 10:46 first mile, I begin walking. At first I was going to do a 9 minute run, 1 minute walk, but with the elevation, I then decide to do a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk.  The course, lit by the early morning sun is absolutely beautiful.  After running by the National Elk Refuge within that first mile, the course passes through through residential East Jackson. We turn right onto Nelson Drive, and then right again on Hansen Avenue.  We continue weaving through the residential streets of East Jackson, before heading down onto West Snow King Avenue.  Along this road, Donna and I end up leapfrogging for awhile.

Along the Wyoming Centennial
Scenic Byway.
We run by the Snow King ski hill before joining the Community Pathway system by Flat Creek.  Thankfully, most of the route up to this point was gradually downhill, but it's barely detectable because it's very slight (just under 200 feet over 3 miles).  At about the 4.5 mile mark, we join up with the trail running right alongside US Route 89, cosigned with US 189, US 191, and US 26, and also known as the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway.  Running alongside the highway was absolutely beautiful.  We were on here for awhile, but we were treated to gorgeous views of the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the mountains surrounding the area, even the Grand Tetons themselves in the distance. Much of the trail was rolling hills, but I still managed to keep up my 4 minute run, 1 minute walk for the first 10k of the race.

Horses playing around in the pasture, with the Snake River Range in the distance

Coming up on mile 8!
4 1/2 miles along S Park Loop Rd
As we approached mile 8, we finally are able to get off of the highway, turning right onto S Park Loop Road.  I see Nadia and Halbert, and pass them, but not for long - Nadia passes me just past the mile 8 marker, and quite literally JETS off.  We continued along S Park Loop Road for quite some time, and while we're treated to magical views of the valley, it's probably one of the more monotonous parts of the course. Unfortunately for us, at mile 10, the elevation gain begins, and it just gradually continues to go uphill all the way to the very end, save for a VERY slight downhill section at mile 15.  I end up doing "walking fartleks" - a method of "run to that phone pole, then walk to the next," something I'd do all the way along this part of the course.  It turns out, I wasn't alone in doing this - Carrie admitted to having to do that for the second half of the race herself.

Cows, cows, everywhere.

The one short downhill at mile 15.
Looking back at what I just ran...
Finally, an unobstructed view of the Grand Tetons

Where's the moose?
At mile 14, we finally we came off of S Park Loop Road, and joined up with the sidewalk alongside the Teton Pass Highway.  We continued along the path alongside the highway until we reached a bridge that took us over the Snake River just before mile 17.   After crossing the river, we took to trails that took us out to the western suburb of Wilson. The section in Wilson was tedious, as the sun was beginning to take its toll, as we scooted along a lane of the highway, before returning to the Community Pathway System leading through a grassy park area.

Crossing the Snake River!
Eventually, we emerged out of the park trails to Moose Wilson Road, where we would run on a paved pathway right alongside the road all the way to the finish.  At mile 20, my achilles decides to rebel on me, screaming "WTF are you doing;" so for the last 10k of the race, I end up walking. I still tried to continue my run/walk segments, but on a very small scale.  Along the way, I met some recent Michigan grads who happened to be out visiting the area, and decided to run the marathon on a whim.  More power to them... 26.2 miles on a whim in this kind of elevation is NO SMALL FEAT!  And I was treated to some local beer at the final aid station at mile 25.  I decided to have fun with it, and drank the can of beer, while walking the remainder of the route all the way to the finish line in Teton Village.  Basically, I had no more fucks to give, haha!

Beautiful framed photo with a ranch gate
Just a few more miles to go!!
Told you.  Beer!
I get to Teton Village, home of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the iconic Red Tram and Clock Tower.  After crossing through the parking lot, I walked over the grass to cheers from friends who stuck around to watch me finish!  Nadia, who had passed me at mile 8, was among them, and she went off to finish her milestone race in a sub-5, well under her anticipated 5:30.  I also got to see my Cali mom and dad, Jann and Mike, who ran the half marathon on their journey to complete half marathons in all fifty states!

After waiting up for other friends who weren't too far behind me, I went off to do my victory headstand and then meet the race directors, to offer my thanks for putting on a great race and for giving me the chance to sing the national anthem.  After a quick picture with Jann and Mike, I took off to head back to my car, as I had the rest of the day to sightsee, and had a pretty set schedule I was planning to follow... covering two national parks, and then drive all the way back to Idaho Falls.

Running to the finish line, beer in hand!

Victory Headstand!
Reunited after our race! (Photo by Donna Dullys)
Photos from Grand Teton
I end up changing and freshening up a tiny bit before heading up to Grand Teton National Park and stop at a few locations to get some beautiful photos of the views all around.  I had been warned about the park police being pretty stringent about speed limits through the park, and with it being a holiday weekend, they were out in full force.  I was very cognizant about how fast I was going on the road, making sure I was within the bounds of the speed limit.  However, along the way, I ended up seeing some flashing police lights in my rear view mirror, and realize that those were for me.  Of course, my heart stops - I have never gotten a speeding ticket in my life.  I pull over, and get questioned by the park policeman.  Turns out, there was a hiker/climber who went missing, and I matched the description of the missing person.  The gate attendants that let me into the park had flagged the park police to find me as I drove through the park.  After showing my ID and them realizing I wasn't this person, I was let go, and I continued... slightly shaken... along the road leaving the park and heading northward toward Yellowstone.

Entering Yellowstone!
In the lead up to race weekend, northwestern Wyoming had been suffering through some unfortunate wildfires, wreaking havoc to the air quality in the area.  In fact, there was some speculation as to whether the race would continue if the air quality was poor.  Of particular note was a fire that was first discovered in late July.  This fire, called the Berry Fire, was managed by Grand Teton National Park for ecological benefits.  Initiated by lightning, the fire began on the west side of Jackson Lake but then quickly spread, at one point making a six-mile run and impacting two 1½ mile stretches of the highway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone.  For approximately a week, the road was closed, forcing visitors who planned to visit both parks, to make hours-long detours.  However, in the days before the race weekend, the fire was able to be managed and suppressed enough to reopen the road and the south gate to Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful amongst the clouds
My second time at the Continental Divide - the first was in Montana when at Glacier!
The Grand Prismatic Spring!

Colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring
Along the way you could see the fire damage almost immediately to the trees alongside the highway.  Eventually, I crossed over into Yellowstone National Park, and made my way through some crazy holiday traffic to see both Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, which were completely mobbed by tourists.  With the afternoon fading away, I made a decision to leave Yellowstone through the west entrance, so that I could get onto the road back to Idaho Falls before the sun completely set.  Of course, I encountered some crazy traffic on the road toward West Yellowstone, which I thought was due to another fire which I had read about that was impacting that part of the park.  However, it was something completely different -- a bunch of elk decided to hang out in a gully within full view of the road.  Practically every car heading westward was clamoring to try to figure out where to park so they could capture photos of wildlife in their natural habitat.  After sitting in traffic for an extra twenty minutes, I was able to get out in good time, grab a quick meal in West Yellowstone, and eat it as I drove back to Idaho Falls to my hotel, a rather nicely remodeled Motel 6.   Early the next morning, I had my flight to head back home through the cute Idaho Falls Airport.

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