Race Recap: Canyonlands Half Marathon

WARNING: VERY LONG RACE RECAP AHEAD! But it was a disaster, so if schadenfreude is your thing, you may not mind.


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Canyonlands Half Marathon
Moab, UT
Saturday, March 18, 2017

I ran this half marathon at the end of a week-long vacation. We had just spent three days hiking in Zion National Park (which I will be recapping with tons of pics, I promise – stay tuned!), and on Friday we drove up to Moab (4.5 hours north and east) with the intention of exploring Arches National Park a bit and me running this half marathon. 11 miles of the Canyonlands course runs through a canyon along the Colorado River, and I was looking forward to the beautiful scenery.

Pre-Race

We had some stupid and stressful travel mishaps on Friday that delayed our arrival in Moab by almost three hours. Not only did I only get to see a little bit of Arches, but I arrived stressed, tired and a little drained. After driving through Arches we checked into our AirBnB, picked up my race packet and went to the pre-race pasta dinner, had a beer at Moab Brewing, and came home and went to bed.

Just for perspective, in addition to that stressful travel day, while we were in Zion we hiked over 19 miles, much of it on technical terrain, and usually up canyon faces, gaining over 3,000 feet of elevation between all those miles. But after our third and most challenging hiking day, I felt awesome and totally refreshed, so I somehow went into this race thinking that the hiking didn’t affect me and I might actually have a good run.

But I was actually really undertrained – not just for this race, but for this entire intensive hiking vacation. Despite doing several long runs, I was only averaging 16-20 miles per week in my running. Still, I thought that would be enough to finish a race feeling okay, even if I didn’t get a great finish time. Oh, and the forecast for race time was 70-80 degrees with full-on sun.

I often feel uncomfortable trotting out things like this when I write race recaps, because I don’t want it to sound like I’m making excuses. But in hindsight, I think it’s more than fair to say that I severely underestimated how fatigued I would feel after all of that hiking and a week that was generally way more active than I’m accustomed to, and I even more severely underestimated how much that fatigue would be exacerbated by my lack of training. But I didn’t feel tired Saturday morning, so I must be good to go, right?

Race Day

Canyonlands is a point-to-point course, which means that the runners have to be shuttled to the starting line. Kevin dropped me off at the shuttle area in the morning and then went off to go hiking in Arches while I ran (I was – and still am – really jealous, by the way). The race is closed to any spectators and I wouldn’t have wanted him to wait around for me anyway. The race starts at 10:00 AM – very late for a half marathon, especially in this climate – but because they need to be able to get 2000+ runners shuttled onto the course in time for the 5 mile race to start at 9:30, the shuttles start super early. I caught the first one at 7:30, and I was up at the starting area by 8:00 AM.

That left me with a two hour wait. While it was nice to get there before it got crowded and the porta potty lines got long, it was boring. I was also kind of annoyed because the weather during that wait was perfect – chilly enough for a jacket, lots of shade, and the sun still low in the sky. Painful as it sounds, I would have been willing to get up for a 5:30 AM shuttle if it meant we could run in the 8-10 AM weather instead!

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The view at the starting area – made the wait more pleasant!

After somehow keeping my mind occupied for 2 hours with no internet service, 10:00 AM rolled around and it was time to go. I decided to start with the 2 hour pacers (a 9:09 min/mile pace) and see how I felt hangin’ with them. Despite my lack of training, I felt confident based on my long runs that a 9:10ish pace was achievable if I was having a good day.

It was downhill out of the gate, so I reminded myself to keep it reined in and stay at a comfortable effort level. And for the first 2 miles, things felt good. My heart rate was great, my pace felt relaxed and easy. These first couple miles weren’t in the sun yet and the temperature wasn’t bothering me at all. The 2:00 pacer was gradually pulling away from me, but I just told myself I could always catch them later. And if not, oh well, that’s fine too!

I was a little confused, however, because it didn’t feel like I was going that slow that they would be gaining so much time on me. Sure enough, when I hit the two mile marker, I saw that I was maintaining an 8:55 pace! That 2:00 pacer was flying! Later on I would overhear runners behind me talking about that same pacer and how fast she was going, so I know it wasn’t just me. Even though the end result was ugly anyway, I’m glad I took it easy and didn’t try to push myself to hang with the pacer.

At some point the shade gave way to the late morning desert sun. I was worried how I’d fare with 10+ more miles of that, and while there were some brutal stretches of sun, there were actually quite a few patches of shade as well, due to the bends in the canyon while the sun was still behind it. So, that was a relief.

My good feelings did not last me past that 2nd mile. I looked at my watch at the 3 mile marker and saw I had dropped to a 9:00 average. Hey, that’s still fine by me. But I was starting to feel tired. At every mile marker after that, I looked down to see that my average pace was continuing to get slower, even though it didn’t feel like I was slowing down. I was getting passed by TONS of people. No one wants to feel tired by mile 3 of a half marathon, but it’s not the first time that’s happened to me, so I told myself to just keep taking it easy and adjusting.

I made it through the halfway point and the next couple miles after that, still slowing down, still tired, but feeling like I could at least finish the race. Slow down as much as you need to, listen to your body – feeling good is more important than running fast! I reminded myself. I took water or Gatorade at each of the 6 stations on the course, but I knew that those little cups of fluid just weren’t going to be enough that day. Each patch of sun hurt a little more, as did each small hill. Until finally, crawling up the biggest hill at mile 9 took so much of my energy that I couldn’t feel any relief at all during the nice long downhill that came after. I was dragging really bad and I became irrationally upset at my body for failing me. At one point I almost burst into tears. I couldn’t understand why something I’ve done SO many times before was suddenly so incredibly hard and I was suffering so much. I honestly wasn’t sure how I could finish the race at this point. I wanted to crawl. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I remember thinking it was a shame that I couldn’t appreciate the beautiful scenery around me because I was riding the struggle bus so hard.

Right after mile 11, the course leaves the canyon and goes out onto a stretch of highway that runs into downtown Moab. I knew from reading race reports that this part would be difficult, and sure enough, this is where I fell apart. I don’t even think it was the blazing high noon sun that was bothering me – I was just out of gas. Before that point, whenever I felt the temptation to walk, I would push it out of my mind. But I couldn’t hang on anymore. No matter how much I slowed down, I knew that there was no way I could run another 1.75ish miles without stopping, so I finally caved and did something I’ve never done in a race before – I stopped to walk.

I spent the next couple miles alternating between running and walking – I’d walk for a minute and then run for 2 minutes. Eventually, in the 13th mile, the course turned into a residential area to head toward the finish. The walking was helping me feel better, but I was not gaining any energy back. My 2:00 run intervals felt like eternity and I had to push myself to get through them. Even with the finish line in sight (about .4ish miles away), I couldn’t muster up the strength to run all the way there without walking. Finally, about a quarter mile from the finish, a woman passed me, grabbed my arm and said “come on sister! We’re gonna finish this thing!” Weird as it sounds, I felt like I couldn’t let this total stranger down by stopping to walk again (even though she proceeded to surge ahead of me), so I started running toward the finish again and summoned my last ounce of strength to get to there without stopping. But my god was it hard. Despite the fact that I was pushing myself just to jog, I was overcome with nausea with .1 miles to go. No, PLEASE no no no no, I thought, you’re so close, PLEASE DO NOT THROW UP! Luckily, I did not.

I finally hit those finish line mats, and saw when I stopped my watch that I had finished in 2:07:30 (official chip time was 2:07:25). A volunteer gave me my medal and I was so exhausted and out of breath that I couldn’t even say “thanks” to her. I made a beeline for the nearest water table and then went to find a place in the shade to sit down so I could call Kevin to meet up with me. I was too tired and hot and thirsty to care that I had just run a personal worst by over 10 minutes, or that my career-long streak of sub-2:00 half marathons had come to an end. Somehow I had made it to the finish line. I was done. That was enough.

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Still somehow smiling. Probably because I was done, and it was time for beer, and I definitely had the best leggings of anyone out there.

While I was on the phone with Kevin he was driving into town, passing the race course on that dreaded highway stretch, and he told me that the majority of runners he saw were walking and looked miserable. I know this sounds awful, but hearing that actually made me feel better, because when I was out there I was one of the only people walking and it made me feel kinda shitty.

I went to the tent where all the food was and took one of almost everything. I ate a banana, 2 cookies, an ice cream sandwich, an orange slice, and some Gatorade, and I’m really glad I did because I think taking in all of that fuel saved me from feeling demolished for the rest of the day. I actually ended up feeling okay after the race – I got really tired and had SUPER tight muscles for the next 36 hours, but I was never sore, in pain, or totally wiped out. If it weren’t so damned hot out I even would have been up for some hiking! But that was not to be anyway – while I was at the race Kevin got a flat tire on our rental car that had to get fixed. And by that point, we both just needed to relax and get out of the sun. We ended up going back to our Airbnb, showering, going for a late lunch/early dinner at Moab Brewing, and then turning in for the evening. We spend the rest of our last day of vacation in bed watching TV and honestly, it felt great to just relax and decompress after such a busy, active week. Although I am sad I never got to hike in Arches.

Post-Race Reflection

Honestly, there isn’t much of one. Several days later, the whole thing is still kind of a blur. It is kind of funny-in-a-sad-way that my only real goal for this race was to not have a meltdown, and I couldn’t even achieve that. But for such an awful race, I wasn’t upset or disappointed. It just is what it is, you know? I really didn’t train or prepare for this race, so I don’t feel like I have anything to beat myself up over, performance-wise. It is too bad that for all of the money spent and travel time, I couldn’t have had a better experience. But I’m okay with it.

6 months ago, the thought of running a whopping 20 minutes slower than my PR would have been mortifying. But now that it’s happened, it’s barely a blip on my radar. Perhaps because it’s been two full days since returning home from this trip and I’m still tired.

I guess this is the point where I’m supposed to say that this experience has made me more motivated than ever to get back out there and train and kick some butt. But that “redemption” desire was not there when I crossed the finish line. It’s still not.

I’m hesitant to say this because I doubt any of my readers can relate to it, and some might be put off by it, but the truth is…I’m just finding it really hard to care about this stuff lately. I’m so bored with training plans, goal chasing, and the constant robotic MUST.GET.FASTER. feeling. It feels like a broken record at this point: I train, I set a PR, I feel on top of the world for a few minutes before I realize that life goes on and no one cares how fast I run, and then I start the whole damn process all over again. I just can’t get motivated for it anymore.

Why I feel this way, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that buying my first house has really changed my priorities; maybe it’s just a phase. I do worry that this apathy won’t go away in time to train for Chicago. I paid a lot of money for that race, I’ve wanted to run it forever, and I worked really hard last spring to qualify for a guaranteed entry. I’d hate to go through that long process only to finally get to training time and not feel motivated to do more than phone it in. I guess I just have to hope that the tides change again, and in a timely fashion.

Summing things up (finally):

Canyonlands is a great, well-organized race with a homey small-town feel. It’s 42 years old and you get the sense that the staff and locals really care about it. With the slight rolling hills and overall net downhill, it’s a great place to snag a PR if you’re lucky enough to get cool weather and altitude doesn’t bother you. You’re treated well with a nice tshirt and medal, plenty of post-race snacks and THREE free beers from the local Moab Brewing Company.

The only downsides are the late start time, the super-long wait at the start and the total lack of crowd support, if that’s your thing. I’m a runner who really likes crowd support: I think it enhances the environment and helps get my adrenaline going. Without it, I just feel like I’m on a long run with a bunch of other people. I know that a lot of runners don’t want or need crowd support, but since I thrive on it, the fact that it’s nonexistent in these scenic races is a big minus for me. As for the late start: I’ll trust the race organizers’ judgement that there’s a good reason they need to start the race so late in the AM, but like I said earlier, I’d totally get up 2 hours earlier if it meant starting the race at a cooler hour.

Would I recommend this race to you? Yes. If travel doesn’t stress you out too much and you’re actually *ahem* in shape, I think you’ll really enjoy the beautiful scenery, easy course and great organization. Would I do it again? If I were actually trained and just happened to be in the area, sure. But since it’s such a haul for me, it will likely be a one and done.


 

This trip was amazing but exhausting. We didn’t get home until after 9 PM on Sunday, and I went right back to work the next day. So this week, I am prioritizing recovery. I’m trying to take it easy and get as much sleep as possible. This recap post is actually the first thing I’ve done besides sleep and go to work in the last couple days. I haven’t run yet, but I’m hoping to get in an easy 3 miles tomorrow or Thursday and get back in my normal routine next week.

Oh by the way – I’m running a half marathon again in 10 days. So get ready for another doozy of a race recap!!

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18 thoughts on “Race Recap: Canyonlands Half Marathon

  1. So many thoughts on this! First, we do active vacations like yours every year, and they’re absolutely exhausting. Hiking straight up mountains & back down in intense sun and higher altitudes out west is completely different from hiking in the east/Midwest. That alone would have put you in a state if fatigue by race day. That you dealt with so many other factors–the late start and intense sun and lack of spectators–regardless of your training really stacked the cards against you. Given all that I have to say a huge congrats for hanging on and finishing. Sometimes that’s the best you can do, and this was one of those times! This reminds me of my personal worst HM (which was 40 minutes slower than my PR if it makes you feel better!) on a crazy hot and sunny day and how miserable I was. Just finishing is a feat on days like that.

    As for lacking motivation to care, I totally get that. I’ve gone back & forth on that for years (I think it’s been 2 years since I vowed to give up time goals.) I think you’ll feel good about running when you find out for yourself how it fits into your life, and I think you’re well on your way to that point with your minimalist direction. And try not to think of Chicago training right now. It’s still months away, and if your motivation isn’t there, it’s just a symptom of life and priorities changing. It’s all good!

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    1. Thank you! I told Kevin after the race that this race was harder than the Pittsburgh Marathon, and I still believe that 100%. I’ve never struggled so much to finish any run or race and I’m most surprised that I was so oblivious to all the things working against me.

      Thanks for the encouragement. You’re right – I can’t control how I feel, if the motivation is there, it’s there, if not, it’s not. Just gotta roll with it! But I hope I’m at least a little more motivated than I am now because I do NOT want Chicago to be another Canyonlands. I barely made it through 13.1, I don’t think I could survive 26.2 like that!

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  2. Sorry it was such a rough one. It sounds like a lot of things added up to really not be in your favor on race day: travel stress, hiking fatigue, heat, and being under trained. But in spite of all that you made it to the finish line, congratulations 🙂

    I was going to say that I’m sorry you are feeling apathetic towards running, but that makes it seem like it is a bad thing to not be training hard and chasing PRs. Which it isn’t, it just isn’t something I can easily relate to. I have often found myself feeling frustrated that my sister spends a TON of money on races when she ultimately ends up half assing her training and spending the race stopping for photos and donuts. If she tried just a little she could make some huge improvements! I have to step back and remind myself that her goal is to have fun with friends and she is doing just that. I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you like running without the addition of strict training then keep on running and have fun! If running still isn’t fun, find something else that is!

    Oh and I love the idea of running through national parks (just did a Crater Lake race last year), but if I do end up at this race I think I’ll stick to the 5 miler. Heat adaptation is no joke. I can almost guarantee that sometime in the next month or so we’re going to have a heat wave roll through and everyone will be blogging about how slow and awful every single run feels.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, but I must say, there is no reason to be sorry. I’m not sorry. Shit happens, ya know? It helps that I get to use the “I didn’t train” card – if I had trained and things had gone this way I’d probably be really upset but I kind of feel like, well what did you expect? There will be other races, and running a half marathon on my home turf soon, minus fatigue and altitude and (hopefully) heat, I almost have to do better!

      I know what you mean. I have an old friend who is the same way – she runs half marathons and this year ran a full, and doesn’t train for it hardly at all. She goes on a long run every 2ish weeks and calls it good. I would get annoyed because she runs pretty good times for someone who barely runs, so imagine what she could do if she actually trained! But like you with your sister, I have to remind myself that she doesn’t care enough to “train”, she just wants the experience, and that’s her right. If she can enjoy races with little to no training, more power to her, I guess. Personally I can’t see the satisfaction in it (at least not for every race), but that’s the beauty of life – we are all different.

      LOL we should start a betting pool on when the heat complaints start. Surprisingly, this weekend’s heat didn’t bother me as much as I feared – it was actually much worse to stand/sit around in it at the post race party.

      Also, by the way – this race is sort of a misnomer because it actually does NOT take place in Canyonlands Natl Park. Weird, huh? It is in a canyon though, and it is pretty, so whatever!

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  3. Ok, you cracked me up with the last “oh, and I’m running another half in 10 days” comment. 🙂 That sounds like a tough race. I can’t imagine starting that late in the heat. Are your running tights cool? I have a hard time running in the summer in tights or capris. Mine are so warm!

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    1. Haha! Thanks! It just goes to show how crazy I am. Although, to be fair, if I would have known how this race was going to go I never would have signed up for another half marathon that’s two weeks later. But with the lessons learned and the likely cooler temps (and lack of altitude/fatigue), I’m almost guaranteed to have a better race, so there’s that!

      The tights are a pretty thin, swimsuit-like material (they are not compression tights, more like yoga pants), so they don’t get too hot. The dark stripes can get hot if I’m sitting in the sun but otherwise they’re very comfy. Unless it’s like 90 degrees, I usually prefer to run long distances in capris instead of shorts. Running shorts often chafe me and since I have a big butt they always ride up on me.

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      1. That must be what my problem is – mine are all compression material I think. I think I would like to run in capris more… at least when I see my race pictures wearing shorts I know I do!!
        Yes, I’m sure you’ll have a better race next time 🙂

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  4. Well, those conditions and the circumstances you had leading up to the race certainly sound less than ideal! No shame in the run/walk game, though. That’s gotten me through four of my five marathons, and in every single one of those instances, it was what I had to do to get myself across the finish line, which for me, is my main goal in any race.

    As for your motivation situation, I hope this doesn’t come across sounding sarcastic or mean, because that’s certainly not my intent, but have you ever considered just running for the sake of running? Maybe that means not doing races anymore, if timing is what gets in your way of enjoying yourself, but it really sounds like what you’re doing isn’t making you very happy. No one’s paying you to run, so I don’t see why you should keep forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do just for the sake of doing it because you feel like you’re “supposed to” or whatever. You can certainly blog about things other than running, if you find other fitness endeavors that make you happy, or just other endeavors in general! But I’m a firm believer in not doing something just for the sake of doing it once you become an adult if no one’s making you do it and your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. I had some friends that stuck around in my dance class for way longer than necessary and complained about how much they didn’t want to be there all the time, and it never made any sense to me why they continued to pay a lot of money and take time out of their lives to be miserable for a HOBBY. Your hobbies are supposed to bring you happiness! And if they don’t, then I think it’s time to find a new one, or find a new way to approach the one you currently have.

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    1. I love the idea of running just to run but every time I’ve tried it hasn’t worked out. I’m afraid that without a goal to keep me accountable I’d just stop running altogether. If I don’t “need” to get that run in, then it’s so easy to give in to excuses and not do it. I enjoy running but I’m also a naturally lazy person, so it’s hard for me to stick with things without accountability. This is the same reason I’ve never been successful in getting into any non-running exercise. As much as I want to be a person who can get out the door every morning just because, I also don’t want to have to fight my nature as a goal-oriented person.

      Part of the problem, I suspect, is that anything shorter than the marathon just doesn’t motivate me enough to remain dedicated to training. The marathon is this huge thing and you really do need to train for it. But I just can’t get that excited about the shorter distances. I may have to accept a compromise of only racing marathons, and doing other distances for fun/not at all.

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  5. As I was reading your race recap, I kept saying to myself, wasn’t this an altitude race too?? I hear that altitude is no joke, and I bet that played a HUGE part in it. (Oh, and all the hiking!!). It sounds like a great vacation though, and I am glad you got a dose of warmer weather. I feel opposite of you, completely over the marathon thing, ready to focus on short term goals. I think it is great to focus on your house and your move, and keep running on the back burner–it will always be there. I have a hard time shifting gears between different types of goals, be it house, music whatever, so I find it refreshing to mix up the focus.
    After Boston, I hope to focus on my gardens, and some house projects, and perhaps the biggest thing; learning to use some power tools, so I can tackle more projects (maybe I should watch less HGTV).
    I am glad you had an adventurous vacation! (very jealous).

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    1. Altitude was another thing where I thought because I felt fine, it wasn’t affecting me. But, who really knows?

      I am excited to work on garden and house stuff this spring too. Assuming we close on time (April 3…sigh…fingers crossed! Seems like all these little things keep coming up and I won’t be surprised if we get pushed back), you and I will likely be diving into our home and garden projects at the same time. If I want a garden in our new house I have to start planning ASAP because I’ll probably need to start planning right when we get in. I’m excited to throw myself into something bigger and better for a change!

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  6. I think we learn more from hard, bad races than from our successes. I know the feeling of seeing your pace creep up too early in a race. I know the feeling you described so well here: “I was dragging really bad and I became irrationally upset at my body for failing me.” I think we have ALL been there. I’ve felt better knowing others were walking and struggling along with me, too! Still, you finished, and in a time that (to me at least) is really commendable and impressive. There is no shame in having a less-than-good race experience; I’m sorry you struggled, but I’m impressed that you persevered!

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    1. Thank you Ali! I 100% agree that bad races are much more educational than good ones. At one point I even thought to myself “I don’t even need to get a ‘good time’ in this race, because I didn’t earn it”. How could I grow as a runner from yet another race where “I didn’t do any work but still somehow surprised myself with an awesome time, tee hee!”? While I think that my disaster was due more to a confluence of factors working against me (not training enough, fatigue, heat, altitude), I still came away with some humbling lessons: that I need to respect the distance and the hard work necessary to run it well, that I need to be more mindful of how external factors affect me instead of just thinking I’m immune to it because I “feel okay”, etc.

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  7. I think you are being so hard on yourself! Sticking it out when things go wrong and are more challenging than expected is something to celebrate. I’ve learned that not every race can or should be a PR. For me I find joy in the ability to run and try to focus on why I chose that race and that experience. Running a race for the enjoyment and the experience can be so powerful. That was my approach when I ran the San Fran Half and NYC Marathon last year and they are my top two best running memories! Even more special than my marathon PR at Chicago last year.

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