Half Marathons · Race Recap

Race Recap: Zion Half Marathon

Hi everyone!  Guess what:  I FINISHED!!!!  And it wasn’t my slowest race ever!  But we’ll get to that later  🙂  For now, let’s start with day 1 of our trip!

Day 1:  We woke up at 2:30 and flew out of Anchorage at 5:00 am AST.  The flight was rough – I couldn’t really sleep much and the descent hurt my ears as always.  We had a connection out of SeaTac for our final leg of the flight at 11:30 PST and landed in Las Vegas at 2:00 PST.  I was an exhausted mess, but managed to see the light at the end of the tunnel:

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CHIPOTLE!!!!  And right next to it was a Dunkin Donuts!  After eating a ton of food and coffee we headed out to the nearest Trader Joe’s to stock up on cookie butter before driving to St. George, Utah where we’d be spending the next week.  We got in around 8:00 MST and we were looking around for a place to eat, and we found a Chick Fil A which was totally unexpected!  I ate at almost all of my favorite Lower 48 places in one day so I was a happy girl.

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Day 2:  I had been up late due to some very loud kids playing in the pool all night, so we slept in a bit before heading over to Springdale for the race expo.  Driving to the park wasn’t really exciting, but when we entered Springdale I was DYING.  The scenery was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I’d be racing there the next day!

IMG_4281HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?!

After getting my own bib and shirt, I started my volunteer shift at bib pickup.  It was fun getting people all set up for the race and meeting other runners, but I didn’t realize I’d be standing the whole time and the combo of my lack of sleep, the elevation, and being on my feet all day totally wiped me out.  I carb loaded on some pasta before heading to sleep.

Zion Half Marathon Race Day:  I woke up at 4:30 and got dressed in a tank top, a thin long sleeved shirt, capri pants, and a hydration belt.  The race was cup free, but had water stops about every 2 miles and I knew I could refill as needed.  My goal for this race was pretty simple:  I just wanted to finish without any injuries!  Zion National Park is about 45 minutes from St. George, so it was a long and dark 45 minutes for me to contemplate all the things that could go wrong and how much I was afraid to run this race.  I just kept thinking about my MRI and the pain I’d had 6 weeks ago, as well as how sick I’d gotten after my last 10 miler.  Oh, and our elevation above sea level and the elevation chart.

Zion_Half_Marathon_Elevation_Map

Seriously though, has anyone ever had a calm race morning?  Mine are always filled with nerves!  Andrew dropped me off around 6:30 so he could drive to the finish line (it was a point to point race) and I did not want to get out of the car.  It was around 50 degrees out but it was dark and super windy which made it feel so much colder.  I hung out in the warming tent until it was time to line up for the race.  There were so many of us running it that they had to stagger the race to get us to all fit into one lane of the road, so I didn’t actually start the race until 7:50 instead of 7:30.  By this point I was frozen and I didn’t really warm up until about 3 miles into the race.  During this time the sun began to rise over the mountains and I was so distracted by the beautiful sights that I forgot to take any walk breaks!  We had beautiful desert and mountain views all around us, and we also frequently ran past ranches with cows and horses in fields.  I felt like we were going downhill for the first 4 miles and didn’t want to stop until we starting going uphill, but I forced myself to take some Sport Beans close to the 5 mile mark and walk a bit.

IMG_4493Typical views from the course

I kept waiting and waiting for those gradual uphill climbs that were promised on the elevation chart, but they never came!  Instead I felt like we spent the first half of the race going downhill.  I had been riding the downhills and going way faster than I wanted, so when I hit a giant hill at the halfway point I just couldn’t do it anymore…and I walked the whole thing.  It was a mile long.  I felt like I should be beating myself up and pushing myself to run, but I just couldn’t do it.  Because first of all, the views were amazing and I was noticing them so much more while walking.  Second, everyone else was walking.  Third, I was at the halfway point of a race that I almost couldn’t even start because of an injury – why push it now?  Fourth, this was in no way a PR race and I was on vacation – I can walk if I want to and I don’t deserve to feel bad about it.  I assumed I’d have a hilly second half of the race so I walked up that hill and then ran down the other side.  And then kept on running downhill again until around mile 8.  It didn’t make sense how I was still running downhill when the elevation chart said otherwise, but I just went with it.  After mile 8, I started walking a lot more than I wanted.  I was so tired, and I felt really weak and had a bit of a headache (later I found out this was probably from the elevation) and running for a few minutes at a time took so much out of me.  I began to worry that I hadn’t actually been running downhill and it had been some kind of mind trick that had caused me to use up all my energy early.  At mile 10 we entered Springdale and the combination of incredible views and lots of spectators caused me to speed up a bit, although this section was definitely uphill.

IMG_4499Taken from our car, but it’s the same view as in the race!

I walked probably half of every mile at the end because my legs and hips were starting to hurt a bit and I was so nervous about re-injuring myself.  I just wanted to finish in one piece!  I knew when I hit mile 12 that this was not going to be my slowest half, and I tried to push to make it across the finish line as soon as possible.  I seriously gave it my all and could not have run any faster during this race given the circumstances.  The last 0.1 miles were downhill and it was an incredible feeling sprinting down that hill while the announcer called my name.  I was so excited to finally be a finisher!

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The post-race food was awesome – we got a box of recovery food including Honey Stinger waffles and a mini cliff bar, plus chocolate milk!  Oh and we got this:

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This is the biggest medal I’ve ever seen, and I felt amazing wearing it.  We took some time to walk around near the entrance of Zion to stretch out and take pictures before heading back to St. George.

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Overal, this was an awesome race!  I felt incredibly exhausted afterwards, but you know what?  I MET MY GOAL!  I finished and although I felt a lot of leg pain, it was pretty normal stuff (and I was able to hike in Bryce all day on Sunday, more on that tomorrow!) and I know I didn’t re-injure myself.  And the fact that it was faster than Beat The Blerch and only about 1 minute slower than Disney Princess is pretty awesome too.  I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in visiting Zion National Park runs this race.  It’s so awesome how much they encouraged visiting the park after the race, and I felt that it was a perfect excuse for a racecation.

Pros:

  • Beautiful scenery.  It was the most beautiful race course I’ve ever seen!
  • Lots of water stops that were stocked with Nuun and Honey Stinger gels, as well as bananas and oranges!
  • Lots of quiet sections that were perfect for just taking it all in
  • Really cute swag and a giant medal!
  • It wasn’t super expensive
  • It finished at the entrance to Zion National Park
  • Did I mention the views?

Cons:

  • The elevation above sea level was pretty rough – it ends at around 4,000 feet above sea level.  I trained at sea level and I could definitely feel it.
  • It was cold at the start and warm at the end, and windy throughout the race.  That made it hard to pick a race outfit, but I did pretty well!
  • The sun rose right in our eyes and I totally didn’t think to bring sunglasses.  I also got a bit sunburned, so be aware that you need to think about the sun!
  • The course is definitely not flat.
  • We were running either on one side of the road that was shut down (making it into a one lane highway for anyone driving into the park) or running on the shoulder and sometimes there was a lot of traffic which was distracting.

Overall, I would highly recommend this race and might try to do it again someday.  I will definitely be doing more races in the Vacation Races series as soon as possible too!

IMG_4288I did it!!!

Would you run Zion?  What is the highest elevation you’ve ever run at?

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39 thoughts on “Race Recap: Zion Half Marathon

  1. Congrats! That’s awesome that you finished with s great time and that your leg didn’t hurt too much. That elevation looks really challenging. But the scenery is so beautiful in your photos, I’m sure that made it worth it.

    1. Thanks! It really was worth it. It was the only race where I didn’t want to die at like mile 8-9, and it’s because of the scenery (and so many other people were walking that I didn’t feel bad). I wish all races were that pretty!

    1. YES! And check out their website to see their other races. I’m so doing Yellowstone and Grand Teton next year! And they even have one on the east coast which is cool too!

  2. So awesome that you got to eat at a few of your favorite places on your first day back in the lower 48. I seriously eat Chipotle a few times a month- I can’t imagine living without it!
    Congrats on another half marathon finish, especially when you weren’t sure you’d make it to the starting line! That’s so funny that the elevation chart shows all uphill but you hardly felt it, what a nice problem to have 🙂 I love when races give chocolate milk out at the finish- this needs to become the new standard at finish lines!

    1. Haha I was nervous about how bad all of those foods were to eat before a race, but at least it wasn’t the day before 🙂 And I have no idea what was going on with the elevation chart. If that was truly all uphill then I did a great running steady in the beginning!

  3. Congratulations!!! The scenery there is absolutely incredible. Your recap makes me think I’d like to add the list to my race bucket list, but I’m a little wary of the elevation. At least I’d be prepared! Awesome job taking that race down! 🙂

    1. Thanks! You should definitely do it! The elevation didn’t destroy me like I thought it would. I even hiked in Bryce the next day at 3 times the elevation of Zion and I was okay, just more tired and nauseous than usual. The scenery and medal are worth it though!

  4. so glad you were able to finish without re-injuring yourself! and the views are amazing. i kept showing your pictures from instagram to my boyfriend, trying to convince him i need to run it haha. congratulations on an awesome race!

  5. What a beautiful place for a race! A nice medal too. You did a great job. The point is to enjoy the experience and it looks as if you did exactly that! I have done a half that started at 7500 and ended at 5700. It is very difficult if you aren’t not used to altitude.

    1. Wow that is some high altitude! I felt pretty weird towards the end for sure and I had to tell myself that it was okay and it was the best I could do at that altitude and with my training situation. It was the first race where I struggled at the end but didn’t get down on myself. I had so much fun and I want to do it again!

  6. Congrats!! I loved all the pictures you posted this weekend. Right after you finished I went on to the vacation races website to check out their other races! The scenery looked fantastic and so did the medal.

    1. You should definitely do one! It was run really well and the swag was awesome. Plus all of their courses look amazing! I want to run Yellowstone and Grand Teton next year for sure!

  7. I’m late to the game reading this, but congrats!!! This sounds like such an awesome race, and I’m so happy for you that you were able to run it after all your problems with injuries! This makes me want to take a racecation so badly 🙂

    1. YAY!!! We stayed in St. George at The Inn At St. George. It was just okay, but it was $50 a night on hotels.com so I wasn’t expecting much haha. It was 45 minutes away from the park but since it’s in a city it has tons of food and stores to choose from. Springdale is small but right at the entrance to the park so lots of people stayed there instead.

      1. Thanks for the info. We’re thinking of renting a house so we can take our dogs and not have to board them. Plus then we can stay for a week and really explore! I’m totally stoked! 11 months to go!

      2. We stayed for almost a week too! We spent a day at Bryce and the rest at Zion but wish we would’ve had time to drive to Arches (it was so far!). Did you see they released the date today? I want to go back!

  8. Yes, I did! I have a reminder to register next month. So juiced! If you’re going back let me know. Maybe we can share the house. We’re looking at one that has multiple bedrooms, as long as you don’t mind that we’ll have our dogs with us.

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