Pumpkin’s Utah Valley Half Marathon Race Report: The Race I Didn’t Race.

I was so happy back in January …

My training journey began waaaay back in January, when I had plans to run the Fargo Half Marathon. I started week one of training with an impromptu half marathon while I was at a conference in Austin, Texas. I was full of excitement for this training cycle and had pretty big goals to PR in May.

The journey proved to be a bumpy one.

I ran into some hiccups as I began speedwork, dealing with fatigue and a bad attitude. I scaled back my miles for a week and got back on track. Soon after, I got the cold of the century and wasn’t able to run for nearly a week. Again, I climbed back on the proverbial horse and resumed my training, pulling out some pretty good runs. I had a particularly great 10 mile long run in mid-March and felt incredibly positive about my progress, but at the end of that terrific run I noticed some significant pain in my SI Joint and tight glutes and IT band … And this is where it all derailed.

Though this injury was relatively short compared to past injuries I’ve had, I have never dealt with IT band issues before and it still knocked me out of running for three solid weeks. During this same time I switched to a different type of thyroid medication, because I wondered if the current medication wasn’t working optimally.

When I finally felt up to resuming running, it was a very slow start. The pain improved after a couple of weeks of running, but my endurance had taken a major hit. I know that fitness can be lost after taking a few weeks off, but I’ve never struggled to bounce back like I struggled this time. I would run for a few minutes and feel winded, even if I was running slow. At this point I knew that running the half marathon in May was not going to happen, so I signed up for Utah Valley because it worked to add this race to our family road trip agenda, and because I’ve heard how incredible the race is!

In the meantime, running continued to be a struggle, so much so that every run I did was run-walk-run-walk. Looking back at my run history, it dawned on me that perhaps my new thyroid medication was part of the problem. Sure enough, I went in for lab work and my numbers were BAD. The new medication threw my hypothyroid into HYPERthyroid, which explained my elevated heart rate and difficulty with endurance. I switched back to my old medication immediately, because even though it didn’t feel like it was working well previously, it was far better than what the new medication had done to me.

And this is how my Utah Valley Half Marathon ended up as a non-race. I bagged all goals related to time and performance, and put this race on the calendar as a fun, goal-free race. One of my favorite things about running is the opportunity to run in new places. Travel running is a great way to shake up my routine and appreciate new cities and new routes. Race week included several days of driving leading up to the race, so I got to do some shakeout runs in Billings, Montana and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I learned that running in higher elevation was challenging and then felt REALLY glad that I was just running Utah for fun!

We arrived at my friend’s house on Friday afternoon. She lives in a beautiful suburb of Salt Lake City, which is about 40 minutes from where I needed to be the next morning to catch my shuttle for the race. I have never run a race before that required a shuttle to the starting line, so this added a layer of stress. I am always someone who shows up early because my recurring running dream is that I show up late for the start of a race. Shuttles were to begin at 3:10 a.m., and the final shuttle would leave at 4:30. They cautioned not to wait for the last one, so my goal was to arrive by 4:00. Did I mention that my friend lives 40 minutes away?

Race morning arrived quickly, with a 2:00 a.m. alarm. YES. 2:00 A.M.! I wasn’t anxious about the race at all, but I was anxious about the morning logistics. I was driving in a brand new city with no knowledge about traffic patterns or ease of driving around. Looking back, it was probably silly to worry about 3:00 a.m. traffic jams, but better to be safe than sorry, right? Ha!

The early wake up allowed me time to loosen up my tight muscles, two full days of driving in a car did a number on me, and to start loading up on coffee and water. I was warned to hydrate extra well for higher elevation, so I double-fisted my beverages during my 40 minute drive to downtown Provo. The drive went seamlessly and I found the shuttles without a problem. As I waited to load the shuttle yellow school bus, I chatted with other runners and my excitement started to grow! The bus took us 13 miles out of Provo, and was a steady climb into canyons. I worried about motion sickness on the bus, but it wasn’t a problem.

The bus dropped us off at 4:30. It was still dark and noticeably colder in the higher elevation. When I got on the shuttle, it was almost 60ยฐ, but up at the starting line it was about 44ยฐ. I had a long sleeve shirt on top of my tank top to keep me warm until the race started, but it was still pretty chilly. The race didn’t start until 6:00, so I was nervous about freezing for 90 minutes. As we shuffled closer to the starting line, I saw that they had fire pits set up all along the road. Brilliant!!!!!

I had made a friend while standing in line for the porta-potty and she and I found a home by one of the fire pits. I have never enjoyed waiting for a race more than I did that morning. There was something pretty magical about taking in the scent of campfire, talking with fellow runners, and watching the sun start to rise and illuminate the canyon. The scenery around me took my breath away and I knew I made the right decision to do this race.

There’s something about doing a race free of expectations. I was able to just be in the moment and take everything in. As I crossed the starting line, I remember grinning and feeling so grateful for being there. The race started downhill, so that first mile felt better than any first mile of any race I’ve been in! The race took place on a highway and was a point to point course, starting at the top of a canyon area and dropping steadily to downtown Provo.

The one exception was a rather large, painful, ugly climb between miles two and three. I was prepared for it, so it didn’t come as a surprise. It was early in the race too, so my legs didn’t mind much. After that long climb, however, we were rewarded with a downhill that had a 7% grade decline. I’ve never run on anything like that before, and it felt like I had Scooby-Doo legs running down that hill. For the first part of the race, running downhill was pretty fun, but it did start to wear on me a little by the end. I was wearing new shoes that had less cushion than shoes I’ve worn in the past, so my forefoot was starting to take a beating by the final miles of the race.

My race strategy? I didn’t have much of a strategy. Like I said earlier, my thyroid problems have recently forced me to do a lot of run/walk/run, so I anticipated that’s how I would approach the race. I would run when I could and walk when I needed. I surprised myself and did a lot more running during the first half of the race than I anticipated I would.

I remember having the thought around mile six how awesome I felt and how I could run this race forever. One mile later the downhill pounding started to kick in and the heat started to climb and I didn’t feeling AS positive. The walk breaks became more frequent, but I was still having fun. The course didn’t have a lot of spectators until we got closer to town, but the scenery in the early miles was a nice trade-off. The volunteers were fantastic and the aid stations were well stocked. The oranges and bananas at some of the stations were much appreciated!

The last couple of miles felt long, and I was ready to be done. It started to get hot, and the travel and lack of sleep were kicking in. I crossed the finish line and didn’t even look at my Garmin until later in the morning. I wanted to celebrate the experience and not let time and pace cloud my end-of-race high. Even running a race without a time goal, there is still that small voice in the back of my mind that feels some disappointment about not being able to race the race. The best way for me to handle that is to wait awhile before I check out my stats.

I got my medal, drank some chocolate milk, took a couple of post race pictures, and got on the shuttle back to my car. It was at that point I looked at my results, and laughed because that time seemed so familiar. I went back and looked at my race results from my impromptu race in Austin, Texas back in January and sure enough, my finish time was nearly identical.

Five months after starting training, feeling great, then feeling terrible, then getting injured, then feeling even worse … adjusting goals and expectations, canceling my initial goal race and doing this race just for fun … I ran the Utah Valley Half Marathon exactly 28 seconds faster than my throw-away January race.

It seemed like a fitting outcome for a training cycle that didn’t pan out. Through all of the frustration though, I kept my miles consistent, even though those miles were taking much longer with my run-walk-run approach. I never let myself feel defeated and I kept my eyes on my long term goals. I was able to find a new appreciation for the days when I could run more than I walked and am more committed than ever to keeping strength and cross training as priorities in my routine.

I learned that I can still learn a lot from a busted training cycle and I’m excited to keep plugging along in this journey!

I'm a college mental health counselor, runner, cyclist, wife, and mom to two strong-willed children. I started running in 2011 after the birth of my last child after years of love-hate relationships with fitness. My favorite distance is the half marathon, but I love the challenge of tackling the marathon. My biggest challenge is the mental aspect of racing, but my greatest strength is I'm stubborn and never give up! I'm a free spirit, an open book, and try to be authentic both in real life as well as in my internet life. Running has given me a place to face my fears, chase goals, and stay humble. Side note: I love cats and coffee and tacos.

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  1. Your positive attitude is pretty amazing here. I am dealing with a long-term case of plantar fasciitis and it is actually super inspiring to hear about your perseverance through a tough training cycle. I am hyper-thyroid and I keep refusing to have the damn thing removed because the medication changes worry me. Again – I just love your attitude here. Onward!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I have been cheering on your healing process on the sidelines! The beauty of Instagram, right? I just keep reminding myself that I have years of running ahead of me (hopefully), so I don’t need to be in such a rush to run every race and make every PR this very instant. Playing the long game right now!

  2. Man, you overcame a lot of obstacles to get there! I’m glad it turned out fine and that you’re injuries are all healed up and your thyroid is behaving at least appropriately if not optimally. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Good job, Pumpkin! I know it feels like this training cycle was a waste, but it will pay off in the future. I had a lousy racing season last year, but I got over the hurdle and smashed a bunch of races and set some HUGE PRs. Those PRs wouldn’t have happened without the lousy year of training.

    I still kick myself for not finding out you were in Austin the same time I was there. Literally we were feet away from each other.

  4. Even if the race cycle ended up not being what you’d planned, you deserve big congratulations for your hard work and perseverance just the same. Both the mental and physical effort you put in this season will pay off