Anyone who’d talked to me during the weeks before this race knows I was anything but excited for it. Dread is a good word. Ever since Boston, I feel like I’ve lost my competitive mojo. There’s a little ember still burning, but it’s low and buried. Tragedy has a way of making crystal clear what is truly important in life. It also has a way of stealing away some of life’s joy. I’ve been feeling a bit of both.
Aside from that, people don’t give Utah Valley enough credit for being a tough course. Yes, there is a lot of downhill, but that in itself is a challenge. There are also some big uphills that most runners are unprepared to meet. This would be my 4th running of UVM, so I knew what was ahead. I was not excited.
Utah Valley is the second of four marathons runners in the Utah Grand Slam are required to run in order to compete in the Slam. After finishing Ogden, I found myself with a gigantic lead of 15 seconds! Truthfully I was hoping that Josie, the girl behind me, would demolish me leaving me with no chance to win this year. Then the pressure would be off my shoulders and I could enjoy my runs. But even with only an smoldering ember of competition in my belly, if I’m still in the competition, I’m going to compete.
The night before the race my daughters had their first track meet of the year. It was a practice meet, but they were still nervous, especially Ali who is half the size of every other kid on the field and who’d never done anything competitive before. Like her mom, she was a ball of stress. Unlike her mom she didn’t complain. She and her sister ran their little hearts out and showed me how to be a big girl and go out and get the job done.
We got down to our hotel near the finish line as soon as the meet was over and just as I was ready to drift to sleep I could hear loud music coming from outside. The great city of Provo decided that this was a great time to have an outdoor concert loud enough for every marathoner with a 3 am wake up call to enjoy until 10:30 pm. The Marriott got a fair number of complaints for that one. I feel for the front desk clerk, but not as much as I felt for all the runners including myself.
Before I knew it, the alarm went off. I met my friend Tara downstairs and we headed to the buses. This was her second marathon (Park City being her first!), but it was her first in 4 years. She was running this one for herself. She had her own goals and her own set of nerves. No matter what your pace, your goal, your training or past performance, everyone has race-day jitters!
I love having a friend to ride the bus with. Those rides can mess with my mind. Everytime the bus goes downhill I think of how we have to run uphill in the other direction. It’s good to have distractions.
The start line was cool, but not freezing as it had been in years past. Certainly we wouldn’t be contending with the rain as we did in Ogden. Tara and I wished each other luck and I made my way near the front of the pack. I’m still not confident enough to put myself front and center. There was no gun- no countdown. People were suddenly running and I followed.
Mile 1-7- I knew right from the start this would be a pretty good day. My legs were surprisingly loose. No pain. No stiffness. No aches. I noticed more of the downhill than I had before and I just let it pull me.
Mile 8-12- Our first big hill is at mile 8. I knew it well. I calmed my breathing, settled into a comfortable pace. I let a guy who’d been leapfrogging me run ahead. I told myself it was early in the race and tried not to let the fact that a few people were passing me bother me. I felt strong. There are a number of hills through mile 11 and every one of them gave me confidence. In years past these hills have eaten me up, but this year was different.
Mile 13- I hadn’t noticed any port-o-potties, but I also wasn’t in dire need of them. Apparently the p.o.p. company failed to meet its obligations and they were few and far between. There were plenty at the halfway mark, so I took advantage. Only 7 seconds and I was done! Yes, I’m as happy with that as I am with any PR I’ve ever had! My half-marathon split- 1:30:25!! Maybe another sub-3?
My friend Julie has been injured for some time and couldn’t compete, but she was on her bike riding the course giving us encouragement and updates. Oh, how I loved her at this point. She told me that Josie, my Grand Slam competition was out due to an emergency appendectomy. Part of me was relieved that I could ease up on my effort, but a bigger part of me was disappointed. Last year Kelli got sick on this race and I’ve always felt that my Grand Slam win should have an asterisk by it. Had she not gotten sick, I don’t know if I’d have won. This year was deja vu.
Mile 14-18- Feeling good still. Passed a few girls. A cop told me I was 63rd overall and somewhere in the top 10 females. Of course if you tell me that it just adds fuel to my fire. That competitive ember was a full on flame by now.
Mile 20-24- Coming out of the canyon is rough. The rest of this race is a fairly flat straight away to the finish with a few little hills thrown in around mile 23. I hate it. Give me twists and turns any day. It breaks up my focus and gives me shorter goals to work toward. It was getting hot. Shade was scarce. The race directors had changed the course a bit and we now ran on the left side of the road which was such a blessing. More shade, especially in the canyon. But it was mostly gone now. I was dumping water on my head as much as I was drinking it.
Mile 23 I wanted to give up so badly. The pain was almost unbearable. I knew if I stopped there would be o starting again. I did some quick calculations and realized I’d have to run 7-min miles to finish sub-3. I was running around 7:15 but I had no more gas in my legs. The only thing that kept me going was someone telling me I was in 5th place for the women’s division. I’d been passing more people but wasn’t keeping track. I knew UVM gave overall awards to the top 5. We could use the money!
Mile 25- I’d been following “White Tank Top Girl” for awhile. Without realizing it, I was suddenly on her tail. She was more aware of me than I was of her. She kept glancing back. Her family was on the sidewalk cheering her on and I passed her just as we passed them. I felt so bad. No one wants to get passed in front of their family. But this is what happens at the end of a race. I really feel that all the energy I saved on the hills gave me just enough “oomph” to let me pick up the pace.
We could see the finish line for almost 2 miles. Finally it was getting closer.
Mile 26- I never saw my family, but they swear they were there. I saw the clock. 2:59. With a quarter mile to go, I knew I wouldn’t get a sub-3. A small disappointment. I want to run another just to prove that my first wasn’t a fluke. My only goal now was to finish without tripping. I was in 4th, but as I ran toward the finish I heard Bart Yasso of Runner’s World fame announce, “Here’s Kimberly Cowart of South Jordan. Third woman!” I knew he was wrong. Apparently Rachelle went through the wrong side of the finish line and was third. But I was more than happy as I crossed the line in 3:01:22.
There have been some sweet finish lines for me, but this ranks in my top 5! They had a PR bell at the finish for people to ring. This wasn’t an overall PR, but it was a course PR, so I rang the crap out of that baby!
My friend Hollie who’d finished her half marathon was waiting for me at the finisher’s chute. She helped me keep walking, got me chocolate milk and supported me, literally, as I took in my good day. I found my family and celebrated as I’d wanted to all season. I was hot and thirsty so I headed to the med tent for a bag of ice to eat. As I slowly came back to life I wondered how on earth I would teach a strength training class Monday morning when my quads were so destroyed! There was so much joy in that pain, though.
I took advantage of the hot tubs full of ice water and iced my legs. I collected my 4th place award and check and headed out to a celebratory lunch with my family.
When I stood on the podium and looked at the other girls who’d also placed overall, I was filled with awe. These girls are so young. So fast. So trained. Most ran in college. To them finishing overall isn’t uncommon. This would be my fourth time finishing overall. I’m just a mom who likes to run. I can not believe that my name is printed next to theirs in the winner’s category.
That afternoon I celebrated. All the joy that had been stolen from me in Boston was found again. That competitive ember has been fanned to bonfire proportions. The only tears this day were tears of happiness.
I’m making my way back.