Wednesday, November 22, 2023

2023 Snow Canyon Half Marathon Race Recap - St George, UT

Official Time: 1:54:24
Placement: 28th out of 67, 746 out of 2054
Results: Here
Race WebsiteHere
Weather: low 50's, breeze from the south
Course Map / Garmin Route: Here
Previous Years: [2019]
Cool YouTube Video: Here

Mile TimeComments
18:16Nice start. Easy going and feeling comfortable
28:19\Settling in and feeling good. Gentle downhill
38:00The decline is picking up
47:45Entering Snow Canyon -- the views get prettier and prettier
67:53Definitely feeling it -- the downhills is slowing up and I have get back to running easy
88:41My legs are feeling rubbery.  Trying to hold on but I know it is going to get tough
98:42Last good mile
109:04Just shuffling along
1111:41Potty break here and was doing a fair amount of walking
129:55Expected this mile to be worse.
139:37Somehow managed to run this entire mile.
13.060:30So happy to be done
Total Miles: 13.06 - 1:54:25

At the packet pickup


Sometime late this summer I wound up signing up for the Snow Canyon Half Marathon.  In the past few years I've signed up for this race, only to have my weekend thwarted by Covid scares or something else coming up.  Either I've had to eat the registration or I think in the case of last year, I was able to defer it to another race.

Either way, this year I fully intended to show up and  run faster than I had done in 2019 (1:55:09).  I put in a solid training block building towards over-running the 13.1 mile distance and having enough endurance to really turn in a great time.

Taking a walk around the area - St George LDS Temple

The race is put on by the folks who do the Virgin River Half Marathon (formerly known as the St George Half Marathon - January edition) and the famous St George Marathon.  The local recreation department does a world-class job of organizing this race.

This race is best known for it's jaunt through Snow Canyon State Park.  This park is a popular tourist attract and is on the edge of the city limits of St George.  The race starts just north of the park and runners doing the half marathon get to run the paved service drive down and through the park.

Finally, this course is fast -- for the most part (more on this later).  With about a 2000 foot drop over the 13 miles, you can really turn in a fast time -- if your quads can take the beating.

All the people behind me at the starting line.

The Race

I got into town on Friday afternoon -- just shy of 3 pm.  I had made the 4-hour trip from Salt Lake City to the southern part of the state.  I actually made fantastic time.  I wanted to get there early on account that the earlier you got there, the better opportunity you had to pick your bus departing time.  The first bus would leave around 6:30 with the final bus leaving at 7;15.  The race started at 9:00 and during that time between arriving and starting, you have to sit in a cold field.  I managed to get on the 7:00 AM bus and I had about an hour and fifteen minute wait upon arriving -- not exactly the worst but I'd rather have it shorter.

Rainbow sighting upon arrival.

The weather for the race was looking iffy all week.  The air temperature wasn't looking bad, but the threat of a rainy race was looming.  I was NOT looking forward to a potentially long wait in a cold field while sitting / standing in rain.

So when I left Salt Lake, I was packed with just about every possible thing I could find to keep myself warm and dry.

Greeted by state / country flags for those in attendance

Fortunately, though, the rain threat vanished.  I think we got a few sprinkles and that was about it.

The wait at the start went quickly and with over 2000 runners, the bus loading and parking situation was staggered so I had absolutely no problems.  I had had quite a bit of anxiety prior to the race about the entire situation.

Making our way to the holding pen

The race started promptly at 9 AM and we were off.  I had lined up behind the 1:55 pacer but with an initial downhill start I quickly pulled ahead.  My breathing was in control, I felt good and I didn't feel like I was going out too quickly despite a bit of a headwind.

Memories of when I ran this race in 2019 filled my mind.  It had been a number of years and I had some vague recollections of the first few miles.  I had studied my splits from last year, so I knew these miles were going to feel easy. 

Ready to start. Should've brought sunglasses.

I wasn't surprised to blow through the 5KM in a fast time of about 25 and change.  With a downhill and easy stride, I felt really good.  Although, arguably, my pace was nearly 10KM race pace.

Despite the headwind, I was very comfortable in a short-sleeved t-shirt, Saucony Pro 2's, and shorts.  I had some thin gloves that I wore initially but at some point I wound up putting them in my pocket.

Mile 4 was the first aid station -- in my opinion it was kind of late in the race for an aid station.  I felt a little dry from the get go and for whatever reason, I didn't quite get enough at this aid station.  I think I wound up taking a water and missed most of my mouth.  I wound up digging into one my watermelon gels.  I only would wind up eating about half of it.

Coasting for the first few miles.

This was also the fastest part of the race as we were greeted by the epic view of Snow Canyon's north entrance.  With the early morning sun, it was just a beautiful site.  My pace quickened and I found myself ahead of the 1:50.  Was I going too fast?  I was now into my A-goal for the race, could I hang on?

The next 4 miles were what I came to run:  fast downhill and awesome views.  I could tell people's enthusiasm picked up and my pace quickened.  I was suddenly running pretty close to 5K pace.

Near the tail end of the canyon we were greeted with the largest ever-made American flag that was flown.  It was absolutely huge and a site to see.

Enjoying Snow Canyon views

You can see the flag in the distance

By the time we got to the bottom though, I felt winded.  I was definitely working too hard and despite the pace feeling easy I forgot to check in with myself.  My quads felt like they had been bashed and as the hills started to turn into flats, my head couldn't grapple with the fact that running wasn't going to be easy.

Largest flown American flag

Mile 8 and 9 I knew where the last of the good miles.  I was still running okay but my breathing was labored and I was working way too hard.  I had hit another aid station but I still didn't manage to get a lot to drink. I think I was too eager to dive into a restroom but it turned out that they were all full, so I continued to run.  So up until this point, I really only had a few sips of hydration and maybe a third of a gel.

Despite suffering immensely, mile 9 to 10 wasn't that bad from a pace perspective.  I had definitely slowed down, though.  My head wanted to run faster but my body was like no way.  There was still some downhill as we made our way down a gentle decline along the bike trails and ultimately into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Somewhere around mile 11 I decided I needed to stop.  I had had to go to the bathroom since about mile 5 (#1) and while I think I could've held it, I just felt that I needed a break.  I was at the penultimate aid station and I did manage to get a solid gulp of Gatorade in.  While in the bathroom, I realized I had to go a bit more than I thought and even during the break, I could NOT catch my breath.  

Upon exiting, I resumed running but quickly ran out of gas.  I wound up doing a run-walk method for most of this mile.  Even the slightest hill caused me to pull off to the side and walk.  This was infuriating to me. I had worked so hard to build my endurance and here at mile 11, I was resorting to a walk. 

The 1:50 pacer had gone by and at some point the 1:55 pacer encouraged me forward and not to give up.

Finish line crowds

I simply wanted to give up and sit on the curb and cry.  That's how low I felt.

Slowly, though, I started to get my energy back.  I somehow managed to cobble together a marathon-shuffle type of run for the final mile.  In fact, in the last mile, I didn't walk at all despite some uphill sections.  The pace wasn't fast but I was getting it done.

Finally, I could hear the din of the finish line and we entered the service drive of the high school.  I could hear the announcer calling people's names and there was a nice line of spectators (in fact, I have to say the last 4 miles did have a fair amount of cheering people).

The finish line is on about a 100 meter stretch of the high school's track and I threw whatever I had left at making it to the finish line with a smile on my face.  It wasn't easy but I was so thankful to be done -- and crossing with a time of 1:54:25 -- not exactly what I was hoping for, but certainly not the worst.

Group of finishers


So this was NOT how I wanted the race to go.  I knew the course was fast and the downhill wasn't that intense, so I was hoping to turn in a fantastic time.  In fact, given what I was running in training, I figured this race might go down as one of my top 3 performances of the year.  However, that wasn't the case.

So what went wrong?

  1. I didn't hydrate well enough before and during the race.
  2. I didn't eat the rest of the gel, despite feeling a bit hungry at the start
  3. My pace was too fast during the downhill section -- as I forgot to check in with myself during the mid part of the race.
After finishing I grabbed my medal and got some water and simply sat on the side of the track.  It was a madhouse at the finish as most of the 2 hour finishers were coming in, which is about where most people do finish.  

I was upset with myself but also at the same time, I got through it.  And overall, my time was about where I've been at most of the year.  Still, I was far short of my A-goal, I did finish in under 1:55.

The race organizers had set a record with attendance at the half marathon, with over 2000 participants.  This is a long-running race (I see results going back over a dozen years) and to see this many participating was nice to see.  

Happy / not happy.

Post race refreshments included sports drink, water, bananas, fruit gels, and chocolate milk.  I think there were some granola bars as well.  They were plentiful but nothing out of the ordinary.

I really liked the medal -- high-quality and definitely worthy of a big name half marathon.  The shirt was also well designed -- although a little loose in the arms.  The swag bag also contained a lot of stickers and flyers for more events.

Finisher's medal and long-sleeved, collared shirt.

This race was a little on the expensive side -- I want to say around $80, but I got a well organized race from start to finish.  

I highly recommend this race.  The course is absolutely beautiful -- even the residential running.  There is decent crowd support and the aid stations are armed and ready to assist you.  I am not a big of the wait prior to the race, so it is important to prepare for any type of weather.  This year, they did have heating lamps, but they were hard to acquire.  Fortunately I was prepared and had a good experience waiting for the race to start.

Pro-tip: Be sure that you bring a different colored gear bag.  Just about everyone used the give-away bag, which made it harder for volunteers to find your bag.  I used the bag but wrapped it in a bigger clear bag (from the Rock 'n Roll race series) and that made it a snap for them to retrieve my bag.

Also another pro-tip: is to consider parking at the elementary school versus the high school. Getting out of the race site can be a challenge, but it looked like it was less of a challenge from this lot versus the high school lot.

They did give me a coupon code for 2024 Races (STG2024) so I may wind up registering for next year.  I had a wonderful weekend and despite not hitting my goal, I am still buzzing over the excitement of the race.

Upcoming Races

11/23: 2023 South Davis Recreation Center 5K - Bountiful, UT (Confirmed)
01/13: 2024 Virgin River Half Marathon - St George, UT (Confirmed)
02/25: 2024 Las Vegas Half Marathon - Las Vegas, NV (Confirmed)
03/02: 2024 March Madness 10K - West Bountiful, UT (Confirmed)
04/202024 Salt Lake City Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed)
06/01: 2024 Utah Valley Half Marathon - Provo, UT (Confirmed)
07/242024 Deseret News Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed
09/07: 2024 Cedar City Half Marathon - Cedar City, UT (Confirmed)
10/XX: 2024 Haunted Half 5K - Provo, UT (Confirmed)

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