Tuesday, January 16, 2024

2024 Virgin River Half Marathon Race Recap - St George, UT

Official Time: 1:54:15
Placement: 8th out of 17 in the 50 - 54 age division, 114st out of 334
Results:  Here
Race WebsiteHere
Weather: Lower 30's, no wind
Garmin Dump: Here
Previous Years: [2023] [2019[2018] [2017] [2016]

Mile TimeComments
19:03Easing into the race
39:03Still going out cautiously. Hanging just ahead of the 2-hour pacer
59:11Grindy hill here, slowed me up
68:59Holding steady
89:01Decent climb here. I was ready to run though.
108:29Starting to run fast.
118:40Had to climb a bridge embankment. Lost some momentum
128:16Wow! Rocking the last mile
12.917:27Pushing it to the finish!
Total Miles: 12.91 1:54:15


So normally in January -- in the dead of winter -- in the Salt Lake City area there isn't much in terms of racing.  There are some 5Ks but if you are looking for something with a big feel event, you have to travel.

Most winters I toy with the idea of running the Virgin River Half Marathon down in the southern part of the state, where the winters are milder.  This race is one of the longest (if not the longest running) half marathons in the state.  It was formerly known as the St George Half Marathon but now that the full marathon in October has a half, they rebranded it.

The race offers a 5K, 10K and a half marathon.  It is well organized, well supported and just an idea weekend getaway.  The weather is almost spring like and you always have Las Vegas and Mesquite just a short jump away.

It is also a great way to test your fitness at a slightly lower elevation than Salt Lake.

The Race

The race packet pickup was on Friday and I got my bib shortly before 3 PM.  There were a few vendors and I wound up spending a $1 for a t-shirt I really didn't need.    Pickup was a snap though and I could've been in and out in under 5 minutes.  But I lingered a bit, gabbing with vendors and getting my photo taken in front of the display areas.

Despite having driven 4 hours to St George, I laced up and hit the bike trail just south of the convention center.  I wanted to simply get in a short and easy 5K.  It was so much warmer than Salt Lake, but after the drive, not eating that great beforehand, and just feeling lethargic, it wasn't a confidence building run at all.  I did appreciate some of the views though.

My training hasn't gone particularly over since Thanksgiving (late November).  I've felt sluggish, flat and not very fast.  I've logged miles consistently though, but I wouldn't call myself in peak fitness.  

I was at a race however, and despite as much as I wanted to race, I knew that my last few half marathons have been tough experiences.  So I settled and told myself to just enjoy the run, and shoot for 2 hours.  Maybe I can bump up the pace and hit 1:57, but I didn't want to have a horrible final 4 miles at the end.

I actually slept pretty decent the night before and was able to take advantage of the breakfast buffet at my host hotel (The Red Lion).  With a 9 AM start, I had a leisurely approach to the morning and best of all there wasn't any bus to ride to the start line.  All I had to do was arrive at the convention center, find a parking spot in the amply-sized parking lot, and walk to the starting line. 

However, I had a bit of a hiccup.  When I arrived, I saw that it was 26F.  I had a jacket on, one t-shirt, thin gloves and short shorts.  I definitely felt like it wasn't enough and I was NOT willing to run with the jacket.  My hotel was about a 4 minute drive one way, so I wound up driving back to the hotel, grabbing another shirt and drove back to the race. I still had 20 minutes to spare.

I wound up using the convention center's facilities and was interviewed by the local running store about my shoe choices before heading outside to the start line.  I don't normally do much for warm-ups for half marathons.

I found the 2 hour pacer and decided I was going to run a little ahead of him.  I need to hold onto about a 9 minute per mile.  The way I have been feeling of late, I wondered if I was even capable of this.

The race started and I held back, conserving energy.  I kept the pacer behind me, but I could always hear him.  My breathing felt easy and in control.  We immediately jumped onto the bike trail and memories of last year's race came flooding back.  In the back of my mind, I wondered if they had corrected the distance from last year's 13.3 miles.

I was enjoying the scenery and the chilly morning air.  I was comfortable in a ball cap, my two t-shirts, thin gloves and short shorts.  

The first 5K or so was entirely on the bike trail.  At times it was a little congested, but after a mile we had spread out and I never felt hemmed in.

The final stretch (taken during my shake out run)

I was tempted to speed up a bit, but I told myself to be patient.  At times the 9 minute mile felt hard and other times, too easy.  I had some questions on my endurance.  Occasionally the 2 hour pacer got close to me and even passed me once but I glanced at my pace and he was going faster than he should've.  I think he realized his error soon and dialed it back.

The next 5K was in a subdivision.  Not the most exciting of running but at least here there was decent crowd support.  People were sitting in their yards enjoying the morning and giving us support.

Around half way I ripped into my first GU.  I had brought two of them, but I only used one. I really enjoy the Roctane Tutti Fruitti flavor and I was hoping a little extra sugar and caffeine would help.  I didn't feel I needed it, but I knew I needed to keep the energy stores going.  I wound up nursing it for the entire race (I remember throwing it away at the finish line).  

I was wearing my Chicken Legs Donut designed shorts as well -- which got a lot of laughs and "wow's" along the way.  It just made the run feel easy and delightful and brought a smile to my face.

Around mile 7 or so I deliberately picked up the pace.  Just a little.  Perhaps it was the gel or perhaps my pacing was spot on, but I felt like I had more to give.  I was quite comfortable and I remembered my goal of running 1:57.  If I could just speed up a bit more I'd have a shot.  The 2-hour pacer dimmed in my "rear view mirror".

I knew the course and around mile 8.5 is the final hill.  At that point, we'd get a downhill and then flats all the way back to the start.  The course is a little bit of a heartbreaker as you pass within a half mile of the finish line.  It was also worth noting that the mile markers were pretty much spot on.

When I got to the top of the hill, at least year's event, we continued down about another tenth of a mile or so before rounding a cone and heading back to the summit of the hill.  Mentally it was tough but I understood the purpose.  This year, there was none of that.  I even asked the course marshal -- but he said I shouldn't go the way I thought we should and no one else was either.  And sure enough he was right -- the mile markers were still spot on.

Once again, I felt great.  I once again inched up my pace -- I could smell the finish line.  I had hydrated pretty well, the GU was kicking in, and to be honest, I felt strong.

We had a bit more downhill that is always icy year after year and upon completing that part I decided to go all in.  Cautiously, I moved my pace up to about 8:30.  

I began to reel in all kinds of people.  I was running hard but still comfortably.  Part of me was wondering if I was going to crash and burn, but I was going to roll with it and whatever happens would happen.

The last 4 miles has some nice crowd support.  There was a city park where I ran through about 50 supporters and we had to cross a bridge near a busy road that was line with spectators.  It helped to get some cheers from people.

Around 2 miles out I did run into a fellow competitor. I do think he was a little younger than me but he definitely did not want me to pass him.  I'd try to pass and he'd inch up his pace to match mine.  I'd dial it back and he'd dial his pace back.  This was a race after all and it was nice to have someone to compete against.  I have had very few tactical races in my lengthy running career but this was one of those special times.  This could've been an opportunity for me to inch back my pace and not give it everything I had, but this guy brought out my inner fire.

I could sense though, with every surge I did, that he was tiring a bit.  I could hear his breathing while mine stayed fairly constant.  Eventually, I did put in a final surge that he couldn't counter and I wound up pursuing more competitors down the trail.  We wound up congratulating each other at the end of the race and I do think we brought out a little bit of our fighting spirit in each other.

With one mile to go, I started to do a bit of math -- perhaps I could even reach the 1:55 pacer.  With a quarter of a mile remaining, my form started to deteriorate.  When I get tired, I have a tendency to lean to one side and I was clearly doing it.  I was at near 5K pace at this point and I was laying it all on the line.

Oddly enough the end of the bike trail and the final stretch of tarmac appeared.  I looked at my watch and I had 12.8 miles where the 13 mile marker was.  This was the first mile marker that -- at least on my Garmin -- was off.  The 1:55 pacer was ahead of me and he was doing a delaying tactic so he could finish at 1:55.  

I sprinted to the finish and crossed under at 1:54:15.


It goes without saying that I was ecstatic was my race performance.  Just completely over the moon.  I had paced my so well, worked out a strategy and exceeded my own expectations.  And despite the course probably being short (most people got 12.9X on their watches) I figure I still would've hit somewhere around 1:55:45 or so for a full 13.1.

Also, oddly enough, I didn't feel like warmed over death at the end.  I simply stopped, caught my breath and got something to drink (of all things I grabbed a hot chocolate).  I wasn't sore and I felt like I could've kept going for a bit longer.

I got my medal and wound up getting a few photos, snacks, and chatted with people.  Post race refreshments included hot chocolate, water, Gatorade, bananas, oranges, fruit snacks and such.  It was still chilly at the finish but they had heating lamps and you had the opportunity to use the convention center to change or warm up a bit.

I liked the medal a lot and the shirt was nicely designed -- although not a fan of white shirts on account that they show stains.  

This race was a huge confidence builder for me.  Despite having some subpar sessions and not great long runs leading up to the race, I felt like I still had more I could give.  With some sharpening, training and a little more preparation, I am thinking February's Las Vegas Half Marathon could have some good results if the weather works in my favor.

This race was one of my worst performance's last year and this year I sense this one may go down as the best.  I really couldn't have scripted a more satisfying finish and I exceeded my initial expectations.  I really enjoy this race and the comradery during it: with 400 runners, I always had someone to work with.  While I didn't place in my age group (not even close -- this is a very competitive race), I still came away with a huge smile on my face.  Even as I write this up, 4 days after the event, I am still "glowing" with satisfaction.

Upcoming Races

02/10: 2024 South Davis Recreation Center Sweethearts 5K - Bountiful, UT (Confirmed0
02/25: 2024 Las Vegas Half Marathon - Las Vegas, NV (Confirmed)
03/02: 2024 March Madness 10K - West Bountiful, UT (Confirmed)
03/30: 2024 Eggs Legs 10K - West Jordan, UT (Confirmed)
04/202024 Salt Lake City Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed)
04/27: 2024 Apple Blossom 10K - Santaquin, UT (Confirmed)
05/27: 2024 Run of Remembrance 10K - American Fork,  UT 
06/01: 2024 Utah Valley Half Marathon - Provo, UT (Confirmed)
07/242024 Deseret News Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed
08/17: 2024 PC2PG 10K - Lindon, UT (Confirmed)
09/07: 2024 Cedar City Half Marathon - Cedar City, UT (Confirmed)
09/28: 2024 Witch Run 10K - West Jordan, UT (Confirmed)
10/19: 2024 Haunted Half 5K - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed)
10/26: 2024 Haunted Half 5K - Provo, UT (Confirmed)