Bryce Canyon Half Marathon 2013: A Journey Through Time

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July 22, 2013 by UtahMan&Wife

On Saturday July 13, 2013 we embarked on our very first Half Marathon experience! Here is the full [completely unabridged and ridiculously long] recap of our journey.

Flash Back

It’s Jan. 1st, 2013. We celebrated the New Year by “running” our first 5K in sub-zero weather. It took us over 42 miserable minutes. We had icicles in our hair and frostbite on our noses. Our blog post that day was titled: Commitment Day: Embracing The Highway To Hell and Other New Year Resolutions.

2013.01.01 cdfinish

You’d think this experience would have discouraged us from ever wanting to “run” again!

Instead, we were crazy enough to think we could actually learn to enjoy this “race thing”, and that we might even be able to improve! So, we made our New Year Commitment right then and there to run one race every month in 2013.

Just 5 days later, we posted our first 2013 race schedule / draft. Many of those races were “tentative” or have since been swapped out (see current 2013 Schedule). Only one of them was already set in stone – meaning, officially registered and paid for.

It was a Half Marathon. The Bryce Canyon Half Marathon , to be exact.

Yep. We could hardly manage to stumble through 3 miles, and now four days later the very first race we were choosing to pay for the chance to run was over 13 miles long!

What were we thinking? I don’t know. “Live Large and Dream Big, Baby!”

[most likely we were suffering from hypothermia-induced delusions of grandeur]

We still had plenty of time to change our minds and talk ourselves out of it…that is, until a TV crew invaded our house and UtahWife spilled the proverbial beans by announcing to the “whole world” (as in anyone anywhere who might actually watch the show or find the clip online) that “our first Half Marathon is in July!” 

2013.01.11_KSL Screenshot3

The deal was sealed. No matter how many adjustments we would be making to our 2013 schedule, one thing was for certain. We were definitely going to be attempting a Half Marathon in July (This Half Marathon!)

Flash Forward

It’s Friday July 12, 2013. So far we had:

Bottom line, we were as ready as we were going to be. But, would it be enough? That was the big looming question!

Ready or Not, HERE WE COME!

Bryce-Canyon-Your-DestinationYou would think that after all of those months of training and preparing for the Bryce Canyon Half Marathon we would have known exactly where Bryce Canyon is.

But, if you thought that, you would be wrong.

More specifically, you would think that we’d know how long it takes to drive there!

But, if you thought that, you would be wrong again.

The truth is, we thought it would only take a couple of hours. (yes, I know…) On Friday afternoon, a Google Map set us straight.

Per Google Map from our house it is "276.50 miles / 4 hours 23 minutes"

Google Map reveals that from our house, Bryce Canyon is “276.50 miles OR 4 hours 23 minutes”

The result of our many months of ignorant bliss is that (before our consult with Google) we were enjoying a leisurely morning off work. We slept in. We made breakfast. We lounged around and generally took our sweet time thinking about what to pack. Wife had to go get a manicure (because having perfectly polished digits & piggies is a critical element of her pre-race routine). Then she needed to “finish up some shopping” – which meant trying on everything in her size hanging on the TARGET active wear sale rack to find the “perfect” new race outfit (which btw she found, purchased, packed, and then promptly changed her mind on race day and wore something else).

We finally packed up the car and were ready to go!

Then, he ran back in the house to get more water bottles, she ran back in to get the cell phone charger, and we both ran back in to use the restroom one last time.

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” – Winston Churchill

(I have no idea what this means, but it sounds cool)

The Trek

In the end, we didn’t actually reach the highway until after 2:00 PM. Possibly later. Meanwhile, Wife’s brother Matthew was expecting us to arrive at the campground by 5:00 PM (we were bringing half the dinner ingredients) But, never fear, Wife was driving! This meant we would be making up for lost time just fine! 😉

The weather was not cooperating.

We would be driving in full-sun one moment and then suddenly giant bucket-loads of water would be slamming our car and the windshield wipers would have to be set to ramming-speed just for us to see a few feet ahead. Then five minutes later, we’d be in full sun again!

2013.07.12.weather

Mother Nature’s chemically unbalanced episodes continued all the way through the Salt Lake Valley and on down through Utah Valley. It appeared to be clearing up just as we passed the City of Payson where we could finally enjoy going 80 mph (legally). A few miles later, one of those freak cloudbursts hit us again. This happened just as we were taking a curve on I-15 after the last Nephi exit. Three car lengths ahead of us a truck pulling a large industrial trailer was travelling in the far left lane. Suddenly, it drove off the road into the steep median ditch. But, we guess it must have immediately over-corrected because what we saw next was a tremendous pillar of dust swallowing up the truck and trailer and transforming it into a giant inverted Tornado flying across the highway from East to West directly in front of us! We watched the trailer-tornado do a spiral, a pirouette, and a back-flip as we were scrambling to find and press our emergency flasher button and quickly pull over to a complete stop on the shoulder.

dust-devil-cloud-simulation-photo

As the dust-mushroom-cloud slowly began to settle we could see the outline of the truck on the far right shoulder of the road in front of us, and it had (shockingly) landed upright on the ground! Even more miraculously, with at least 8 or 9 other automobiles all travelling on that particular stretch of south-bound freeway at exactly that same moment in time, NOT ONE was driving in the two lanes next to that truck when it decided to perform it’s Tasmanian devil impersonation. Every car on the road – including us – for some reason “just happened” to be driving a few feet behind.

Coincidence? … I THINK NOT!! (name the movie)

2013 car crash.1

Of course, everyone immediately pulled over and stopped. A few people in the two closest vehicles jumped out and ran toward the truck to help the occupant(s). The remainder of us fellow travelers awkwardly sat gawking and waiting to see what would happen next. We feared that after such a dramatic crash there could be some bad injuries – or even worse! The door to the truck was initially pinned shut by a metal mile marker – but after being quickly pried away by a good Samaritan, the driver stepped out. At that point, there was a huge collective sigh of relief. Although shaken and a bit disoriented, it appeared the driver was going to be just fine. (His trailer, not so much.)

There’s certainly nothing more sobering than realizing you were “just milliseconds” away from death or dismemberment. This event was a solemn reminder of how fragile life is. One moment you can be perfectly fine, cheerfully zipping down the highway of life and the next moment you could be laying in pieces all over.

Was this an omen of things to come, or had our weekend now been “pre-disastered”?

The next 30 minutes there was a pretty subdued atmosphere inside our car. We finally decided to crank up the volume on one of our fave Sirius Radio stations (“The Bridge”) and sing along at the top of our lungs to some classic rock. Yep, we saw an accident but…Everyone was OK! Whoo Hoo! Let’s celebrate the fact that we are alive, and seize the day!

After driving south on I-15 for 210 miles, we finally reached UT Highway 20 (Exit 95). We now headed East toward US-89 which would then take us through Panguitch, Utah and on to Bryce Canyon. UT-20 is your basic 2-lane road. Once in awhile a third “passing lane” appears allowing the chance to pass the RV or horse trailer that had held us hostage to glacial speeds for the past 10 miles. But, for the most part, the “speedy” part of our trip was over. We had to just learn to slow down and enjoy the ride. Although we hadn’t reached the stunning red rocks of Bryce yet, the scenery was already beginning to improve. At the crossroads of UT-20 and Hwy 89 we saw a really nice memorial for two fallen Highway Troopers. That put a lump back in our throats for a while.

Highway-20

We finally reached the thriving metropolis of Panguitch, Utah (population 1500). It’s pure, classic hometown Americana. Definitely not to be missed. Of course, you definitely do NOT want to miss it if you actually want to go to Bryce Canyon State Park since it is the gateway! 🙂

Panguitch utah collage

Side Note: There is a small but adequate grocery store (emphasis on small) located at the one 4-way stop in town. This may be your last chance to find any real food stuff, produce, or other meaningful supplies (especially for a reasonable price). We recommend stopping!

From Panguitch you head south-east on Hwy 89 for 7 miles, and then turn left onto UT-12, also known as “A Journey Through Time Byway”. Our car’s “GPS Godess” kept trying to include the entire title of the scenic route in every navigation prompt. (Her syllables were all run together into one long word and it made us chuckle) This was it. The final 13 miles of our journey – and they were truly stunning miles!

Since we had no time to stop and take proper photos, here are some of the least blurry images captured through our car windows while we took our “journey through time”.

UT-12-a-journey-through-time-scenic-byway

Making Camp

We arrived at our final destination in 5 hours 15 minutes (5 hours from SLC, for anyone planning to take that route next year). With all the crazy weather and flying trailers-of-death we encountered, I guess that was pretty good. We joined Wife’s brother Matthew & SIL Sarah (with their two children and doggie) at their RV campsite at Ruby’s Inn RV Campground. We also met their cool friends Bernard (tent-camping with his 3 children), and Donna (trailer camping with her grandson). Bernard, Donna and some of the kids planned to run the 5K.

2013-Rubys-Inn-RV-Park

What a lovely place! There were so many big pine trees and it provided nice facilities. There are large clean restroom facilities with hot private showers available. A very nice swimming pool with a large hot tub was nearby to enjoy. There was a laundry room, and a small country store. The campground offers free “train” rides around the campground for the kids and there are free shuttles to and from the State Park’s hiking trails. Ruby’s campground has several basic sites for tent camping, but they really specialize in their RV parking which provides Full Power and Hookups. All camp sites have a picnic table and a fire-pit. We stayed in a spot near the front entrance with easy access to everything, and plenty of shade.

Ruby’s campground is about a quarter mile south of the main Ruby’s Inn Hotel, which is about 1/2 a mile south from the race starting line. So, for those planning to camp for the race, leave some time to walk/jog about 3/4 mile to the starting line (makes a good little warm-up).

We took time to chop up all the ingredients we brought with us and prep everything for our big pre-race feast. This included: homemade Salsa & Guacamole dip (served with blue and sweet-potato Chips), a fresh jicama lime salad, and for the main attraction, Matthew’s “Sweet Potato Stew”. We put all of the ingredients for the stew in a big pot and left it to simmer for an hour or so while we piled everyone into a couple of cars and drove to Cannonville to pick up our race packets.

2013.07.12.dinner

When we drove from Ruby’s Inn to Cannonville we were actually driving the Half Marathon race route. So, we tried to capture some photos as we drove along (most were a blurry mess). The scenery and topography was amazing, and varied! Wife was relieved to see that the 8% grade was not quite as death-defying steep as she had envisioned. It was steep, but doable.

We noticed that the last 5 miles of the race had some small rolling hills. In a car they didn’t look like much, but we knew by the end of a long run we would be feeling those!

Packet Pickup

The packet pickup in Cannonville is easy to find (there isn’t much there. You can’t miss it!) Our packets and T-Shirts were located inside a community building across from the city park where live music was being performed in a bowery. This is also where the race sponsored dinner was happening. While Sarah, Bernard and the kids played on the park’s merry-go-round, Matt & UMan practiced “positive visualization skills” by crossing the finish line a few times.

The Packet Pick-Up Collage

The Packet Pick-Up Collage – Cick to enlarge

Tip: Kids + a winding car ride + spinning on a park merry-go-round for 15 minutes = someone’s going to puke.

Just sayin’.

Race Eve

We returned to camp to the lovely aroma of our stew! We enjoyed a hearty meal, and then had fun sitting around our campfire as the sun set behind the trees. The kids made S’mores and went exploring, the adults told stories and we all had fun laughing and relaxing in the great outdoors. Wife got the chance to connect with one of her best-est friends, Jess. Fifteen years ago, the two of them used to run every morning together and they did races together, too (including four full Marathons).

Jess & UtahWife (with 13 week old baby "Jr")

Jess & UtahWife (with 13 week old baby “Jr”)

Life comes at you fast and has a way of changing everything! 15 years later Jess now has 5 children spanning from ages 19 to 13 weeks. (and yes, she was running the Half while her MIL waited with the baby in Cannonville). Runners! They’re crazy people.

THE ENDLESS NIGHT

Eventually we all settled into our respective tents and RVs. It was time to sleep.

NOT.

We tried! We managed a good solid 2 hours. Then the dog woke up whining she needed to go out. After that, the two of us never really got to sleep again. Actually, UtahMan did doze on and off for the next 2 hrs but Wife definitely did NOT sleep! We tried pretending to go back to sleep hoping we could fake our bodies into actually falling asleep. It didn’t work. Our mattress was as hard as a rock. Our backs were aching, and there were all these animal noises outside. Yes, seriously! We kept hearing this loud animal moaning noise in the distance that we decided had to be an Elk. I imagined wild Elk attacking the RV and pushing it over with their big antlers…“This is OUR forest, humanoids! You don’t belong here!”

Just when the “Elk beasts” quieted down, a cricket on steroids outside our window started going nuts! The problem with laying in bed late at night wanting to sleep but not being able to sleep on the eve of a really important race is that soon the imagination gets out of control. All kind of worries and potential worst-case scenarios started cropping up. It was basically the longest night of our lives. What can I say? We could all-too-easily blame it on choosing to camp. But, the truth is that even if we had stayed in the most expensive hotel room available, we probably would not have slept much better. Overall, I think we were experiencing pre-race jitters something fierce.

This Is It!

FINALLY, 4:30 am arrived! (I’ve never felt so excited to be able to get up at 4:30 am) We both sat up so fast we forgot we were sleeping above the camper cab and we whacked our heads. (we laughed). The race didn’t start until 6 am, but Matt was giving a 4:30 am wake up call to Bernard & Donna and the gang. They actually had to leave long before the Half runners in order to get down out of the canyon before the Half started. Their bus was leaving at 5 am. (they missed the bus and had to rush in order to be able to drive down the canyon before it was closed down).

Breakfast?: We still haven’t figured out what our “breakfast of champions” is for race day. We’re open to any ideas and tips on this subject. We figured that eating solids would not help our stomachs, so currently we opt for drinking a protein shake. Our longest run so far was 10 miles, and we had not had any problems with the protein shake. Matthew & Sarah choose to always eat oatmeal. Go figure. Personally, we can’t imagine doing that! For us, that kind of fiber would get things moving much too fast (if you know what I mean).

Wife Tells The Rest Of The Story

Saturday July 13, 2013. I packed a full change of race gear, my flip flops and my compression socks into the yellow drop bag provided in our packets (I was so glad later on that I did this). It was still dark as we made our way to the race start so we took a small flashlight with us and then I added it to my race sack before handing it off to the UPS Truck parked near the starting line.

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Race Start

Click to enlarge

There were plenty of porta-potty’s available to use. Some bonfires were going for runners to circle around in order to warm up. Apparently in past years it’s been pretty cold at start time, but it was not cold this day (a big tip-off that it was going to be get really warm later on). As the sky began to show a pink glow on the horizon the runners began to line up. There appeared to be a very nice crowd. I think nearly 1,000? The race provided pacers carrying neon signs with the times, so it was easy to locate one. We decided to stand near 2:15 and think positive.

The Mystery Of The Elk-Beast: While walking to the starting line we heard that “wild-beast” noise again, and it was close by! Upon inspection we discovered it was coming from a very large and angry bull fenced inside a cow pen just north of Ruby’s Inn. So much for our “wild animal” encounter. (Curse you, stupid bovine!) 😛

At 5:55 am prompt, race organizers were raised up in a fork lift thing above the starting line, and after a few encouraging shout-outs through the megaphone, began the race with a gunshot. And we were off!

The first 1.5 is a very slight incline as you make your way North to “The Journey Through Time Scenic Byway” and then head due East. Police had already stopped all traffic and we were free to fly along (HUGE shout-out to all the law enforcement folk. They did such a fantastic job shuttling cars in small batches along one side of the road throughout the race! We didn’t have to contend with any cars at all for about the first 20-25 minutes of the race, which meant we could really spread out and take the slope in the middle of the road if we liked to avoid roach arch. The course was FAST! I left the 2:15 pacer behind and caught up and passed 2:10 and then 2:05. This was livin’! While UtahMan opted for his run-walk style, my goal was to fly like the wind and pick up as much time as possible for later (this worked for me). The canyon and downhill portion was really beautiful. There were 2 porta-pottys provided about every mile. Water / Gatorade stops appeared by mile 3 (I think?) and then every 2 miles afterward until the end when it was every mile. It was all very organized. The volunteers were super friendly and encouraging. It was heartwarming to see so many young people (even very small kids) handing out water and cheering us along.

(Way to go, people of Garfield County! You’re the best!)

I was focusing on finishing this race with my best possible time, so I avoided stopping to take any photos. I have a small handful. There were certainly a ton of great photo ops along the way, not only of scenery but of people. For example, I wish I had a photo of the lady who kept driving ahead, pulling her car over from time to time and standing outside her car holding up handmade signs. At about mile 9 she was holding a large sign high above her head which read “KEEP RUNNING, MY ARMS ARE GETTING TIRED!!” (thanks random lady for making me smile, and keep running!)

As others have blogged, each mile marker on this course is a unique orange metal sign with a different carving of a runner. They are really cool, and make it very easy to see where you are. (notice I didn’t take time to snap a couple shots of them until I was reaching the end)

2013.07.14 Bryce Canyon Half Mile Markers

When you reach approx. mile 5 it’s the end of your decent and the beginning of a gradual rolling hill type course (you are still technically descending in altitude, but the actual road is a bit up and down and not flat). The small town of TROPIC came out in force cheering and blaring music. There’s a pizza place providing a rest-stop here and a water stop. It was definitely starting to warm up, but I was making good time. My mind felt like walking but I was motivated to keep going thanks to the crowd (thank you, cool ‘Tropical’ people!) I had been struggling with some stomach distress for about 3 miles. By now I really needed a porta-potty, STAT. I’d been waiting to see if all the cramping would pass, but apparently not. The first loo I found I had to wait in line for (in hind sight, I should have opted for a potty during the downhill part because there weren’t any lines then and it would have been easier to catch up my time) It was causing me anxiety to have to stop, because I didn’t want to lose time. I ended up having a major case of “the runs” (sorry, TMI!) but, I discovered too late that my particular John had NO Toilet paper! Zip. In fact, there wasn’t even a rack inside to hang TP on, so I suspect it never had any. Ugh. This is the only ‘complaint’ I can lodge for this race experience. (Dear Race folk – PLEASE make sure all of your ‘portables’ are well stocked with TP! Thank you!) Needless to say, this is one of the major reasons I was grateful to have sent a change of clothing to the finish line (‘nuf said).

When I reached MILE 10, I did stop to revel for 15 seconds in the moment. Two cute fellow racer girls in long striped socks took my photo and cheered for me when I shared that this was as far as I had ever come, so everything from here on was going to be a PR. 🙂

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Mile 10

It was getting really warm. But, I was still making fantastic time so I just kept going and tried very hard not to walk. The last bit there were water stops at every mile which were much appreciated. I have to give another shout out to all of the awesome volunteers. I finally figured out that each stop had chosen some sort of a theme. I wish that I had taken photos of the pioneer themed one with a lady wearing a pioneer dress & bonnet, balloons on the table, and a small girl playing her violin for us (big high five to that talented young lady! Keep Playing, sweetie!!) That was way cool. The next stop after that was a totally rad Star Wars Theme. This was our final watering hole. (Seriously cool signs, folks!) I felt the FORCE with me as I mentally powered myself up and through the final stretch.

2013.07.13 MILE 12

I was feeling really hot now (in the sweaty unsexy way), and I was starting to feel really tired. I was doing the mental battle to keep moving. There was this really old guy running in front of me (sorry, “senior gentleman”) He definitely had to be the most ‘life experienced’ participant in the pack. I kept thinking to myself “Dang! I gotta at least pass that guy!” (Nope. I never could pass him. The guy was a machine. He is now my new running idol) I was starting to see people wearing race medals walking back along the course to root for friends and family. I wanted one of those things around my neck – Now! “Keep running!” 2013.07.14 flyingI took the corner past the KOA and knew there was only about .1 or .2 left. I could do this! Two girls were gaining on me and getting ready to pass me. That was the final straw. NO. WAY! I was not letting another person pass me up after running this far for this long! I don’t know where this huge surge of energy suddenly came from but I just took off and sprinted full-out to the end! I felt like I was flying and my feet weren’t even touching the ground! Maybe they really weren’t! (see photo)

It was totally awesome. As you may recall, my goal was simply to beat 2:30. I thought if I was having a great day and luck was on my side, I might even be able to come in 2:20. I was stunned and emotional when I saw my finish time.

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Finish

2:12:32

*angel chorus singing* A miracle just happened.

[NOTE: Big Shout-out to Zazoosh for taking killer race photos. We are purchasing several]

UtahMan Chimes In

Wife said it all. Here’s my two cents anyway:

I started out fast and maintained a pretty fast pace through the first 5-6 miles—it didn’t hurt to have that 8% downhill grade—but I started slowing down after that.   I was still run/walking  at a pretty good pace for the next few miles. I really enjoyed running through the town of Tropic with music playing and probably the entire town lining the streets shouting encouragement. Somewhere between mile 10 and 11 I experienced some major muscle cramps in my quads and I had to slow and finally stop to stretch. After that I could continue at a constant run/walk pace.  It was really starting to feel hot around mile 12 and I was starting to fade. But, as I came into Cannonville, UT – there were people lining the streets cheering and I was able to sprint the last 200 yards to the finish line, passing several people I had been leapfrogging most of the race. *grin*

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Finish UtahMan

2:25:18

As I crossed the finish line, I paid dearly for my sprint as my quad muscles tightened up to the point I could hardly stand, let alone walk. I was able to slooowwwly limp it out. (I felt a lot better once we took the school-bus shuttle back to camp and was able to enjoy a long swim in the cold pool and a soak in the hot tub).

I’m happy with my time of 2:25 because that included several minutes of bathroom breaks. So, I know I can probably beat that time (and Wife) fairly soon in the future. 😉

All in all, it was a great day for a race – cool at the start – didn’t have direct sun until about mile 6 and it never got unbearably hot; though it helped that I did hydrate at every aid station and also took advantage of the one “mister” that was set up in Tropic (I’d like to see a couple more misters toward miles 11 and 12 if possible).

This was by far the farthest distance I have ever run (by more than 3.5 miles!) It’s pretty amazing to be able to say now that I’ve run a Half Marathon. 🙂

Grand Finale

It’s time for this novel to end. In summary, we’ve come a long way, baby – and was an awesome race experience! It met and exceeded all of our expectations. We agree with the race promoters this is both a ‘beautiful’ and ‘fast’ course. The volunteers are awesome. The police/highway patrol force are awesome (they did a really tremendous job of managing safe traffic control). Our event organizers should feel very proud of their 10-year Anniversary Race. They get a high five from us. We will definitely come back and do this race again. (the jury is still out on whether we will brave the economical camping thing again, or opt to splurge on a hotel room)

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Group Photo

Post Script:

RACE RESULT SHOUT-OUTS:

To Matthew & Sarah for their awesome Half finish times (see photo)!

To Wife’s friend Jess who finished in 2:08:53 as a nursing mom of a 13-week-old baby! And, to her hubby Drew who blew us all out of the water with a time of 1:20:48 winning 5th Place Overall (including a trophy & cash prize and everything)! We shall bask in the glow of his greatness.

We also congratulate our new friends Bernard who won 1st Place in his 5K age division and Donna who took 3rd Place in her 5K age division! Their kids had lots of fun, and everyone got a medal.

It was certainly a “great day at the races”! We feel truly blessed for such a successful and memorable first Half-Marathon experience. – UM&W

2013.07.13 Bryce Canyon Half Group Photo2

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