Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Big Cottonwood Canyon Half Review

The first part of this post is an overall review of the race for those thinking of running this specific half marathon, and the second part is my personal experience pacing this race.

  Big Cottonwood Half Marathon 2014 Race Review
The Course:  I loved this course. So incredibly beautiful and the fall colors were amazing. It is a downhill course with some steeper sections that you would want to train for (include downhill routes in your training).
The Big Cottonwood website states,
"The half marathon begins at Spruces Campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon and runs straight downhill among the canyon cliffs and alongside Big Cottonwood Creek for nearly 10 miles to the mouth of the canyon.
After exiting the canyon the course is straight, downhill, and fast, without a single turn on the entire course and a continual slope down to the finish. At the mouth of the canyon runners will continue straight onto Fort Union Boulevard and continue due west to the finish line in front of the Cottonwood Heights city offices."
There are some small/short uphills during the last couple of miles that aren't a big deal, but I think it's good to be mentally prepared for them.
Support: This was one of the best supported races I've done. Talk about loaded aid stations! I think the fact that they had Swedish Fish is what really won me over.
They advertised extra port-o-potties along the course, since runners were prohibited from going "potty" in the canyon (disqualification if caught). There may have been extra bathrooms, but there were long lines at every stop. :(
Extras: I think the "extras" are what set this race apart from many of the others. They offer free race pictures, throw away gloves, mylar blankets, as well as loads of free food at the finish line. The drop bag system was efficient and organized. The packet pick up bags were pre-labeled with your bib number, which was super convenient. The race provided pacers for the 1:30, 1:40, 1:50, 2:00, 2:10 and 2:20 finishing times. The shirts are nice looking and they allowed you to switch sizes at packet pick-up. The medals were awesome too, if you're into that kind of thing. ;)
(shirt front)
(shirt back)

Warnings: Traffic! Leave some extra time for getting into the parking garages upon arrival and prepare for a slow exit post race. Also, the race started almost 30 minutes late because buses with runners were still coming up the canyon 20 minutes after the 7am start time. I'm sure they'll address this issue for next years race.
Runners: There were 2552 half marathon finishers and 1527 marathon finishers. The 2 groups start in different places, but the front of the marathon pack catches up to the half marathon runners part way down the canyon. Having the "full" runners fly by was fun and inspiring for me, but I read a few complaints online from the "full" runners that it was hard to navigate their way through the half runners.
Weather/Conditions:  Perfect weather. Cool at the start and no rain/snow.
Bottom Line: This isn't the cheapest half around, but it is definitely a good value. In other words, you get what you pay for. It is a fast and scenic course with all the bells and whistles.

My experience pacing the Big Cottonwood Half
The half marathon buses loaded from 4:45am-5:45am. Aimie (another RYR Pacer) and I made it into one of the parking garages around 5:15am. The lines to get on the buses were long, but moved quickly. I don't know what happened once we left on our bus, but the race started a half hour late because buses with runners were still coming up the canyon well after the designated start time.
The start area was crowed and really dark when we arrived. There were plenty of port-o-potties with the shortest wait times I've ever experienced at the start of a race. 
Here are all 6 of the half marathon pacers. The race only requested one pacer per time slot.
Samantha, Julie, Sonja, Trisha, me and Aimie
Because of the late buses, we weren't able to line up until last minute, and I was quickly realizing that my Garmin wasn't holding a charge. I would turn it on and it would shut off. I tried to do a hard reset, but the battery wouldn't stay on long enough to do it. I started to panic. "How am I going to pace this race without a GPS watch!?" Luckily I had my cell phone and my pace band which told me how long each mile split should take. When I crossed the starting line, I made note that it was 7:27 (and that I should be done at 9:47). I also set a countdown timer for 2:20 and started my timer. Each mile I would check my pace and make adjustments. It was a new method of pacing for me, but I got more comfortable with it as the race went on.
Right away I had some runners with me. Ken was my buddy and honorary co-pacer until like mile 9 when he stopped for a bathroom break (He ended up PRing with a 2:23 finish time! Way to go Ken!!!)
(Notice I'm holding my cell phone. Yep. That's what happens when your watch doesn't work.)

Shortly before Ken separated from me, I picked up Erin. 2:20 would be a huge PR for her and she was hoping to stay with me as long as she could. It was so fun pacing her those last miles. I would check in with her when I could hear her breathing getting out of control. If she started talking about dropping back, I'd say, "We're going to back off until we get to that sign up there so we can focus on getting control of our breathing." We'd get to the sign and then get back to our pace. Watching her work through her physical and mental game was so inspiring, and I got goosebumps and teary eyes as she sprinted the final yards across the finish line, earning a huge new PR!
I love pacing!! 
RYR Pacers at the finish
I came in at 2:20:51 and was pretty bummed that I went over on my time. It was so important to me to nail my 2:20 assignment. Considering I didn't have my GPS, I've come to peace with those darn 51 seconds.  It was a great experience, and I'm so thankful that I'm able to be a pacer!

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