This year, the race director also added a full marathon to the day's events. I didn't think about it too much since I was only going to pace the half, but by the day's end, I had some pretty strong feelings about it.
Let's back up. We were asked to assist at packet pick so, I went down - found that I hadn't been registered yet, so took care of that, got my bag and shirt and then volunteered my help. It was running very smoothly, they had plenty of volunteers so other than just hang out for a little bit watching, talking to the RD and a few other pacers it was totally uneventful. Kudos for the improvement! After meeting a few other pacers for a quick carb load dinner, I was home and bedding down.
Based on the weather and looking at the timing of the buses and the start - I knew it was going to be a very cold morning of just standing around. I dressed in THREE layers. I donned every warm piece of running clothes I had - there was no way I was gonna be cold!
Car pooled down with my pacer girls Kimberly and Chris. Met up with the others and then started the waiting. First it was waiting in line for a bus. Apparently buses had to go up, drop off runners and then come back for another load. Oh my gosh it was chilly, but we were all chatting and it made the time go by fast.
Finally onto a nice warm bus, some more chit chat on the way up and arriving at the start line and corral tent. Once in the tent, I got separated from most everyone I knew. I looked around for other pacers and friends/family that I knew were running but couldn't find anyone for a little bit.
Made my way to the other end of the tent where a stage was set up with some speakers. Found some pacers and decided I was going to sit and get off my feet. Seemed like a good idea since others were sitting near by, but within a couple of minutes, someone came by and asked us to stand up and to please not sit. Wha?? We are two hours away from gun time and you want us to just stand around?
They did have a costume contest - that was fun to watch and there are so many creative people out there! In fact, if you love Halloween, THIS is the race to do for the holiday! I enjoyed looking around and seeing all the great ideas people had for costumes. I started to move around just to keep moving and ended up finding almost everyone I wanted to at the start!
They did the start in a wave fashion with three waves. This was so that UHP could assist in getting runners across a busy highway. Runners were cautioned to leave with the correct wave otherwise they could be held up for 15 minutes at the highway and that time would not be deducted from their race time. Even with this warning, I could hear people saying they were just going to go when they wanted to. The common phrase was "It's too cold, I would rather just get going" Since I was sweeping, I did the usual wait around until everyone else has left. I made sure the tent and bathrooms were clear before taking off. Hit my garmin right at the start line and eased into a nice warming trot.
Within a minute or two I was with other people. All women walking quite quickly. The ones nearest me all had a friend that they were chatting with, so rather than bogart into anyone's girl time, I kept a few feet back, listened to my tunes, enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the canyon and tried to convince myself that I wasn't cold.
As a group, we made it to the highway and after crossing (hat tip to Utah Highway Patrol), we were alongside the highway and I was choosing to walk in the berm rather than the concrete of the road. And it was walking. A fast walk, but a walk nonetheless. Part of me wanted to just open the throttle and run if for no other reason than to warm up, but when you're the sweeper, it's not your choice. Your pace is determined by those you are helping in.
I had expected an aid station and some mile markers but didn't see anything until mile 4. I hit the porta potties and took my sweet time blowing my nose, adjusting my three layers of clothes and cursing myself again for forgetting my cell phone. When I came out, I asked the UHP car if the other bathrooms were clear and if he was our shadow down the canyon. I sincerely apologized for the fact that he had to stare at my sorry arse the whole time.
I looked ahead and let go. Running!! YAY! For a few yards until I caught back up. I settled back into my quiet spot at the back and just watched the walkers trying to see/gauge/predict how I thought it would end up.
Once off the highway (wish I could tell you what mile marker - didn't see one), we were on a nice trail that was truly stunningly beautiful. Ya'll know how I feel about Autumn, but I concede, this was beautiful! Autumn leaves on the ground, a little bit of snow and to the left - Bridal Veil falls.....so incredibly beautiful!
At this point, I was walking with a cute little lady named Susie whose costume was a bumble bee. She served in the Navy and now works at the local VA hospital. She was SO COOL! I loved her stories, hearing about her career and celebrating her weight loss success and her return to running. She has done several half's and even Dublin full (yes that's Dublin IRELAND) and had been out of the gig for awhile. Knowing how that felt - it was nice to share stories.
Eventually we caught up to a pair of women (mother and daughter). The four of us walked together for a bit on the out-and-back portion of the course. Mother - Kate was struggling a little bit so they had slowed down quite a bit. Susie felt good and wanted to push herself harder so off she went and I started chatting with Kate and her daughter Amanda.
This is truly the best part of pacing. The people I get to meet. This was the first half marathon for both of them, and the first event of any kind for Kate. In fact, she lives in CO and came here to do this one specifically. She has lost a significant amount of weight, been walking quite a bit and wanted to prove to herself she could do it. They were dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf and they were cute. By this time though, some of the costume had been shed and Kate was starting to feel quite a bit of hip pain.
We talked as she hobbled along. Amanda is a Navy veteran and it was very clear how proud her mother was of her and her service. We shared a lot of stories and it made the time go by and for me to kinda forget how cold I was, but I watched Kate's limp get worse and worse. I usually carry some ibuprofen (with my phone and fuel) but since I was so off my game in packing that all I ended up with was some Swedish Fish and some lipbalm. I was anxiously watching for the next aid station. We did stop and try some stretches but she was hurting.
On most race courses, especially ones that have full marathoner's on it, there are first aid items. Bandaid's, vaseline, ibuprofen in addition to water, gatorade and fuel. These guys didn't. Nada. Nothing. I asked if ANYONE had anything and a volunteer mentioned that she had some ibuprofen on her and that she would share. I thanked her, gave it to Kate hoping she had something on her stomach so it wouldn't bother her and on we went.
We were still on the trail and as we moved forward I was really hoping her hip would hold out. At one point her daughter said, "Don't worry Mom, I'll get you a finishers medal if I have to sneak an extra one." Wha? I had no idea she was contemplating not finishing....that's when I spoke up and told her that she would earn her own medal - even if I had to carry her.
It was starting to warm up a little bit and for the past several miles we were having the marathoners pass us. Fun to say hi to my pacer friends, but I got fairly concerned when one gentleman stopped and begged for fuel. He was asking if I had ANYTHING to share. Apparently there had only been one water station that had some fruit, other than that there was no fuel offered and they had run out of gatorade. Now remember, we had all been sitting at the tents since 6:30am or earlier. The race started at 9:00am so unless you had packed a lunch, your body would be screaming for calories. Especially those working hard by actually running. I gave him my bag of Swedish Fish and asked if he was okay. He said he was, and kept going while gobbling down the candy.
Not long after that another marathoner came by and asked if we had anything to eat that we could share. Any fuel at all. Sadly, we had nothing. I felt terrible sending her on her way and hoped that she would be able to push through or that at a future water station there would be something for her to put in her body.
That's when I started to really think about the race. The ibuprofen had kicked in and Kate's hip was feeling better so we had a nice quick walk going. But while we chatted, I was batting around thoughts in the back of my head. Where were the aid stations or medical help? We were on a trail. If a runner went down - who would be around to assist? I had forgotten my cell phone so unless someone else carried theirs and happened by, we were screwed. What if Kate's hip really did fail her and she could no longer walk? How was anyone supposed to get to her or for someone to get help? Usually at this point in marathons (and we were sharing the marathon course at this point), there is a sag wagon for those that physically cannot go on. Injuries, sickness anything like it that would prevent a runner from completing requires some aid to get off the course and to the finish line. Where was the aid? Not even a medic on a bike was there. I grew pretty frustrated knowing that runners were now at risk. No fuel, no gatorade, no medic, no sag. It made me extremely happy that I had backed out of sweeping the full and stuck with the half.
We toddled along and at the last water station we passed, there were two young girls sitting in the middle of the trail playing a game. Water cups were on the table (some empty) and that was it. It was now mile 11 or so (my garmin died and very sporadic mile markers) and surely if a half marathoner is ready for a little fuel, I can only imagine how a full marathoner would be feeling at this point.
However, I kept my thoughts to myself. My job as a pacer is not to critique the race, the course or the event but to focus on the runners/walkers I'm with and what they need. They don't need negative energy, they need positive, uplifting and a cheerful chi. I pointed out how close we were to finishing. Asked how they were feeling. Talked about the fact that once she had finished, she had DONE it! Amanda was pretty well self motivated but Kate was the one that I was mostly encouraging. Amanda walked a bit ahead of us, so it ended up being Kate and I talking the last couple of miles.
As we turned the last corner and could see the finish line, Amanda slowed up for her mom so they could cross together, and I slowed up so that I was back to being a few feet behind them. I didn't want to be too far behind because I wanted to see their faces! Gosh I wish I would have had my camera!! GAH! I took some pictures of Kate and Amanda on Kate's phone, gave each of them a hug and thanked them for the privilege of being a part of their experience and then I was of in search of some food.
I found a table with oranges and halved banana's. I looked around for more. Nope. This was it. Quite disappointing. Usually most finish lines have actual food. I chalked it up to the fact that we were the tail end and that there was probably food earlier but since the event organizers were now kind of taking things down, I assumed everything else was gone.
I met up with a few pacers that had done the full course. I heard it beat them up pretty bad and that it was brutal. Each and every one of them though, had great respect for it. I love that. Get blindsided with a beast of a course and they all rise to the occasion and not only tackle it, but leave it with a calling card for a rematch!
I easily found mine and my friends drop bags and gathered everything together to wait for them to come in. I started to run backwards thinking I would catch them and help sweep them in. Then I remembered the lack of calories in my body and decided it would be unwise even though my legs felt good, I didn't have enough in the tank.
Finally, I saw them each cross with their respective groups. Chris ended up making her pace the sweep pace and they both had great groups of runners with them. Again, there is nothing like seeing the face of someone complete such a challenge for the first time. It's really something that's hard to put into words. The emotions, the pride, the tears that threaten.
Some picture taking, chit chatting and then found the last bus waiting to take us back to our cars. One more picture. These are the marathoners that Chris and Kimberly paced in.
Us girls loaded up, stopped for some food on the way home and discussed each other's experiences. We all seemed to agree that this was definitely not the best run event, but it was worth it for the people. Hoping that we were all positive enough to keep the runners/walkers we had today willing to do another race. Too often a negative first race is enough to sour someone and they won't try again. Hoping that didn't happen to anyone with this event.
After some online chatting about it with some other pacers, I decided I needed some outside perspective from runners not involved with pacing. Runners who were new to the sport and had a race or two under their belts and experienced racers that have run many events and can objectively compare to post with my review. As always there are good and bad with every event organization (except for St George Marathon and I have yet to experience anything from the organizers end that I would say needed improvement. They are the model to follow)
My own feelings: Packet pick up was a breeze. I saw no lines, very well organized and people were in and out in a matter of minutes. The expo was kinda lame but that's okay. Not a biggie in my book.
Bus loading was okay. By the time we got there, a formed line was in place and other than waiting in the cold for a bus to come back, it seemed fairly organized. The bus ride was warm and the buses were great. Waiting in the tent left much to be desired. I didn't see any heaters so it was still cold, but the packed bodies created some element of warmth. Unless you were right up by the stage, you probably couldn't see the costume contest or hear what was going on. Being asked not to sit was not cool. I still have yet to figure out why we had to be there so early to simply wait for over 2 hours.
The wave system seemed to work fine. I see it as a necessary evil for the sheer fact of the highway assistance and am more than grateful that we had it and weren't left on our own to try and cross. Props for making sure we had that. The course itself was beautiful. The only struggle with it was the out and back portion. Those are killers mentally and the road was steeply pitched making it hard on the legs.
The course support is what I find most disappointing. I should say, the lack therof. To offer a full marathon course but have no fuel? What in the world? No sag support? No medical? Not even gatorade at critical mile points? I find that downright dangerous for a runner. The volunteers themselves were FANTASTIC! Very encouraging and the one lady even offering an ibuprofen from her personal stash and apologizing that there wasn't anything else there. The mile markers were sporadic and when checked against my garmin wrong. Once my garmin died, I had to rely on asking passing marathoners what mileage they were at so we could figure out where we were. The finish line was a little disappointing. Didn't see a clock (might have been one earlier), and the medals are meh. I have other half marathon medals that far outshine this one. The tech shirt is VERY cool, it's a little small, but since I don't usually wear mine often, I won't complain. It's very cool looking. I was a little disappointed in the RD at the finish line. A runner had approached me and another pacer with a question on time and placing. We didn't have the answer or the finish list to find it, so I called him over and posed the question. He mumbled about finding the women's sheet and then answered his phone while walking off. The woman stood there for a few more minutes. Asked if the pacers counted in the podium finish and then after waiting with no answers, let us know in very unhappy tones that, "we needed to be better organized and that pacers shouldn't count!"
I didn't know what to say, nor did my pacer pal so we stayed quiet. We didn't have anything to do with the race event at all. We simply were providing a service. I know SHE didn't know that, but still all I did think was she was a stellar example to her young daughter who was there holding her hand during her frustrated tirade.
Overall? I'll give my final wrap up, but I don't want anyone to take my word for it. Here are the reviews of others (I will keep them anonymous. If they choose to "out" themselves they can in the comments section, or if you ran it and want to add your review, please do so in the comments). These are from fairly new runners, experienced racers, pacers and long time marathoners.
Runner 1: As for my opinions on the race, my overall thoughts were that it was ok. Keep in mind that I haven't done very many races so i really only have TOU to compare it to. We went the night before to pick up our packets and we didn't get there until 8:30pm. All the vendors had already packed up and left. We walked right up got our packets and were on our way in less than 10 minutes. In the morning when we got to the mall the bus loading was a little confusing. There wasn't a line,everybody just ran to a bus and if it was too crowded they hurried and ran to the next one. But we got in one and headed up the canyon. I was a little discouraged when the bus dropped us off a good half mile away and we had to walk up that steep hill in the pitch black to the tent. Then the part I really didn't like was the waiting. We got to the tent at 6:30am and then had to sit in the cold for almost 3 hours. We were able to find a little spot to sit but we couldn't hear a single thing that was going on at the stage. They should have had speakers in the back of the tent too. I felt like there wasn't a lot if communication we just followed the crowd. I never did see a race worker at all until the first water station. Which i wish the first water station was a little sooner. I thought the spacing of the other stations were good. I did really enjoy seeing everybody dressed up. It made for great people watching. The run itself was gorgeous. The canyon was beautiful. I struggled with the course a little bit. Because the start was so steep I felt like I never really adjusted when it flattened out and I found it difficult to find my stride. Overall my favorite part were the other runners and the beautiful scenery. The worst part by far was the waiting in the crowded tent for 3 hours. Again I'm new at this so I don't have a lot to compare it to but I don't think I would run it again. I liked TOU better. Hope this helps.
Runner 2: This is my 4th Halloween Half. I have seen alot of good changes..The biggest and pleasant change has been the packet pick up..Last year was the WORST! I think we waited in line at least 2 hours. It was awful. The loading of the bus was all good...BUT...I have been on 3 buses that have gotten us lost. I usually have to run down to the tent...this year it was up hill quite a ways. It was so cold. In my head I said that this will be my last Halloween Half...I HATE being cold...yesterday was miserable. I liked having the wave...I was in wave 2. At first I wasn't sure I would like it, but I did. It made the starting line less congested. I have always loved the course...there was a little change in the course...little steep...not bad...I only saw 3 mile markers!...I'm sure they were out but I didn't see them...I hated that..Course support...I never stop for water or potty breaks...but they were all good about offering me water and/or gatorade. The finish line at the park was LONG. I really don't remember it being that long last year...It was hard..but probably because was so ready to be DONE!..In the tent I felt like there were less heaters than last year. I really think that with the size of the race...they really do a good job. If I have to pick one improvement from last year...it would the packet pick up! definitely!
Runner 3: I don't mind a challenging course, but don't make it even more challenging with jokes of aid
stations. There was only one aid station that had anything to eat, and none had gels. The two guys
running with us at or around 3:30 both bonked and DNFd at mile 22.
Runner 4: Knowing my husband I greatly appreciate knowing that there is medical care available,
but didn't have that reassurance here. I, on the other hand, would have been grateful for a band-aid
for a bleeding, broken blister at any of the, oh 3 aid stations. Even little things like volunteers that
cheer, or let you know if they had water or gatorade in the cups they hand out. But what I saw was
kids sitting down not paying attention to anything as I looked inside cups on the table to find out
what was available. I know I CAN do it myself but I LOVE when they take the effort to help me out.
Runner 5: I know I usually have something funny to add but, this was a crazy difficult course. I
admit that I expected to see food at mile 24 in the Timponogos park. Don't diss the race. If they
continue with the full it needs to be billed as the toughest marathon in the west. Who needs mile
Runner 6: My only complaint would be the course was so tight for such a crowd. Not sure there's
much that can be done about that. It was just hard to keep a pace you want with so little room to
pass people (cuz I'm a freaking cheetah bwahaha ). The course was beautiful, tho! The volunteers
were great, I thought. I hardly saw any mile markers. I don't know if I just missed them or they
weren't there. Luckily I had my Nike+ so I had an idea of where I was. Overall, I thought it was
awesome! I'd probably do it again, I mean, they do have the coolest shirts and medals on the planet
and I'd do almost anything for a medal and a shirt!; )
Runner 7: Last Saturday, I dragged my pregnant rear-end out of bed at the crack o dawn, and made the hour and a half drive to Provo to run the Halloween Half Marathon. After spending weeks of training , and literally minutes preparing my "costume," I was pumped and read to go! This was to be my second time running this race. I loved the course, the first time. Lots of sweet down hill miles!
I must mention, that I've "run" around the block a time or two. I've run 6 full marathons (one just two weeks ago in St. George) and dozens (I don't even know for sure how many) half marathons. Been there. Done that.
My first chagrin about this race was the cost. $80!!! EIGHTY BUCKS?! Yeah, I know we Utah Mormons are cheap, but come on! This is literally the most I have ever paid in my life to run a half marathon. But, I guess the jokes on me because, yeah, I did knowingly pay $80 for this race. But for that price, there's going to be some serious swag on race day, right?!
My swag bag from the race packet had my shirt ($80 is kind of a lot even for a tech shirt, which by the way is too small) and my bib. And some coupons. That’s it.
Ok first. My girlfriends from the gym (both have only run one other half marathon) and I showed up at University Mall parking lot, ready to get directed to which bus we needed to board. The bus boarding area was a giant debacle. Chaos. There were haphazard lines everywhere. We stood in line (4 times) to get on a bus, only to be told it was full, and had to go find a new line. We finally shoved some doe-eyed superheroes out of the front of the 5th line and hopped on a bus. I did not see a single volunteer helping runners find the right bus.
Eventually, we made it to the start line. Well, almost. The bus driver stopped about a quarter mile away, and told us all we had to get off and walk. We had to trudge up an icy, steep hill to find the tent at the start line. And then we waited. And waited, and waited. And waited some more. I was hitting all sorts of PR’s for this race! (most money spent, most time waiting at the start line before the race). Again at start line, I saw zero volunteers offering information about where to drop our bags (I eventually figured that out on my own ), when each wave (there were three) would start, etc. There was no music playing, no funny MC making jokes over the loud speaker, no water or drinks to keep runners hydrated before the race (this stuff is pretty customary at a race start). Just 2 ½ half hours of standing, sitting, FREEZING, and waiting.
Finally, at 9:20 am (a mere 5 hours after I left my driveway that morning), my wave of the race started. With numb toes, and cold, tight muscles, I began my run, weaving in and out of crowds as I made my way down the canyon. About 2 miles in, just as I was getting my rhythm, enjoying the steep slope (I love me some downhill running!), we approached the highway. And the road flattened out. I was taken back, remembering the last time I ran this race, I had at least 6 or 7 miles of that nice steep downhill terrain. And then I remembered that they had changed the course at the last minutes because of snow. Oh well, I’m sure they’ve gotten it figured out. I kept going.
Let me tell you one thing about running for two. You need to hydrate. A lot. And you get hungry. A lot! Typical races, especially half and full marathons have aid stations every two miles or so. And usually every other aid station has extra goodies, like GU, Clif bars, First aid volunteers, fresh fruit, etc in addition to water and Gatorade. I didn’t see an aid station until mile 4. Even though it was 30 degrees, I was parched. I drank two glasses (filled all the way up about 1/8 of an inch) of water and one of Gatorade, thinking, next aid station, I’ll have a little snack with a drink.
At mile 6, right after a water stop (yep, nothing but water and Gatorade—luckily I had my GU chomps in my pocket and at least got the 15 calories from that), we turned up what looked to be an ugly mother of an uphill slope. That sucks, right? Well, yeah, I can take a little uphill. I don’t like it but I can do it. BUT…..add “running” uphill to watching everyone who is already however many miles ahead of you running downhill on the opposite side of the road….pure torture! RULE #1 of race planning. NEVER, ever, ever, ever, have your runners run down and back on the same road. It is completely demoralizing for the runners. I can’t tell you how many times I considered cheating, and just hopping across the street and skipping the uphill part (I actually talked to one girl who did do that), but I didn’t. I kept going, getting more and more annoyed at being able to see all the people ahead of me. Once I finally hit the turn around spot about a mile or so up the hill, my attitude changed a little. It feels good to be the one ahead, but I felt bad for all the people trudging up the hill, looking pissed off.
The second half of the course wasn’t so bad. We made our way onto the Provo River trail, which I love. It’s beautiful. And the fall colors made it absolutely picturesque. About mile 9 I thought about stopping to take a pic with my phone, but I was feeling good, and again, running for two, you never know when something is going to start hurting, so I had to take advantage and keep running.
Now, I didn’t count the aid stations, but I’m pretty sure there were only 4. Maybe 5. With only water and Gatorade. No extra goodies. I’m pretty sure I was only running as fast as I did, because I was starving and sprinting to forage for food.
Finally, 2 hours and 16 minutes from the start, I crossed the finish line. I was looking forward to some goodies to eat at the finish. (Baby’s gotta eat!!) I got my medal (must be plated in gold or something for $80), a warm (yuck) water bottle, and the table at the end had boxes of oranges and bananas. The oranges were whole, unpeeled, uncut. After running 13.1 miles, in 30 degrees, they expected their participants to peel their own oranges with frozen fingers. Ok, maybe I’m a little entitled, but seriously, grab some volunteers and a knife and quarter those babies! I did not see any volunteers at the food tables at the finish. Total volunteer tally for the race: zero.
At the end, I was glad I ran. It was pretty. But I could’ve just driven myself up the canyon, thrown on my tutu, and run down by myself for free. And, I still sit here, trying to figure out where my $80 went to. Minimal swag, minimal support. I was disappointed. For future reference, dear Halloween half race directors, get some sponsors, and some volunteers, and stop being so greedy and use the money to support your runners!
Runner 8: The food sucked.
It's a super fun event for the holiday and costumes and general Halloween feel but not as a serious half.
RD should probably drop the full if he isn't prepared to fully support it. The aid stations and food
could use some improvement however, packet pick up was stellar. And the volunteers need a complete
shout out! They were excellent. Might want to see what can be done about waiting to long at the start.
Is it something I would do again? Yes. As a pacer. Because I love the people I meet while doing what
I love. I hope to be able to help them achieve a goal and to add some fun along the way.
Is it something I would recommend? Probably not for anything more than the 5k for fun. If you do
choose to run the half or the full if it's offered again, be prepared to pack your own water, fuel,
gatorade and medical supplies. Leave nothing to chance.
So there ya go! My usual post race wrap up. This one was lengthy I know, so if you read the whole
thing you have earned my respect!
Congrats to all the first timers! You did great! And as you
hobble around on your very sore legs, just remind yourself YOU
DID IT! No one can EVER take this away from you! For that
alone, your status as a rockstar status is secure.