During the summer months, Kaela realized that we might have a two-week span to travel coming up in October. Due to the closure of her office in April, there weren’t many 6 month checkups scheduled which left some gaps in their schedule. We weren’t clear on what would happen but we started to brainstorm what we could do with two weeks off and almost instantly we started thinking about driving out west. Right after we had that thought we had logged on to runningintheusa.com to check race schedules to see what was still going on. We had a few rough itineraries that were pending the final say on the potential office closure. The decision was made and that same day we booked our AirBNBs and registered for races. We were heading out west!

Race: Antelope Island Marathon
Location: Syracuse, UT
Date: October 10, 2020
Time: 4:37:00

When we first started planning out possible races, there were a handful of options. As we got closer to the day we booked, most of those options had canceled. A race that I had been keeping an eye on just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah was still on and had already been approved for race permits by the local government due to the precautions they were taking for race day. I liked that certainty that the race was still taking place, pending any crazy influx in COVID numbers, and it made me more comfortable that I was actually going to be able to race.

The weekend before the race we packed up the car and made the drive out I-70 West. The first part of the trip was familiar since we had done it for so many races before. We just spent the day chatting it up and jamming out to the hits on ’90s on 9. Once we reached Champaign, IL, we changed interstates and the views became “newish”. By “newish” I mean it was a new road we had not yet traveled, but it was still the same fields and wind turbines that we had seen throughout Indiana and Illinois. We stopped for lunch at Monical’s Pizza in Decatur, IL. Since we were making good time we decided to just relax in the car as we ate.

After lunch, we continued through Illinois and then through Missouri. This part of Missouri was not a scenic view. Interstate 72 turned into Highway 36, which was just a county road with a 70mph speed limit and a town every so often. About halfway through Missouri, I started to get a little tired and Kaela was up to take the wheel. Around 6 pm central, we pulled into Bandana’s BBQ in St. Joseph, MO. Again due to our timing (when Kaela is driving we always make up time) we just sat and ate in the parking lot. I had some delicious fried catfish and Kaela went with pulled pork and brisket. It def hit the spot and luckily Kaela was finishing our drive to Lincoln as my eyes got awfully heavy after that meal.

After finishing our long journey in Missouri, we had about 10 miles in Iowa before finally making it to Nebraska. We had booked a hotel in Lincoln as a stopover point in our journey.

The next morning we were back on the road early for another long day on the road. Once we got on I-80, I checked the GPS to see when our next turn would be. “Merge right in 294 miles.” Yeah, it was going to be a long journey on I-80. It would actually be just over 800 miles spent on I-80 that day on the road.

Nebraska and Wyoming didn’t have much to look at during the drive. Prairie land and ranches for as far as you could see. As we approached Utah, the scenery started to change as we entered into the mountains. Finally, the “out west” I was ready to see! We arrived in Ogden in the evening and went on a quick grocery trip and picked up some delicious Indian food for dinner before calling it a night.

We basically spent the week just being tourists of Northern Utah. The race was taking place at Antelope Island State park so one afternoon we had some free time and I asked Kaela if we would go check out the park to see the course. I had received an email a few days prior talking about limiting the spectators on the course due to COVID-19 and because the road wouldn’t be closed for the runners, so I thought it would be a good idea to get out there before the race so Kaela could get a feel for the area and possible locations she would want to be during the race.

We pulled up to the park and met the ranger at the entrance. “It’ll be $15.” I didn’t even think to check if there was a cost to enter the park, I guess that is my naive East Coast mentality. Kaela made a comment about paying $15 just for me to see the race course. However, within a mile of getting on the island, we saw 3 huge bison pretty close to the road. “I guess that makes the $15 worth it,” I said as I smiled at Kaela.

We drove the course as I would be running it as an out and back on the one road that travels the east coast of the island. The road was rolling, with a few steeper climbs and absolutely no shade to be had. I set a reminder for myself to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the week and especially on race day. 

On Thursday we made our way out to the Bonneville Salt Flats. I wanted to take some family photos out there so we drove a few miles out on the salt to find a nice location. While we were taking the photos we realized it looked like a hangry ad since we were both wearing hangry gear. It was cool to just be around all that and in my opinion totally worth the drive!

After the salt flats, we made our way to Salt Lake City. We had lunch at the Green Pig Pub which had a good handful of vegetarian options which was very welcoming. Also, they allowed dogs throughout their place so we were able to sit on the rooftop bar with Bella to enjoy our lunch. One of the main things I wanted to see in SLC was the temple area, but it was under renovation so there wasn’t much to see. Since we had extra time we made our way to Liberty Park and just laid out a blank and a camping chair to relax for a few hours. Between just chit-chatting about anything, watching a group playing volleyball and watching the hippie circle smoke weed and play music, it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

That evening after dinner we made our way to Farr’s Ice Cream. We saw that it was a local shop that had been in Ogden for 100 years so we had to check it out. The ice cream was fantastic with so many different flavor options that you could go back again and again and try something new, which we also did.

I woke up Friday morning and was back focused on the race. I got a morning shake-out run in around the campus of Weber University. The run started pretty rough as my lung did not want to expand to breathe. I then realized that the first mile was basically uphill; didn’t plan that very well. After a quick loop around the campus, I made my way back to our place. On the way back I saw some blueberries that were hanging over a fence from a garden. I picked a few and carried them carefully home as I finished my run for Kaela to enjoy for breakfast. “Great find! Those are my favorite type of grapes.” Apparently, I don’t know the difference between a blueberry and a grape. 

We had a simple pancake and egg breakfast as I started to load up on my carbs with cranberry juice and cheerios. We hung out around our place until lunch at Lucky Pizza. We set up in another park in downtown Ogden, picnic-style to enjoy our lunch and the great outdoors. We stopped by a local running store to get a few gels and then we made our way over to packet pickup. I made brief mention of it earlier, but due to COVID, the race was taking all sorts of precautions. The limiting of spectators on the course was one and another was the packet pick-up process. We had to sign up for a time slot for pickup, but it made absolutely no sense as the times were every 1 minute from 2 pm – 7 pm. I picked 4:01 pm, because of course I did. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I noticed they had given me a women’s medium shirt but it wasn’t that nice of a shirt so decided not to turn around since it was going to get donated regardless.

Back at our place, we went through the normal routine of pasta dinner, cleaned up, stretched a bit and of course overthinking about the race plan for the next day.

My typical race alarm went off at 4:31 am. I felt like I slept as well as I could for the night before a race. Being in the place for about a week brought a sense of comfort that I usually don’t have when staying in a new hotel the night before a race. The race start was at 7 am and Google Maps said it would be a 45-minute drive. After breakfast I packed up all my items in our “race bag”, making sure not to forget salt tabs again, I didn’t want a repeat of Nebraska. 

Once we got in the car, our GPS said it would only take 30 minutes. I didn’t mind having a little bit of extra time at the start. After about halfway on our drive to the start, I felt like I was going to poop my pants. This wasn’t the “I’m sure I can make it” kind of feeling. It was the “no, literally I am going to poop my pants.” We approached the entrance of the island and I noticed a bathroom building. Kaela pulled in and I ran out of the car like I was about to compete in the 100m dash against Usain Bolt.

Let’s just say I am glad that we had the extra time and were able to stop.

We made our way down the long causeway to the island and followed the line of cars to the start of the race. Sunrise wasn’t until around 7:30 am and we were far from any “city” so it was basically pitch black outside. We had some light around the start/finish and then daytime running lights for the runners staying warm in their cars. We were told by the race director to stay in our cars until about 10 minutes before the race and they would call us to the start. Kaela offered to walk up to the start for my photo, but with the restrictions there were putting on spectators, I didn’t want to cause any issues. She wished me luck and then drove out on the course to where she planned on seeing me first. I made the dark walk to the porta-potties, using my phone to make sure I didn’t stumble upon a rattlesnake.

They took social distancing to the next level as the porta-potties were about ¼ mile from the start. There were all opinions of the masks while we were standing in line. Some had surgical masks on, others, like myself, had buffs pulled up over mouth and then there were the handful that didn’t have a care in the world about covering their faces. I sparked up a conversation with some ladies behind me and found out that one of them was running their first marathon. That was a real trend for the day as there were a lot of people out for their first.

I took care of my business once it was my turn and listened intently for the instructions for the start of the race. They had said that we were going to line up each pace group and then let folks go 10 seconds apart from each other to give some natural space on the course. The first group called was for sub 3 hours. Then nothing. No additional pace groups being called, but I kept seeing runners take off up the first climb from the start. Apparently, that was the only group that was going to be called and the rest of us needed to fall in line. I tied my shoes, said a quick prayer and made my way up to the start. 

By the time I got in line, I was pretty far back in the pack. I liked that idea as it would give me confidence throughout the race if I could continue to pass people as I came up on those running at a slower pace. I saw a guy with a Montana shirt on and asked for some recommendations on races. That then sparked a conversation with a lady that was on her 9th race in as many weeks. Bummed me out that long races were taking place out west but nothing back home. It was my turn at the start. I gave the timer my bib number.

3
2
1
GO!
I was off, heading on the uphill climb from the start as the sun started to peak on the horizon.

After the initial climb, we were greeted by views of the landscape as the sun glistened off the ground. I could spot a few mule deer grazing off to my right as we ran on by. It was a very peaceful start, similar to Nebraska. The small staggered start allowed for separation which brought its own peace in the moment. Since I started further back in the back I was consistently catching up to and passing folks. It was hard to tell if it was because my legs were feeling pretty good or because of the downhill section that took us to the main portion of the course, but things were going smoothly.

Kaela grabbed this beautiful photo as the sun rose over the mountains.

Just before mile 2, we started the climb to the highest part of the course which caused others to back off the pace, but I was still in attack mode. I kept my stride in focus to make sure I was being smart about my running even though it seemed as though I was cruising based on the number of people I kept passing. With each person passed, I made sure to say a quick “hello” or “good morning” to try and be a positive light at the beginning of the race. I passed these two guys and after greeting them they responded, “you look official…and look at those legs.” It gave me a nice chuckle as I ran on by.

About midway up the climb I started to notice people swatting at thin air. As I would approach, I could see a swarm of large mosquitoes following every runner. I hadn’t noticed until that moment that I had my little posse of mosquitoes following me as well. I tend to have good luck with “biting” bugs as they usually don’t bite me as much as others. Kaela usually gets the brunt of it when we are out on hikes. We say it’s because she is sweeter than I am.

We hit mile 3 at the top of the climb. I caught up to a few ladies that were complaining about how bad the bugs were getting to them. I let them know that my wife should be up ahead and that we have bug spray that they could use. During the climb, I had this urge to pee and was greeted by porta-potty at the time. Once I exited, I could see  Kaela was there with the camera in stow. She had lined up this perfect shot to get me running by with a bison in the background. However, my wanting to help the ladies with bug spray caused Kaela to be delayed in getting the photo. She made me backtrack for a moment so she could salvage the composure she was hoping to get. 

The bison Kaela had lined up for to join me in the photo

This was going to be another theme throughout the race. Kaela ended up being the saving grace for so many people during the race from bug spray to water to food. She was a mobile support for so many folks the entire morning.

I kept powering down the road as Kaela would go ahead a few miles at a time and stop whenever she thought there was a great photo opportunity. It was nice having the open course and being able to spot the white car off in the distance. It helped keep me focused on micro-goals to break up the race and, I think, help me run a little smarter. This portion of the course was mostly downhill so I knew I needed to keep myself in check and not let gravity pull me out of stride.

Around mile 8 I saw this guy running all over the road. From a distance, it seemed as though he was already starting to bonk and needed some assistance. By the time I approached him, he was down to a walk and looking behind him to see who was catching up. As I started to pass him, he picked up the pace and started running alongside me. He told me about how he drank too much last night, didn’t get much sleep and to add to it that it was his first marathon. Now I don’t usually have a problem with folks running and carrying over a conversation, as it is usually me that sparks them up with folks as I run. But this was a little different. The guy could not have been more than 6 inches away from me running when we had an entire lane and shoulder to run in. When I would try to give him some space moving to my right, he would just join in and stay close.

Now personal space is something I enjoy in normal times, but with COVID times upon us, I was not comfortable with how close this guy was to me with how heavy he was breathing. Even though I knew it wasn’t the smartest idea I decided I was going to pick up the pace to break him. It seemed the nicer thing to do rather than ask him to take a few steps away from me. The problem was I couldn’t break him. He stood with me stride for stride as I ran sub 9 minute/mile for about 1.5 miles. I started to think I was going to have to say I needed a walk break and hope he would have kept on walking, but at that moment he broke. He stopped and I wished him good luck and held onto the pace a bit longer to provide some separation.

Even though it was a barren desert landscape, the course was just breathtaking. From having the mountains on my right and the Great Salt Lake to my left, I just had this peace and calm over me. For most of the race I was by myself and it allowed me to just get in the zone and enjoy every step of what I was doing and where I was doing it at.

After about a 2 mile climb leading up to mile 11, we had a descent that would take us to the turnaround. We had a mile on the main road and then a mile on a dirt road that went out to our halfway turn. That dirt road hit me hard. We had a truck head out on it throwing up a cloud of dirt that made it tough to look up. The air was already dry enough, now having to be on dirt with a dirt cloud looming, it wasn’t ideal.

heading out on the turnaround

I saw a guy that was already heading back from the turnaround in pretty bad shape. He was stumbling while he walked and almost ended up on his face a few times as hit swayed off the road. I got his attention and asked if he needed anything. He said he was fine, but I know I’ve said that lie before as well. When I reached the turnaround, I let the course marshall know about that guy and if they could call up to the next aid station and/or have a med support staff come and meet him. 

It didn’t take me long to catch back up to him after making my turn. He was trying to eat what looked like a protein bar or something with chocolate. I asked him again how he was doing and if I could get him anything. He didn’t seem to recognize that I was the same person but said he would love a gel if I had one to spare. I handed him a gel and told him that Kaela was up ahead in a white car and had almost anything he might need. Once off the dirt road, I let Kaela know that the guy was approaching that was in rough shape. “How will I know which guy it is?”, she asked. “You’ll know.”

And I’m back!

After releasing how much downhill running was taking place in the first half of the race, I knew I was going to be in a world of fun on the way back. I slowed down my pace to conserve energy but still wanted to attack as much as I could. The dry air and the temperatures were starting to get to me and I was needing to try and keep myself as cool as possible. Every time I saw Kaela I would have her dump some water on my head to try and stay on top of it.

Even with slowing down a bit, I was still passing folks. It gave me a boost of confidence with each person I passed. Looking back on it, I can only think of 3 or 4 people that passed me and that only happened in the last 4 miles of the race.

At mile 19 I noticed a guy that I had been keeping in my sights to pass just stop and start looking off over the edge of the road. As I got closer he pointed and said there was a coyote. I was looking off in the distance unable to spot it and he goes “no, it’s right here!” Less than 10 feet away from us a coyote just sat looking at us in confusion. He looked like a puppy that just wanted to be played with, but I knew better than to try and get any closer to it. From mule deer to bison, to this lone coyote, it was an animal-packed race. After I started running again I noticed Kaela just ahead and she was yelling to me to turn around as she saw the coyote crossing the street. I let her know that was what we were on the side of the road looking at when we had stopped.

A little further up the road, I came across two college-aged kids looking like they were in a little bit of a hurt locker. I remembered seeing them on their way back from the turnaround, easily 2.5 miles ahead of me at that point. I walked with them for a moment to check-in and try and lift their spirits. It was both of theirs first marathon and I gave them some reassurance that they were doing great. They asked me if it was my first and I kindly let them know I have run a few. Kaela again was close by and as we approached she asked them if they needed anything and they were so grateful to walk away with some cold water. I wished them luck and kept on my way.

The climb to the highest part of the course started at mile 22. My legs were pretty beat up and decided it smarter to power hike it to try and lighten the beating on my legs. The sun was strong on my back as I climbed. The road turned to the left during the climb and it felt like went on for a while as I couldn’t see the top. I eventually could spot Kaela around the bend and I knew I was at the top. This was the last spot I was going to see her before the finish so I filled up my handheld and used another water to cool me down. The other side of the climb felt just as brutal as the climb. The rollers throughout the day did a number on my quads and it resonated throughout my legs.

At mile 24.5, we turned the corner from the main road in the final stretch to the finish. The climb seemed to take forever. I kept telling myself I was almost there when I would see a familiar landmark to only be tricked in my mind about where the turn was. I did not remember this portion taking as long as it did at the start, but then again I was going about 3.5 minutes per mile slower at this point. That mile climb felt like it took an eternity. 

At last, I saw the signs that directed the runner towards the finish. Turning the corner it was a downhill shot to the finish. I picked up the pace, but not really from any energy I had left but rather that gravity was doing its job. As I approached the final turn in full stride, I could hear Kaela yelling “faster, faster!” I gave her a smirk as that is all I had left in me. I made the turn and ran through the finish.

4:37:00

I was handed my medal and I kept on walking down the dirt path past the finish aid. Kaela walked over and joined me as I just needed to keep walking to not cramp up. After getting my bearings we made our way back to the finish where I picked up some local ice cream sandwiches (because of course that is the post-race nutrition I wanted) and then to the car to stretch. It felt so good to get my shoes off to let my feet breathe, as well as, put on a fresh shirt. It’s amazing what a fresh shirt can do for a mood. We decided to take my “finisher” photo near the sign at the front of the park. As we pulled up, two large bison decided it was a good time to cross the street. I got a few photos of them and then Kaela was able to get them walking in the background of my photo.

We made our way back to our place to clean up, then headed out to pick up burgers from Warrens Craft Burger (black bean for me of course) and then made our way to Mount Ogden Park to eat and relax in our hammock. The weather felt amazing as we just laid there for an hour or two, letting the cool breeze rock us ever so slightly. Before heading home we decided that we should head back to Farr’s for some more ice cream (we didn’t want to not experience multiple flavors).

To be honest, from the pre-race set up I was worried about this race. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it and had prepped myself to just get through it to mark it off. But I was thoroughly surprised. The race was well put on and the volunteers were amazing. Throughout the race there were volunteers in trucks driving up and down the course offering bug spray to anyone that needed it and even gels and snacks. The winner for me though was the course. Antelope Island State Park was a beautiful landscape that made for a wonderful backdrop to the race. I struggled a bit in the second half but just been a few weeks since The Monument Marathon and the higher elevation, I was quite pleased with my performance.

Now I know I started this post talking about our plan to knock out two races on vacation but that didn’t play out as planned. I’ll go into more details once I complete Colorado but due to the wildfires just outside of Fort Collins, the race I was hoping to do had to be canceled. So this race ended up being the last of 2020. What a crazy year it was, but at the same time what an amazing opportunity for growth it became. I have big goals in 2021 and I look forward to sharing more about my next race, whenever and wherever that might be!

Fires just west of Ft. Collins, CO

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