For the past year one of my goals was to be the first person to run a quadruple St. George Marathon. The plan: start running at the finish line, run up to the start, then back down the course, then back up and hopefully get there in time to run the last marathon with the official race. 104.8 miles. This weekend was my chance to go for it.
I started my journey Friday in the morning darkness. After a few miles darkness slowly faded and my surroundings lit up.
The sunrise made the red mountains of Snow Canyon State Park glow off on the horizon. I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of the area where I live.
The St. George Marathon is notorious for being a fast downhill course. But when you're going the opposite direction, a fast downhill course becomes a slow uphill course. For safety I ran on a bike path next to the highway. The down side is that the bike path winds around adding more mileage, and even more climbing than staying on the road.....as evidenced by the following picture:
Taking the bike path made my total mileage closer to 108 miles. My plan for the first couple marathons was to stay very conservative, manage the heat, and have fun.
The part of this whole adventure that scared me the most was making the cutoff on the last marathon. If you're not at mile 23 within 6 hours 15 minutes you get pulled from the course. No ifs, ands, or blisters. Some may argue that a 16:13 minute/mile sounds downright pedestrian but with 78 miles on your legs, 16:13/mile is closer to a speed workout. I knew I needed to make sure I had enough gas in the tank to get me through the last marathon.
The absolute key to accomplishing this goal was my amazing wife. Mel was my crew for the first 50 miles, meeting me every hour or so to refill water and supplies. I begged her not to because I didn't want to be a burden. But she insisted. She said she wanted to do whatever she could to help. I can't express how thankful I am for her support.
It was SO hot all day. I used Tailwind Nutrition for the majority of my fuel. Going with mostly liquid calories has completely changed the way I race. Although after finishing the first of the four marathons my stomach started to growl a little bit. Mel had a bag of Hostess Donettes and I don't know what came over me. I started acting like a prisoner of war that hadn't eaten in five days. I couldn't stuff those things in my mouth fast enough.
Being on the course the day and night before the race, I was so impressed with the army of people behind the scenes making preparations to assure that the race would go off without a hitch. While running I found Mel a souvenir to thank her for all her help.
While running marathon #2 I passed through the small farming town of Veyo. In the state of Utah it is illegal to pass through Veyo without getting pie at the famous Veyo Pies. It was a heavenly mid-run snack.
After ten hours of running I was getting tired. My legs began to get a bit grumpy. I started experiencing the inevitable highs and lows that come with running an ultramarathon. In an ultra, you start hearing voices that fill you with doubt. The voices say "If I'm feeling like this now, how in the WORLD am I going to keep going for another 10 or 20 more hours?!?!?" Those voices can be debilitating and paralyzing. It can be tough to tune out those voices.
Thinking about the future gets you in trouble during an ultramarathon. You have to stay focused on the mile you're running. ONLY the mile you're running. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.
I finished the second marathon, then Mel headed home for the night and I did the third alone in the dark. There were a few times that I severely struggled to stay awake. I desperately wanted to lay down and sleep but resisted. I perked up when I started seeing signs that Mel had surprised me with on the course.
Around mile 70 I had to stop and patch up my feet. At the Wasatch 100 three weeks ago I made a dumb mistake by not dumping some sand out of my shoes and consequently ended up with some hefty blisters. By mile 70 of St. George those old Wasatch blisters were rebirthed. And then those blisters gave birth to more blisters on top of them. So I guess you could say I'm a blister grandfather. How special. Feel free to call me Grandpa. I spotted this sign that my friend LaRae had hung up:
After what felt like forever I finished the third marathon. I made it to the starting line about an hour and a half before the official start which gave me time to talk with friends and refill my UltrAspire hydration pack. My plan was to use the pack so I wouldn't have to waste time stopping at aid stations.
Worked like a charm.
Then it was time for the biggest challenge - keep moving fast enough to make the race cutoff. In the first few miles I was nervous. My blister grandchildren were giving me fits. My legs were stiff and sore. I was so scared that I would travel 102 miles to the only race cutoff time, and then be disqualified three miles before the finish line.
I had this internal conversation with myself. I made a conscious choice that I would need to tune out the soreness and exhaustion and push forward the best I could.
I wore a new pair of Altra Paradigm shoes right out of the box for the last 53 miles. They were flawless. I worked as hard as I could to stay positive and enjoy the journey. Here is a mile 88 jump.
I prayed over and over again for strength and courage. I had pulled up a not-so-comfortable chair inside the pain cave. But I got to the downhill part of the course and was determined that I would do whatever I needed to do to make the cutoff.
I received so much inspiration from the runners I could see ahead and behind me. Those fellow runners at the back of the pack were also working so hard to make the cutoff. They were struggling and hurting too. But they were determined and focused.
When I was at mile 97 (mile 18 of the official marathon) I heard a voice say "Hey Cory!" I turned around and it was my friend Rick Whitelaw followed right behind by Turd'l Miller. I've run many many miles with these guys in the past and truly love them. They also happened to be doing a double St. George marathon raising money for Girls On The Run. They said they wanted to run to the finish with me.
When you're legs have carried you 97 miles and you've been in the heat for two days and you're sleep deprived, emotions run raw. I told them I was so thankful for their kindness and I might start crying. They said they didn't care.
We came across one more sign as we neared the cutoff. Tears streamed from my eyes when I realized that we were going to make the cutoff. I was overcome with gratitude and joy.
I crossed the finish line completing my goal to run a quadruple St. George Marathon. My friends Steve and Kendra Hooper from St. George Running Center were there and snapped this picture of our finish.
I was ecstatic to see Mel and my daughter Kylee who both volunteered working at an aid station all day.
The moment I crossed the finish line and stopped running, the weight of those miles kicked in and I started feeling really crappy. I was on the brink of barfing on my new Altra shoes. I tried to keep myself from throwing up...but Kylee grabbed a garbage can just in case.
I am monumentally thankful for my family, and the friends and strangers who met me along the way to bring treats or moral support, to my amazing sponsors, and to Rick and Turd'l who kept me moving so that this dream could become a reality. This whole quadruple marathon experience was a team effort and I was only one piece of a big puzzle.
I was again reminded that our bodies are remarkable things. When we face adversity we found out what we're made of. I firmly believe that running 100 miles is far less about athletic ability and far more about being determined and stubborn. It's about being willing to tolerate and embrace suffering. It's about reaching a point where you physically and mentally can't take one more step.....then taking another step. Those 100 miles change you and you're never the same. This 100+ mile journey is an adventure I will never forget.