Vacation Races : Zion Half Marathon

It's been a minute - ok, it's been about two years - since I put my big girl panties on, laced up my running shoes, and signed up for a half marathon. It was high time to get motivated to run more than 3 miles. Scott doesn't understand why I need a finish line to push me to run 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 miles on Saturdays. Call me crazy, but I don't understand why you'd do anything other than train for a race to run those kind of miles?

May it be noted that Scott had never participated in races further than 10ks, and he swore he'd never run a half marathon, sooooo, there's that.

Anywho... for the longest time I'd been seeing Vacation Races pop up in my social media feeds, and they always captured my attention enough for me to click on their links. Then I started seeing the Zion Park Half Marathon more often. I couldn't resist. I told Scott about the race, how epic it would be to run amongst that kind of beauty, and proceeded to ask (beg) Scott if he'd run with me. To my surprise he agreed.

We trained (separately, his idea of an easy "jog" is more like my idea of sprinting), and before we knew it, we were ready for the race.

Weeks out, leading up to race day, we'd been religiously checking the weather. From what we'd heard, late February in Utah was pretty mild and sounded perfect for racing (think highs in the low to mid-60s). Welp. Mother Nature had entirely different plans for us. As we drove to Utah we experienced snow and near freezing temps the entire drive. We kept hoping things would warm up. Spoiler alert. They didn't.

Courtesy of Scott, we stayed in an RV at an RV resort (which is an entire post on its own, and don't worry, that post is coming soon) conveniently located right at the start line of the race.
Race morning came, we rolled out of bed, piled on layers of clothes, and stepped out into darkness and a bitterly cold temp of 11 degrees, accompanied by wind. It was unimaginable cold. The second coldest start I've experienced (the first coldest was in Hutchinson, KS, and a 9 degree start). For several miles I was seriously concerned my fingers may freeze, even with running gloves. It was so cold that many of the water jugs at the aid stations had frozen, and many people's camelbaks - Scott's included - had frozen during the run.

I should also mention this was a trash-less race. To those who've never experienced a trash-less race, when the event planners tell you to bring your own water source, BRING THEM. Camelbaks or running water bottles. I didn't bring one, nor did I think I'd need the hydra flasks the race provided. By mile 3 I realized a trash-less event meant that there were NO water cups at the water stations - that's where personal equipment was to come in hand. By mile 4 I was mentally trying to prepare myself to run 13.1 miles without a single drop of water, in frigid temps, higher elevation than I'd ever run in, and some pretty legit rolling hills. By the grace of God, at the mile 5 aid station I was able to secure the. very. last. hydra flask.

If you see one of these at packet pickup, TAKE ONE! KEEP IT! CLIP IT ON TO YOUR PERSON on race day! You can thank me at the finish line.

As the race moved on, the cold was almost a silver lining. Running was the only source of heat, so putting one foot in front of the other was more than welcome. 13.1 miles is never easy to run, but even though the weather didn't cooperate, and my pace was the slowest I've ever run, the miles seemed to slip right by.

And the scenery. Calling it beautiful is a gross understatement. The course ran along Highway 9, the outer edge of Zion NP, and almost the entire course gave breath-taking views of cliffs, buttes, and always the presence of The East Temple (for those who've never visited, that's the 7,709 summit that's impossible to miss if you're traveling on 9). Runners were constantly stopping to take photos of the landscape. It was just incredible. I really wanted to join the ranks of photo takers, but I honestly could not feel my fingers for seven miles. The best I could muster was one single snap at the start line.
As much as warmer weather would have been welcomed, the snow capped tops of the buttes and ridges gave every view a touch of indescribable magic. Throughout the race I thought of pinching myself for a couple reasons: 1) are my fingers still working? 2)Are limbs frozen? 3) Is this place even real?!

This may have been the first finish line I crossed and didn't cry. Finish line temps had crept up to a balmy 21 degrees, and I was fearful the tears would either freeze my eyes shut, or freeze to my cheeks. But, that's not to say I wasn't beyond thankful for another opportunity to test the limits of my body and mind. The finishers medal was also a pretty spectacular bonus.
Looking back I can honestly say I loved the race from start to finish. The event was so well organized, race planners kept runners informed at all times, and on the running end of things, everything went off quite smoothly. Would I willingly sign up for a race in that kind of cold again? No. But I'd love to run Zion again, when temps are more normal, and with a hydra flask securely in hand.
I'm now trying to convince Scott we should run every single Vacation Race offered. Because what's more awesome than lacing up to run a half, and then turning around to strap on hiking boots and check out some of the most gorgeous land this country has to offer?

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