Zion is such a BEAUTIFUL place. Absolutely stunning. I'm so happy that my dad and I decided to run this race (although right now, I'm sure he's not very happy about it with all of the hills). This race was entirely about the experience - both the once in a lifetime beauty of Zion, and a memorable race experience in a unique place.
I love traveling for races, but it isn't easy and I never feel as good as I do when I race locally. This trek to Zion was a 6.5 hour car ride + about 2 hours for multiple stops at Dunkin' Donuts, Denny's, and McDonald's. By the time we arrived in Zion Friday afternoon, I was hangry and exhausted. It didn't help that our room was under my mom's name and she wasn't actually present - she stayed home with Kate who just went through her first round of chemo. The hotel would not let us check in without her!
Since my mom wasn't coming, Peter drove up with us. While we waited for the hotel booking site to update and allow us to check in, we went to the expo. The expo was very tiny - just a few booths. Vacation Races puts on several races in National Parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, etc.), and they're very conscious of their environmental footprint, so no bags were provided at the expo. We cruised through it pretty quickly because I needed a sandwich. After we finished eating, we realized we forgot our shuttle passes for Saturday morning, so we had to go back. Somehow, we missed the s'more station, which is a total bummer, but we were fresh off a road trip and pretty tired. We went back to the hotel afterwards to relax for a bit before dinner - which was pizza and pasta.
The weather for Saturday morning showed rain from 2 am to 7 am. I was bummed that my dad wasn't getting perfect weather, but you can never expect the weather to be perfect on race day. My dad woke up around 2:30 am because he was nervous his alarm wouldn't go off. I tried to sleep more while he read, but we were both up at 3:45. We met Peter at 4:30am to get on the shuttle which was conveniently located just outside our hotel. The shuttle took us straight to the start where we battled a field of thick mud and drizzle to get to the heated tent that was set up for us (a very nice touch when it's wet and 45°). They were also raffling off prizes and they provided coffee and bananas.
We made our way outside around 6:05 to get a good spot on the start line and to account for time to cross back over the muddy field. Just as we walked halfway across the field, it started raining again. We shivered at the start for a bit, and then received an update that the start time would be delayed by 15 more minutes due to the weather. They wanted to allow extra time for shuttles and runners to get there. Another setback, but we finally started at 6:45.
This race does not take place in Zion National Park. While that seems unfortunate, it was still beautiful running just outside the park. The course went from the start of Virgin, UT through Springdale, UT and ended just before the park entrance.
My entire purpose was to run this race with my dad. I've talked a bit about running etiquette when racing with a friend, and I tried to take my own advice. My dad really wanted me to race and run without him, but running your first long distance race is difficult. So many things happen during that first race that you're not prepared for, and running with someone else who's done it before provides a bit of motivation. So, I stayed with him. Peter was not in top shape for this race as he recently battled a knee injury that sidelined him for a few months. He wasn't concerned with his time and wanted to enjoy the racing experience with my dad and I too.
The first 2 miles are pretty flat with a bit of downhill. My dad went out strong and we'd our first mile in 10:10. A little past the 2 mile mark, a man was passed out on the side of the road! One of the runners that stopped was a doctor and they were doing chest compressions! There wasn't much for us to do because he was surrounded by about 15 runners trying to help. I'm not sure if it was the altitude or if it was something bigger, but we were notified via the Zion Half Facebook page the day after the race that he was doing fine. That was scary, but so good to see runners helping him and not caring about their race time.
We kept pushing on and hit the first water and aid station at mile 3. The Vacation Race series requires you to use a Hydra Pouch for cup free racing, which they will provide, or you have to bring your own water bottle. They had a good supply of water, Nuun and Honey Stinger gels at each station. Aside from the aid stations, there wasn't much crowd support on the course.
We hit the biggest hill at mile 6, and this is where my dad had to do a run/walk. We had a bit of downhill after this which allowed us to pick up the pace a bit, but my dad suffered on that hill and he said that was his demise. By mile 9, a few of his toes were getting numb and he was experiencing pain up his left leg. We pushed on though, and we did a run/walk again. Mile 10 or so is where the runners go from the street to the bike path. This is in the town of Springdale, just outside of Zion.
Another large hill leading up to mile 11 was a killer for dad. He started having a hard time breathing at this point because of the elevation. While my dad trained really well for this race, he wasn't doing speed work or hill training which really helps with your lung capacity, so it wasn't surprising that the elevation was affecting him. Around mile 12.5, Peter said he was going to meet us at the finish and took off. My dad and I ran the last quarter mile of the race, coming across the finish in 2:38 for a pace of 12:03.
My dad was hurting pretty bad after the race, and we still had to walk back to the hotel. I knew he needed to just rest so once we got our goodie boxes with snacks and chocolate milk, we walked the quarter mile back to the hotel in the freezing cold (it was still only 45° and the wind chill + our wet clothes made it 10° colder). We spent the rest of the day eating everything in site (at least my dad did!) and relaxing.
We spent Sunday hiking in Zion, which was hard on my dad. He was still just so tired, and the time change didn't help. We went up the Canyon Overlook Trail, which was about a mile hike up to the top of this peak that allowed you to see all of Zion Canyon. It was stunning and I'm so glad my dad made it up. He's scared of heights, but he braved it with Peter and I. There was a couple taking wedding photos at the top and the bride made her way up this hike in her heels! Such a champ.
We jumped on the shuttle after that to take us up to the Zion Lodge - they don't let you drive your car through Zion unless you have a permit, so they offer a shuttle to take you everywhere. This was a short half mile hike up to the Lower Emerald Pools, a gorgeous waterfall. Even with all of the rain the day before, it wasn't flowing too heavily, but it was still beautiful. My dad was ready for a nap after this, so we went back to the hotel.
While my dad napped, Peter and I went to the gym. We had one final dinner at Zion Canyon Brew Pub, which was delicious. I'd love to come back to Zion to hike the Narrows during the spring or fall. It was truly beautiful.
My dad is ready to race again too! He asked how many halfs I thought he should do a year (3 - I think a half marathon does to his body what a marathon does to mine). I'm so glad I ignited such a spark in him for running. He says he hates running still, but I can tell he's secretly in love ;)
P.S. Thanks to Peter for all of the amazing photos! So glad he brought the Go Pro so we could get these shots :)