Over the first weekend of June, I ran the Thelma and Louise Half Marathon in Moab. Besides a couple bubbly blisters and a sorer than normal foot tendon, I feel really good about the run. I beat my previous half marathon time by 13 minutes, well surpassing my expectations. This was the first athletic event I trained for with a structured plan for longer than 2 weeks and so event day felt like the finale of a TV series about my tumultuous love affair with running. Consider this a commentary heavy episode recap.
The Thelma & Louise Half Marathon
If you’re a chick and you like running, beautiful natural scenery, and subversive feminist vibes, then sign up for this event. It runs along the Colorado River on a super flat (except for mile 9 which is the most gradual but persistent of uphills) paved road through Moab’s ridiculously good-looking canyons. An eclectic mix of movie references and local musicians cheer runners on at intervals throughout the course. A well-stocked party with ice cream and the only pre-9am beer in Moab await at the finish line. The smash-the-patriarchy themed runner outfits and the attentive organizers, especially the finish line announcers, made the environment incredibly fun and supportive. It’s on the pricier side of half marathons but I think it’s worth it due to the fine organization, stunning course views, and the unique “all women rock! not just ones that like pink” atmosphere.
Our group consisted of me, the unstoppable Jones sisters who were also running, the most wonderful Ashley Travis who’s always DTA (down to adventure), and Emerson, the world’s greatest hus-friend. On Friday night, we stayed at the event-sponsored Gold Bar campsite right by the starting and finish line to avoid a potential snooze-snooze-snooze-OOPS kind of situation. There were less campers but a shit ton more mosquitos than I expected, making Bricelyn’s bug spray the MVP of the evening. We slept with our tent flaps open and fell asleep to the stars expanding across the night sky.
At around 4:30am, organizers started showing up to set up booths and remaining barriers. The loudness made it impossible to sleep so we got up and started getting ready. My main pre-run concern was my morning poop situation as I’m pretty consistently a 7:30am kind of person. I strategically ate breakfast at 4:45am, washed up, jogged a little, all in hopes of going to the bathroom at 5:45am. It was a futile effort.
In a blur, I lined up, calmed my nerves, then heard the starting gun fire and started running.
The run itself went great. The first mile or two felt like a gradual downhill and helped my confidence. The amazing sunrise views in the canyon took my mind off any worries, aches, and urge to poop. Everyone along the course, from the water attendants to the Moab Taiko performers, enthusiastically cheered on the runners. They genuinely made me want to run faster, or at the very least, not stop.
Mile 9 was when I encountered a slight crisis of will. Brendan Leonard perfectly describes my relationship with running in his piece, “Why I hate running.” To sum it up, I’m motivated to do this thing I don’t particularly enjoy by the brief moments immediately after I’ve finished doing it. By mile 9, the lack of inherent enjoyment was starting to overcome the excitement for it to be over. I added about 30 seconds to my pace and started thinking about walking for a bit.
However, the ladies in front of me kept pushing and so I pushed with them until eventually, I reached mile 10 and said to myself, “Ok! Just another 5k and you’ll never have to run again in your life. Just another 5k and you can mountain bike and snowboard and eat froyo to your heart’s content.” The thought of doing these activities without guilt of feeling like I should be running instead propelled me through the last 3 miles.
As I approached the finish line, the announcers called out my name and mentioned I had 20 seconds to achieve a sub-2:05 time. I boosted. The crowds cheered as I jello-leg sprinted across the finish line. The sounds and the sensation (or lack thereof) in my legs gave me a truly wonderful feeling.
For the 10 minutes immediately afterwards, I thought about which half marathon I should sign up for next. Then my feet and gut regained feeling and that stopped.
The finishing area provided a great place to hang out, dip in the river, and relax. We snacked on the provided goodies and listened to the bluegrass band. I was pooped, delighted, and it wasn’t even 9am yet!
Midday Moab and 100 Degrees Realness
We left around 10:30am to look for real food since energy gels and ice cream sandwiches can only satiate so much. Our tired gang ate delicious sandwiches at the Love Muffin Cafe and then set about looking for shade in the ~100 degree heat. After a few failed attempts, we eventually ended up at the Swanny City Park where we lounged and napped until dinner time at Giliberto’s, my favorite restaurant in Moab.
Showers rejuvenated us at the ACT campground where we stayed Saturday night. Emerson snuck a dusk bike ride down Pipe Dream. Aubie built a campfire and put her world-class smores making skills to work. We continued the afternoon’s theme of chilling hard. No mosquitos joined us that evening, only stars and sleepy goodness.
When in Moab… you MTB
We woke up before 6am the next morning because summertime Moab necessitates it if you don’t want to melt outdoors. Em and I said goodbye to the rest of the gang and headed to Klondike Bluffs for a little MTB, riding Dino Flow and EKG. You know how sometimes, in the morning after a lively evening, you can choose between starting a hangover now and getting it over with, or staying drunk and dealing with the hangover later? Well, it was like that with my legs and I decided to keep them a little drunk.
By the time we were driving home, I felt like a bag of bricks as the fatigue caught up and I hadn’t pooped for 3 days. Both of these are minor inconveniences of a terrific weekend.
Reflection Time and Notes to My Future Self
Usually for athletic events, I set self-defeating goals in the manner described by Syd Schulz’s “Why ‘Not Getting Last’ is the worst motivation.” They are shaped by the concocted fear that failing while trying hard means that I am forever and will always be the worst at everything in life. No need to debate me on the rationality of these thoughts.
Ultimately, this fear of trying hard sets me up for disappointment. Case in point being the Freeride World Qualifier snowboard competition earlier this year. My goal was exactly to “not finish last.” I ended up 7/10. I accomplished my goal but instead of feeling happy, I was nagged by several thoughts.
For one, I knew I had just given a whatever run. It was cautious, unremarkable, and less enjoyable than how I usually ride. Additionally, I didn’t feel like participating in the event made me any better of a snowboarder. My un-ambitious goal motivated me to un-ambitiously train. Overall, besides a lighter wallet and new scratches on my board, I didn’t feel like I had much to show for participating.
And so for this half marathon, I was determined to get over this fear and put in a real effort. Several things notably helped. None of these are novel but I thought I might as well share and document them for my future self.
- Friend accountability – Bricelyn kept me focused and inspired with her diligence and perseverance. Many times when I felt unmotivated, I thought about her waking up before 6am to run hilly trails around her mountain home. It exposed dumb excuses to not run as exactly what they are, dumb excuses.
- Realistic training plan -In the past, I would teeter off training plans after missing a few workouts or doing them half-assed because they were too hard, too boring, or too time-consuming. Within Google’s gajillion “half marathon training plans” search results, I found one that, with slight modifications, fit my schedule and motivation triggers (i.e. snowboarding, mountain biking). I think taking the time to select a realistic plan that accommodates my other priorities enabled me to follow through with the long-term, extended efforts required for the half.
- Trusting the plan – Another reason I fell off training plans in the past was because I didn’t trust them. If I didn’t see any immediate improvements after a workout, I’d wonder “what’s the point” and go back to my old routine which brought marginal benefits over time. I tried to stick to the plan as much as possible this time, paying special attention to how much effort each workout should be and trusted each component had a purpose, even the long 12+ min/mile pace runs that were so incredibly boring and made me hate everything.
- Setting tiered goals – Emerson suggested I set bronze, silver, and gold tier goals. Bronze was to beat my previous half’s pace of 10:30 min/mile pace. Silver was to beat 10 min/mile. Gold was to beat 9:30 min/mile. These were realistic and difficult based on my initial baseline runs. Having them tiered convinced me that there was always something to train for. In the end, I am happy to get the gold with silver tinge status with an exactly 9:30 min/mile pace.
- Snacking during the run – I’m not a great snacker during endurance activities (I am a world-class snacker at all other times). It’s often inconvenient and I forget about it because I think my subconscious knows it’s not enjoyable. But as professional mountain biker Chris Baddick often says, performance food is not the same as healthy or good food. In other words, it’s not meant to be delightful and I needed to accept that. After the halfway mark, I methodically took a small bite (yes, bite because it’s that disgustingly thick) of energy gels every 15 minutes. It made my stomach perform aerobics after the race but helped ward off any despairing fatigue during it.
And so it ends…
The Thelma and Louise proved to be great in so many ways. Besides providing a reason to hang out in the stunning, unearthly Moab landscape with best friends, it convinced me that long-term training plans can work and marked my retirement from running on a high note. 😈 I’ll be back here again in October for the Moab Ho-Down Enduro which I’m sure will throw plenty of new challenges at me. From what I’ve learned over the months leading up to the Thelma and Louise Half, I’m looking forward to them.