Revel Sun Valley Marathon Race Report: A day of success and failure!

Race: Revel Sun Valley Marathon
Location: Sun Valley, Idaho
Date: June 26, 2021
Time: 3:19:24

  • Run Sub 3 (No)
  • Run a 3:05 BQ (No)
  • Run a PR (<3:47) (Yes)
Preface & Training
I have stumbled my way into marathon running as a novice and I am still very much in that space. Back in 2016 I impulsively decided I was going to run the NYC marathon and was stunned when I learned that entries had all been accounted for. There are limited spaces? That many people want to run? Needless to say I knew nothing about nothing but thankfully I had a friend from my track days who was working for Adidas. He was able to snag me a corporate entry and I worked my way through a very basic beginner's plan and accordingly I ran a very beginner's time of 4:30. I thought that would be that. However, during the expo/packet pick up I noticed all of the advertisements for the World Marathon Majors. In my post-run haze I thought it would be a good idea to drop my name in the hat for the Chicago Marathon. Cut to two or three months later I wake up to a 5AM text that my credit card had been charged ~$200 by BOA CHIC MARA... "Well then... looks like I am running another marathon..."

That takes us to roughly today. I have now run NYC, Chicago, and Tokyo with Berlin and London to follow later this year (assuming travel reopens with relatively few restrictions). This also sets up Boston as my sixth and final marathon in the series. Unlike any of those other 5 races, Boston has neither a general lottery nor does it have a "tourist" option (at least not for US citizens) where you can simply buy your way in with a travel package. For me the only way into Boston is through qualification or fundraising. As I am not yet prepared to beg, borrow, and steal $7,500+ so qualification is the way in!

The obvious problem here is that my previous PR, run at Tokyo 2019, is still about 45 minutes off the mark. While that is a completely absurd gap, my hope had been that I was still far away from my potential/ceiling and that I could continue to make significant improvements. With that optimism in mind, in January of 2020 I resolved myself to running a qualifier later in the year and began my training in earnest with 40mpw base building. COVID then promptly introduced itself and, while it did take away opportunities for racing, it did allow me to spend more time training than I might have otherwise.

My novice-ness was probably helpful at this point because I didn't realize how much of a moonshot it would be to shave off 45 minutes in a year. It is funny because the thought of running two miles at 6:51 pace felt insane to me then but the idea of running 26 miles at that pace felt entirely possible. COVID continued to cancel races which mercifully gave me extra time to train. Over the past year and a half I have largely built base mileage and in November 2020 I began my first "serious" training aimed specifically at BQ'ing.

With the world and racing (hopefully) jolting back into action in 2021 my calendar has filled up quickly. I will be running Berlin and London later this year one week apart from one another. While this is awesome in some regards, it essentially precludes me from trying to BQ at either Berlin/London... unless of course I want to take a shot at Berlin and then crawl home through London. So, I set about trying to min/max my chances at running a BQ at any other races. Enter downhill marathons. Revel is somewhat infamous in the Boston community for offering an unfair edge to qualifiers. All of their races have net elevation drops greater than 2,000 feet. While this undoubtedly does provide an advantage there are also some disadvantages associated the high elevations and the simple challenges associated with running downhill for three hours. While it is certainly not a freebie, it does involve some pride swallowing around having to throw an asterisk alongside of any potential BQ.

I got out to Idaho two days before the race, checked-in to my hotel, and promptly drove the course. In my head I thought I would be flying down some alps. Let me tell you that 2,000 feet over 26 miles isn't particularly as dramatic as I had hoped. Worse still, the bulk of the course's drop was frontloaded into the first few miles and, worst of all, there was a significant climb shortly after the half marker. Still I had to focus on the positive and realize that a net drop is a net drop. One of my only real concerns was whether or not elevation would hinder me in any way. I live at sea level and this course began at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level and finished at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. I think I spent more than a few minutes at the top of the course gulping air like some sort of maniac, trying to see if there was any noticeable difference. I didn't feel any different, so that was certainly a good thing.

In case you haven't noticed, it is very hot everywhere but especially out west. The race director bumped up all of the wave start times to try to beat the sun and I would be boarding a bus at 4AM to hit a 5:30AM start. My bus didn't hit the road until 4:30 and I spent a very tense ride next to someone with a deep, hacking cough for the next half an hour... it came up naturally in conversation that he had been vaccinated (he was discussing impact to his training) and I relaxed a little. We got up to the top, the driver did some manner of herculean three point turn to get the bus pointed downhill and let us off at a make-shift starting area. There wasn't much room to warm up but I did some active stretches, ate a gel, and shuffled over to the start line. I chatted with another runner who had traveled to Idaho from Costa Rica (a chance to practice my weak Spanish!) and before I knew it, it was time to start. Due to COVID restrictions the race was a rolling start.

The first mile was a blur. Both because of the early start, the insanity of finally putting a year+ of training into motion, and the fact that it was literally the steepest drop of the day. I know that I usually get out of the gate quick in races so I tried my best to keep the relative effort controlled. However, I still wanted to avoid hitting the brakes and wasting any downward momentum. It was clear that some runners were going out too fast. When the course leveled out a bit, a runner at the front turned around (running backwards) and yelled "look at that moon!". While there was indeed a beautiful full moon lighting our path, it was clear he was showboating. Who TF does that? I settled into my pace and thought "See you in another 25 miles, bud..."

This was a limited field race and it was run on the shoulder of a two lane road, so there weren't many packs to speak of. I linked up with another run who started chatting me up. What was my goal? How was I feeling? I still was feeling uncertain but I let him know I was shooting for 3 but who knew? He said same, and I felt some comfort in that another runner sub 3 runner was alongside me and not up ahead with the show-boater.

The first 5k was really quick, but that had always been the plan. As the race droned on I tried to settle in closer to my "flat" goal pace but I was continuing to bank time. I wasn't really sure if this was a good or bad thing but I still felt comfortable.

Splits Miles 1 through 5: 6:12, 6:28, 6:34, 6:40, 6:46

The next portion of the course felt more pedestrian. If you didn't know it was downhill, you might not notice it. I had missed the first aid station at Mile 3, so I was pretty resolved to start getting some fluids at Mile 6. As mentioned above, the race was run on a two-lane highway with a narrow shoulder (maybe 3 to 4 feet wide). Aid stations featured two folding tables, roughly 10 feet apart, packed with cups. It is such a nit-pick but it was really difficult to snipe an individual cup off the table while running at speed. Thankfully I was able to snag a cup but throughout the course I had difficulty with this and missed one or two drinks. The tables were also off the road on some lower, loose gravel. Again, not the end of the world, but it did up the difficulty factor a hair when trying to make a running pit stop.

By now I had given up hope on trying to find a pack or at least another runner to link up with. I could see about 15 runners stretched in front of me, with the leader about 200 meters ahead of me. Everyone was all fairly single file. I settled in close to my goal pace and made a mental note to relax and enjoy some of the scenery. This course lived up to its Valley moniker and we were passing through some really beautiful mountains to either side of us. My miles began to ping just slightly slower than goal pace and I made note of this but did not panic. I had banked a lot of time in the first 10k or so and resolved that I would be A-OK if I could hang on to this pace and kill it in the final 5k.

Splits Miles 6 through 10: 6:52, 6:55, 6:58, 7:03, 6:57

The next portion was one of the tougher portions of the day. We had been running under moonlight at the start or, now that the sun had risen, in the shade for all of the miles up to this point. Shortly after mile 10 the course turned to run directly east and the sun almost smacked me in the face. Apart from having to squint a little, I could feel the rays hitting me with a Mario desert-level like intensity. Temps were just under 60 at the start but they were projected to quickly reach 85+ by 9AM. The tail end of this race would very much be a race against the conditions.

Furthermore, I knew it was coming, but the course flattened out a bit as we approached the only significant climb of the day. After the half there was about a 75 foot climb spaced out over a mile. I resolved myself to keep the "relative effort" even without completely relaxing. Things felt smooth and comfortable but I suffered the first (of many wounds) to my ego as another runner cruised past me effortlessly. I hadn't slowed down all that much but it was clear that his game plan had been to charge the hill.

As we crested the hill we were rewarded with a steeper descent and I did my best to reconnect with the runner who cruised past me. While I reeled him back in, I could never quite catch up. Forget him, my goal was also to reconnect with my goal pace after the uphill and I also fell short there.

Splits Miles 11 - 15: 7:12, 7:04, 7:06, 7:31, 7:15

In hindsight, alarm bells should have been ringing with those splits. At the time I was trying to convince myself that it was best not to freak out about some slipped time (I had banked quite a bit in the early downhill portion) but the next segment would prove that it wasn't going to happen on the day. I tried to push the throttle a little to get back on goal pace but it wasn't happening. The course was now a very gradual but consistent descent and as I began to struggle other runners began to catch up with me. I tried to hold them at bay but eventually they passed me. I tried to keep pace with them but they slowly slipped away. This was definitely the first alarm bell that I was aware of. If I was going to hit my A goal it would require something special on the backend of the course. That was never to be and I got my first real gut-punch with my mile 20 split, which was more than a minute and a half off of pace.

Splits Miles 16 - 20: 7:44, 7:42, 7:49: 7:53, 8:32

Things quickly unraveled from there. My next mile slid even further and I just didn't have the gas to push ahead. I started to have that internal bargaining conversation that happens in all races, where I thought maybe let's go for goal B instead. The problem here is that, at this point of the race, Goal B was just as far away from reality as Goal A. As the miles continued to click away in 8:30+ and as each runner slid past me, I knew it was not going to happen. It stinks to admit but at this point I had mentally thrown in the towel and had resigned myself to just finishing the race.

With 5k to go the race turned off of the two-lane highway and found its way on to a narrow paved bike/rail trail. This portion of the race featured some minor rollers (5 to 10 feet of gain) that felt completely torturous. Still I kept it locked into what I thought was an honest pace. My new Goal D was simply not to walk any portion of this race.

By this point of the race I was completely exhausted and with about 800 meters to go I was still battling the internal conversation about whether or not I should walk. Thankfully my pride was strong enough to keep me from jogging it in. With the finish in sight I focus on the simple mechanics of my form and putting one foot in front of the other. It would be over soon.

Crossing the line I was met with a tub of ice and wet towels. The temps had crossed 75 by then and honestly nothing has ever felt so good as wrapping that icy towel around me. I looked down at my watch. 3:19:24. I had missed my first two goals by quite a bit but a finish is a finish and this was nearly a 30 minute PR.

Splits Miles 21 - 26: 8:45, 8:46, 8:47, 9:09, 9:22, 9:21, (7:48 pace for the final .2)

Post-race Thoughts
I am extremely disappointed not to have a BQ in hand but I have to ask myself how realistic it was to expect to shave off 47 minutes off of a PR in roughly a year and a half. The answer is probably "not completely realistic". At the end of the day the result is still nearly a 30 minute PR and that is still something to celebrate. In this immediate moment I honestly don't know how I can possibly run any faster but the answer is very obviously to keep training. If I can keep myself from fading so early and so dramatically then I can whittle away at this mark and move closer to 3:05.

Apart from fitness I have to wonder how much the conditions impacted me. The heat in the final 10k was certainly an issue but I think the big question mark for me is whether or not the altitude hit me at all? I still don't quite understand how its metrics work but the VO2 Max on my Garmin tanked from 56 to 53, so clearly it recorded something that it didn't like...

Later this year I will be running two more marathons back to back, so I think another BQ attempt is out of the question but those races will be a great excuse to maintain base mileage and will serve as a springboard to a Spring 2022 marathon.

We will get 'em next time, folks!

Last edited:

RW Admin

Staff member
Congratulations! You've made some impressive progress in a short amount of time and should be proud of shaving off 45 minutes from your last PR. Keep up your training and you will get that BQ in no time. We're rooting for you!

RW Admin
Nice! Fun to read about this, enjoy every bit of that PR, and I dig the Bowerman vibes in your singlet selection. I'd put a lot of it to the altitude; I live above 5K' and I would be apprehensive about my fortunes up that high, especially with warmer temps. My take is you were likely slowed by those conditions. Now it's time to get a nice break, ease back into it, and keep that consistency piling up until Berlin!