Sometime last summer the Grand Teton Half Marathon popped on my radar and it didn’t take very much arm twisting to get my husband on board with a trip back to where we’d honeymooned many years earlier. As part of the National Park Half Marathon Series put on by Vacation Races, I was confident that it would be a well organized race after running one of their other races last fall – the Shenandoah Half.
But First, The Race Expo
We arrived in Wilson, Wyoming, the location of the Grand Teton Half expo and race start/finish lines just a few minutes before the expo closed. Imagine blue skies mixed with clouds bursting with personality, cool air with no humidity, and the Grand Tetons forming a spectacular backdrop; and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what this unique race expo was like.
I loved the women’s cut, color, and design of the race shirt, and was pleased to have such a special souvenir from this destination race.
I milled around the small expo and checked out the banner with the names of all the race participants printed on it. Can you find my name? I’ll give you a hint, it’s in the upper left quadrant. T-shirts were also available with the same image on the back, but I passed.
I didn’t; however, pass on purchasing this bracelet, adding on both the Grand Teton Half and Shenandoah Half charms.
We wrapped up the expo with a picture of me holding my bib in front of the Grand Teton Half Marathon sign. I told the sign to hang tight and I’d see it in about 15 hours and with my medal in hand!
The elevation in Wilson, Wyoming is 6,148 feet and I live and train at 295 feet. Throughout training, one of my biggest concerns for running this race was how the huge increase in elevation would effect my performance and set out to educate myself on how to avoid getting altitude sickness. I learned that sufficient hydration is key to fighting off altitude sickness so I made it a point to hydrate like a boss.
Last Minute Course Changes
Six days prior to the race, heavy rains caused flooding of the Gros Ventre River and damage to the Cattleman’s Bridge, a bridge we were to run across about a mile from the finish line. Runners were notified via email that there would most certainly have to be a change in the course, but that the race would absolutely go on as scheduled.
On Thursday we received an email stating that the course would be changed to an out-and-back, starting and finishing in Wilson, Wyoming. Without a point-to-point race, there would be no need for buses to transport runners to the start or back from Jackson to their cars after the finish. Fortunately for us, we had decided to stay at a bed and breakfast near the start of the race, so we didn’t have to drive very far on race morning.
Before The Race
After stalking the weather for days leading up to the race, I awoke at 3:40 AM to 31° (feels like 27°). I had laid out capris and a short sleeved shirt the night before the race, but I reconsidered when I woke up and saw that it was going to be sunny and the temps would likely rise quickly to about 45° by the time I finished the race. I made a last minute decision to wear shorts, a tank, and my super thin white jacket which I could roll up into a ball and carry on my wrist.
We arrived at the race parking lot right around 5 AM with plenty of time to spare before the 6:30 race start. I ate my banana and half of a blueberry bagel and made several trips to the porta potty. Around 6 AM I said goodbye to Bill who needed time to walk to the bridge crossing the Snake River so he could capture a shot of me running toward him with the snow-covered Grand Teton Mountains in the background.
In an effort to capture the magic of the sun bouncing off the snow-capped mountains while I waited for the race to start, I pulled out my GoPro (affiliate link) for this epic selfie fail! 😉
Moving Forward Through The Starting Corral
Tossing my throwaway jacket and sweatpants onto the hood of our car, I walked the short distance to the race corral and seeded myself with the other runners hoping to run around a 2:30 race – my goal was to finish in 2:15 to 2:30 with a slight hope of finishing quicker if the high altitude didn’t leave me gasping for air.
Once in the corral surrounded by other runners, I realized that I wasn’t even a tiny bit cold so I walked back to our car and tossed my nylon jacket into the front seat. Standing in shorts and a tank next to runners wearing long pants, long sleeves, and jackets, I felt a little silly, but knew I’d made the right decision. My fingers were another story, though, and got quite cold, even in double gloves.
As my wave approached the starting line I jumped to the side and took a picture with the Grand Teton Half sign. I got the idea from a girl who had just done the same, only she had tripped over a speaker cable in the process and knocked out the sound to runners in our general area. 😀
With the course changed to an out-and-back, waves of 50 runners at a time were started in 30-second intervals. As each wave started, we were reminded to only run two-abreast due to two-way runner traffic we’d eventually experience.
And We’re Off!
Despite plenty of time to turn on my Garmin (affiliate link) and find GPS, I didn’t think about it until my wave was called up… Before I knew it, the fun and entertaining announcer sent us on our way saying she’d see us in 13.1 miles! I hit my Garmin start button as I crossed the timing mat, but it didn’t find GPS for about 2/10 of a mile.
Miles 1 Through 3
- Mile 1 – 10:08
- Mile 2 – 9:45
- Mile 3 – 9:40
I quickly realized that I’d seeded myself too far back and spent the first part of the race passing almost everyone I came up behind (and continued to pass many runners for the next six miles). I was surprised by the large number of walkers who were ahead of me, but the path was plenty wide enough to allow passage on the left.
We left Stilson Lot, crossed Moose Wilson Road, and wound our way through a tunnel and past a park. Soon we were on a pedestrian bridge crossing the Snake River and I began watching for Bill, who’s always on the lookout for scenic picutres when I’m running (click here to see more of his amazing pictures). When a runner in front of me heard me shout, “Babe,” and saw Bill pointing his camera toward us, she moved to the side so he could capture me alone. He later told me that other runners had assumed he was a race photographer and hammed it up for him!
After the excitement of seeing Bill, I settled into a pretty even pace, staying in the high 9’s and low 10’s. I could tell that I was working harder to stay in that slower-than-usual racing pace, but wasn’t sure whether to attribute it to the altitude or cold temperature. By the second mile I was completely warmed up (except for my fingers) and determined that my running performance was being effected by the high altitude. I wasn’t concerned, though, because this race was all about having fun, enjoying the scenery, and taking lots of pictures.
After crossing the Snake River we followed the trail until we turned onto Teton Pass Highway, running along the wide asphalt and gravel shoulder. Glances over our left shoulders gave us beautiful views of the Tetons as we ran toward Snow King Mountain.
Miles 4 Through 9
- Mile 4 – 10:31 – stopped to refuel
- Mile 5 – 9:54
- Mile 6 – 9:46
- Mile 7 – 9:40
- Mile 8 – 9:50
- Mile 9 – 9:53
Shortly before hitting mile marker 4, we turned left onto Spring Gulch Road, where we stayed until our halfway point turnaround. I stopped for a Honey Stinger gel (affiliate link) and long drink of water around mile 5, and as I started back up, I noticed a lady pushing a wheel chair participant and wondered if they were a team. Their conversation quickly told me they were strangers and she was just giving him a helping hand. I was surprised (and impressed) that he was in a regular wheelchair and not one designed for racing…
As I took in the sight and commotion beside me, I failed to notice the photographer just ahead and looked up just in time to see him and smile.
We continued along Spring Gulch Road with the Grand Tetons looming in the distance to our left until our turnaround point. With little fanfare we ran around a cone, across a timing mat, and headed back toward the finish line.
I pulled out my GoPro once again and took a few pictures of the mountains (now on our right) as we headed back toward the highway. My selfie game continued to be a little off as I almost cut the majestic mountains out of yet another photo.
At the corner, as we were turning back onto Teton Pass Highway and just before mile 9, Gumby and a chicken cheered us on. Other than near the start/finish and at aid stations there were very few spectators, so these two characters were a welcome sight!
Miles 10 Through 13.1
- Miles 10 – 9:55
- Mile 11 – 10:47 – stopped to refuel
- Mile 12 – 9:44
- Mile 13 – 9:40
- Mile .1 – 8: 39 pace
I continued to feel strong running right around a 9:454 pace. In hindsight, I know I could have gone a little faster on this mostly downhill segment, but chose to run conservatively. My breathing felt slightly labored for the pace I was running so I settled into “don’t push too hard and regret it” mode.
As we neared mile 10, we ran through a tunnel to the other side of Teton Pass Highway and up a slight hill.
Shortly after mile 10, I stopped to take a second gel and donated my outer layer of gloves to the ladies working the aid station; and shortly after that I was finally able to shed my other pair of gloves. As we came out of the aid station, we had a nice downhill section until we crossed back to the other side of the highway through another tunnel. By this point we had closer up view of the snow-capped mountain range which I soaked in with every step!
As we approached mile 12, I started looking at my watch and wondering if I could break a 2:10:00. I had accidentally stopped my watch when I stopped to refuel the first time, but started it up again as soon as I realized what I’d done. The problem was, I had no idea if it had been stopped for 10 seconds or 40 (based on my Garmin time versus my official time, it was stopped for 26 seconds). Apparently my runner’s brain wasn’t too competitive because I pretty much stayed on pace and know I could have run faster. 😉
As I ran out into the clearing and saw the Snake River ahead I couldn’t help but smile, and opened up my selfie stick determined to get a good picture crossing the river.
After crossing the bridge, we ran back past Rendezvous Park and saw the race photographer one more time. In hindsight, this is where I really could have picked up the pace, but I still remained somewhat conservative.
We were almost at the finish line before we rounded the curve and could actually see the finish so I didn’t have that visual to pull me forward at a faster pace. I heard my name called by the announcer as I approached, but my eyes and ears were searching for Bill.
I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:10:07 (9:56 pace) and quite happy to have half marathon number 15 and race number 133 behind me.
Post-Race Festivities And Awards Ceremony
Immediately upon crossing the finish line, a huge medal was hung around my neck and we were directed toward our boxed post-race snacks, water, and chocolate milk.
I quickly found Bill and we wondered around waiting for the race results to be posted. Using our time wisely, we got in line for another picture in front of the race sign with the mountains in the background, this time, though, I was holding my finisher’s medal!
Once results were posted, I was completely shocked to see that I’d finished 2nd in my age group (and later learned that was out of 44 ladies). By the time we figured out where the awards ceremony was being held, they were already up to the 45-49 year olds and we didn’t have to wait long for them to announce the 60-64 age group winners. Unfortunately, the 3rd and 4th place finishers weren’t there to receive their awards.
After the awards ceremony, Bill and I took a second picture for Medal Monday, this time with my silver medal!
I finished the race with an official time of 2:10:07 and 2nd out of 44 in the female 60-64 year-old age group. I also finished 446th out of 1,503 runners.
The lady who won my age group beat me by 8:31 so I’m not second guessing my performance at all. There’s no way I could have run this race that much faster; however, I am bummed that I didn’t run a little faster and cut 8 seconds off to make it a sub 2:10:00 half.
Despite the high altitude, there were only 379 feet of elevation gain/loss on this relatively fast redesigned course.
Interestingly, this was the first time ever that my Garmin logged the race at exactly the race distance, 13.1 miles. I’m not sure if my GPS not kicking in until 2/10 of a mile into the race would have made my Garmin clock 13.3 miles had it started on time. What are your thoughts on that?
Based on visuals and nothing official, this race seemed to be made up of an older population of runners. I’m not sure why that might be other than perhaps older runners have the time and a greater financial ability to travel to destination races.
My Overall Reaction To The Grand Teton Half
The race organizers and volunteers were amazing and put on a great race, especially considering they had to make a last minute course change. I’m so glad that I chose to run the Grand Teton Half and would run it again in a heartbeat if it were a local race; however, since it is a destination race for me, I’d choose a different location – perhaps Zion or Yellowstone…
If you’re looking for a fun racecation with views of the beautiful snow-capped Grand Tetons in the background, this is the race for you!
- • Have you run any of the National Park races?
- • Which National Park race would be your first choice?
- • Have you visited Grand Teton National Park?
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