Big Cottonwood Course Preview
REVEL Race Series
Aug. 7, 2019

A course strategy – and overall race strategy – is a must for optimal performance on race day. Whether this is your first REVEL Big Cottonwood race and your goal is simply to finish, or you are Big Cottonwood veteran aiming for a PR or BQ, you should have a well-planned strategy for how you intend to manage the course!

The head coach of REVEL’s Online Coaching Program, who has run a Boston Qualifier in all of the REVEL marathons, has prepared this detailed description of the Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half-Marathon courses.

Managing the Course Based On Segments
A critical component of your strategy is the course profile itself. Where are the sharp descents? Where are the climbs? Where does the course “flatten” a bit?

You want to plan your race with course segments in mind, and with an overall strategy for varying paces throughout. Your varied paces will be dictated by the elevation losses and gains, and you want to know before the race where those variations will occur.

Generally, the Big Cottonwood Marathon course can be divided into five sections:

Miles 1-3: The Fast Start
Mile 4: The Loop
Miles 5-18: The Canyon Drop
Miles 19-23: The Out and Back
Miles 24-26.2: The Straightaway Finish

Similarly, the Big Cottonwood Half-Marathon course can be divided into four sections:

Miles 1-3: Gently Fast Start
Miles 4-9: PR Territory
Miles 10-11: The Canyon Exit
Miles 12-13.1: The Gradual Downhill, Straightaway Finish

You can study the courses yourself on the REVEL website. You can zoom in, use the interactive elevation chart, and get a feel for what lays ahead of you on race day.

If possible, you should drive the course before race day to get a feel for what the segments look and feel like. Knowing what to expect, and when, is helpful when preparing your course strategy.

The marathon and half-marathon courses are summarized below based on the segments described above.


The Marathon Course

Miles 1-3: The Fast Start

Starting at over 9,600’ elevation, the first 3 miles of the course are on Guardsman Pass Road and include several turns and switchbacks. Overall, this first 3-mile segment loses more than 900’ of elevation. That is a significant elevation loss, and you will want to manage the drops by easing into your pace, settling in for the long haul, and letting gravity pull you along at a comfortably fast pace.

Resist the urge to chase people as they pass you. While you want to take advantage of gravity, you should not feel as if you are running “too hard” or “too fast.” If you do, then you should ease back a bit and aim for a “comfortably hard” pace.

Mile 4: The Loop

You will leave Guardsman Pass Road where it intersects with Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, turn left, and start climbing towards the Brighton Resort where you will loop around the resort area, and then head back towards the point where you began the loop.

Over the course of The Loop, you will climb slightly more 116’ to the highest point of the loop. This is a segment where you do not want to get caught up with the pace of other runners if they are passing you. You still have many, many miles to go, and you want to conserve your energy for the miles ahead. If you feel yourself working too hard, then simply slow down.

Miles 5-18: The Canyon Drop

From mile 4 to mile 18, just before you exit Big Cottonwood Canyon, you will experience the fastest part of the marathon course, with an elevation loss of more than 3,700’. There are a few small, short climbs here and there in this segment, but they are minor in comparison to the overall elevation loss.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself running well ahead of your goal pace. This segment is where the downhill profile of the marathon course will benefit you significantly. At the same time, be wary of a sensation of “running too fast.” If you feel out of control, or if you feel yourself working “too hard” while running downhill, then slow down.

Miles 19-23: The Out and Back

Just past mile 18, you will leave Big Cottonwood Canyon Road and turn onto S. Wasatch Boulevard for an out-and-back segment. For the next 2.26 miles, the course flattens out a bit and loses less elevation that the previous miles coming down the canyon. All totaled, you will lose 100’ of elevation on the “out” portion of the out-and-back, with some climbs along the way.

After the turnaround, you will run back to the entrance of Big Cottonwood Canyon and head towards Fort Union Boulevard. Over this 2.28-mile stretch, you will be climbing back to where you started the out-and-back.

During this segment, don’t panic or become discouraged if you find yourself slowing down, or if it suddenly feels harder to maintain your pace. After the significant drop of the early miles, along with the typical late-stage fatigue that is common in marathons, your legs might feel heavy and you might feel as if you are working very hard to keep going. But the key will be to keep going. Once you get past this segment, the closing miles will be downhill again.

Miles 24-26.2: The Straightaway Finish

The finish line is on Fort Union Boulevard. After the right-hand turn from the out-and-back onto Fort Union, the closing 3.2-mile segment drops approximately 430’ total, making it a gradual, straightaway downhill finish. You will encounter terrific crowds who will cheer you towards the finish line of the fast and beautiful Big Cottonwood Marathon!

Summary of the Marathon Course

The Big Cottonwood Marathon course loses almost a mile of elevation from start to finish. Over the 26.2-mile course, you likely will surprise yourself with your speed on the downhill segments. Although it is generally true that you never want to "go out too fast" in the opening miles of a marathon, remember that gravity is your friend, and you want to take advantage of the benefits of downhill running.

The Half-Marathon Course

Miles 1-3: Gently Fast Start

Starting at almost 7,300’ elevation, the half-marathon course drops more than 400’ total from the start to mile 3. That is an average of about 135' per mile, which is a significant but manageable descent each mile. You will want to manage the early downhill drops by easing into your pace, settling in for the long haul, and letting gravity pull you along at a comfortably fast pace. You should not feel as if you are running “too hard” or “too fast.” If you do, then you should ease back a bit and aim for a “comfortably hard” pace.

Miles 4-9: PR Territory

This is where your half-marathon personal record (PR) will be made. Miles 4-9 all totaled lose 1,863’ of elevation, which is an average of 311’ per mile. If you are keeping tabs on your pace, don’t be surprised to see that you have picked up significant speed and are running well ahead of your goal pace. At the same time, be wary of a sensation of “running too fast.” If you feel out of control, or if you feel yourself working “too hard” while running downhill, then slow down. But be mindful that it is expected for you to be well ahead of goal pace during this long, downhill segment of the race.

Miles 10-11: The Canyon Exit

At mile 9, just before you exit Big Cottonwood Canyon, you will notice that the course starts to flatten a bit. After losing an average of more than 300’ per mile in the previous “PR Territory” section, this 2-mile stretch loses an average of half that per mile: 313’ total, or just over 150’ per mile.

You can expect a short slowdown here due to the lesser elevation loss. You will need to “switch gears” to a slower pace based on even effort and should be prepared to run much slower than the first 9 miles of the race. Likewise, you really do not want to concern yourself with runners passing you, if that happens. It is easy in a race to get caught up with the pace of other runners. You still have a few miles to go, and you want to conserve your energy for the closing downhill miles ahead. Pay attention to your breathing and heart rate. If you feel yourself working too hard here, then simply slow down.

Miles 12-13.1: The Gradual Downhill, Straightaway Finish

Just past mile 11, you can say to yourself "now downhill to the finish!" Mile 12 loses 196’ of elevation, making it a speedy pick-up where, if you are feeling good and aiming for a PR, you can turn on the speed again and feel yourself flying toward the finish. Finally, the last 1.1 miles have a gradual loss of just over 80'. You should feel comfortable locking in right at goal pace, if not slightly faster, for the finish.

In this final stretch, the crowds of spectators will grow larger as you make your way towards the finish line of the fast and beautiful Big Cottonwood Half-Marathon!

Summary of the Half-Marathon Course

The Big Cottonwood Half-Marathon course loses 2,857' of elevation from start to finish. That's an average of more than 220' per mile, making this one of the fastest half-marathon courses you will ever run. Over the 13.1-mile course, you likely will surprise yourself with your speed on the downhill segments.

Paul Carmona is the Online REVEL Coach who has designed training plans specifically for REVEL downhill courses, and who has run the Big Cottonwood Marathon five times. He is a 22-time REVEL Marathon Finisher and has run multiple Boston Qualifiers on every REVEL course that he has run, with his current streak at 20 BQs in a row at REVEL marathons!

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