Expedition Island—the place where John Wesley Powell began his famous exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers in 18710—was the site of a different adventure for me this August, the Run with the Horses 10K and Marathon event. This race day takes place primarily in Wyoming’s high desert trail with the promise of seeing Sweetwater County’s gorgeous wild horse herds along the course.
The morning of the race I awake far too early and arrive on the island at 6:00 a.m. (Are you as surprised as I am to learn there is an island in Wyoming?!) While waiting to start I encounter the breeds of people you find only at long-distance races: fit men sporting Marathon Maniac singlets boasting about their recent PRs, Lululemon and Brooks-clad women completing their 40th or 50th marathon, and the 50 Staters (those in Wyoming specifically to complete a marathon in a new state).
Then there’s me. My goals for the day are not nearly as far-reaching, but my Lulu capris and Brooks Pure Grit shoes help me blend in at the starting line where I take off alongside elites when the countdown ends. For the first mile we climb steadily uphill on a paved road (not entirely a trail race like I’d envisioned) and the pack thins as the 7,000 foot elevation hits the racers from low-lying areas. I feel strong and focus on the red rocks on the town’s edge where we’re heading.
After passing under a freeway ramp, we find ourselves on the steep road into Wild Horse Canyon. The pack’s huffing and puffing increases as our paces slow from a run to a jog. Just after mile 2 the pavement turns to gravel and we continue climbing. I force myself to stay at a steady pace despite my body’s desire to walk.
I know that most who surround me have 11 or 24 miles to go. Aware that I have just four, I keep my eyes peeled for runners coming back down the canyon who are also running the 10K course. As I continue trekking, a teenage boy comes screaming past on the downhill, followed closely by two more young men.
I have yet to see another woman on the downhill—and as with any runner hoping for an age-group placement—I breathe a sigh of relief as a few women evidently older and younger than me pass me on the downhill. I reach the turnaround a few minutes later and begin my decent. The few ladies are minutes ahead of me and I doubt my ability to catch them, but I notice no one even in the distance behind me and find myself alone on the course.
I cheer on the marathoners continuing up and relish in the freedom of being alone running downhill and still feeling energized.
By alone, I mean really alone. I don’t see another racer in front or behind me. I follow what I believe is the course…but the streets are eerily quiet. At mile five, I reach a police officer directing traffic and they point me on the path to continue towards the finish. But somewhere in the last half mile I miss the final turn-off. I find myself on an unfamiliar road and quickly realize that I’m one block up from the course following the same route.
At this point I see the finish line and sprint toward it, despite missing the true route. Luckily the course I took is the same distance, so no harm no foul in terms of finishing the whole course or getting disqualified for it.
I cross the finish and take photos while waiting three to five minutes for the next group to come in. I learn that a few other people missed the final turn too, so I feel like less of an idiot.
The medals are gorgeous, brightly colored with images of horses on them. Possible my new favorite! Though I am disappointed that the shorter course didn’t feature any wild horse sightings.
The overall marathon winner medals are fantastic: unique horseshoe medals from shoes off the area’s wild horses, and the age group winners receive trophies made of a mineral mined primarily in this part of Wyoming.
I hunt for results and learn they won’t be broken into age groups since this race was smaller. That’s always disappointing when you work hard at a race…so it’s my belief there should always be at least ten-year age groups, but maybe that’s just the competitive side of me talking.
Asher Catterall, an 18-year old from Rock Springs, finishes first with a time of 37:20. The women’s 10K winner, 19-year-old Ali Piaia from Rock Springs, Wyoming, finishes in 53:20. I finish 7th overall (2nd if we had age group awards) with a time of 1:01:08. Not shabby for such an uphill course!
Overall the race was well run, despite it being somewhat difficult to find the post-race snacks. It’s a great one for checking off a tough 10K, half marathon, or marathon in Wyoming off your list!
River Festival and Wyoming Recreation
Plus, Sweetwater County’s annual River Festival that celebrates the Green River is held on Expedition Island the same weekend and this year’s edition featured a tasty shrimp boil or pasta dinner, six homemade Wyoming product craft vendors, four food vendors, two bands, a Micro-Brew Garden, and fireworks, a duck race, the Run with the Horses Marathon, and a dog show. There are plenty of other great activities in Sweetwater County during August as well like exploring Flaming Gorge, floating the river, fishing, hiking, exploring historic landmarks, and more.
Just a 2.75-hour drive from Salt Lake City, Sweetwater County is a great place to escape the summer heat and crowds. Mark your calendar for next year’s event and take a straycation to this gorgeous area. Yee haw!