REVEL Race: One Runner’s Downhill Marathon Comeback

You hungry to run 26.2 miles? Maybe you’re nervous about going the distance, earning a qualifying time or just finishing. A REVEL Race and 26.2-mile marathon may be just what you need.

That’s what Boston Marathon finisher Kelly Cole thought. As soon as in-person races started returning post-COVID, Cole started looking for a marathon to make her comeback.

“I was so excited to see races coming back,” says Cole, a Boston Marathon finisher and group instructor at Crunch Fitness in Vancouver, Wash. “I started looking for a marathon pretty much anywhere with a live event. I really wanted to race again.”

So she signed up for a REVEL Race

The plan...Run the 26.2-mile REVEL Wasatch Limited Edition downhill marathon near Park City, Utah, dropping more than 2,000 feet in elevation from start to finish.

  • Ever feel excited and nervous at the same time about running a marathon?

Cole did.

The REVEL Wasatch Limited Edition downhill marathon is near Park City, Utah, and drops more than 2,000 feet in elevation from start to finish.

Step into the marathon wayback machine

The last time Cole ran a marathon, it was ugly. Late in the race, she started to break down.

But it wasn’t the typical feeling of fatigue after running 20-plus miles. 

Her neck started cramping.

By the time she reached the finish, her neck completely seized up, leaving her with big questions about ever running a marathon again.

“2019 was a really cruddy year of running marathons for me,” says Cole. 

And then COVID hit, shutting down in-person races.

Cole spent the next year troubleshooting her neck issue, working with a physical therapist, along with stretching and training to keep on running.

By the time she signed up for the REVEL race, she felt better. She could run again. But she wasn’t sure how her body would respond to running 26.2 miles. 

“I worked through a lot of issues,” says Cole. “Physically, I felt strong enough to get back to running marathons. But you never really know until you try.”

There was only one way to find out...

Washington resident Kelly Cole has finished 55 half marathons (13.1 miles) and 22 full marathons (26.2 miles). She's a Boston Marathon finisher and once met Olympic runner Galen Rupp.

Pre-race jitters….

When Cole signed up to run the 26.2-mile REVEL race in Utah, she wasn’t a stranger to running marathons. 

She’s crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon more than once. And it took a lot of work to get there:

  • 55 half-marathons (13.1 miles)
  • 22 full marathons (26.2 miles)
  • 1 ultramarathon (50K)

But every marathon is a little different. 

Without following her typical marathon training plan, Cole packed her bags and hopped a plane for Utah to find out if she was ready to go the distance again.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” says Cole. “I thought it would be fun to run in Utah, and I’ve heard good things about REVEL races. But a few days before the race, I started feeling really nervous.”

  • Do you get pre-race jitters? How do you deal with it?

The unexpected race-day challenge

As soon as she got off the plane, Cole knew something wasn’t right.

“I felt nauseous as soon as I got there,” says Cole. “And then it hit me. I’ve been training at sea level, and I wasn’t prepared to be running at almost 8,000 feet above sea level. I’ve done downhill marathons before, but I just wasn’t thinking about the elevation when I signed up.”

But Cole’s ran enough miles over the last 20 years to know that putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to get from where you are to where you want to be.

She was determined to make this REVEL race her comeback marathon.

The REVEL Race start…

Despite some pre-race jitters and mild altitude sickness, Cole laced up her running shoes to go the distance.

“My husband drove me to Wal-Mart to catch the race bus,” says Cole. “But it wasn’t a school bus. These were luxury buses. I’ve never run a REVEL before, and I was wowed by that."

A short ride up the mountain put Cole at the start with just a 10-minute wait time. She stored her gear back on the bus and lined up with other runners with one thing on her mind…


“When the race started, some people ran past me, making it look disgustingly easy,” says Cole. “I was already breathing heavily. I was having a hard time catching my breath. It felt like I was going uphill, but I wasn’t.”

But she persisted. She settled into her own pace, focused on her breathing, and let gravity help pull her down the mountain. 

Kelly Cole signed up to run the REVEL Wasatch Limited Edition marathon in Utah after a long break from running 26.2-mile races.

Aid-station assistance

Cole pulled into an aid-station on the REVEL course every couple of miles, drank some water, downed some energy gels, and kept going.

“I learned this the hard way,” says Cole. “The first time I ran a half marathon, I didn’t eat or drink anything. Before I finished, my hamstring seized up, and I could barely walk for a while. When I told my dad what happened, he said, ‘Don’t ever do that again. Drink at every aid station whether you’re thirsty or not, because once you’re dehydrated, your race is toast.’”

Cole thought about his advice as she made her way down the mountain. 

Mile 1...Mile 2...Mile 3…

She ticked off the miles, one at a time, but it was a lot harder than she expected. The elevation was taking a toll.

Fortunately, the aid stations helped her keep going.

“The REVEL had an awesome group of volunteers,” says Cole. “There were plenty of people at every aid station. And every turn was well marked along with people making sure you went the right way. I have no sense of direction, and being short on oxygen made it even harder. The volunteers really helped me stay on course and avoid making a wrong turn...which I’ve done before.” 

The halfway point

“I was in my own world,” says Cole. “I was in the zone. I was still having a hard time breathing, but my legs, my joints, and my neck felt fine.”

When Cole reach the half-way point on the course, she had dropped more than 1,000 feet. But she wasn’t prepared for the impact the higher altitude would have on her performance.

“At about halfway, I was already feeling pretty tired,” says Cole. “It was the kind of feeling I usually have about mile 22 or 23 in a marathon. You know, when things are starting to hurt, but you’re almost done. I still had more than 10 miles to go.”

Still, she kept going. She’s run enough marathons to know crossing the 26.2-mile finish line is both a physical and mental challenge.

And she wasn’t about to give up. 

The four-hour finish

When Cole came into view in Charleston, Utah, near Deer Creek Reservoir, her husband was worried. She was an hour past her typical marathon finish time.

  • Did her neck seize up again? 
  • Was she feeling the pain of lactic acid build-up and muscle stiffness? 
  • Was all the work over the past year to prep for a marathon worth it?

Cole was still breathing heavily, something she struggled with the entire race. But she was still in it...still going...arms pumping...feet churning...all the way to the end.

Cole crossed the finish line in 4:19:53.

“Even though I struggled to breathe the entire race, when I finished, my muscles and joints still felt great,” says Cole. “And I was relieved I wasn’t in pain. All the hard work I did paid off. My body felt a lot better than the last few marathons I’ve ran. As crappy as my time was, this was a solid race.”

Cole picked up a gourmet post-race salad and stocked up on chocolate milk, sports drink, and protein bars at the finish line. Then she went in search of her drop bag.

“Before I even got there, a volunteer was eyeing my bib number,” says Cole. “When I got there, a guy handed me my bag. It was that easy. Everything about this race was well organized. They really took care of their athletes.”

Cole finished the Wasatch Limited Edition downhill marathon in 4:19:53. The 7,748-foot elevation start proved to be a challenge for Cole, who trains at sea level near Vancouver, Wash.

Advice for runners

Cole spent the next few days recovering from the race, before lacing up her running shoes and teaching fitness classes again. And she reflected on what it takes to run a marathon, especially if it’s your first…

  • Train smart. “Be realistic about how fast you can run your first marathon. Follow a training plan, stick to it. And don’t miss your long runs.”
  • Run to finish. “Don’t get caught up on a certain finish time. Just enjoy it. Hydrate at every water station, or carry water with you. And enjoy the process.”
  • Celebrate your success. “Running a marathon is hard. Training is hard, and no one else can do it for you. When you finish a marathon, you’re doing something many people will never even attempt. And that’s huge.”

    After more than a year away from running marathons, Cole made her comeback.

    Next up for Cole...The Super Marathon in Snoqualmie, Wash.

  • What's your next race?
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Evan Jensen
SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...


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