So my favorite half marathon, up to this point in my running journey, is the Moab Canyonlands Half Marathon. It is well-organized, incredibly scenic, fast, and in one of my favorite places on the planet.
The day of the race, you meet in a park across from the Moab Recreational Center at 7:30 am and they bus you eleven miles up the canyon on Hwy 128 from Moab. (I like to arrive for one of the later bus loading times so that I am not in the cold as long.) The hardest part of the race is what happens from about 8:15am to race start at 10:00am–the waiting. It is always cold and I find myself standing in line for the porta potties for most of the time I am up there–you go, then you get back in line for when you have to go again. But, but, it is all worth it to run this course. So beautiful.
The host city for this marathon is also one that is hard to top on my list. I have been visiting Moab, Utah, since I was a kid and it is one of my favorite little towns on the map. The nearby Arches National Park is always a favorite of ours to visit while we are in town with a hike through the Fiery Furnace a must on every visit.
Tips for this course:
- Do pack junk sweats, gloves, sweatshirt etc., you can toss right before the race starts or along the way as you warm up. You turn in your gear bag and then you are FREEZING until race start. It can be pretty miserable if you aren’t clothed warmly.
- Pack a couple space blankets you can use and then discard before the race.
- If you head up closer to the race start line, the porta potty lines are shorter.
- Don’t start off too fast on this one. The race may come down the canyon, but it doesn’t feel like a pure downhill course. There are lots of hills thrown in there. Pace smart. Race Smart Pace Bands does a really great job customizing their pace bands for each course. Check them out. (In 2015, I ordered a pace band from them and it was the exact same pace band the official pacers were using for the race).
- There is one really decent, short hill around mile 9.5. Don’t let yourself slow down too much on it–it’s short and you get a good reprieve after where you can catch your breath.
- Mentally prepare for the last 2.5 miles–they are on a slight uphill–which you will feel. They are also on the road into town so it isn’t as scenic. However, this part of the race is also when you start to see the spectators and you can really feed of their energy.
- They say the canyon can be windy so factor that into your race goals. (In the three consecutive years we have run the race, wind hasn’t been a problem for us, but historically, I have heard it has made its presence known).
I love seeing how much I have improved from when I first ran this race in 2013 to this year. I have taken 18 minutes off my time from when I first ran it, and 31 minutes off from my very first half-marathon race, (The Heart of the Rockies) in late 2010.
Running a race in one of my favorite places on earth is just something that is really, really hard to top. This March tradition for our family is one that I don’t see us ending any time soon.
My Most Recent Race
2015 was my best race experience on this course. It was sunny, the wind stayed away and I had prepared well. My average pace was a 7:34 minute mile which was my fastest half-marathon pace to date. I believe I owe much of this success to all my work on running marathons prior to this race. When I ran this race in 2013 and 2014, I had yet to run a full marathon before. After tackling the marathon distance three times in 2014 and training for marathons all year long, half marathons now feel like a training run more than a real bodily effort. This physical progress is really exciting for me. The runner I was in 2010 would never had imagined that I would ever arrive at a point where I wouldn’t be intimidated by the half-marathon distance. Now, I just need to keep trying to get faster.
So, come race day, I had forgotten to pack junk clothes or space blankets so once I had to turn in my gear bag with the clothes/food I had used up until that point, I was freezing. I could not stop myself from violent shivering. This just isn’t smart. Your body uses precious energy trying to warm you up. I tried to huddle as closely as I could with the other racers that were jammed around me at the start line, but you still just can’t get warm. Next year, I WILL NOT forget how miserable I am without some warm clothing or space blankets!!
While I waited, I found the pacer for my goal time of 1:39 and asked him about his race strategy. Once I realized that he had the same pace band as me, I figured I would pace myself but keep him and his pacer buddy in sight. (I have had a couple races with really great pacers, and a couple races with really horrible pacers so I don’t trust them blindly with my race.) I was glad that I paced myself for the majority of this race because the pacers for the 1:39 pace were not staying on pace very well. I did run with them for the last two miles–I was the only one left that was running with them. (This usually isn’t a very good sign for a pacer on how well they have done for the group they are pacing.) But, I was glad to have a buddy to help drive me to my goal at the finish.
I was happy with my 8th division place, but would really like to find myself finishing in the top three one of these times. . .if my body will allow it! (I have tried a couple different training methods and have really found great results with the Hanson Training Method. If you haven’t tried using this method before I encourage you to do so!)
How I Fuel
The Night Before
I like to carbo load on pasta and bread. I usually will have a small salad, but not much, to avoid gastrointestinal issues during the race. I typically will eat this meal at least 12 hours before race start, which isn’t too difficult with this race since it doesn’t start until 10am. It is also important to make sure you are getting a good amount of carbs 48 hours before the race.
The Morning Of
My pre-race breakfast is a 1/2-3/4 a cup of oatmeal with peanut butter, some orange juice, and a bagel. Half marathon or marathon, this is always my breakfast. I typically eat my breakfast 2 hours before the race starts. I also down 8 oz of water 3 hours before and again 2 hours before.
An hour before the race starts I will eat a Clif bar. Pack this with you since you will be eating this up the canyon while you wait for the race to start. I don’t run with any water or a fuel belt. I have a pocket in my shorts where I put two GU Roctane gels: one I take 15 minutes before the race starts with water, and one I take 45 minutes into the race (also with water). I get water at the aid stations when needed and usually opt to skip the gatorade since I already am full of electrolytes and other nutrients from the gels. You don’t want to overload your body with simple sugar all at once. Your digestive system won’t efficiently process all that sugar and can lead to cramps and side stitches.
Another important tip… if you have to slow down to drink your water, or even slow to a fast walk, that is okay! It is more important that you have the water in your system then a few seconds lost. You can make those up! Running full speed with a water cup and not spilling at least half of its contents is something I haven’t been able to achieve yet. I doubt many can!
How I Dress
I dress as warmly as I can all the way up until we line up at the starting line. It is sooo cold up in the canyon. I wear my down coat, gloves, hat, layers, you name it! It’s cold! Once the race starts,I’m down to shorts, a sleeveless race top, compression socks (sometimes) and my Pearl Izumi M3 V2s. Once you start running this race, you won’t feel cold and I doubt you will really feel hot either. It usually stays in the mid 50s in the canyon.
TIPS FOR VISITING MOAB
Lodging: Book early. We prefer to rent a condo out of town. Rim Village is really nice. Look up places on VRBO.com.
The Canyonlands Best Western is really nice if you want a motel in town. They fill up fast and are pretty pricey, but the homemade cookies, heated pool and jacuzzi are nice. The River Canyon Lodge may be a star down from the Best Western and others in town, but the location is ideal since it is right across from the bus loading zone and right by the race finish. You can also get affordable two-bedroom units with full kitchens and covered balconies.
- Miguel’s Baja Grill (My fav: Santo Rosalia Steak Enchiladas with Green Tomatillo sauce. You won’t be disappointed.)
- Jailhouse Cafe (Breakfast): Don’t miss the New York Style Bacon or the egg’s benedict.
- Mill’s Stop and Eat (Hamburgers and shakes)
- Zax’s (Pizza)
- Paradox (Pizza)
- Twisted Sista’s Cafe: AMAZING dinner. A little pricey, but really great. (My favs: The Beef Tenderloin, Spinach Salad, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie)
- Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro (Looking for a good cookie? Look no further! They also have amazing monkey bread, cinnamon rolls, sandwiches. . .pretty much the whole package here. A must stop. )
Things to do:
- Visit Arches National Park. (This is non-negotiable. You MUST do this while you are there. Fiery Furnace is our favorite place in the park but Delicate Arch is also a must if you have never been).
- Bike the paved trail from the Moab Brand Trails into town.
- Visit Corona Arch.
- If you have kids, visit the Dinosaur Track Ruin sites.
- Rent a jeep and ride up to Gemini Bridges and explore some of the arches off the beaten track.
- Visit the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center to swim. (This indoor complex has a zero-entry pool for kids, diving boards and an indoor slide).
- Pack your tripod for some of the best night photography you will ever shoot.
- Slide down the Giant Sand Dune across from the Arches National Park Visitor Center.
- Go on a razor tour.
- Visit Fisher Towers. It is about a 40-minute drive outside of Moab, but well worth it! (See pic below).