I normally prefer to do one half marathon 5-6ish weeks out from a goal marathon. So knowing the timeframe I was looking for (AND my love for the desert), I couldn’t NOT sign-up for Canyonlands when I found it. I also knew that I wanted to travel there solo. I hadn’t gone ANYWHERE by myself in quite some time and just really wanted time to explore on my own terms. Spoiler alert: traveling by yourself is REALLY nice.
The Expo: The expo was SMALL. So tiny that I was a bit concerned that the race was very small (like a few hundred at best), BUT I think it was just small because most grabbed their bibs before the start because it had over 1,000 finishers in the half. Nothing really special at the expo, but Salt Lake City Running Company was there so if you forgot something they had a really nice assortment.
The night before dinner: I ate pretty early (4pm) with half of my pizza (I got the Tree Hugger), salad bar, and a beer. I saved the rest of the pizza to have around 6:30pm (still early —> giving my body plenty of time for digestion) and then a Noosa Honey flavored yogurt as a dessert before 8pm bedtime. I went to dinner here (one of my favorites besides the Moab Brewery!). I did some yoga in the room, legs up the wall, and lots of foam rolling (one of the perks of traveling solo —> taking extra time to rest/recover/stay focused)!
Where I stayed: I ended up staying here and cannot recommend it enough (for the location). It was less than a 1/4 mile from where you picked up the buses and <1 mile walk to the expo (they have limited parking there)/ downtown. I kept my car parked for the majority of my stay (huge bonus when you drive 4.5 hours to get somewhere!) and was able to run from my hotel the next morning, stop back there to change, and then walk to where I got on one of the shuttle buses for the half.
The pre-race: I had 20 miles on the schedule, so decided that I would get in the 7 additional miles before the race to really get the feeling of those later marathon miles in my legs. I headed out around 5:45am and finished before 7am back at the hotel. I kept my pace really relaxed, but also noticed a huge change in the elevation (Moab is around 4,000’ and where we live is around 7,300’) —> my breathing was great. I headed back to my hotel room, changed quickly (new outfit / sneakers), grabbed a Larabar, Coconut water, banana, my bag (with gels/ handheld waterbottle), and was back out the door a few minutes past 7 heading towards the shuttle pick-up.
The beginning: I got on a shuttle pretty quickly and we were already full by 7:30 and heading towards the start line! Super easy to find a seat and I focused on refueling from my 7 miles. It was COLD out (not even 30* yet!) and I do wish I had brought my winter coat with me rather than a vest. The buses dropped us off at a nice staging area (they had water/ coffee/ snacks) around ~1/4 mile from the actual start line. The views from the start were STUNNING (they made it worth the slightly freezing feeling that I had). I used the restroom a few times and then walked to the start and waited until the last possible second before I shed my layers and dropped them in the van to pick-up after the race. I decided to start with the 1:50 pacer for the first few miles and then if I was feeling good, I would slowly pick up the pace towards the later miles of the race (all keeping goal marathon effort in mind). I also didn’t realize that the race was based off a TIME rather than CHIP TIME —> it took me ~15-20 seconds to cross the start so I did my actual ‘finish time’ based off of my Garmin. I took one Honey Stinger gel prior to the race start.
The Middle: After trying to stay with the 1:50 pacer for the first few miles, I honestly felt really good and decided to pick it up just a tad. The race course was so beautiful. I remember just running along thinking how LUCKY I was to be out there. I also kept picking off runners (which feels pretty spectacular!). The miles were flying by and it was nice to be mainly in the shade during the first 11 miles (before you hit the main road that heads into town and out of the canyon). I took one Spring Energy gel at mile 4.5, one Salt Tab at mile 7, and one Spring Energy gel at mile 10. I really felt like I was nailing my nutrition.
The End: I couldn’t believe as I was hitting my mileage auto-laps how good I felt. I wanted to pick up the pace a bit towards the end, but otherwise just had the goal of sticking within marathon effort range, which because of the elevation (and fairly downhill / rolling hills course) was around 20 seconds faster than I’ve been training at. There was a section (maybe around mile 9 or 10?) that had some black ice on it —> that was FRIGHTENING! It came out of nowhere and I slipped for just a second before regaining my balance. When I hit town (<2 miles left), I knew I would be PR and just wanted to push it a bit (ok, I was pretty excited at this point)- my legs were also definitely starting to get a bit tired at this point. I couldn’t really pick too many runners off at this point, but I just stayed present (in the moment) and reminded myself how strong I was.
The After: I ended up crossing the finish line under 1:45 and never bonked throughout the entire race! I felt like my nutrition finally is getting fine-tuned and really excited to see what I can do at Eugene with a few more weeks of training. The finish line area was small, but so fun. They had a nice staging area with Moab Brewery, snacks, and music. The medals are super cute and there’s this bakery close to the finish that I cannot recommend enough (cue: the Bacon/Egg/Cheese on a plain bagel is pretty incredible post-20 miler/half marathon PR).
FInal Takeaways: I LOVED this race. The course wasn’t easy (especially if you’re coming from Sea Level), but it was so stunning almost the entire time (except the last 2ish miles). Stay somewhere close, so you don’t have to walk a bunch before/ after the race (driving to the finish area seemed slightly congested). Get yourself an awesome burger at the Brewery afterwards or try one of their food trucks (they had so many scattered about downtown that I really wanted to try)! It’s definitely a smaller race, but had such a relaxed vibe. Make sure to take some time to explore Arches or Canyonlands National Park afterwards, along with some sweet treats on your ride home (if you’re in Spandos —> even better ; ) ….).