In this day and age of media overload, we are conditioned by filtered lenses, sweeping panoramic shots, and epic soundtracks to consider monuments and natural wonders as otherworldly creations that will literally blow our minds should we glance upon them with our own eyes. Sometimes those who travel, are disappointed with how the view clashes with the vision we had of our quest; people laugh at how small the Alamo is, the average time visitors spend looking at the Grand Canyon is 23 minutes, the Pyrimids of Giza are within shouting distance of major highways. In a world of HDR, 3D, IMAX imagery, it is sometimes difficult for nature and legends to live up to themselves.
Not so with southern Utah. For me, the landscapes were everything that I dreamed that they would be. Perfect weather provided clear blue skies as a backdrop to the dense browns and rusty reds and dusty oranges that cut across the sky. I entered Utah by driving north on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge with it’s dramatic cliffs and impending peaks twisting and curving to avoid jagged outcroppings. When you finally break from that gorge, the landscape is spead out in front of you like a smorgasboard of your favorite western movies. Red rock canyons, painted desert walls, and cracked and crumbling flat top monoliths are all visible in the miles that are visible as far as the eye can see. No wonder my friends from these states feel so claustophobic in my beloved New England, five minutes down any of these roads and you can see 3 whole states much less miles. Trainings during the week went extremly well in Zion and Bryce National Parks as well as the Snow Canyon State Park. I was feeling strong and ready to get back on track and whittle away at my Personal Record, like the river cutting into the canyon, slowly and chipping away over centuries. Instead of running the route of the St. George Marathon, my Marathon Maniacs memebership got me a discount to the Sand Hallow Marathon, just up the road in Hurricane (pronounced hur-IH-kin, by the local).
This is still a somewhat new race (in it’s fourth year) and they are very responsive to feedback. This is my review of the 2016 race and the course has changed each year it has been run, so double check your map after reading this review if using it for next year’s race. This is a deceptively easy course except for one steep hill. Although it is not considered High Altitude with an average of 3200 ft, you should still be prepared for it to affect performance. Starting off at the local community center, you build on a gentle incline as you run through some neighborhoods along a small cliffside. After that, things start to open up into fields with horses and cows and we catch our first glimpses of the beautiful mountains in the distance. Miles 7 to 9 have a steep downhill all while looking at breathtaking scenery along busy route 9. A gentler downhill continues until just past mile 15, with a gorgeous view of the Sand Hollow Resevoir’s sparkling blue waters giving a tranquil distraction from the gritty multicolored earthtones reflecting the hot sun. Soon into mile 15 you start the heavy duty work of climbing back up 500 ft of altitude in only about a mile and a half. There is some more directly gorgeous scenery with some uniquely green covered cliffs as you approach a big turn at mile 21.5, an area I highly recomend setting up a photo opportunity. Although the coloring or the hill is anachonistic of the surrounding landscape, right after the runner’s turn on S 1100 W, it gives the photographer a dramatic and up close backdrop for a great runner’s profile. After that you are heading back into the outskirts of town with a slightly different route than the start that takes you through a lovely treelined street that would have benefitted from just one more week of spring to have created a hero’s welcome of trees on bloom. After that and we return to where we began, finishing at the Hurricane Community Center. Certainly one of the highlights of the finish area were two, extremely professional sports massage therapists who did not skimp on their efforts or time they generously donated to each runner.
I had some minor complaints about this race, but when I read other reviews, I can tell that this is a race director that really listens to feedback and continues to grow and shape his race to the runner’s needs. Past comments have changed the direction of the marathon, taking it from an repetitive out and back to a fuller and more scenic loop including the resevoir. Former comments complained about the original hill going on far to long so a change in direction resulted in shortening of the uphill distance while slightly increasing the difficulty but also increasing the safety of the runners. The largest gap to fill was with support. Previous reviews noted the lack, so I came prepared for less support. I was still a little surprised. Firstly, there were not enough volunteers at major cross streets. Especially in the first couple miles, some cars made some dashes cutting across race lines without any direction or suppression from volunteers. Secondly, the water stations were erratically manned. Some of the water stations had a bevy of high school age kids either standing around doing nothing (in some cases laying out and getting a suntan) or were sadly undermanned, two tables having no volunteers, including mile 25. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except water stations were 2 miles apart so there was no volunteer support for the final 3 miles. This is worrisome in high desert conditions, also since the end of the course doesn’t mirror the beginning, there can be some confusion on the route. Thirdly, some of the running areas could have been a little more protected for the runners with “Race in Progress” signs or cones protecting a portion of the road, especially in miles 12 and 14. I was also surprised by a lack of local law enforcement. I am used to seeing officers helping to direct traffic at major intersections or difficult areas and especially with the lack of volunteers and the distance between support stations, their presence was sorely missed.
Overall, I felt this was a beautiful and moderately challenging race. The RD held regular drawings for gift certificates leading up to the race for people who entered. Free photographs captured finish line victories at least, though I’d like to see more photos of the runners with the amazing scenery on display. Keep an eye on this race, it seems to get better every year.
Thank Volunteers and Race Support
This is something I try to do at every race, but even more important at races like this one where there are less volunteers and limited community support. Sometimes as the race progresses, volunteers are shifted from the beginning of the course to the end, so it’s always nice to have a familiar face cheering you on when you are really digging deep. At this race, the wives of some of the runners were leap frogging all along the course, so after two pitstops and some witty banter, they were also cheering for me.
Bring My Checklist To The Start Line
Hot day, desert sun burning down, if I ever have future problems with my eyes, I will point back to this raceday as the root cause since I forgot my sunglasses (ok, problems I have with freckles and other worrisome skin conditions come from a lifetime of poor sun protection choices, but everybody needs a scapegoat). I have taken my own advice and use a race checklist both the night before the race and before I leave the house, but I left my sunglasses on the passenger seat as I was applying last minute sunscreen. Bringing the checklist with me, might have prevented some discomfort as we turned towards the sun during the last half of the marathon.
I was feeling much more confident after last week’s stronger performance and after some wonderfully inspirational runs at the local parks, I had high expectations for this week. The heat and the big hill took a little more out of me than I hoped and although I shaved time of last week’s marathon, I didn’t quite perform at my peak. 5:37:38 shaved 7 minutes off my time from the previous week, but I really looking to consistently get my competive times under 5:30 consistently and closer to 5:00 as the year progresses. At the end of this race, I did have some discomfort in my right hip and lower back, but great massage I received immediately after the race truly helped to set things right. Next week is one of the routes I have been looking forward to – Big Sur along the Pacific Highway in Californina. A challenging race that I hope I will be better prepared for after running and racing at higher altitudes. As always, if you are reading this final paragraph I am so grateful for your support and I am hungry for your comments and feed back. Please feel free to leave them here or on our Facebook page. I cannot wait to dust the desert off my running shoes and plunge into the Pacific. I hope you continue to join me.