Review of the Canyonlands Half Marathon

Race Overview

Organized by Mad Moose Events, the Canyonlands Half Marathon is a run taking place in Moab, Utah and sees competitors racing alongside the twisted Colorado River amongst some gorgeous landscapes of bright red rocks. Having been named as one of the “The World’s Greatest Races” and frequently mentioned as one of the best routes in US, it’s a demanding run that has become an annual staple since its first event on May 1, 1976. The next run in 2020 marks 44th year of the Canyonlands Half Marathon.

This half marathon has long stood as one of the most popular outdoor athletic events in Moab and the state of Utah in general, having attracted thousands of runners every year. Besides the half marathon, there’s also a 5 Miler which covers that last five miles of the Half Marathon Course. For the half marathon, the shuttle picks up the runners from the south side Swanny City Park along Park Drive. Then, they’re taken to the Sandy Beach River Access on the Colorado River, starting from an elevation of around 4,000 feet.

The fees for the half marathon start at $85, increasing in price as race day approaches. There are spaces for up to 5000 entrants, which have been chosen in the past via lottery. 2019’s run, however, changed that, with the first 5000 entrants getting a spot in both races, which is likely to be the case for the next annual event as well.

The pre-run expo takes place on the day before the race from 1pm to 7pm. It’s held at the Center Street Gym in Moab. However, since it’s likely to be extremely busy at the day before the race and parking it limited, it’s recommended you find a walkable route or carpool with other runners. The race day packet pickup takes place at the Center Street Gym at 6am, an hour before the shuttle pickup at 7am. The half marathon then starts at 8:45am.

Porta potties, Gatorade, and water are all available at the start line staging area, as well as the aid stations along the route, also offering first aid facilities. The half marathon is on a well-kept USATF-certified course, with fast descents and challenging hills as runners head down from the Utah’s Arches National Park.

For 11 miles, runners follow the paved highway route alongside the Colorado River, before taking an exit out of the red rock canyon. Here, they continue to follow Highway 191 into the streets of Moab, through three miles of residential areas before hitting the finish line in Swanny City Park.

The first aid stations are dotted throughout the race, and you’re likely to find plenty of cheers, especially as you leave the canyon and get into the city itself. Following the finish, runners are welcome to join in the festivities. Check your results, pick up your medals, grab a drink of water and Gatorade, and grab a bite to eat. When you catch your breath, you can relax at the beer garden with the rest of the runners, enjoy some of the Moab Brewery Craft Beer, and chill to some live music. Amongst the swag, all runners who finish get a medal, custom printed race shirt, and a bag from Mad Moose Events.

Race Review

The Canyonlands Half Marathon has quite the reputation, being perhaps the best known outdoor athletic event in Utah, and one of the highest rated half marathons in the entire world. There’s plenty of good reason, too.

It’s not one of the steepest inclines found amongst the many downhill runs in the Utah Valley, so experienced runners might find it a nice change of pace from the more breakneck routes. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely without challenge, as a few hills along the way tend to push runners a little further when you get into the second half of the race.

As one of the most important half marathons in the area, it’s also expected that it should be run like clockwork, and the production of the Canyonlands event doesn’t disappoint. Orderly bag pickup, convenient shuttles, and a great expo the day beforehand should ensure that you’re good to go come race day. The only challenge might be finding some parking space to attend the expo itself. This is a hugely popular race, which means you should be prepared to walk or at least consider carpooling with someone who’s reserved a space nearby.

In terms of scenery, you can’t ask for much better, either. The red rock formations of the route, going through Utah’s gorgeous Arches National Park. Stunning red rock formations, the bending Colorado River and how the surrounding canyon shifts color as the sun progresses through the sky most definitely makes it one of the more visually rewarding races in the area.

Hosted in the Spring, it makes the best use of the warming weather, often starting off a little cool, but often sunny enough to keep things at a comfortable temperature as you head down from the canyon towards the town. To begin with, you might want to start off with some warm layers and grab a cup of hot chocolate at the staging area. As the race progresses, however, and the sun gets higher in the sky, you’re likely going to want to discard those outer layers so you can run the rest of the race more comfortably.

Overall, the Canyonlands does live up to its reputation as one of the best half marathons around sheerly due to the hype and level of participation from runners throughout Utah and beyond. Well organized, with gorgeous scenery, and a festive atmosphere to the ending celebrations, it’s often called a “bucket list run”, and it’s not too difficult to see why. Definitely a half marathon that every runner should try at least once in their life.