My sixteenth half-marathon was run and 31st state of the 50-state racing goal achieved on June 25 at the AF Canyon Run half-marathon in American Fork, UT. And what a great race it was! (I know I almost always say that, but I really do mean it.)
The AF Canyon Run Against Cancer is actually more than one race. There is a half-marathon that starts up in the canyon itself at 6:00 am, a 10-k, a 5-k, and a kids’ race which start at various times later and conclude in Art Dye Park where all activities, including the previous day’s packet pickup as well as the post-race festival are held. The event is very family-oriented with great food and entertainment, and something to offer for runners of all distances.
The half marathon starts quite a distance up in the canyon at 6:00 in the morning. Runners are shuttled to the start in the pre-dawn hours after parking in Art Dye Park near the finish line festival site. For a Central Time based visitor like me, it wasn’t too much of a rude shock but locals had to get up pretty early to board within the 3:45-4:45 window. Since there is no way to get to the start line without riding one of the big yellow school buses, it is essential to be on time.
The pre-race area was welcoming, albeit chilly, with plenty of portapotties, a food table with bagels and fruit, large jugs of both sports drink and water, and an emcee conducting generous prize giveaways. The items given ranged from simple running gear and attire all the way up to a brand-new treadmill. Winners were chosen by “the first one to approach the podium with…” various qualifiers ranging from: youngest runner, person wearing purple shoes, person wearing last year’s shirt, cancer survivor and others. It was a nice way to pass time in the interval between bus drop-off and gun time. There was also a truck for gear transport back to the finish line, so any extras brought along did not have to be discarded. And they even included the bag to put things in as part of your race packet.
Then at 6:00 the gun went off and the fun began. The first few miles were a steep downhill where I found myself having to actually slow myself because we were pretty much barreling down the mountainside, and I’d been warned of the hefty price my quads would later pay if not careful descending the hill. As the sun came up and temperatures rose, everyone began to shed extra layers but all were careful to leave them near aid stations or mile markers so as not to litter the beautiful surroundings.
Aid stations were plentiful, starting at about mile 2.5 and again approximately every 2 miles thereafter, and each had an assortment of water as well as sports gel, sports drink, and banana halves. I had brought my own Accel Gel packets to consume along with some dried cherries in a baggie but ended up not needing all of them because of the banana chunks they gave us. Along the route, there were also signs with funny, inspirational and poignant messages to keep our brains working along with our bodies. I took a picture of my shadow too because my giant calves looked even bigger than in real life. (I know. Crazy. But all kinds of stuff goes through your mind when running 13.1 miles. LOL)
The race wound along the river and down the mountain and through the inspiring beauty of nature, finally coming out of the canyon at about Mile 7. We turned into a neighborhood that abutted a golf course and featured a trail which we followed much of the rest of the way. The generous down hill slope also pretty much leveled off at this point and began to resemble the usual suburban rolling landscape. I don’t have any pictures from that point on because (1) while pleasant, it was not breathtakingly gorgeous and, (2) the effort to maintain my 3:00 run/1:00 walk regimen after almost two hours of running overtook my desire to snap photos.
Soon the Finish Line was in sight and, PR safely in the books, I crossed the grid with a smile. In fact, almost all of the pics taken by the course photographer found me smiling. I just loved it that much. (I say “almost” because there was one spot where they wanted us to make a funny face and I did.)
All races having been run, the finish line area was crowded with happy racers and their families enjoying a delicious breakfast of Kneaders Bakery french toast, fruit, yogurt, chocolate milk and juice. Timekeepers at desks were posted nearby to give you a card with your time printed on it, and to direct any age-group winners to a booth where they could collect their extra bling. I must say, the French toast was stellar! This ranks with the pancakes-and-a-beer-truck that greeted me at my first ever half marathon in New Orleans and the delicious barbecued burgers from the Sandhills half in Nebraska as one of my top 3 post-run breakfasts.
Ordinarily, I don’t hang around much after a race. I do my run, maybe eat a little food and then return to the hotel to get on with my day. But this race was special and I wasn’t ready to stop savoring it yet. It was my first half in over 14 months. I’d completed an entire training program from start to finish, and I had no aches or pains whatsoever. The PR was a gift because of the downhill course, but I was riding that high a little bit too. Ambling through the crowd, I found a photographer with a backdrop and a bunch of funny signs who had people posing so I went ahead and got in line. And then I headed back to the hotel in American Fork to get ready for my flight back home in a few hours. Unpacking all of my gear from the race and laying it on the bed, I realized what a tremendous amount of extras we received for this half. There was the usual shirt and medal, but also a pair of sleeves for the chilly descent down the canyon as well as a Mylar warming blanket, the printed card with stats and the gear check back to carry it all in. That was impressive.
But even in the face of a fun and exhilarating race with generous bling and a delicious breakfast surrounded by mountains and greenery, there was more to come. Several days later when I checked for race results, I made the happy discovery that all the photos taken of us during the race were available for FREE to download and keep for ourselves. There were 25 photos of me and I got to keep them all without having to pay some exorbitant price! That was the little “extra” that catapulted this race to the top of my Must Recommend To Everyone I Know List. So that’s what I’m doing.
Anyone who is looking for a well-organized, abundantly-appointed summer half marathon in a beautiful location, this is it. Take it from me and look no further. In fact, here is the link to the Runner’s Guide to find out even more.
But just so it doesn’t look like I’ve been paid off to do a good review, there were a couple of drawbacks. The first is the limited number of runners for the half. You need to sign up early because they do cap the field at a certain number. The second was some confusion about the address of Art Dye Park. It was listed differently in a couple of publications and so I first ended up going to the wrong place for packet pickup. The third is not race-specific but more of a Utah thing. I had a hell of a time finding beer in American Fork. But that’s really pretty minor.
So that’s it. The first half marathon of 2016 was awesome, and left me ready to keep running, stay uninjured and get on to the next one.