The event is a well-organized and very scenic race in the heart of central Utah.
The official Web site for the race (Little Grand Canyon Marathon) describes the event in detail and directions on how to get to the area. (The starting point is shown below.)
Distance and Difficulty
The race course has a few small hills, especially during the first few miles, but after mile 5, it is a gentle downhill to the finish. Except for the first three miles, the entire race is on an unpaved dirt and gravel road. Trail shoes aren't necessary for this race, but they don't hurt either seeing that your feet can develop sore spots after a while.
As you notice in the elevation profile below, there are a number of elevation spikes and irregularities starting about mile 17, and these are due to poor GPS reception, and not real elevation jumps.
Race Cut-Off Times
One of the benefits of this scenic race was that it had no time limit. For me, this gave me extra time to stop and look for dinosaur tracks and spend a few minutes looking at the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel without worrying about not finishing on time. Why travel hundreds (and for some, over a thousand miles) to a remote area of Utah featuring some really fascinating geographic and historical features and not take the time to few them less than 100 feet off the side of the road? (Of course, stopping or not stopping can have more to do with your own running goals, so each person will view the opportunities differently.)
Little Grand Canyon Marathon - First 13 Miles
Little Grand Canyon Marathon - Last 13 Miles
Course Maps for the Little Grand Canyon Marathon
Saying the right thing at the right moment is a constant juggling act, especially when trying to help family make the best decisions for their future. Mention the right thing, and you might rewarded with praise and admiration for your great wisdom. Say the wrong thing, and you might be the victim of some nasty porcupine quills for butting into someone else's business. The hardest thing in the process of giving advice is when you know you are probably right, yet the other person is not in the right frame of mind to see that same perspective.
My wife and I enjoy long-distance running, and although we are pretty slow, we enjoy doing it together. In part, I am trying to make up for one of the only lies I made to my wife years ago when I said (when we were still dating) that I liked to jog. At the time, I merely thought that the only thing I could say was that I enjoyed it. It never sounds very appealing for a man to admit he doesn't like to do something physical like running. I must say, however, that I did enjoy other sports including racketball, so it wasn't like I was physically inactive. I just didn't find much enjoyment in pounding the pavement mile after mile breathing in car exhaust down city streets.
Well, in our early forties I started taking up trail running in the mountains in our area after listening to the stories of an ultrarunner who had completed a number of 100 mile (160 kilometer) races. Now, running in the mountains was something I could really enjoy, and I already had done a lot of hiking, so being in the backcountry wasn't something foreign to me. After doing this for some time, my wife and I started running together, and I helped her complete her first marathon in 2009.
We then decided to try her second marathon that would take us through the desert in some of the most beautiful country in Utah. In preparation for the race, she had a specific time goal in mind, and we trained with that in mind. Having goals in life can be very useful in motivating us to achieve things we might never have done before. On this occasion, my wife was very focused on obtaining her goal, and I was just as focused on helping her achieve it. (I must openly say that she is my best friend and I try to thank her daily for the countless acts of kindness and sacrifice she has done for our family. Love for a person can actually grow as the years go by!).
The marathon we were in was small event with only about 120 runners, and the route would take us into some canyons. The nice thing about such an event is that you don't have to listen to rock bands and the noise of the crowd around you for miles. The first part of the race went very well, and we were well on to meeting her time objective. She wasn't feeling 100%, but she looked very strong . . . for our pace.
Buckhorn Draw Pictograph Panel
Central Utah in the Rafael Swell
As we reached the 22 mile mark with only 4 miles to go, I began to calculate what pace we would need to maintain over the last stretch to reach her goal, and it was becoming clear that it would be tight; however, as I glanced over at my wife, she didn't seem very concerned about it. At one point, she asked me to talk about something to keep her mind distracted from the long run, but when I started to talk about some recent family events, she told me not to talk to her. It was at this point that I realized that she wasn't completely aware of the timing and distance. Was she miscalculating in her head? If so, how was I to approach the topic without coming across as too overbearing, competitive, or uncompassionate while not getting my head chewed off? Before the race, she told me to kindly prod her on, but my encouragement could leave a sour taste in her mouth. However, if I didn't say anything (and I did ask her from time to time if she wanted to run a little more or if my walking/running pace was helping her) and she missed her goal, the thought of not reaching her goal might linger on her mind for weeks and months, knowing that she had been so close. I also might look like I hadn't done enough as her unofficial coach. Wow. Between slick rock and a very hard place.
At about mile 23 in Buckhorn
Draw in the San Rafael Swell, Utah
At this same time, the memory of our last marathon flashed before my mind when we witnessed a couple running near the end of the race in which the man became somewhat upset with his woman companion because he felt that she wasn't running fast enough, and he ultimately abandoned her to complete the race on his own. Ouch.
Once we got to the last mile, I knew that coming under her time goal would be so close, and again, I kept softly encouraging her on. I then decided to run on up ahead and around the corner to see how far we were from the finish line. At that point, you could hear the loud music about a little over a quarter of a mile down the road that was greeting the runners as they crossed the finish line. I waited until she caught up with me, and then I decided to run on ahead to see if I could see the time clock which is often placed over the finish line so you can see your time. Unfortunately, they didn't have one at this race, so I was somewhat clueless as to the time. I waited within 20 feet or so of the finish line and cheer my wife on as she ran the last bit and crossed. I officially completed the race .04 seconds behind her.
We were both very ecstatic that she crossed the finish line with 58 seconds to spare. A very close race, but a superb personal victory. Immediately after the race at the finish line, there were lots of snacks, fruit, chocolate milk, and snow cones to enjoy. We then caught a bus back to the bus loading area back in Huntington, and they served some great Navajo tacos in the city park. We also had a nice time visiting with some of the other runners including Bill Harris from Indiana, who is a personal quest to complete a marathon in all 50 states with only a few to go.
If you are looking for a well-staged event without the crowds, but plenty of scenic vistas, this might be the race for you.
Here are several recommendations for preparing and running in this event:
Make an early hotel reservation in the area. We ended up staying in Price, about 30 minutes north of Huntington, but vacancies can quickly disappear.
Consider wearing shoes with a harder sole or even a rock plate. People unaccustomed to running on gravel and rocks might experience sore feet after 26 miles of running.
Take a camera. You won't scenery like this in most marathons.