- 13.1/Half Marathon
- Road Race
The Zion half marathon is a beautiful race that takes place leading up to the entrance of Zion National Park. My understanding is that it had been a different course for the last few years but the 2019 route is the original route from the inaugural race 7 years ago. It’s a steady, uphill climb from Virgin, Utah into Springdale, right at the base of the National Park entrance. While it is a race that has a positive elevation profile the entire time, it actually doesn’t feel like it except for a few points (mainly mile 6-7) and a few additional climbs towards the end. The scenery more than makes up for this seeming injustice though as you are surrounded by magnificent views for the entire race!
The expo took place the afternoon before the race at the same location as the finish line. The expo was modest but had a little bit of everything you would need. It had the added benefit of being next to a local outfitters so between the expo booths and the local store, you could get anything from shoes to hydration packs, gloves to buffs, etc. I also loved the variety of Vacation Races branded merchandise. They teamed up with the National Parks Project so there was a great selection of race specific and National Parks related merchandise.
As I was traveling to this race from out of state and had never been to Zion before, I relied heavily on the race guide that they emailed out about two weeks before the race. This handy document contained everything that I needed to know from race day logistics, the shuttle service, aid stations and bag drops, etc. And anything else that I didn't know or was uncertain about, I could ask on their Facebook page where they were quick to respond to questions. Leading up to race day, there was some really unexpected and ridiculously cold weather on the forecast. The organizers hosted a live chat before the race to address questions and talk everyone through how it would affect the race itself and what they were doing to stay on top of it. I found all of these things so beneficial and helpful. I think there was a lot of frustration from some participants about the race not being cancelled due to the weather, but it's really no different than any other race that I've participated in and the fact that they offered deferrals to another race in their series seemed more than generous. I was really impressed with how they handled the situation overall.
As for race day itself? I took the 5am shuttle that I pre-booked from my hotel in Springdale down to the start line which was about a 20 minute ride. From there we were immediately directed to a warming tent where they held a raffle for the duration of the wait to the start, as well as served hot chocolate and coffee in reusable cups. I loved that this race was so green: you also had the option of picking up a reusable cup at the expo to use during the race as they are trying to leave no trace (aka, litter) behind in our beautiful National Parks. About 15 minutes before the start of the race, they started calling the various corrals out to line up outside. They didn't make us wait too long to start, and soon we were on the way through the course.
The course itself is the paved road that leads to Springdale, Utah, so you are running just on the border of Zion National Park. This leaves amazing views for the duration of the race, which starts as the sun was just rising. Like I mentioned before, there was some extremely rare weather this year so it was freezing. But they also coordinated gear drops both at the start and the 3 mile point so you could shed layers as you started to warm up during the race.
The aid stations were good with water and electrolytes at every single one, and later on I started to see Honey Stinger gu's and bananas being served. There are no spectators on the course as it is a road that is in use during the race. That was probably the only part that I wasn't used to but honestly, the scenery was pretty spectacular so that kept my mind occupied for a lot of it.
Once you crossed the finish line, you were handled a beautiful and huge medal and funneled through to pick up your banana, pre-packed box of post-race snacks, and a chocolate milk. The post race snacks seemed to vary but generally it was goldfish, an Rx bar, trail-mix type individual pack, and a Honey Stinger waffle. Definitely a good assortment of treats to satisfy you post-race.
I would 100% do this race again and am eager to try out some other races within their series. They did a great job managing this event and the staff was helpful and courteous throughout the process. I volunteered at the expo and in exchange they offered free race credits. But during that process I also saw how they took care of attendees; I was helping out at registration and they were quick to assist with issues people had for cancellations, deferrals, and bib transfers. Oh and you can't forget the best part which is the partnership with National Parks. It was an amazing experience to run in such a beautiful environment and then take off on some hikes afterwards within Zion National Park. It's an experience I won't soon forget!
You can read more about my whole experience on my blog post: