Race Report: 2014 Little Grand Canyon Marathon
This is one of my favorite recipes for a fun race:
sign up on Wednesday night for a Saturday marathon
drive 8 hours after work on Friday to a Wal-mart parking lot in the middle of nowhere
fall asleep in Hotel de Subaru just before midnight
wake at 4:15, more driving
run a marathon in a cool place you’ve never visited before
A last minute trip to Utah to spend the weekend with family led me to do a quick search of race calendars to see if there would be anything I could do along the way. The Little Grand Canyon Marathon turned out to be a perfect fit. It is a nice low-key event that was exactly what I was interested in doing.
I was only a couple of weeks removed from finishing the Leadville 100, but had the itch to do a longer run as prep for a 50 miler later in the month. I told myself I’d just take it easy and treat it as training.
A pre-dawn bus ride dropped us off in pretty much the middle of nowhere. We stood around, casually waiting for everyone to have a chance to take care of last minute business before the RD gave the ‘go’. No rock and roll bands, or cheering spectators. Just a few runners and 26 miles of road in front of you.
I haven’t run a marathon in a few years and had forgotten that this event wasn’t like an ultra with tons of leap frogging during the start as people’s pace changed to accommodate tying shoes, pit stops, pack adjustments, etc. It seemed everyone locked into a pace and there was a mostly static chain of runners cruising through the countryside. I settled into 11th place and just stayed there forever, never really gaining or losing any ground with the runners around me. It was kind of an odd sensation. I topped out the longest climb of the day at mile 5 still locked into the same place.
The course starts with a few miles of pavement with a few long-ish climbs to keep things honest, before transitioning to dirt/gravel road that descends very gradually all the way to the finish line. The first half is wide open and barren (but beautiful in its own right), and the second half follows a tributary to the Little Grand Canyon which is an amazing place I somehow had never visited before despite having traveled all over the state.
The sunrise across the endless expanse of desert-like surroundings was well worth the price of admission. Truly an amazing sight.
The terrain changed leading up to the halfway mark and the static nature of the placings finally started to change as well. Rolling climbs with a rougher road started to take a toll on some of the runners ahead of me and I was able to move up to 7th without changing my effort level. This was a small race (55 runners in the full marathon) and we were getting well spread out by now.
I essentially ran the final 14 miles alone, except for picking up stragglers from the half marathon that had started their race at the 13 mile mark. It was a long lonely haul, but a great experience. I locked into a steady pace in the very high 7 range and kept it there for 10 miles before starting to fatigue a little in the final two as some hills had to be dealt with and my Leadville legs started to show up.
I stayed in 7th place with a 3:32:08. Not too speedy, but it got the job done and was just the type of run I was looking for. 6th and 8th place were 6 minutes ahead and behind me, so I was definitely in no-man’s land.
Strava data here.
While it isn’t necessarily a destination-type race, I would definitely do it again if time and circumstances permit. I would love to spend a couple of days in the area exploring and photographing the canyon. It was a lot more impressive than I was expecting.