Runners depart from the starting line at the 2013 Canyonlands Half Marathon [Courtesy photo]

Spring is in the air, and in Moab that means the beginning of running season. The 39th annual Canyonlands Half Marathon is on Saturday, March 15, and marks the first of four races hosted locally by Moab Half Marathon this year. Popularity for the race continues to grow and 4,600 racers are expected for this year’s event, Moab Half Marathon marketing director Melissa Edge said.

Runners can choose from two distances along the same course; the 5-mile race begins near Negro Bill Canyon on state Route 128 at 9:30 a.m., and the Half Marathon begins near mile-marker 11 on state Route 128 at 10 a.m., with wheelchair racers departing 10 minutes earlier. Runners will follow the Colorado River west on state Route 128, continue south on U.S. Highway 191, and finish by entering into Moab from the north. The finish line is in town at Swanny City Park and will feature a beer garden offering Moab Brewery’s beers for runners and guests 21 and over, live music by the Eric Jones Trio, and food and beverage vendors.

A fundraiser pasta dinner benefiting the Youth Garden Project will be offered the night before the races to finish up the runners’ Packet Pickup Expo. The meal will include veggie and meat dishes and will be available Friday, March 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Moab Community Church, 544 MiVida Drive, near Swanny Park. Runners check in for the race and pick up their bag of swag, race shirt, and numbered bib at the Packet Pickup Expo from 1 to 9 p.m. on Friday, March 14 at Center Street Gym, 203 E. Center St. The expo will feature a variety of vendors including CHM Store, Salt Lake Running Company, Sore No More, and Black Diamond Equipment. Tickets for the dinner are available at the door; $16 for adults and $7 for children 12-and-under.

Leaving a small impact is important, race organizer Ranna Bieschke said.

“Positively affecting the environment and our community is an important part of our mission,” she said.

All waste generated by the race is sorted by volunteers in order to maximize recycling efficiency, and separate trash bins for recycling, trash and compost are featured at both expos and the race course itself, in part to collect the thousands of tiny compostable paper cups runners will use to hydrate themselves along the course, Bieschke said.

The Canyonlands Half Marathon features a strategically placed group of drummers, situated atop one of the steeper hills near the end of the course in order to provide encouragement for the runners. Playing traditional Japanese drums in a style known as Taiko drumming, local nonprofit group Moab Taiko Dan is another unique part of the race.

“It’s not a coincidence that we drum at the top of the hill,” drummer Karen Henker said. “If someone is flagging, we reach out with the rhythm and try to reinvigorate their steps… and it works. People who were hurting start smiling and we hope they take that smile all the way to the finish line.”

Henker said she “absolutely loves” playing at the half marathon.

“The exchange also works the other direction: runners’ smiles and cheers boost our energy and sore arms, and we can drum with renewed enthusiasm. Everybody wins,” she said.

In addition to the Canyonlands Half Marathon, one of Utah’s oldest half marathon races in its 39th year, Moab Half Marathon also presents three other running events in Moab throughout the year. The Thelma & Louise Half Marathon is scheduled to take place on June 7, followed by the Other Half Marathon welcoming the cooler temperatures of fall on Oct. 19, and ending with a celebration of winter in Moab with the Winter Sun 10k on Dec. 6. Registration is now open for Thelma & Louise and the Other Half.

Canyonlands Half Marathon ushers in the 2014 running season

“Positively affecting the environment and our community is an important part of our mission,”  

What: Road Closures

When: Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15

Where: state Route 128 will be closed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. In addition, 400 North will be closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday with portions being closed as early as 3:30 p.m. on Friday. 500 West will be closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday


What: Packet Pickup Expo

When: Friday, March 14,1 to 9 p.m., Saturday March 15 7 to 7:30 a.m. (pickup only)

Where: Center Street Gym, 203 E. Center St.

Cost: Free


What: Canyonlands Half Marathon & 5 Mile Race

When: Saturday, March 15. State Route 128 is closed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Shuttles to the race leave from Swanny City Park and HMK Elementary between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. There is no parking at the starting line; the finish line is at Swanny City Park and includes live music and an awards ceremony from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost: Admission to the finish line festivities is free