Runners passed the Goose Island Campground during a previous Canyonlands Half Marathon race. [Photo by Tom Haraden / Courtesy of Ranna Bieschke]

For the past three decades running, the Canyonlands Half Marathon has been an annual “rite of spring” for Grand Junction, Colorado, resident Tom Ela.

“It’s a beautiful course, that you can (typically) run in shorts and a T-shirt,” Ela said. “It gets the season started with a big bang.”

While it’s not yet officially spring, Moab’s weather is typically mild this time of year – especially for folks coming from Denver or Utah’s Wasatch Front who are accustomed to more snow, race director Ranna Bieschke said.

The 42nd annual Canyonlands Half Marathon will take place Saturday, March 18. Participants will meet in front of Helen M. Knight Elementary, 511 N. MiVida Drive, between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. to take a shuttle to the race’s starting point.

The half-marathon race starts at 10 a.m. A five-mile race, which follows the last 5 miles of the half-marathon course, begins at 9:30 a.m. A wheelchair race begins at 9:50 a.m. All races end up at Swanny City Park.

The course starts approximately 11 miles from Moab on state Route 128, just after Take Out Beach on the Colorado River. Runners follow the river to U.S. Highway 191, then turn east before ending up at Swanny City Park in downtown Moab.

State Route 128 will be closed to vehicular traffic from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for the safety of the runners. Any participant still on the road by 12:30 p.m. will be directed to the bike path at that point, Bieschke said.

Many athletes return year after year to run in the half marathon. Members of the “10 Year Club” – participants who have ran in 10 or more races over the years – receive a special race shirt and a reception at the VIP tent at the finish.

Ela said he’s been hooked ever since he ran that first marathon 30 years ago.

“It’s always been very popular with Grand Junction people,” Ela said. “There are lots of people on the course. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd, having a good time, cruising along … You get hauled up River Road about 10 miles and then just have to run back to town. The first mile is a wonderfully downhill fast mile. You’re running in a canyon all the way,” until the last couple of miles.

The Canyonlands Half Marathon was founded in 1976. Twenty-two runners participated that first year. Bieschke said she expects 2,500 runners this year – the vast majority coming from out of town. Bieschke began directing the race in 2002 – after having run the race six different years.

“I love running; I’m very passionate about running,” she said. “It’s a great thing to offer people; it gives people a goal.”

Ela, 64, said he maintains a good fitness “base” by running 5 or 6 miles, three times a week. To train specifically for this event, he adds additional 10- to 12-mile-long runs in the weeks leading up to the half marathon.

The cost to participate is $90, or $85 for people 60 and older. Participants celebrate afterward with food and beer at Swanny City Park.

Half-marathon race closes road to motorists on March 18

What: Canyonlands Half Marathon and Five Mile Run

When: Saturday, March 18; start times vary

Where: State Route 128; Participants meet in front of Helen M. Knight Elementary, 511 N. MiVida Drive, between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. to take a shuttle to the race’s starting point.

Cost: $90; $85 for people 60 and older

Information: 435-259-4525;

It gets the season started with a big bang.