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Top of Utah Half Marathon Race Report
The Top of Utah Half Marathon is a Utah tradition. The Sun and Snow Runners have been putting on the Top of Utah Half and Full Marathon for years now, and they have race directing honed like old hands.
The Top of Utah Half Marathon is a fantastic race for anyone seeking a race that has everything you need and want, but no frills and gimmicks. You can expect organization at this race. They will have your packet, they will have on-time bus departure, they will have more than enough busses. There will be almost enough ports-potties at the start line (are there ever really enough port potties?) They will have sufficient aid-stations and aid-station volunteers. They will have an organized finish line with plenty of food. They will have a pretty good awards ceremony, and everything will happen on time, and be fun.
I rolled into Logan, UT. on August 22nd to a nice consistent rain thinking “well this could be an interesting race.” I was a few minutes early for packet pickup. Not to worry, they were ready for me, I and the other early birds spent a few minutes finding our names on a sheet of paper so that we could inform the folks handing out the packets what our number was (efficiency.) Packet pickup got going smoothly other than one person taking an involuntary ALS Ice Bucket Challenge when one of the tents was moved. My only complaint about packet pickup was that it moved a little slowly at first, but I am nitpicking, since the TOU Half race directors don’t lend themselves to much criticism.
The Top of Utah Half Marathon has a very small expo at the packet pickup area. The expo includes vendors like local running store, Runners North, a massage tent, and Altra Running. Altra has came on as the title sponsor of this year’s Top of Utah Half Marathon. I personally did not see much of a difference with Altra as the title sponsor other than Altra having a large booth at the expo.
Race morning is exactly what you would expect. Busses leave at the crack of early to go from the finish line at Zollinger Park to the start line which is about 7 miles up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. There is an area for day of race packet pickup and there are plenty of busses and counters to make sure all the busses are full.
I got to the starting line with plenty of time to warm up for the race, but not so much time that I got bored sitting around. You can expect plenty of energy from the folks starting the race, but they won’t have you sitting around for ten minutes of
There was a bit of rain about 2 minutes before the race started, but it cleared up and held off for the entirety of the race. For anyone not familiar with running marathons and/or half-marathons in Utah. It is fairly common to have a net elevation drop of at least 700 feet. The Top of Utah Half-Marathon drops that 700 feet over the first 7 miles of the race, but this does not, by any means, make the race feel easy. There are plenty of uphill and flat sections to keep the first 7 miles honest and to save your legs from getting beat up.
I, personally had a very good race at the 2013 edition of the Top Of Utah Half Marathon, and have seen first hand how great this course can be. Unfortunately it was not my day this year. A little more downhill, may have helped me salvage the race, but I think that a bad race is just a bad race, the course can only do so much for you.
That being said, the first 7 miles of the race is beautiful. There are some great views in Blacksmith Fork Canyon, and it is not uncommon to get a nice friendly tailwind to bring you down the hill.
At the bottom of the Canyon runners turn onto a flat winding road called hollow road. This is a fast and pretty section of race as well. For those who are in the heat of competition this is a great place to put in a surge. It is over halfway through the race, and the turns make it so nobody can see very far creating the illusion that somebody is further away than they really are.
I started to catch a little momentum through hollow road, but since I was unable to see the people in front of me, the feeling of running solo took it’s toll on me.
Around the 9 mile mark you turn off hollow road onto a state highway (don’t worry there is a section of road that is closed. And there is a straight shot mile-and-a-half with a slight downhill. At this point you can see as far as your eyes will allow. This is where I realized just how far behind the next person I was. Discouraged by this, I began slowing down around the 10 mile mark.
At the start of mile 11 is the only real uphill in the entire course. It is not extremely steep, but it is prominent and it is about 3/4 of a mile long. More significant than the actual grade or length of the hill is it’s placement in the race. It is not so close to the finish line that it is easy to grit your teeth through, but it is far enough into the race to ensure that runners are well into the hurt when they hit it.
At the top of the hill is a few hundred yards of flat to bring runners to mile 12, followed by about a half-mile of downhill, and another half mile of flat into the finish line. A word of warning, DO NOT start sprinting as soon as you can see the finish line. You can see the finish line for over a mile on this course.
In all the Top of Utah half course can be a tough course, but it is fast. Although not so fast as to be unrealistic. Some think that it is faster than a flat, sea-level course (remember that Logan, UT. sits at about 4,500 feet elevation.) However, some people run faster on flat sea-level courses than they are able to at Top of Utah.
The finish line is what you would expect from this race. Organized with personal results available almost immediately and a leaderboard that cycles through the finishers, but not a mad house party like some races strive for. The one thing I have noticed that Top of Utah has and other races do not is quite a bit of top-notch post race food. some standards like fruit, bagels, and chocolate milk, and some really great stuff like great harvest bread and ice cream sandwiches.
You can expect the awards ceremony to be, like everything else, prompt. Any decent sized race will have an awards ceremony that takes awhile. This is because there will be runners in each age division in each gender. I would advise
participants to be patient and applaud everyone’s efforts. Stick around for the awards ceremony because Top of Utah has a lot of great raffle prizes including a brand new treadmill.
All in all, the Top of Utah Half Marathon is a somewhat difficult race to grade. They do absolutely everything right, but you won’t see anything fun unique or crazy. This is where personal opinion comes in. I personally value a race that stays true to what road racing is and does not try to create gimmicks in order to get more registrants. The Sun and Snow runners also value the spirit of competition and the folks that are there to actually race, this is something that many race directors have devalued since the boom of running.
In the end, I think the race should be applauded for everything it does right and not penalized for things it makes no attempt to do. If you want a race plus entertainment, if you want mud, or color, or neon, there is nothing wrong with that, but you won’t get it here. You will get a good race experience that is done how it should be done. I give the Top of Utah Half Marathon a solid “A.”
John Coyle is a recent Graduate of Weber State University where he ran Cross Country and Track. He now runs professionally. He also manages Teton Running Company in Idaho Falls, ID and is the Marketing Manger for RunnersOnTheGo.com.