There are so many amazing half marathons in Utah but the American Fork Canyon Run is one of my all-time favorites. Here’s why.
Number one reason? I got to watch this guy finish his first ever half marathon with a huge smile on his face.
Tommy’s first half marathon
When Tommy came home a few months ago and told me that he wanted to train for a half marathon, I’ll be honest – I was skeptical. And you can see how the conversation and subsequent conversations throughout his training unfolded in this Twitter thread. 🙂 But, he was serious so we picked the AF Canyon Run for his first half marathon and got registered and got training! (I can do a post all about his experience training for and running his first half marathon, if you’d like. Just leave any questions in the comments!)
But, in short, I couldn’t be prouder of him. And to make a long story short, he arrived on race day fully trained and ready to go!!!
AF Canyon Run Against Cancer
We had a very early morning with 3:00 am alarm – thankfully our bodies were sorta still on East Coast time. The race started at 6am so we met my mom and brother (also his first half marathon!) at 3:45 AM and carpooled to the bus loading area. We loaded the bus around 4:45 and arrived at the start line around 5:15, still mostly asleep. 😉
After a short wait for the porta-potties, I did a short warm-up jog (about 15 minutes), stripped some layers and dropped them in the gear bag truck, and we all split up to line up for the start since we were in different waves. I’m so glad my mom thought to have us take a group picture before the start!
I wasn’t really feeling well going into this race (more on that in another post) so I didn’t really push myself, to be honest. So I was THRILLED when I got third place in my age group. I was shocked, really, since Utah is hella-fast. Granted, the top female winners are my age so they came out of the age group, but I’ll take it!
1:30 is a half marathon PR for me, but I’m not exactly counting it given the course profile — it has about 2400 ft of elevation drop! Had I pushed myself (which would take practice on downhills!!), I know I could easily break 1:30 on that course.
I didn’t really care about my race time since I was just so excited to see Tommy, my mom and Dean finish. I teared up each time they crossed the finish line.
- Tommy finished in 2 hours, 45 seconds (and he has no context to fully understand how AMAZING that is for his first half!!!!! Especially considering he had to stop 3x for, ahem, restroom emergencies in the last three miles!!!)
- Dean finished in 2 hours, 22 minutes – he just started running about 3 months ago!!!!
- My mom finished in 2 hours, 19 minutes – she’s 72!!! And yep, got first in her age group!!!
It was so special to see so many people I love at the finish. My dad was there, Dean’s wife and kids, and one of my cousins ran as well.
And I was so grateful I got to see Holly right after I finished, especially since I knew she had never gone to bed the night before working on getting everything ready for the race start – putting up mile markers and cheering signs, getting the buses lined up, breaking down the packet pickup area so it’s ready for the finish line — all these details that runners take for granted. I know I’m biased because she’s a dear friend, but I just could not be more impressed with this race.
One of our other high school friends, Emily, ran as well. I was just so overwhelmed with gratitude on race day to be surrounded by so many people I love!
I also wanted to share a few other reasons why I loved the AF Canyon Run SO MUCH, aside from my personal connection to it. It absolutely needs to be on every runner’s bucket list. Yes, I know just told you the BolderBoulder 10K needs to be on your must-run list, but you have to add this one too. They are both amazing races and amazing for entirely different reasons.
Why you’ll love half marathons in Utah
- Scenery – I vote it’s the prettiest state in the country. Again, I may be biased having grown up there. 😉
- Fast courses – Lots of half marathons in Utah start up a canyon and you run down, which can mean blazing fast times.
- People – I think runners and race volunteers are nice everywhere, but they seem especially kind in Utah.
Why you’ll especially love the American Fork Canyon half marathon
- the BEST scenery
The American Fork Canyon is seriously one of my FAVORITE canyons in all of Utah, if not my absolute favorite. It’s just absolutely GORGEOUS from start to finish. It starts at a reservoir with the most amazing views, runs down the canyon along a river and finishes in a park with gorgeous views of the mountains.
- a VERY fast course
The race starts 7000 ft and finishes at about 4000 ft. The first 10 miles are ALL downhill and the last three are rolling, which helps to give your quads a break when they need it most!
- the NICEST volunteers
Utah in general has super nice people but they are in full force at this race. Everyone involved seems so genuinely happy to be there. And we were equally happy to be there! Tommy was especially pleased by the snow cones at packet pickup. 😉
- a GREAT cause
The AF Canyon Run raises money for people in the community who are fighting cancer. (You can make a donation here – any amount helps!!! If you read my blog regularly, please consider donating $5! It’d mean the world to me!) There are signs along the race course, cheering for specific people, which really drives home the whole meaning of the race.
Some signs cheer on those those running in honor of others fighting cancer, e.g. a dad running for his daughter. Others highlight people who lost their battle. Others cheer on those still fighting, including some actually running the race while doing chemo. Another sign thanks the nurses at the American Fork Intermountain Cancer Center. And, of course, there are signs encouraging all runners to keep pushing through.
Even though I wasn’t feeling great on race day, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my health as I read the signs while running.
- the perfect size race
There are 5000 runners with the half marathon, 10K and 5K. I think that’s a perfect sized field since you are never alone on the course yet it never feels crowded. I never felt the need to weave around people (which I try not to do at races anyway since it just wastes energy!!).
Even at the start line, while there were a lot of people, it didn’t feel cramped and there were plenty of porta-potties. I especially loved that it was easy to find a spot to warm-up (I always run for 10-20 minutes before a half marathon).
- amazing swag
The gear bags are full of goodies included with the registration fee, including a technical shirt AND a hat. Both are super cute and fit well (and we all know that’s not usually the case with race freebies!). I loved the medals too!
- insanely organized
I told Tommy that he is officially ruined by running two of the most organized races I’ve EVER experienced for his first two races. I mean, it shouldn’t surprise me knowing Holly, but she has seriously thought of EVERYTHING. It’s a VERY smooth operation and feels very high-end. Even on race morning at 4:30 AM, parking was a breeze. Every little detail is thought through. One of my personal favorites? The bag tags have your name and phone number printed on it so you can remove them and keep to use on luggage.
- french toast at the finish
No post-race bananas or packaged granola bars – you get thick-cut french toast from one of the most popular bakeries in Utah. Kneaders French Toast is famous for a reason.
Our post-race celebrations
After the race, we headed home for a home-cooked brunch after showers. Then, Dean and I went on a hike with some of my other family members.
I always like to do a little walking on race day in the afternoon to flush the legs!
Later that evening, we grabbed some dinner before heading to the Salt Lake Bee’s baseball game. We sat on the grass, so the kids could run amuck, and it was also perfect to stretch out our sore quads. And then we all commiserated the next day whenever we attempted to walk down stairs. 😉
My nieces and nephews love Tommy.
No really, they do.
All in all, it was a PERFECT day.
Have you run a half marathon in Utah? If so, which ones? If not, what’s on your bucket list?
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