Updated: Aug 15, 2019
The Utah Valley Marathon is a scenic downhill race that features wide open country, the majesty of Mt. Timpanogos, the curves of the Provo River and Canyon, Bridal Veil Falls, and a stroll through the hometown of Brigham Young University in Provo, UT.
The race starts on a country road at an elevation of 5,963 ft and ends in downtown Provo City at 4,504 ft, with a net elevation loss of 1,700 ft. There are very few 90 degree turns, but there are lots of curves. Its downhill just enough to give you an advantage, but not enough to kill your legs. The temperatures are great, starting in the 50's and not getting too much above the 70's by the time most people come through the finish line (depending on the year).
The scenery is definitely one of the best things about this race. They claim on their website that it is the "...most scenic race in Utah." Given the several local iconic sites along the route, this could be true, but some might argue that other races in the state are equally scenic, such as Big Cottonwood Canyon, Ogden and even St. George, which goes through Snow Canyon. All of these races are also arguably as fast. Regardless, this really is a beautiful, scenic and fast course.
The downhill begins right off the bat, but it is not so dramatic that you feel like you have to constantly put on the breaks.
Just after mile seven, you run into what is cordially known as, "The Three Sisters," and for good reason. These three beauties roll progressively higher with each hill for two miles, slowly increasing 170 feet of elevation. Just when you think you have found a bit of relief from one hill, the next begins.
As you pass the nine mile mark, you begin a wonderful downward decent of 350 ft, ranging up to 8%. As you finish mile 10, you begin another brief ascent of three smaller rolling hills that climb approximately 50ft for 1.5 miles. As a reward, you get a lovely view of the back side of Mt. Timpanogos and a relatively flat decent for nearly 4 miles, losing approximately 100 ft.
Caution at mile 13, where the half marathon starts: there were a dozen or more smokey, hot and smoldering fire rings from the start of the half marathon on both sides as you approach the half-way mark--not cool.
If you look to your right around mile 14, you will see the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway (Hwy 92), which heads up to the Sundance Resort.
At mile 16, you start to climb up the last big hill in the race. This hill lasts about 0.80 of a mile, climbing 100 ft, with a grade that ranges from 2-4%. After that, you descend back down the other side of the hill until you run into another little hill, which feels like nothing in comparison and lasts only about a half mile. From there, its all a rolling decent. If you look on your left around mile 17, you will see a great view of Bridal Veil Falls.
Around mile 20 you emerge out of Provo Canyon and head toward downtown Provo City. Halfway through mile 24 (at 23.5 miles) you run into a very faint uphill that lasts about a half of a mile and only climbs about 20 feet. However, this happened to be my slowest mile of the race.
If the pain after that mile does not distract you too much, look to your left around 24.5 miles and you will see Brigham Young University's LaVell Edwards Stadium.
From there its a wonderfully flat decent on University Ave all the way through the finish line into the downtown Provo City Center Street.
PROS & CONS
On time start!!!
Plenty of food, water, bathrooms (and fire rings to stay warm) at the start
Aid stations every 2 miles on the course
Awesome finisher medals (and volunteers to catch me at the finish)
Cool winner plaques and negative split plaques
Well organized finish line, separating the marathon finishers on one side an other races on the other
Boston Qualifier shirts at the finish to those who BQ
Free photos (With a bit of confusion. See con below)
Jamba Juice and Creamies at the finish line
Gave nice running shorts with the race shirts (but ran a bit small)
Medical tent too far from the finish line and no where near message vendors
Running in between smoky, hot and smoldering fire rings on the course at half-way mark
The webpage has a link to the 2017 photos, which was confusing. Just click on the homepage of the photography website itself
Expo and registration layout (Before you can get your packet you had to weave through the whole expo as vendors bugging you...and then you have to walk back through it again just to get out. Don't force me through twice. Just let me get my race packet and then let me walk through and look at vendors)
Not enough good expo vendors (One of the best things is looking at running gear and getting free samples, which was slim pickings.)
Race shirts were "meh" in material and design
Last fall I ran the Big Cottonwood Marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. However, right after I qualified I realized that going to Boston would not be the same unless I ran it with my wife, who ran it 13 years ago. So I decided to wait and qualify again, but this time with my wife.
I was actually scared to run the Utah Valley Marathon to qualify for Boston. Previously, I really depended on the downhill to qualify and I knew that the Utah Valley Marathon did not have as dramatic of a downhill. Plus, it had a few mean uphills. However, during my training my wife and our friends told me that my pace was strong enough without the downhill. I was really skeptical at first, but I realized that I was psyching myself out and just needed to believe that with proper training I could do it.
Last year, my age group only needed a 3:10 marathon to qualify for Boston. I qualified for the age group under me with a 3:02. This year Boston lowered all division qualifying times by 5 minutes. So, I needed to run at least a 3:05 marathon this year. My goal was to run a sub-3 marathon--the fastest time requirement to qualify for Boston--which meant that I needed a minimum pace of 6:53 minute miles.
I made the conscience decision to bank time during the first 6 miles by running at least 20-30 seconds below my minimum marathon pace, because I knew that the upcoming hills would slow me down. I also didn't know what might happen during the last 6 miles, where a lot of people burn out. Gratefully, I was pleasantly surprised when I ran the hills at a 7:06 pace--much faster than what I thought I could do without feeling like I was dying.
During the second quarter of the race, I had the privilege to run with a gentlemen named Steve, who was two age groups above me. We were both shooting for a sub-3 marathon. After a bit, I pulled ahead and caught up to another guy named Caleb, who was two age groups under me. This was just in time for the "Three Sisters" hills to pull me along. We stuck together for a few miles and then I eventually pulled ahead. I was really grateful to run with both of these guys. It really helped me to keep pace--plus its always great to meet new people. Running with other people during those first few miles also helped pull me along, but at the same time it kept me at a good steady pace so that I didn't go out too fast.
Prior to the race, I decided that I would take nutrition at miles 7, 13, and 21 to time them with water stations. I used GU energy gels, as well as flavored salt tablets, called Salt Stick Fastchews, which I think were very helpful. The GU's made me burp too much. I didn't like that and ate only a small bit at mile 13. I may try some other nutrition in the future.
As a side note for those who read my Big Cottonwood Marathon review, I wore calf sleeves for this marathon and I had zero issues with my calves seizing or spasming. This may also be partially due to the salt tablets that I took along the way. Either way, the calf sleeves didn't bother me at all and neither did my calves. That's what mattered most.
This race was mental for me. I felt great, but I knew the hills would psych me out a bit. I really stayed focused and on track the whole race and I am quite proud of that. However, at mile 22 my whole body just slowed down--like slow motion, but in real time--oh crud! I hit the wall...
My whole body just wanted to stop. It felt like a long exhausting day at work that you just weren't sure you could make it to the end of. I told myself, "I did not run 21 miles to stop here--just keep steady."
Knowing the area from my college days, I knew that another very slight hill was coming up and I was worried. That mile came and went with a 7:41 pace--oh crud again!
Around this time, Steve from earlier came from behind and steadily passed me. He looked strong and was only gaining momentum. I cheered him on loudly. So awesome! In retrospect, I guess I should have tried to use him as a rabbit, but in reality I didn't want to risk anything at the very end by pushing too soon. I just wanted to stay on track and play it smart to reach my goal.
I began doing the math in my head and knew that I was still on track to finish sub-3 as long as I could get my pace back to the low 7's. The only outlier was the extra distance. For the last several miles my watch was clocking the distance more and more ahead of each mile maker. This meant I was running longer than 26.2. This was due to the very curvy course. I tried to run straight through the curves, but its not a perfect science. By the time mile 24 came around I knew that I had an additional 0.20 to run on top of the 26.2 miles. But in doing the math in my foggy brain, I still seemed to still be on track.
As I approached the mile 25 maker I mentally began to crank up my pace. Mile 26 clocked in at 7 minutes. However, I knew I still had 0.40 miles to go. It was going to be a tight sub-3 finish, but I was not going to lose this!
So I booked it. My brain told my legs what they would do--no time for excuses or whining. My pace progressively picked up until I was flying through the finish line with my hands in the air at a 5:50 pace--clocking in at 2:59:44--16 seconds under my goal! I nearly cried.
I actually placed 3rd in my age division and 30th overall!
The volunteers caught me, held me in place for awhile and started ushering me to the med tent--but not before I said, "I need my medal," haha. They also helped me gather every treat possible along the way (and then some). You never know how long you are going to be in the med tent, but I consumed most of it before we even got there, haha.
I sat in the med tent for a bit and then realized that I couldn't miss my wife coming through the finish. I hurried over. She needed to be under 3:30 to qualify for Boston, but was shooting for 3:20. She clocked in at 3:22:58--so awesome!
After she came through the finish I held her up with a volunteer. Without any hesitation she quickly turned her head to me and said questioningly, "Tell me you qualified for Boston?"
Yes honey, yes we did! ...I may have nearly cried a little again ...I'm not crying, you are!
Boston, Here we come!
We had to wake up at 2:45am to drive 45 minutes from our house. The bus pick-up runs from 3:15am to 4:15am. Don't miss the bus. There were two different bus pick-up locations. One for the half marathon and one for the marathon. DO NOT confuse these two. The half marathon bus pick-up was about a mile from the finish. I still don't understand how people got back to their cars after the race, but I didn't run the half (if you know, let me know, haha).
The bus ride was probably a good one hour drive to the starting line. That ride kills me with anxiousness. Everyone is chatting up a storm with nervous excitement, but I just wanted to sleep. I heard about every conversation under the sun during that ride.
They started exactly on time at 6am and the road was wide enough and long enough for the number of runners. The start area had tons of room, oranges, water and fire pits to stay warm. There were about 100+ port-a-potties too--no joke. They were setback a bit far, which kind of made them lean back on a slope...that was interesting in the dark, haha.
The course, according to the Utah Valley Marathon website is 26.28 miles. According to my watch, it was 26.39 miles. I was very frustrated about this at first. However, two people on Facebook gave me some insight that helped me better understand what was going on.
The first person said, "GPS will usually show long...as the marathon is measured along the shortest possible distance and includes a 'short course prevention factor.'" In other words, if someone were to run the course, cutting the curves with the straightest lines possible, it would at minimum still measure out to 26.2 miles. Which means that most people actually run just a tag longer.
The other person reminded me that the course is Boston certified and said, "Boston is exactly marked and I always get 26.4-26.7 there depending on if it's a hot year (more water in left and right ). So I presume the course is certified. That way no one can possibly run less."
The marathon website also states that it is certified for USA Tack & Field and as a Boston Qualifier.
Honestly, I was quite disappointed by the expo. One of my favorite things about races are the expos on the day before the race. I love getting my packet and walking through several vendors with running gear for sale at cheap prices and getting free samples of nutrition for running. There is a fun energy.
Perhaps it was because I came early, but I didn't get any of that energy. In fact, it was pretty anticlimactic. I was also really annoyed that I had to weave through the entire expo first just to get my race packet. The whole way to the packet pick-up, vendors that really had nothing to do with running were pitching to me and bugging me.
After I got my race packet, I then had to walk through it all again just to get out. Runner's Corner was there, which was awesome. I tried looking at the running clothes, but the spread was pretty small (so I just drive to their store after). The only other vendor worth stopping at was the Rapid Reboot booth, which is an air compression boot that goes all the way up the legs to increase blood flow and provide faster recovery. Plus, it feels like a great message on sore legs. Read the Rapid Reboot review here!
The Marriott and the Hyatt Place are both right in downtown Provo where the finish line is located. The Marriott is connected to the convention center where packet pick-up and the expo are located. There is also the Hines Mansion Bed & Breakfast really close. Here is a link to the hotels in the area: Click here. Utah Valley Marathon also recommends Zermatt Resort in Midway, UT, which is closer to the start, but is also 40 miles (through the canyon) from the finish. Its really a fancy and nice place, and the race provides buses back and forth, but I would recommend against staying there unless you don't mind all the bus rides and want to stay in the area a couple days before or after the race.
WHAT OTHER HAVE TO SAY
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Well, his real name is actually Dave...but "The Average Joe Runner" seemed like a catchy name for a blog. Born a sprinter, but converted to distance running in adulthood, Dave has run for more than 25 years. He is the father of four awesome kids and the husband to one amazingly talented, smart and fast-running wife.
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