Race review: Alpine Classic Half Marathon

image2A beautiful course, capable pacers and a helpful volunteer made this a race to remember.

By Henry Howard

I waited at the finish line for my two new BFFs, Wan and Allison.

This was minutes after I wrapped up the Alpine Classic Half Marathon, a community race put on by Utah Run at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. As a flatlander, I had no idea how I would fare in the 5,000-foot elevation.

Thanks to pacers Wan and Allison, I was able to make it through the tough parts and finish strong — a 1:41:29 PR, 15th overall and first place in my age group.

Race review: Alpine Classic Half Marathon

On race morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the half marathon offered pacers. Certainly not all small half marathons (119 runners finished) provide pacers. My goal was to hang with the 1:45 pace group and finish strong, aiming for a PR.

The course presented some uphills at approximately miles 4, 7 and 10, before finishing on a descent the last couple of miles. There was a group of us hanging with the pacers in the first several miles. At one point, around mile 2, the 5Kers were directed to the right by a volunteer, who also pointed the half marathoners to the left.

Turning left, we were looking straight toward one of the Wasatch peaks, to which I commented, “5Kers to the right, half-marathoners up the mountain.” It turned out to be a good ice breaker as Wan, Allison, a handful of other runners and I headed toward — but not up — the Wasatch Mountains.

As I traversed the first hill climb, I fell off the pace a bit. The course hit the first aid station and veered around a park. As we briefly ran through the park, a couple of runners passed the pacers and me. I put a virtual target on their backs and vowed to see them again later.

I caught up to my pacer friends, knowing that I needed a distraction to keep up with them and make it through the next two sets of hills. Before this I had never really chatted up pacers, but this was so worth it. Wan and Allison were easy to talk to and we exchanged basic running talk — running history, upcoming races, why we run, etc.

Before I knew it, we had checked off the second set of hills. The scenery was inviting with a full view of the mountains throughout much of the race as the course wound through neighborhoods. Even though the roads were not blocked off, traffic was light and drivers were courteous to the runners.

As we approached the third hill, I spotted the two guys who passed us seven miles previously. I knew at the time they passed us, that they would be losing steam late in the race. With the hills in our rearview mirrors and two miles to go, it was time to push to the finish.

The home stretch

Henry_AlpineClassicHMAllison noticed that she and Wan were ahead of pace so she said they would be slowing down and encouraged me to push forward. It would be the last bit of encouragement from my pacer friends, and the one that sent me to a strong finish.

Somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I passed the two other guys and headed to the finish line.

After running for roughly 90 minutes with a small group, it seemed odd to be running solo once again. But I kept focusing on my breathing, keeping my legs turning over and following the course — the turns were well marked but there was not anyone near me who I could follow.

I navigated the course through another small park and toward the finish. Close to the finish line, a volunteer pointed me and the other races in the right direction around a small paved trail toward the finish. And that’s where I waited a few minutes to welcome Wan and Allison with a hug.

A helpful volunteer

A month or so before the race, I realized that a work assignment would take me to the Salt Lake City area without any commitments for Saturday morning. What’s a runner to do, other than look for a race?

There were two area half marathons that interested me. I emailed both race directors with questions I had and the Alpine Classic RD responded while the other one did not. So, the choice was easy.

My question was whether there would be a gear check available at the race — since I did not have anyone to hang on to my keys during the race. (Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to leave valuables in gear check bags but my options were limited.)

In any case, when I checked in race morning and asked about gear check, I received some blank stares. After telling the volunteers that the reason I picked this race is that the RD said there would be a gear check, one woman promised to bring my bag to the finish line (a couple of hundred yards from the start line) where I could pick it up after the race.

When I finished, I grabbed a water, recovery bar and banana and heard a familiar voice telling me exactly where my gear bag was located. I really appreciated her willingness to help out.

You should run this race if you …..
Like scenic races but don’t want to spend a whole day going up and down mountains.
Want a low-key fun race.
Love the feel of small community races.

You should not run this race if you….
Don’t like running at elevation or on hilly courses.
Desire crowd support throughout the race.
Require entertainment options post-race and later that night.

One last word

I wouldn’t necessarily call the Alpine Half a “no frills” race, rather it covers the basics for a community race.

There were aid stations roughly every two miles throughout the course that provided water and Gatorade. The aid station at the finish line had plenty of bananas, water and (much appreciated gluten-free) protein bars. The T-shirts were nice and not inundated with sponsor logos. And the finisher’s medal and trophies were solid.

All in all, the Alpine Half Classic is a well-run event featuring great views and excellent volunteers, including pacers who I will not forget any time soon.

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