Marathons, once the benchmark of yuppie fitness, have become passé. Few events rival the sheer boredom of pounding pavement for an entirely arbitrary distance, surrounded by throngs of people in various states of disrepair.
Luckily, there are alternatives for the endurance athlete in Utah, from the wellknown 100-mile bicycle races and trail runs to lesser-known events that test a wide set of skills.
The Wasatch Powderkeg (WasatchPowderkeg.com) is an annual ski-mountaineering race held in Little Cottonwood Canyon on March 14. The course starts at Alta at 8,667 feet and ascends to 10,619 feet before dropping back down to finish at 8,755 feet (also at Alta).
The event has two divisions, Racing and Recreational, with Telemark and Alpine Touring categories depending on what kind of gear is used. Although split-board snowboards are allowed, snowshoes are not. The racing course is 9.44 miles long, with about 5,500 feet of vertical; the recreational course is 5.76 miles with 3,900 feet of vert. Because this race is self-supported, competitors need to carry all their own supplies in addition to the usual gamut of backcountry travel necessities: beacon, probe, shovel, skins, etc.—and a helmet.
The event draws a wide variety of skiers, from crusty old leather-boot pinheads to lycra-suited carbon-fiber everything rando-racers.
The party atmosphere combined with amenities provided by ski resorts make this race a fun one to attend. The Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back (RagnarRelay.com/WasatchBack/index.php) in June is a 180.2 mile relay race, with teams of 12 or 6 runners (although it has been completed solo). While many find solace in the loneliness of the longdistance runner, relay races involve more logistics and organization than solo efforts and can be a fun bonding experience.
Perhaps not as grueling as the Wasatch 100 (Wasatch100.com) or Bear 100 (Bear100.com), a relay event calls on your cheerleading and driving skills as well as your running endurance. The Wasatch Back starts in Logan and wends its way south through the mountains to Charleston in Wasatch County, then heads back north to finish in Park City. Each runner completes three or six legs; each leg is from three to eight miles and can be anything from flat cruising to a difficult climb. The race is relatively large but well organized, with less of the circus feel of many events.
But, if the Big Top atmosphere of the ULCER (BBTC.net) ride (around Utah Lake), or the roving masses of SUVs that show up for the famous LotoJa (LotoJaClassic.com) race from Logan to Jackson, Wyo., aren’t quite your speed, the Panguitch Desperado Dual (DesperadoDual.com) in August may hold an answer for you. A much lower-key event, the Desperado Dual rides through some of the prettiest, least populated parts of the state, with courses of 100 and 200 (the Dual) miles. With an average high temperature of 80 degrees and low of 50 degrees in Garfield County that time of year, the chances of weather like at the infamous Snow-toja are low. The ride offers mechanical support, but racers should be prepared for the eventualities of bike racing, and be aware of group riding rules and etiquette.
Perhaps the most unique race is right in Salt Lake City. There are perhaps a handful of regions in the country where the general population has enough skilled mountain athletes to make an event like the Wahsatch Steeplechase (WahsatchSteeplechase.com) on June 13 viable. This 17.5 mile trail (pictured above) race up and down the hills around City Creek Canyon not only has a vertical gain and loss of about 9,000 feet but includes a short section of low fifth-class rock-climbing to the summit of Black Mountain (that’s the “steeplechase” part). While this section is relatively trivial to an experienced rock climber, it would be quite dangerous, at best, for the average road racer. Add the ensuing 8 or so miles of downhill running, and you have an event easily as difficult as a road marathon—but much more fun.