I didn’t spend much time planning for the Sedona Half Marathon. In fact, I didn’t even sign up for it until less than a month before race day and it was kind of a fluke that I even found out about it at all. I happened to be flying to Phoenix a couple days before race weekend because one of the co-founders of a charity that I was in the process of setting up lived there and I needed to meet with her to get some paperwork signed. I figured that since I was going to be traveling to Arizona for a few days anyway, I might as well check to see if there were any races in the area and stay for the whole weekend if I found anything good (great excuse to get away from winter in Chicago). I saw that there was a race in Sedona, which was a place that I had never been to before. Since Sedona was only about a 2 hour drive from where I was planning to be in Phoenix, I figured why not and went ahead and signed up for it. The fact that I hadn’t specifically trained for it didn’t really worry me since I was only doing the half and I had just done the Disney World Marathon a few weeks earlier.
I’ve always been glad that I decided to do this race because the Sedona is an amazingly beautiful town that I’ve been back to multiple times since then and the Sedona Half Marathon is also easily the most scenic race I’ve ever done.
Getting to Sedona
If you’re interested in doing this race, the easiest way to get to Sedona is to fly into Phoenix, rent a car and make the two hour or so drive up into the mountains. In fact, unless you happen to already live in the area or own a private plane, it’s pretty much the only way to get there – there are no other major cities or airports that are closer than Phoenix and the Sedona airport isn’t big enough to accommodate commercial flights.
The drive from Phoenix to Sedona is really scenic so if one of the reasons you’re doing this race in the first place is to experience the natural beauty of Sedona, you’ll like what you see on the way there too. In fact, it’s so scenic that even though it takes a little under 2 hours, you might want to budget some extra time to stop and take pictures along the way.
There are very few towns along I-17 but there are a lot of rest areas that you can stop at. Some of them have restrooms and vending machines and others are just larger areas alongside the highway with enough space to pull over and get out of your car. If you do decide to go for a walk to take pictures though, make sure to watch out for the local wildlife.
I have one other recommendation for this drive that has nothing to do with sightseeing. When it comes to rental cars, normally I’m a big fan of the strategy of renting the cheapest car possible and then haggling with the people at the rental car place when I get there to try and get them to give me a free upgrade (you can save a lot of money that way – read more here if you’re interested). In this particular case though, my recommendation is to just rent the bigger car ahead of time. Here’s why: the elevation in Phoenix is about 1100 feet and in Sedona it’s 4500 feet. So that’s a net gain of 3400 feet over a distance of about a hundred or so miles but there are a lot of other spots along the highway in between the two cities where the elevation is even higher. So the problem is that if your haggling tactics at the rental car place don’t work and you end up getting stuck with a tiny economy car, you’ll be in for a drive from hell since you’ll probably find yourself having to put the pedal all the way to the floor just to get up enough speed to make it up to the higher elevations while you also try to avoid all of the semis and giant pickup trucks that are barreling down on you. So do yourself a favor for this one and make sure to rent something with at least six cylinders.
Where to stay
Sedona has a pretty wide variety of Bed & Breakfasts, Hotels, Cabins, and other places to stay (including campgrounds if that’s what you’re into). The town is also not very big, so no matter where you stay, you probably won’t be more than a 15-20 minute drive from the start and finish line of the race. So you can check out the preferred hotels on the race website if you want (one of the benefits of the preferred hotels are the race shuttles that are available to take runners to the start and finish lines). If none of the official hotels look good though, take a look at this site which lists all of the Sedona area accommodations and decide where you want to stay based on what your preferences are or what kind of budget you have. When I did the race, I stayed at the Best Western Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas which I really enjoyed. Considering the amazing views, proximity to downtown Sedona, all of the amenities that the hotel offered, and how late I booked the room, I was surprised that the rates were as low as they were.
Race expo and organization
Packet pickup is at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village which is roughly in the middle of downtown Sedona. Tlaquepaque (which means “best of everything”) is laid out to look like an old Mexican village and while you’re there you can walk around to various shops and check out a pretty nice variety of southwestern themed arts and crafts (and buy some if you’re inclined).
The race doesn’t have a very big expo – you’ll get your race number and a goodie bag with a t-shirt, etc. when you pick up your packet, but don’t expect to see anything flashy with a lot of big vendors selling running gear and advertising other races. Given the location of the race though, I’m actually kinda glad that there isn’t a big expo because I think it would take away from the overall atmosphere of Sedona. If you want a big race expo, you can always go to Phoenix for Rock n Roll Arizona, but in Sedona, you’ll be a lot happier taking some extra time to go for a walk around town and check out all of the local attractions.
The race itself is well organized – there are about 5000 runners total and the race offers full marathon, half marathon, 5K, and 10K courses. The courses all start and finish at the same place and while runners don’t get divided up into corrals, the start times for each race are approximately 5 minutes apart (marathon first, then half, then 10K, then 5K), which is perfect for making sure that runners aren’t stumbling all over each other coming out of the gate. There are plenty of aid stations on the course – they’re around two miles apart and they all have at least one porta-potty along with water, sports drinks, fruit and first aid supplies.
All of the courses are out and back and they’re all essentially the same course with the turnaround points being further out for each consecutive distance. The one exception to this is the 5K, which has a turnaround point pretty early on but also has an extra loop that the other courses don’t have.
For as beautiful as this race is, it’s also very tough. It’s hilly and rocky (part of the marathon and half marathon courses are on unpaved dirt roads), and it’s also at a higher altitude than what a lot of runners who don’t live in the area might be used to. So if you typically run on flat roads at altitudes closer to sea level, chances are that you’re not going to PR in this race…. but that’s ok. The scenery during the race will definitely not disappoint you and in the end, regardless of your time, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find the overall experience to be amazing. I remember looking down at my shoes when I crossed the finish line and noticing that they were covered with red dirt (a large percentage of the course is near some of the famous red sandstone rock formations that surround Sedona) and thinking about how great it was to have been able to run in a place like that.
One thing you probably won’t need to worry about in this race is excessive heat. Sedona temperatures are pretty mild in general and the average temperatures during January and February range from the mid 30’s to the high 50’s (ideal for running), so you can expect mild temperatures but you should also bring some long sleeved running clothes since the mornings can be a bit chilly.
There’s not much to say about crowd support because there really isn’t a lot of it, and in this particular case, that’s a good thing. The race draws a pretty good sized crowd to the start and finish lines, but while you’re out running on dirt roads among the giant red rocks, you really aren’t going to see a lot of people besides other runners and maybe an occasional hiker or two. Like I said though, that’s fine – the point of this race is to give runners the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and natural beauty of the area so hundreds of spectators lining the course holding up signs and cheering for people would probably do more to ruin the experience than to provide any kind of motivation.
The finisher’s medal for the Sedona Marathon is medium sized and the design and colors do a pretty good job of representing the area and what the race is all about.
There are also some very nice etched glass trophies that are given out to the top three runners and also the top local runner. When I did the race in 2009, there were also trophies available for the top three finishers in each age group (which bummed me out since I came in fourth place in my age group and missed getting the third place trophy by less than a minute). It looks like the race organizers have cut those out since then though, which is honestly no surprise because when I saw them I couldn’t believe how nice they were and how many people were getting them.
Getting around Sedona
If you decide to do the Sedona Marathon, make sure that you give yourself a couple extra days to explore the town and surrounding areas. There are close to 100 art galleries in Sedona along with a number of craft stores and local restaurants. You can also do almost any outdoor activity you can think of – hiking, mountain biking, jeep tours, kayaking, canoeing, and you can also check out the energy vortexes or the Chapel of the Holy Cross…. or just go for a walk and enjoy the scenery.
This is one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done and even with the course being as tough as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve literally done dozens of races all over the US and the rest of the world since I did the Sedona Half Marathon in 2009 and I still haven’t found one that’s as scenic. For a race that I didn’t even know existed until a few weeks before I ran it, I’m still pretty amazed at how lucky I was to find it. I’d recommend it to anyone – if you run it, you won’t forget the experience.