When Vacation Races announced they were adding the Yosemite Half Marathon to their series of half marathons which run through National Parks, I was one of the first to sign up.
You could sign up as a team for potential prizes, and a $10 registration discount with a qualified team, so I rallied the troops and formed a team: #NoPlaceLikeDome. Due to poor planning on my part we didn’t all get to run together, but it was fun to have a team nonetheless.
One caveat I need to mention up front, is that while this is the Yosemite Half, it is NOT run through the Yosemite “floor”. It is run through the Yosemite area, which is gorgeous, but if traveling from afar for this race it’s important to understand that if you wish to see Half Dome, etc., you’ll need to allow for an extra day or two to explore the amazing park (highly recommended). In fact there were even challenges available for folks who ran the half on Saturday and then hiked half dome the next day.
Yosemite Half Marathon Race Expo
The Yosemite Half Marathon Race Expo was held on Friday, October 9th, or you could elect to have your bib, shirt and Hydra pouch sent to you had of time (more on the Hydra pouch later). I was unable to attend the expo myself, so thankfully you could send a copy of your ID and have someone else pick it up. My friend Jennifer picked up my bib and took pictures on my behalf. She said it was a small size expo but was well organized. One cool feature was that they had different colored finisher shirts for you to choose from, and you could get your Hydra Pouch in a coordinating color.
They also had bib pick-up at the race start, which had quite a long line that morning. It also looked like they were giving folks their shirts at that point, which meant you either had to do bag check or carry it while you ran.
Here’s some photos from the Expo:
Yosemite Half Marathon: The Ride Up
We were up early to catch the shuttles by 5am at the latest. Everyone was required to ride the shuttles (school buses) to the start as it was a closed course and no spectating was allowed at the top. This went okay, except that it took an hour to get from the shuttle area until they let us off the bus at the top. Being squeezed in for that long meant for a toasty little bus. We were out of the cold and off our feet, but we were in there long enough that it became stressful and we missed some of the fun at the starting line. But being an inaugural race, I think it was as well organized as they could have planned for, without having been through it at that location before. The view when we arrive at the top was awesome though.
The course was a point-to-point downhill race, and when I say downhill I mean DOWN hill.
We started at approximately 7,000 feet (according to my Garmin) and for the next 10 miles we ran down. The course would briefly level out on occasion, but for the most part it was varying gradients of down.
While this sounds like a lot of fun, and it was, the impact on your body was definitely felt for days! The terrain was all paved and it was a closed course for those 10 downhill miles. The remaining 3.1 miles wound through the Bass Lake area. This area had what would normally be considered “rolling hills” at most, but after 10 miles of down, our muscles didn’t know how to handle them. The trees provided wonderful shade for the majority of the race, and the scenery was breathtaking.
As many of my races tend to be runDisney events (which are a blast), it was a pleasant change to be running through such a serene environment. I commented at one point, that even though I was working hard, I felt like I was being recharged by my surroundings. I felt this was a stark contrast from my many runDisney races, where the city streets are less than energizing. At the same time, there was no on course entertainment/support (meaning folks cheering, etc.), until you reached the Bass Lake area and there were some locals out.
It may have been because I was running with a friend, and because it was a fast course, but I never found myself wishing for that entertainment.
As I was still dealing with a hamstring injury, and was worried about finishing in front of the 3:30 pacer (yes, they had pacers for everybody!), this meant there wasn’t much time for shenanigans. I did get a few fun photos though 🙂
Yosemite Half Marathon: Aid stations
There was hot chocolate and coffee at the starting area, as well as a DJ, and lots of port-a-potties with long lines. Personally I wish they’d had a few more potties, but I know the space was limited at the top. Also wish they had hand sanitizer, but maybe I’m just being prissy. There was a clothing check available as well.
The aid stations started at mile three and continued about every two miles until the finish. The first aid stop also had a clothing drop where any clothing left in the bins would be transported and awaiting you at the finish line. I knew of this option before the race and decided to give it a try. I was pleased to find my green sweatshirt waiting for me at the finish. For the most part they had adequate port-a-potties, except for the first stop. With the steep downhill I think more people were in need of the facilities than normal.
The stations also had water and nuun (electrolyte-enhanced hydration) available through the Hydro pouch system. They also had honey stinger gels available, and at miles 7 & 11 they had bananas and oranges. (The oranges were gone when we made it to mile 7, but they had plenty at mile 11 which I was very excited about).
Yosemite Half Marathon: A No Cup Course
The Yosemite Half Marathon, and I believe all Vacation Races, are “no cup courses”. One of their main philosophies is to “leave no footprints” behind. Therefore, “no littering” is a big rule of their events. While I saw a few offenders on the course for the majority it was kept pretty clean. One way they make this possible is by not allowing, or rather not providing, disposable cups at the water stops. Instead you have the option to refill your own water bottle or use the Hydra Pouch (reusable cup) option, which was provided at the expo. The “cup” is a silicone looking pocket almost like the old-style coin purse that you squeeze to fill. When squeezed there’s a nice large opening and it has a little spout at the end from which you drink. While I always bring my own water bottle I took the pouch as well so I could try it out.
My first observation of the Hydra pouch was that I knocked it off of my belt three times before the race even started. That being said, my belt is a looser type of fabric. My friend kindly hooked my cup to her belt and both our pouches held tight the entirety of the half marathon. So tight in fact it accidentally went home with her but that’s okay she earned it. In terms of its use it was very convenient to fill. This was aided by the water system as the fill station consisted of large water containers funneling down to some tubing and then multiple spouts. These spouts worked better for the pouch that my water bottle as I tended to overfill my water bottle but that would all depend on your setup.
Personally I used the pouch for my nuun refills and my handheld I would fill with water. The pouch worked well for refilling and then consuming at the moment. You could carry it with you perhaps a little ways but there was no way to leave the water in there so just as with the cups, you have to drink what you can and then either pour out or consume the remainder. It is not intended for you to carry water with you.
Yosemite Half Marathon: The Finish
Once we crossed the finish line down by Bass Lake, we were given a very beautiful finisher’s medal. I think it’s one of my favorites to date.
They also were taking finisher’s photos and subsequently provided those photos for free download. Unfortunately I missed this, so I don’t have the photo, but was a cool feature.
Once in the finish area they had “recovery boxes” very similar to runDisney boxes, only with different content. There was a giant bin of chocolate milk on ice, and another hydration station.
The morning after the race I was so sore I could barely walk. The downhills had taken their toll on me (and pretty much everyone else I talked to as well). I was very thankful the race had been on Saturday and not Sunday so I had a day to recover. I would not be surprised if they changed the course for next year. I expect there were a lot of PRs though!
All in all the Yosemite Half Marathon was a well-run race through a beautiful area with awesome bling. I will definitely run this race again, albeit with more downhill training under my belt.