December 23, 2005
The winter snows in mountains and hills of Utah have chased me down into the valley floors for my winter running adventures. With some days off from work during the holidays, and the need to burn off some of the holiday goodies, I sought out a new adventure to keep my training motivation high.
I chose to explore a popular route that I had never run, the Provo River Parkway. This is a paved bike, roller blade, running trail that travels 15 miles from Utah Lake to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon (the start/finish area for Squaw Peak 50-mile race). It travels through the heart of Provo City following the winding Provo River from Utah Lake to the Wasatch Mountains. I know many people have biked the trail end-to-end, but how many people are crazy enough to run the entire path out and back, 30-miles?
My plan was to do the run in six hours, running the first 15 miles up the path in the dark. I arrived at Utah Lake State Park at 4:30 a.m. I had never been there before and it took me a few minutes in the dark to figure out where the trailhead was. I packed up a few things to take with me. Unlike mountain runs, I knew I would always have a convenient mart just a couple miles away to serve as aid stations if needed.
I hit the trail at 4:45 a.m. It was a wide paved trail that I knew would eventually take a toll on my knees. I generally despise pavement. The temperature was hovering around freezing and the sky was overcast with a large cloud shrouding the top of snowy Mount Timpanogos reflecting city lights afar to the east. My morning travels would constantly take me closer to the high mountain I knew so well, having run up it 17 times during the past summer and fall.
My run started in rural land — farms to my left and the Provo River to my right, calmly flowing between tree-lined banks, glistening with reflecting light. I reflected that in the 80s there was terrible flooding one spring and this entire area was under deep floodwater. A few miles ahead, I could see the lights of Provo inviting me forward.
My legs felt great. I had been training pretty hard for the upcoming HURT 100 in Hawaii in a little over two weeks. The cold weather in December had been a hinder. It was tough to push myself outside in the morning when temperatures were well below freezing so I had only logged 150 miles so far this month. But today I was dressed warm and felt wonderful running in the quiet peace of the morning.
I passed by an occasional blockage or dam across the river, producing waterfall sounds that were a welcome soothing interruption to the quiet peace. At about every half-mile along the trail I would see a mileage marker. After 25 minutes, at mile 2.5, I was coming into civilization and had to cross a road, 2050 West. In the dark, I failed to see an obvious sign pointing the way to continuation of the trail. I ran around for a few minutes confused and added more than a half-mile to my travels until I found the continuation point. At this point a warning sign was posted stating that the trail was closed ahead but no detour was mentioned. I decided to run ahead and chance it, wondering what the closure would be.
I soon crossed under the interstate, I-15, and then came to a temporary closure fence across the trail. I could see that many travelers had crossed over the fence before, so I decided to do the same. The path took me under a set of railroad tracks and as I crossed under a second set of tracks, a train engine tooted its horn and rushed over me. At the other side I hit another fence blockage but worked my way around it near the river. I was very puzzled what the purpose was for the closures. It then became obvious when I reached a construction site where it appeared that the whole trail had been washed away and was being reconstructed. I carefully went around the area, passed by the final closure fence and after those long delays was back running on an unobstructed trail.
At 55 minutes into my run (mile 4.2) the trail took me under a bridge at 800 North and 850 West. I was now only eight blocks from the center of the city. Up to this point, the river was generally heading east. It now took a turn to the northeast. At the one-hour mark, about five miles into my run, I could see the large buildings from the hospital district, where my knee was scoped a couple years ago.
The trail crossed over the river a couple times and crossed under the busy roads of State Street and University Parkway. I was in the heart of the city below the Brigham Young University campus. When I reached the LDS Motion Picture Studio property, I was disappointed to discover that the trail spilled out onto the streets. For the next several miles the path would run along the very busy University Avenue. I slowed at times, confused, wondering if I was still on the Provo River Parkway. After consulting my GPS I could see that the River was about a half mile to the west heading due north and I was. I soon saw mileage markers and was convinced that I was still on course. I exchanged greetings with a few other early morning runners who were heading in the opposite direction.
At 3700 North, the path stopped. In the dark I again failed to locate any signs directing me to the continuation point. I followed a bike path to the river but that was a wild goose chase. I ran through residential roads in the “Riverwoods” searching for the trail, but finally went back to 3700 North, the point where I became lost and eventually found the continuation point. That added a half hour to my adventure and an extra mile or so.
At 7 a.m. (2.25 hours) I reached the mouth of Provo Canyon. It was the 9-mile mark of the trail, but with my detours, I had run 11 miles so far. I stopped at a Texaco foodmart to refill and by 7:15 I was on my way again. I was pleased to be out of the city and now in the canyon. The dawn light was appearing and I put away my flashlight. I was pleased that the trail had a little more elevation gain now as it climbed into the canyon.
After Canyonview Park, 13 miles into my run, a couple other runners surprised me and passed me. That got my juices flowing and I picked up the pace dramatically to hang with them and I soon blew by them. After Canyon Glen Park, the trail crossed under the busy Provo Canyon Highway. I then reached another closed sign. This sign stated that the Provo River Parkway trail was closed for the winter because of avalanche danger. I decided to respect the sign and instead continue up the old canyon road and along the busy highway. I ran past beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, sprouting many frozen veils on the cliffs above.
At 8:30 a.m. (3.75 hours elapsed) I reached Vivian Park, the end of the 15-mile trail. Including my detour, I had run 17 miles. There was about three inches of snow in the Park. I didn’t look forward to running along the highway again, so I decided to go ahead and run on the trail to Bridal Veil Falls. The run on this section on the trail was a slow, snowy, icy, obstacle course, but very enjoyable.
Mile marker 15 at trailhead
View looking back up the icy trail along the River
There were no dangers on the trail and I soon reached Bridal Veil Falls again. The clouds were descending and snow began to fall.
Bridal Veil Falls
The paved Provo River Parkway Trail in Provo Canyon
I ran by a couple fly fishermen wading in the frigid river. I fail to understand the attraction of standing in a cold river for hours, but I’m sure they would think the same thing about what I was doing. At 9:45, the 5-hour mark, I again reached the mouth of Provo Canyon, about 23 miles into my run. I didn’t look forward to the boring run along the busy University Ave., but I went to work and tried to push past it fast, to again reach the trail on the river. I called my wife to let her know that I was alive and doing well.
Bridge and dam across River near LDS Motion Picture Studio
Where the trail rejoins the river, I refilled for one last time at a convenient store. I knew I looked like a sweaty mess, and got some strange looks, but I didn’t care. I continued on and was pleased to again run along the river, viewing things that I passed by several hours ago in the dark. When I reached the closed portion of the trail, I was disappointed to see that active construction was taking place. It was now a hard-hat area. I had no choice but to take a wide detour. Out on the streets I ran. I consulted my GPS and was disappointed to see that any detour on this side of the river would not be easy. I did my best and after a long two-mile circuit, I found myself on the other side of the construction site — just 50 yards from where I left the trail. I’m sure there was an easier way around, but I didn’t sweat it, I thought – Bonus miles!
Back on the trail, I had only three miles left. My legs were sore from pounding the pavement and I did my best to keep the pace moving. I looked forward to finishing, but the run along the river by the farms was very pleasant.
My running adventure for the morning finished at about 12:30 p.m. (7.75 hours). Including my detours, I covered 34 miles. It had been a nice run – rural farms, busy city, mountain canyons, snow and ice — A little of everything.