When the temperatures start to drop, the rain starts to fall and snow begins to dust the mountains and trails in the Pacific Northwest. It’s easy to put the racing gear away and hunker down for a few months before the next training cycle begins. What if, this year, you plan a trip to somewhere warm and dry during the winter months to participate in a race that keeps your racing edge sharp?


From Seattle or Portland, it is just a non-stop flight to Hawaii. A winter trip to these Pacific islands is a great option for both individuals and families to escape the winter blues with a goal race in mind. And, don’t forget the sea level factor.

The 44th annual Honolulu Marathon takes place on Sunday, December 11, 2016. Participants can register for the marathon, 10K race day walk or Kalakaua Merrie Mile. According to the website, www.honolulumarathon.org, the marathon attracts more than 30,000 runners, making it the fourth largest in the United States. The marathon starts on Ala Moana Boulevard, or “path by the ocean,” and takes runners through Waikiki, the suburban communities of Honolulu, and then curves around Diamond Head, passing the Waikiki Aquarium, and finishing at the Kapiolani Park.

If the December marathon date is too soon, plan ahead for the 6th annual Hawaii Half Marathon (The Hapalua) on April 9, 2017. This out-and-back race in Waikiki starts at

6am, allowing participants to get an early start before the heat kicks in. The course includes famous landmarks, like the ‘Iolani Palace and Diamond Head.

The Big Island International Marathon (Hilo Marathon) is ideal for a spring family destination race. Taking place on Sunday, March 19, 2017, the race offers a full marathon, half marathon, 5K and 2-mile walk. Unlike the races on Oahu, the Big Island event offers more scenic views of waterfalls, tropical rainforests and sugarcane fields. This race is now a Boston Marathon qualifier.


The Canyonlands Half Marathon winds through spectacular red rock in Utah. Photo: Tom Haraden
The Canyonlands Half Marathon winds through spectacular red rock in Utah. Photo: Tom Haraden

While not as warm as Hawaii in the winter months, Moab, Utah, casts scenery of a different beauty, making it a great winter race destination.

“Moab boasts some of the most amazing scenery in the country, and with a plethora of outdoor activities available, this is the perfect place for a runner’s destination race,” said Ranna Bieschke, President/Owner of Moab Half Marathon, Inc. “Mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and river rafting are just some of the many opportunities for the adventurous runner. Moab in winter is also a bit more quiet which means trails will be less crowded, giving visitors more time to explore the area.”

Bieschke’s group puts on four races, including the Winter Sun 10K on December 3, 2016, and the Canyonlands Half Marathon on March 18, 2017.

The annual Winter Sun 10K is a fast, mostly downhill course with views of the red rocks of eastern Utah. This year’s race will be the 34th annual running of the event.

The Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5-Miler offer a completely different view of Utah. The USATF-certified course follows the Colorado River through red rock canyons.

“The magnificent red rock/river scenery along a traffic-free course, and Taiko drummers that provide timely inspiration, make it unique,” said Bieschke of the Canyonlands race.


Travel further south to Arizona where there is a plethora of races to choose from during the winter. There are road and trail races of all distances. The Aravaipa Running group organizes 28 desert and mountain races each year, including The Javelina Jundred (October 29-30, 2016), McDowell Mountain Frenzy (December 3, 2016) and the Black Canyon Ultras (February 18, 2017).

“The Javelina Jundred began in 2003 and was adopted by Aravaipa Running in 2008,” said Jubilee Paige of Aravaipa Running. “Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest 100-mile and 100K events in the nation with over 600 entrants migrating to the desert each year for the wildest “Jalloween” run party the desert has to offer.” The JJ100 course is comprised of five loops in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the Sonoran Desert Trails.

A few weeks later, the McDowell Mountain Frenzy takes participants of all race distances on different trails in the park. The Frenzy includes a 50K, 50-mile, 25K, 10- mile and 5-mile options, all with winding single-track trails and short, but steep hills.

For the more dedicated ultramarathoners, try the Black Canyon Ultras.  “A grueling point-to-point desert ultra, the Black Canyon 100K is now a Western States 100 qualifier with the top finishers earning the coveted golden ticket,” said Paige. “The historic Black Canyon trail is of national significance, following a route used by early Native American travelers and traders.”


In Northern California, Destination Races holds several half marathons throughout wine country. During the winter, the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon is a great excuse to run and drink wine in warmer weather. With a scenic rating of “5 out of 5” on the Destination Races website, runners are treated to the fall colors of the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. This year’s race takes place on October 29, 2016, and runners are encouraged to dress up in costume. Finish line festivities include a Wine+Music Festival at Trentadue Winery.

The coastal city of Santa Barbara honors veterans with its annual Veteran’s Day Half Marathon on Saturday, November 12, 2016. All current military and veterans receive $20 off registration for the half marathon. There is also a relay and 4-miler for shorter options, but both offer incredible views along the “American Riviera.” The half marathon course starts at UC Santa Barbara in Goleta, and winds through neighborhoods along the coast to the finish at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara.

Head another couple hours south along the coast to Carlsbad for the Tri-City Medical Center Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Events for the weekend include the marathon, half marathon and Kids Marathon Mile at Legoland. The marathon and half marathon are out-and-back races mostly along the Pacific Ocean, starting at the Shoppes at Carlsbad. The weekend festivities begin with the Health and Lifestyle Expo at the Shoppes which begins Friday afternoon, on January 13.

Links and Other Winter Races:

About the Author

Shannah Werner is a personal trainer at Stafford Hills Club in Tualatin, OR. She is passionate about working with people who want to get stronger for not only their athletic endeavors, but also their daily activity. She specializes in running gait analysis, boxing for fitness and functional training. Her own personal fitness accomplishments include several half marathons (1:40.08 PR in Dirty Half), a 10-miler, waterskiing, snow-skiing and giving birth to and keeping up with her two kids, Haley (6) and Teddy (4).