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And they're off! Racers navigate 369-mile virtual event through Utah's national parks

In Arches National Park, the highway passes by Courthouse Towers. The Utah National Parks Challenge kicked off Wednesday, allowing participants to complete a 369-mile race at their own pace throughout the remainder of 2021.

In Arches National Park, the highway passes by Courthouse Towers. The Utah National Parks Challenge kicked off Wednesday, allowing participants to complete a 369-mile race at their own pace throughout the remainder of 2021. (Steve Baker, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 1-2 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Runners, bikers, swimmers and other athletes kicked off a virtual 369-mile race, equal to the distance through Utah's Mighty 5 national parks.

The Utah National Parks Challenge, which started Wednesday, gives participants an opportunity to "run, walk, cycle, ski, skate, snowshoe, swim or paddle," through the miles at their own pace between Sept. 15 and the end of the year, according to organizers. In addition to the 369-mile challenge, there are races at each of the five most popular Utah parks, including the Zion 5K, Bryce Canyon 8K, Capitol Reef 10K, Arches half marathon and the Canyonlands marathon.

Jennifer Nelson, marketing director with High Altitude Events, said a majority of the athletes participating are based in Utah, but there are participants throughout the U.S. and an estimated 25 international participants.

Last year, 1,263 people signed up for "The Challenge" to complete all 369 miles, 431 people participated in the 5K, and the other events had around 200-300 participants. Registration is still open for 2021 and more people are expected to join the event.

Nelson said that virtual events in 2020 allowed athletes to keep participating despite the cancellation of many live races. She said they had many athletes last year ask if the event would be yearly, leading them to launch it again in 2021.

"It helped keep the community connected and allowed athletes to set goals to chase," Nelson said. "Our hope is to continue to bring the community together during these challenging times and to help keep them motivated and training during the 'offseason' when there are very limited live events going on."

Nelson said the Utah National Parks events were designed to not only give athletes a challenge, but to highlight Utah's national parks. The challenge will benefit each park's Natural History Associations and help preserve the parks.

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