Just ask Marjorie Mullaly, of Springville. She was so intrigued after seeing a shirt from the Canyonlands Half Marathon back in 1984 that she drove to Moab for the 1985 event.
"I was at parent/teacher conference and saw this T-shirt. I said, 'Wow, what's that?' And the rest is history," said the 62-year-old Mullaly, who will compete in her 20th Canyonlands Half Marathon on March 12. "The only year I've missed since is 1990, when my daughter had the nerve to get married the day before the race."
The Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5-Mile Run will celebrate its 30th anniversary when 4,500 runners hit state Highway 128 north of Moab and run south along the Colorado River and into town for the 13-mile race.
Race registration long ago reached the cap of 4,500 runners, which was instigated at last year's event, but Mullaly will be among the participants this year because she is part of the 10 Year Club, which guarantees members a spot in the race.
"I feel bad that they have to limit the number of people, but I understand that they have to," Mullaly said. "That canyon can only handle so many buses and so many runners."
Race director Ranna Bieschke says there are 74 members of the 10 Year Club, leaving plenty of room for runners without the long-standing tradition to participate in the race. About 5,000 people applied for the 2005 Canyonlands Half Marathon lottery selection.
"We need to limit things for safety sake and for the integrity of the run," Bieschke said. "That river road is a narrow canyon road and we can't really fit many more people on it. We had to keep it safe and enjoyable."
Limitations on the number of hotel rooms in Moab, where the finish line is, are another consideration. Every available room is reserved on race weekend. A study completed four years ago showed that the race was contributing more than $1 million to the local economy.
That is exactly what Moab Chamber of Commerce officials were hoping for when they created the half marathon in 1976. That first race attracted 21 runners. Double that showed up in 1977 and by 1996 about 2,000 runners were making the journey to Moab for the race.
About 65 percent of the runners in the Canyonlands Half Marathon come from the Wasatch Front, according to Bieschke. There will be runners from three countries and 38 states in the 2005 event. The age of half marathon participants ranges from 11 to 77.
Mullaly says the success of the race is a result of several things.
"The scenery is just awesome and they treat us so well," she said. "More than anything it is a reason to get away from the winter in northern Utah. I can only think of two years when it has been terribly, terribly cold. The rest of the time it has been grand."
Through the years, Mullaly has invited friends from Boston and New York to join her for her annual journey to Moab. She also has made many friends along the way.
"It has become a girls' weekend away," she said. "We are always looking so forward to this. It is a separate social structure away from home, family, church and neighbors. It's a totally different group and it keeps me young."