Consider it the perfect training run for the California International Marathon, a breathtaking destination race on its own or simply a healthy way to celebrate Halloween.
The Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon delivers on all three counts. The 11th annual race, put on by the Sacramento Running Association and set for Oct. 30th, offers a challenging 13.1-mile course that passes the marathon prep test, enough natural beauty and unique features to stand alone and plenty of holiday fun sure to send runners home smiling.
Anyone training for the CIM on Dec. 4th will find a quality test along the shores of Lake Natoma. The course features a gently rolling descent in the first half of the race, with a series of climbs heading back to the start/finish area in Folsom’s Rodeo Park.
While the CIM has a well-deserved reputation as a fast, slightly downhill course, the first 12 miles feature rolling hills. The climbs in the Lake Natoma Four Bridges race serve as great training for the upcoming marathon.
“CIM, everybody thinks it’s downhill, which it is,” said John Mansoor, race director for both CIM and Lake Natoma Four Bridges. “But there are climbs.
“We launched it (the half marathon) as a training run for CIM. It’s a stepping stone for those people who aren’t ready to run a marathon.”
Finishing the Lake Natoma race, though, moves runners closer to being marathon ready.
And for those who view the half marathon as a more enjoyable test, the Lake Natoma race has plenty to offer.
Start with those four bridges. Runners cross the Willow Creek Bridge and the Old Railroad Car Bridge in the first half of the way, the Hazel Avenue Bridge near the halfway point and the Walker Bridge near the finish.
There is one other challenge after crossing the final bridge. A short, steep climb up switchbacks makes the sight of the finish line that much sweeter.
“That adds misery to the race, trust me,” said Mansoor, who finished seventh last year in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 2.2 seconds.
“We’re trying to tell all the runners to save a little for that.”
The race, presented by Mercy Hospital of Folsom, passes through old Folsom just after the start before making a loop around Lake Natoma. The tour provides gorgeous views as runners make their way down to Hazel Avenue and then back toward Folsom.
“We thought it would be a pretty course,” Mansoor said.
And a scary one. The race has adopted a Halloween theme, with runners wearing costumes and trolls lurking underneath the four bridges. The race expo on Oct. 29 and the 1-mile Scary Scamper for kids on race day also sport a Halloween flavor.
“That’s all been a lot of fun,” Mansoor said.
The number of half marathons has increased since the Lake Natoma race began. But Mansoor said he expects a 10 percent increase in the field this year, with the half marathon and three-person relay expected to add up to about 2,500 runners. Another 300 are expected for the Scary Scamper.
A wave start keep runners from feeling crowded, with the first wave scheduled to go off at 8 a.m. The three-person relay also starts at 8 a.m., featuring legs of 3.7, 4.1 and 5.3 miles. The Scary Scamper is set to begin at 8:30 a.m.
Runners can still register at the race expo on Oct. 29 from noon-5 p.m at the Folsom Community Center (52 Natoma Street). Entry forms are available at www.fourbridgeshalf.org.
The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.
SRA beneficiaries include the American River Parkway, youth fitness programs and local running venues.