Palo Alto Weekly's annual Moonlight Run & Walk is returning Friday, Sept. 21, with some exciting changes — most notably, on the trail. The run, now in its 34th year, will include a half marathon for the first time and a new 5K route allowing for better views of the Palo Alto Baylands. The route for the 10K run will remain unchanged.
Whereas last year's 5K trail set out toward the Baylands along Embarcadero Road, but turned back inland at Bayshore Road, much of the 5K this year will take place near the water. The run will still start on Embarcadero Road, but continue into the Baylands through the Adobe Creek Loop Trail that follows the Mayfield Slough, before returning to Embarcadero.
The 5K route will take participants (both walkers and runners) up onto the Bixby Park hill, which offers a view of the entire bay.
This year's trail is at a higher elevation, which also will allow for nicer views, according to Moonlight Run coordinator Kali Shiloh. Last year's 5K trail was 18 feet at max elevation, while this year's is 22 feet.
Walkers also have the option of extending their 5K by adding a half-mile to the route.
The highly anticipated half marathon will take place extensively through the marshes, grasses and ponds in the Baylands.
The 13.1-mile route follows Bayshore Road for about 2 miles before turning east into a narrow and curvy strip of land between Soap Pond and Charleston Slough. The route continues along Adobe Creek toward the San Francisco Bay before tracing the Mayfield Slough back inland. This course is repeated once before runners head toward the Palo Alto Airport and back to Embarcadero to wrap up the half marathon.
Half marathoners who reach the 9.5 milepost two hours after the race's 7:30 p.m. start, however, will be diverted along a shorter route to the finish line.
Shiloh said the half marathon was added after multiple requests last year for longer distances.
"(Runners from last year) wanted more of a challenge. If they're going to do a race, they want to do a big one," said Shiloh, who anticipates 2,000 walkers and runners to participate in this year's event. "I think it attracts more people from a diverse geographical area."
Palo Alto Weekly publisher Bill Johnson said half marathons have gotten more popular in recent times and emphasized the "uniqueness" of an evening run. Despite the event happening late in the evening, it's held every year under the full (or near-full) Harvest Moon, which creates bright and serene moonlit trails. In addition, large lighting equipment will be installed at various points along the trail to ensure safety.
Water stations will be available roughly every 3 miles for half marathoners; at miles 2 and 4.5 for 10K runners; and at midpoint for 5K participants.
The 10K run will roughly follow the same route as the half marathon without steering inland along Mayfield Slough for a second lap — instead, the trail heads directly toward Bixby Park and back toward Embarcadero Road to the finish.
The nonprofit event raises proceeds for the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, which benefits local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Last year's event raised more than $60,000.
Registration for all four events begins at 6 p.m. on Friday's race night at Baylands Athletic Center, 1900 Geng Road, Palo Alto.