Dennis Berrett is closing in on 60 years old and after completing countless marathons, he’s still going strong, running along with his wife during this year’s Utah Marathon Grand Slam organized by Wasatch Running Center in Sandy.

The Utah Grand Slam is the completion of four marathons chosen by the organizers with the last one being the St. George Marathon in October.

This year’s Slam kicked off on June 11 with the Utah Valley Marathon, the first official marathon of the 2011 series. I say “official” because there are two alternate marathons runners can use in cases of injury, vacation plans or anything else that would prevent them from participating in one of the official four races.

The official races for this year’s series are:

Ogden Marathon – May 21 (alternate marathon)

Utah Valley Marathon – June 11

Deseret News Marathon – July 25 (alternate marathon)

Park City Marathon – August 20

Top Of Utah Marathon – Sept. 17

St. George Marathon – October 1

I was curious in talking with Berrett, who if my memory serves me right, has run between 50 and 75 marathons, which of the Grand Slam was his favorite. It didn’t surprise me when he said Ogden or Utah Valley were two of the best. Being from Ogden that race will always be at the top of my list.

And having completed the Utah Valley Marathon for the first time this year I can see why it ranks high on his list, and why it’s growing so fast in popularity.

Race Director Hyrum Oaks said the Utah Valley Marathon boasts the fastest average time among all participants than any other race in Utah, beating the next closest average by four minutes. After a quick scan of the race information page, it’s easy to see why speeds are up in Provo.

First of all, it starts early. And even though it was rough getting up at 3 a.m. to catch a bus at 4 a.m, the 6 a.m. start in Wallsburg, Utah, was a blessing in disguise by keeping everyone cooler longer. This meant that there were piles of chilly runners at the starting line, and unfortunately, not enough firewood. I saw guys hauling anything they could find to throw on the flames from forgotten pallets to sagebrush limbs.

Secondly, the course’s hills are really not too tough and they happen mostly in the first 10 miles. After that it drops nearly 1,500 feet in elevation through Provo Canyon making it a PR grabbers dream.

The run through the canyon was very pleasant and breathtaking at times with a cool breeze and raging river to accompany.

The finish line is always a great place to be, and this race was no different. There were plenty of volunteers all with a smiles on their faces. And as an extra benefit, there was some free swag for “slammers” from Wasatch Running.

It was a great start to what’s sure to be a memorable series.

Brian Nicholson has completed marathons from Boston to Beijing, a host of Ragnar relays, and has developed a keen taste for all things Gu.