Thankfully, Mom was right at the finish to catch this shot of me just feet away from my first marathon win!
Thankfully, Mom was right at the finish to catch this shot of me just feet away from my first marathon win!
Oh, Dorothy, you were so right. There is no place like home.
On October 19, I embarked upon my final marathon journey of 2013- the SoJo Marathon. I had just come off a PR of 2:51 in St. George two weeks prior, but gifted with a free entry from FatBoy Racing, how could I turn down the chance to run through my home streets amongst friends and family?
The South Jordan Marathon, or SoJo as it is affectionately called, is a very small race which the city bought this past year. New management brings new challenges and they were numerous this time around, but I can honestly say this was my best race day ever.
A lot of friends had high expectations for me and weren’t shy about sharing them in texts, on Facebook or even in person. As has been my M.O. for every race this year, I had no specific time goal, but I couldn’t help but allow my hopes to rise a little higher with all these positive comments swirling around my head.
Having broken the 3-hour barrier and won a couple half-marathons, there was only one goal I had left: win a marathon.
I’m not elite. I’m not coached. I never ran in college or high school. I didn’t lace up a pair of running shoes until six years ago as a way to keep myself sane as a mom of two young girls. I’m a good runner, but not great (unless you ask my mom or husband). To win a marathon, it would have to be a smaller race on a more familiar course. SoJo met both those criteria. The course itself is one I run most Saturdays. I know every dip and rise of the road. I’m intimately familiar with the grinding uphill on Bacchus Highway and the rollers surrounding Daybreak. I could run this course with my eyes closed. No chance of me getting lost here!
The night before the marathon was fretful. With the real chance of meeting my final goal, my mind would not stop imagining every mile. It was a relief when the alarm finally went off and I could play out these imagined scenarios for real.
I headed to the start line with Ashley who was running her first marathon. Thank goodness for good friends to calm down excited nerves. Because the race is at home, I got to sleep in my own bed and only had to wake up early to get breakfast in my belly early enough to have time to digest. We waited maybe 30 minutes before it was time to run. Having learned my lesson from St. George, I wasn’t shy about toeing the start line, but as I looked around, I realized I was the only woman up front. With my goal secretly tucked in the back of my mind, we began.
From the very start, I was the lone female in front. Lest you think I was comfortable about this, I was a little rattled. Why were there no women around? Did I go out too fast? Did they know something I didn’t know? How long would it be until “she” caught me.
Negative thoughts do no one any good, so I switched my mind to “Run Your Own Race” mode. If someone beats me, it will be because they were stronger, better, faster. Not because I psyched myself out.
Mile 1-5- I found myself running with Casey from West Jordan, a father who was gunning for a sub-3 hour race. I was glad to have someone to run with, but after a few miles had to cut out the talking. Our 6:20/mile pace felt comfortably hard.
Mile 6-8- After some gentle downhill and flat roads, we hit our first big climb. Last year I was pacing my friend Hollie to her first marathon finish and remember this climb as one of my favorite spots on the course. This year, my faster pace changed my opinion. It’s almost two miles of unrelenting climbing. I told Casey I would be backing off a bit. No sense in expending so much energy so early. If someone wanted to pass me here, let them go. I knew fresher legs would prevail in later miles.
Mile 9-13- Coming into Herriman and past the high school is my normal Saturday routine. I told myself it was just another Saturday. No pressure. My pace had only slowed to around 6:30 even with a gradual uphill past the school. Once we turned right and headed east, we were rewarded with a good downhill stretch into Daybreak. Casey was worried about our pace slowing. I reminded him I had no time goal and if he wanted to run on, just go. Our half split was somewhere around 1:27, although for the first time this season, I wasn’t so focused on time. The online race results have our split at 1:24. I don’t believe that.
My husband, Christian, was running the half-marathon that morning and had started 30 minutes after we did. As we passed their starting line, I wondered where he was. We had joked that a victory for him would be him finishing before me. I told him we actually had a chance of finishing a race together! I hoped his run was a good one.
Mile14-16- Still feeling strong, I held my pace as we skirted the east edge of Oquirrh Lake. The best part of running at home is passing by familiar favorite spots and this is one of mine. We ran past some women running on the path by the lake and they shouted, “First woman! Go girl! Go!” Lots of woo-hoos and some good mojo for my legs. Mile 15 I saw Emily who ran the Epic Relay with me. It took me a minute to recognize her, but as she passed me water, she also gave me some more mojo. Another big plus for running at home- a hometown cheering squad all along the course.
As we turned right and headed east again down 102nd south, I passed Casey and another male runner. We took a right onto 40th west and I set my sights on Temple Hill. That would be the last I saw of either of them.
Mile 17-19- My friend and running partner Tyler usually volunteers for this race, but since the change in management, he found himself with a free Saturday. He offered to meet me around mile 17 and help me to the finish. I was more than happy to accept.
My strategy for dealing with marathon miles is to set short goals. My first goal is always to make it to mile 8. Then I set my sights on mile 14. It’s more than halfway which always makes me confident that I can finish. This race, my next goal was to get to Tyler. He met me in the middle of our third large climb past the Oquirrh Mountain Temple. Again, this is familiar territory. We run it together every Saturday, but I never run it at a 6:45 pace. Yes, I slowed down some for this hill. It’s short, but it’s intense and steep. Never have I been so grateful to see his white hat in the distance. He tried to talk to me, but my huffing and puffing clued him in on my inabiltiy to chit chat.
We crested the hill and began a steep descent when I saw a woman in a green coat holding a sign and yelling at me. It was my friend and soon-to-be neighbor Tara! It was then that I realized I was running by our new home that we would be moving into soon, passing our church as we zipped through the neighborhood. I found this so comforting.
My next goal was to make it to the mile 18 aide station where my two daughters were volunteering with my friend Hollie, the same friend I’d paced last year. My kids have volunteered at this race the past three years and look forward to it every year. I could actually see my girls’ pink jackets back at the top of Temple Hill. I had warned them that if I was racing, I probably wouldn’t stop to kiss their cute little heads, but how could I pass them up? I slowed down, squished their sweet cheeks, told them I loved them and ran on with renewed energy. By the way Hollie was cheering, you’d have thought I was on my way to Olympic gold. It’s good to have friends that love you that much.
Mile 20-23- Turning left onto 3200 W. marked the beginning of a rough patch. 3200 W. is a deceptive grind. Give me a good, steep, honest hill any day. To the naked eye, it looks flat. To exhausted legs, I might as well be climbing Everest. Everything bugged me. My race belt chaffed. My feet ached. My shoulders hurt. I could sense myself spiraling downward. I told Tyler to talk me through. I just needed distraction. If there’s one downside to knowing a course, it’s knowing just how far down the road you have to run to reach the finish. At this point, it felt unreachable. The previous week’s half marathon, the St. George Marathon two weeks before, the Top of Utah Marathon four weeks earlier- all those miles accumulated and their weight bore down on my quads like cinderblock. There was a tailwind, but it was no more helpful than a whisper.
We finally turned right onto 9800 S. Thoughts immediately turned back to my girls. We ran past their school and I thought of them running so happily around their field at recess. Kids take joy in running. I needed to find the joy. I focused hard on the finish. Within minutes of passing the school, I saw Michelle Campbell, a talented local runner who has had her fair share of incredible races. She was out there cheering her heart out. Just past her was Tara again. It was as if Michelle and Tara knew I needed a little extra push.
At this point we were running into a lot of half-marathoners. Tyler ran a few steps ahead of me, shouting “On your left!” to clear the way for me. It’s the closest I will ever get to a personal escort during a race.
Mile 24-26- My next goal was to make it to the mile 24 aide station where Elfi Ortenburger and my fellow Huntsman Hometown Heroes were volunteering. At the entrance to the Jordan River Parkway, they were there shouting encouragement and offering GU. All I could do was hold up a finger to indicate I was in first, but seeing their happy faces and hearing them call me by name almost brought me to tears.
At mile 25 there were actual tears. So many of the mile markers on the course were off. Some came too early. Some came too late. I thought we were at mile 25 and I started focusing on mile 26. A few minutes later, I noticed a mile 25 marker. How could this be? I thought we passed it minutes ago! I could feel the lump in my throat grow. I was at the end of my rope physically and mentally. I told Tyler I just had to slow down. He insisted he wasn’t pushing me. For the first time in miles, I looked at my time and realized I could run an 8-minute mile and still finish under 3 hours!
I mentioned this to Tyler. His response is one I’ll never forget. “You don’t want to just win this. You want to win it with style!”
I knew he was right. How could I walk this race in? I’m always telling my class members, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish that really matters.”
I sucked it up and tried to find as much “style” as I could. Then I heard it. The crowds! The cheering! I could see the finish in the distance and I was still in first place! This was really happening!
Mile 26-26.2- I don’t remember a lot. Christian says he was right at the finish. I do remember my youngest daughter Ali jumping onto the course and running a few steps with me. I was worried she’d get lost in the crowd, but I couldn’t slow down. Michelle had made it to the finish to cheer me in as had Tara. Tyler gave me one last shove and sent me across the finish. There was no tape to break. No one called my name. I finished amidst crowds of Kids K, 5K, and half marathon finishers. But I knew what just happened. I won my first marathon and I did it in 2:56.
There was a lot of confusion as soon as I crossed the finish line. A family crossed right in front of me and immediately stopped. I ran into them and felt dizzy. The crowds were so thick and weren’t dispersing. I couldn’t breathe. Tyler’s dad was not far away and could see I needed some help. He and Tyler took me to the med tent. I just needed to get out of the crowds. I hadn’t even been given my medal. The medic took my vitals and declared me “Okay” but remarked that my heart rate was high. Yeah, that happens when you race.
At the award ceremony, they announced me as the second place finisher. Someone had registered for the full, but dropped to the half. My mom said she’d heard her declared the winner almost an hour before I finished. Unless she had secret jet-pack shoes, I said it was impossible for a woman to finish a marathon in 1:56. It took some time, but it was finally ironed out. A very anti-climatic finish, but I couldn’t be happier. I took some time to revel with friends who’d run their own fantastic races.
Christian had a great race made only better by the fact that he was done a whole 7 minutes before me! Success!
What made this day so special to me wasn’t that I won. It’s not my time that matters, although I’m very proud to have finally broken 3-hours on a very rough course. No, what made it special was that I won it at home with friends and family with me from start to finish. No amount of prize money could ever match that feeling.
(And my friend Ashley, she finished her first marathon with a huge smile on her face! I have a feeling it won’t be her last.)
I will write more later, but I can’t help but express my excitement over my first ever marathon win! To make it even sweeter, I won my hometown marathon, the SoJo Marathon in South Jordan, Utah. Wait! There’s more. I set a course record for the women finishing in 2:57 flat. There’s so much more to say, but for now, I need a nap!
After running 28 marathons, you think there wouldn’t be much more to learn. I’ve finally figured out a pre-race nutrition plan that works like a charm. I know which sports bra will be kind to me in my post-race shower. I even mastered the art of drinking water on the run.
This year’s St. George Marathon taught me the most valuable lesson of all- to believe in myself.
Why is it so easy to believe in others, but so hard to believe in ourselves? Maybe this is a problem only I face, but I doubt it. Actually, I doubt myself and that’s the problem.
The last two years have been breakthrough years for my running. In the 15 races I’ve run, I’ve PR’d in 14 of them. The exception was Boston 2012 when temps rose to the low 90’s by the end of the race. Yet, despite my legs proving time and time again that I am getting stronger, I considered almost all of these little victories to be flukes. Had I been on the outside looking in, I’d say that was crazy talk. From the inside, it seemed sensible.
Coming off my best Top of Utah marathon ever, I was feeling good about SGM. I was sure I had another sub-3 hour marathon in my legs. After all, I’d just run a 3:01 in TOU and that is a much tougher course. My only concern was that I’d only had 2 weeks to recover.
Friday night I picked up my bib from the elite runner’s section at the expo. I was excited to be lumped in this category, but had lingering doubts about its legitimacy. I was quite aware of how many fast women were running this year and had no intention of being able to keep up.
Saturday morning I rode the bus to the start with Tyler and Alicia. Tyler had decided to run as fast as he could with me, maybe 18 miles. We didn’t communicate enough because he thought I would take it easy out of the gate while my intention was to blast out of the start and hang on as long as I could. Because he didn’t have an elite bib, he couldn’t access the elite corral, so I decided to start with him a little further back.
Here’s what I didn’t understand. The elites start a good 30 seconds before the rest of the pack. This would cost me in the end.
It was freezing at the start. The winds were blowing, but they were at our backs. I chose to wear capris rather than my typical skirt. Arm warmers, long-sleeve tech shirt and a zip-up sweatshirt finished off my outfit. So many women look so darn cute in their race outfits and makeup. I’m not one of them, but I was comfortable.
The gun went off and the race was finally on. I had a bit of anxiety watching the elites go while we stood still, but before we knew it, the chase was on. I quickly caught up to the elite group. It was so cold I couldn’t feel my feet. Tyler was a step behind me and we started at a 6:15 pace. I felt great and was taking advantage of the wind and the downhill. By mile 2 I could shed my sweatshirt. By mile 3 I’d unintentionally shed Tyler as well. I think we both knew by then that we weren’t running the same race.
Mile 1-6- I felt fabulous. My splits were all around 6:20, but I felt I was running well within my ability. I’d settled in and felt surprsingly comfortable.
Mile 7-13- Climbing the large hill at Veyo, I felt every inch of that incline. It’s hard to hold back in Veyo with such enthusiastic crowds. Someone had “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue blasting from their speakers and I loved it. I use that song in cycle class and couldn’t help but think of my fellow cyclists. I always tell them to enjoy the work and I can honestly say I was at that moment.
The climb is a little over a mile and it takes a lot of me every time, but I was able to hold a decent pace dropping down to 6:30 min/mile. Getting over the hump isn’t the hard part. Holding a decent pace after a hard effort is the hard part. The road may descend a little, but it feels fairly flat. I had to work hard to keep my speed.
Mile 14-17- I’d passed quite a few women during these miles. My half marathon time was 1:25 and change. My best half marathon time to date! At mile 15 I knew I could get my sub-3, but by how much? I did the math in my head, figured in the toughness of the last miles and thought maybe I could finish in around 2:55.
Somewhere around mile 14 someone told me I was the 8th woman. Once again, I was taken by surprise, but knowing how far up I was changed my mindset. No longer was I running for a sub-3, I was running for a top-10 finish. Only a mile after learning where I was in the pack, two seemingly fresh, young girls trotted past me, chatting as though they were out for a nice Saturday jog. I’m sure they didn’t feel that it was all that easy, but that’s how it looked to me. “It’s okay,” I thought. “I’m still in tenth. This isn’t my goal. Just run.”
There’s a good section of downhill here and I can’t overemphasize what it did to my spirits! I actually felt that I could run forever. I was tired, but not exhausted. My legs weren’t sore. Nothing was sore. My heart rate was ridiculously low and I was still running 6:30 miles. Steady. That’s the word of the day.
Mile 18-23- Coming to the end of the canyon, I had to keep my mindset in check. Around mile 18 I have a tendency to start negative thinking. With 8 miles to go, it’s easy to just want to lay down next to a nice volunteer, ask for a blanket and take a nap. I kept telling myself, “I feel great. I feel great.” It worked. After a final hill around mile 19, it was all downhill from there and I headed home.
Mile 23-26- We ran out of the canyon and I focused simply on finishing a mile at a time. I wasted as little energy as possible. I wanted to take my long-sleeve shirt off, but didn’t. I wanted to look at my watch, but didn’t. I know I don’t have a good finishing kick. I knew I couldn’t slow down if I wanted to hold onto my overall place. People lined the streets and cheered. What a boost. As I passed one family, the dad turned to his wife and said, “Some of these runners look like they’re just floating along!” I knew he was probably talking about me since there wasn’t anyone right around me. This made me feel fantastic. As tired as I was, I still felt strong.
At mile 25, I just laid it all on the line. I wanted to enjoy every second of what I knew would be a personal success. I saw my friend Amber and her family and even recognized her (as opposed to last year when I felt so delirious I was pretty sure it was heaven calling me home when she shouted my name!).
Mile 26-26.2 we took a left and there was the finish line. So close, yet so far away. Words can’t describe the elation I felt. I looked at my watch. 2:49! Not only would I beat my PR, I’d crush it and I was still in 10th place! I saw my family to my right, but my husband was looking down at his phone and didn’t see me. I screamed his name a few times and nothing. Finally the woman next to him noticed me shouting and nudged him. He looked up just in time to see me pass, but too fast to take a picture. As I crossed the finish line I heard the announcer call out my name. This is a first. I’ve never heard my name and he even pronounced it right! “Kimberly Cowart from South Jordan Utah! Great job, Kimberly!” And then it was done. Chip time: 2:51:29.
Just typing those numbers makes me emotional all over again. I staggered to a stop, put my hands on my knees while an official ran up to me to hand me my “10th Place Finisher” lanyard. Just a few seconds later I heard the announcer call Jenny Sperry’s name. Her 4th marathon and she finishes with a 2:52! Incredible. Debbie Tebbs came up next. To be amidst these fantastic athletes is something I never thought would happen to me.
I found my family. I got a little teary, but honestly I was too tired to even cry. It would hit me about 45 minutes later and I would start sobbing in the grassy finisher’s area. My old college friend Matt Paul found me next. What a great day to celebrate with old and new friends and my family.
Tyler wasn’t too far back. A 3:02 finish for him. As it would turn out, most everyone PR’d with the good weather. The course record was smashed. The winning woman won in 2:37. Last year my 2:51 would have gotten me 2nd place. This year it was 10th.
At the award ceremony, the top 10 men and women were presented. The master of ceremonies announced to the large crowd that it was the fastest top 10 in STG history. That’s when it hit me hard. I was a part of this incredible group. Me! My daughter Ali came up with me to get my award (she always does and loves every second). I held her hand, caught my husband’s eye and got a little teary. Aside from the obvious days (wedding day and birth of my daughters) this was one of the best days of my life. I was, and still am, filled with gratitude for the gift of health and strength. I am also grateful to have found a talent that was dormant for so long.
It turns out that my chip time and gun time were 35 seconds apart. Going by gun time, my finish was a 2:52:05. Good enough for 10th. Going by chip time, I finished in 2:51:29, good enough for 9th. When they announced the winners, they even announced me as 9th, but I told them that was wrong and they gave me 10th. Had I started with the elites in the right corral, this wouldn’t be an issue. Needless to say, I’m kicking myself. A hard lesson learned.
In any case, I’m thrilled. I walked home with a three-peat Grand Slam 1st place finish, 1st place female in Salt Lake County and 9th place overall female (with a 10th place award). I also walked away with a 2nd place age group trophy. Most importantly I walked away with a little more confidence and a little less doubt.
Sometimes the stars align, and when they do, just hang on and enjoy the ride.
That pretty much sums up my experience at the 2013 Top of Utah Marathon. This was my 6th running of my most favorite local marathon. I first ran it in 2008. It was my second marathon ever and such a wonderful experience compared to my first that I vowed to return each year after. So far I’ve made good on that promise.
Not every year has been so great. Two years ago the skies opened up and we were pelted with rain, then hail, then rain again. We were treated to a delightful dance of lightening in the skies. Our feet were bathed in inch deep puddles of water as we wound our way down the canyon. Oh, and I had strep throat and a fractured foot which in turn aggravated my IT band. Thanks for the memories.
Thankfully, that was in the past and stayed there where it belonged. I’d been trying to decide what my goals were for this race. I knew I had the St. George marathon only two weeks after TOU. I’d also just signed up for SoJo running with a comp’d entry from FatBoy Racing. Three marathons in six weeks with a half marathon thrown in for good measure was making me question my own sanity.
In the face of such decisions, I do what I typically do and didn’t make a decision at all. I drove up to Logan without any goal in mind. I decided to run by feel and let the race unfold. My friend and running partner Tyler and I rode up together which helped to squash any nerves I might have felt. Once we reached the start line we found my friend Jill from Chicago. She was running her first Utah marathon and was nervous/excited. She and Tyler decided to run together. I was a bit jealous. Time flies by so much faster with friends, but I knew I was going to run faster than their planned finish time.
It was a cool and cloudless morning. I could sense it would be a good day before we even took one step over the start line.
Mile 1-8- Feeling great. My pace was somewhere between 6:30-6:45 and I felt comfortable. I thought there were a lot of girls in front of me, so I was only focused on running happy.
Mile 9-13- At mile 9 a police officer told me I was the third female. Stunned, I actually yelled out, “What did you say?” She repeated what I thought I’d heard and suddenly it was GAME ON! Here’s the truth. Anytime someone tells me I’m running in an overall finish position, my competitive juices get flowing and I just try to see how long I can hold it. I never expect to hold it to the end, and I try not to get my hopes up too high. At this point in a race, it’s too early to start predicting finish times.
At one point around mile 10 I found myself completely alone. It was like a dream. I could see no one in front. I heard no one in back. All I heard was wind and water and the sounds of my own breathing. How often does one get to run solo down a gorgeous canyon? I tried to soak it in. I hit the halfway mark at 1:28:45.
Mile 14-18- As always my family was waiting for me as we exited Blacksmith Fork Canyon at mile 14. Every year I stop and kiss my kids, grab a gulp of Powerade and wave as I run off. This year I just waved. They were a little stunned, but I think they knew things were going well, so they were happy, too. The downhill was mostly done at this point, so I tried to see how long I could hold a sub-7 minute pace. I started doing calculations in my head. It occured to me that I could maybe run another sub-3 hour marathon, but that wasn’t my goal, so I let the thought go.
Mile 19-24- This is where things get rough. There’s a lot of rolling terrain. There’s a lot of twisting and turning around neighborhoods. The smooth, gentle downhill of the canyon is a distant memory. Most people hate this part. I love it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard and it hurts and I’m counting down the miles like anyone else. But this is where I feel strongest. I know it won’t be long until it’s over. I’m simply focused on finishing a mile at a time. Nothing more.
Mile 24.1-26- Just after the mile 24 aid station, we take a right onto Logan’s Main Street. Every year this is the place I start to pass runners. Not this year. Not because I was slowing down, but because there were no runners to pass. Last year I was so into my own thoughts, I went straight when I should have turned. Because I found myself alone so much during this race, I was hyper-vigilant so I wouldn’t repeat that mistake. It wasn’t until mile 24 I could mentally relax. I knew I just had to climb a mile, turn right and descend a mile and the finish line would be waiting. Just run.
Mile 26- 26.2- Some girls were cheering and I asked in all seriousness, “Where the hell is that finish line?” They were mildly offended and didn’t answer, but really I was too tired to keep it G-rated anymore. The road is a little rough here and my feet were killing me, but that was the only thing hurting. I looked at my watch. 2:58:55. I knew I couldn’t get a sub-3, but wanted to see what I could do. I turned it on as much as I could this late in the game and saw nothing but the clock. 3:00:30. 3:00:40. Could I keep it under 3:01? 3:00:55. Nope. I crossed the finish line in 3:01:05.
Disappointed? I suppose, but any disappointment I felt was quickly overshadowed by the fact that I was the 3rd female overall! My first TOU was done in 3:29. What an improvement. I thought last year’s 3:04 was incredible. This was unbelievable to me. My training hadn’t been strong all year. I hadn’t done any intentional tempo runs (trying to beat the thunder and lightening storm home doesn’t count as intentional). I was happily surprised. I found my husband, kids and parents who’d driven up for the day and just basked in the sunlight.
While the kids played in the park next to the finish, Christian and I went back to the finish line to watch Tyler and Jill come in as Jill secured another BQ! She beamed at a finish time she’d doubted earlier.
I collected my giant moose trophy and $750 (my biggest cash prize EVER) and headed out to grab my well-earned cheeseburger and onion rings.
It wasn’t the money or my place in the race that made this day so great. What I’m happiest about is I ran healthy. I ran strong. I ran happy. I started feeling great and I finished feeling even greater. I recovered quickly and was able to enjoy the rest of the day with my family. I’m feeling fairly optimistic about St. George. I don’t know if there’s another sub-3 in my future, but if not, that’s really fine. I’m learning to enjoy these runs more and that’s the biggest prize I could win.
Julie Andrews has some odd favorite things. Whiskers on kittens? Really? Raindrops on roses? Well, at least she’s low maintenance.
My list is a little more indulgent. S’mores ice cream. S’mores ice cream with a chocolate cake donut on the side. A fantastic deal on a comfy chair at DownEast. A new episode of the Satellite Sisters or the Two Gomers podcasts. The Top of Utah Marathon.
The last favorite leaves most of my friends scratching their heads. Why would that be my favorite marathon? It doesn’t sell out like the Big Cottonwood Marathon. It’s not as well-known as St. George. It wasn’t featured in Runner’s World Magazine like Ogden. You don’t see ads for TOU along the Boston Marathon route like you do for Utah Valley. So what makes this my most favorite local marathon?
Top of Utah Marathon Day is all about the marathon. There is a 5K early that morning, too, but the half marathon is held a couple weeks before. The only people crossing the finish line mid-morning are marathoners. Less congestion at the finish. Fewer run-ins during the last few miles of the marathon. More bananas and bagels at the finish line for all.
The downhill stretching down Blacksmith Fork Canyon is just downhill enough to give me an edge, but not so downhill that it destroys my quads. Sure, I’m sore the next day and I do grimace a little trying sit down to use the bathroom, but I’m usually back to my old self in a day or two.
The course is laid out in a way that makes it so easy for my family to watch me run. The first time I see them is at mile 14 as we exit the canyon. I then see them at mile 16, 18, and 21. Because it’s a smaller race, we are able to make it a family event. There’s nothing better than seeing your 6 and 9 year old yelling, “That’s my mom!” at the top of their lungs.
What a lot of my friends find surprising is that I love the last 12 miles of the race. After coming out of the canyon, the terrain gets interesting. The downhill is behind us and the real test lies ahead. We wind our way through neighborhoods and up some challenging hills. The final 10K is a true test of grit and strength. Turning the corner onto Main St. after mile 24, runners are faced with a mile-long stretch of uphill roads. While some may groan (and to be honest, I have, too) this is when I feel strongest. I know I’m almost done. I know I’ve accomplished so much and I know what is waiting for me just around the corner. As tired, sore, and spent as I am, I try to soak in my victory lap here. What draws me to running is the challenge, and this is exactly that.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beauty of the TOU course. The canyon is gorgeous. At one point this year I found myself completely alone. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I couldn’t hear anyone behind me. I don’t run with an iPod. Instead, for a brief moment all I heard was the stream to my right and the wind in the trees. The sun flickered through the leaves and gave me just enough warmth to feel comfortable while the breeze cooled me enough to keep me fresh. At my core, I am a solitary runner. This was my idea of heaven. This was my happy place.
Finally, a race is only as good as the people who organize it and these organizers do a fantastic job. The wake-up call is respectable with the last bus leaving for the start at 5:45 am. I’m a morning person, but catching a bus at 3:30 am is painful even for me. The roads are a little beat up in sections, but most are nice and wide and well-marked. The volunteers give me such a boost at every aid station. The finish line is always stocked with chocolate milk and donuts. The finish line area is a beautiful park which offered playgrounds for the kids while runners can seek out shady spots to stretch, relax, and bask in the glory of their finish. The local band plays music while a few spectators dance. I found a park bench where I could gather my thoughts and just smile and soak in the energy.
At mile 24, all I wished was for this race to be over. That’s true for every mile 24 at every race. But every year when I finish TOU, I’m a little sad it’s over. If I could only race one marathon a year, this would be my pick. It will always be one of my favorite things.
Twenty years ago I sat in Mrs. Stewart’s English class with my friends trying to imagine what our lives would be like when we reunited for our 20th reunion. Some pictured big families. Some pictured living in exotic locations with exciting jobs. I pictured… nothing.
At seventeen, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a corporate bigwig or a mom to ten kids. Both of those options seem so out of character now that I can’t help but laugh at their seeming possibility then. The late teens and early twenties are a time of self-discovery. And while I didn’t backpack through Europe to find myself (my meager salary from Taste of Chicago made sure that didn’t happen), I certainly did uncover parts of myself that were both surprising and wonderful.
Experience taught me I hate cooking. I’m terrible at sewing. Gardening is an art beyond my skill set. Teaching is my call, but not in the way I expected.
But the biggest discoveries came through running. For many years I allowed myself to be pigeon-holed. I wrongly believed that because I wasn’t terribly good at team sports, athletics would never play a role in my life.
Then I had kids. Motherhood was a shock to me. There were no internet blogs or websites to warn me of the challenges I would face as a mom. With very little experience outside of babysitting during middle school, I found myself floundering to find solid footing. I was falling short of impossibly high, self-imposed expectations. Stressed, isolated and even a little depressed I turned to running.
Part of me wanted my pre-baby body back. Part of me needed alone time. But the biggest part of me was just trying to figure out how to cope with the unknowns of life.
I can’t explain why I thought running would help. There was no master plan, no pre-conceived course of action that promised running as a cure-all for my many ills. I just felt drawn to the physical exertion and the connection with nature running offered. I craved listening to the sound of my feet and my own heavy breathing. I craved the immediate sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every run.
And so it began with a single run. It was short. It was slow. I loved it.
I ran away from the insecurity that plagued me during my teens. I ran away from the fear I had of my future. I ran away from the distaste I had for my physical body.
I ran toward confidence. I ran toward peace. I ran toward joy. I ran toward acceptance and eventually gratitude for the body I once resented.
I don’t know that I would say running changed me as much as it uncovered a part of me I never knew existed. The inner athlete was there all along. It just took a little longer for me to find her.
While I loved reminiscing with old friends delving into my dusty CD collection, I’m happy to put the past behind me. My glory days are still ahead and I’m running toward them as fast as I can.