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.)