Race reports aren’t really interesting to anyone but the runner, but to not record this day seems wrong.
First, let me honest. Marathons are really hard. I mean, REALLY hard. And they’re getting harder as I get older. That’s okay. I can handle the physical pain. What’s been eating away at me is the stress surrounding marathons, most of it self-imposed. I’m not elite by any stretch. But I’m locally competitive. Over the last 10 years and 46 marathons, I’ve placed in the majority of local races, most overall places. For a girl who never ran more than a mile in P.E. class growing up, I’m really proud of all I’ve accomplished, especially since my initial goal when I signed up for my first marathon was simply not to embarrass myself.
Once I started to realize I had a tiny speck of talent in my legs, the stress went through the roof. I expected a lot from myself. When you know how good it feels to do well, it makes not doing well feel even worse. Blah, blah, blah. These problems aren’t even really problems. But over the years, racing stopped being fun.
So, I started traveling to races where no one knew me and the expectations disappeared. Amsterdam. Berlin. New York. Boston. Eugene. Those are the races I enjoyed most.
I’d met every goal I’d set for my marathoning self, and then some. I’ve placed overall in every major Utah marathon- even St. George. I’ve run three sub-3 hour races. I’ve won a couple marathons and a few half-marathons. I’ve set a few course records in the overalls and master’s divisions. I’ve won the Utah Grand Slam three times. I only had one more goal to check off my list.
I wanted a moose clock.
The Top of Utah Marathon rewards its most loyal athletes (runners who’d run the race 10 times) with a gorgeous oak moose clock, and I’ve coveted it since the first time I ran TOU in 2008. Last year, my 9th year, the threat of TOU not returning was real due to low registration. I begged the race directors not to cancel 2017. How sad would I be to get this close to running my 10th TOU and not get that clock? (Answer- very, very sad.) Oh happy day when they decided to move forward with this year’s race.
As the day drew close, my nerves got worse. Race day felt like a dark cloud keeping me from enjoying the fall season. My life was dissected into pre and post race day plans. Training had gone okay. I knew I wouldn’t be setting any PR’s, but I wasn’t feeling injured or exhausted. Yet, the night before in my hotel room, my heart was pounding in my chest as though it was my first race ever. To calm myself down, I decided this year would be my last local marathon.
Morning finally came and I boarded the bus to the start. I won’t bore you with a mile by mile breakdown. But here are the highlights.
At it’s height, TOU attracted more than 2000 runners. Last weekend there were fewer than 400. It’s a beautiful course with the best directors and volunteers, so this fact keeps me shaking my head as I watch the numbers dwindle more each year. The only positive note is it’s easy to get into a port-o-potty!
My running/racing partner Tyler decided to meet me at mile 14 to help me run the last 12. Mile 14 is also where my husband and daughter Ali would be to cheer me on. So, goal #1, get thyself to mile 14. I ran the first half in 1:31. Not bad, but I knew the second half would be much slower. My right hamstring was a little achy, but my right shoulder which I separated in a bad bike crash in June 2016 was on fire, and not in a good way. The nerve endings all up and down my arm and into my neck and shoulder started talking back around mile 7. By mile 14 they were screaming.
The canyon is gorgeous. Fall is sprinkled through the trees, and when the morning light hits that canyon it’s like fireworks exploding on the hillside. I don’t run with music, so the sound of the stream rushing downhill alongside the road makes for a meditative run.
While I usually do math in my head to distract me from running, this year all my thoughts were about running. I thought a lot about how far I’ve come. How running has changed me inside and out. How what started off as an activity to burn off a few extra pounds became a mental life raft. I thought about the first marathon I finished. The first sub-3. The first marathon win. I thought of the friends I’ve met, and the relationships I’ve forged. I thought about my birthday marathon around Daybreak Lake. I thought about Boston 2013, and then Boston 2014. I thought about the peace I still feel even on the most painful runs.
The miles ticked by and then, there it was. Mile 14. I told Tyler if I’d been adequately hydrated, I’d have wept for joy I was so happy to see him. While the first 14 miles are down the gorgeous Blacksmith Fork Canyon, the last 12 are a twisty turny journey through hills and neighborhoods. He distracted me as he told stories of his previous week’s run with Alicia, his sister and my high school friend, as he paced her the last 33 miles of her 100-mile ultra. 100 miles. People do this. Seriously.
The best part of TOU is the ease with which spectators can cheer on their runners. I saw my family a few more times before the finish. Somewhere around mile 19 my side began to cramp. It’s been an issue since my hysterectomy in December. I’d hoped it wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head, but it did. It’s not the kind of cramp I can run through, so I walked. I never walk in a race. But over the next seven miles, I walked through every aid station and then some.
The last mile felt like ten. But finally, there was the finish line. Rick and Elfi Ortenburger were there to cheer me and a few other friends to the finish. My husband and daughter Ali were on the other side. I tried to high-five them, but by this point I couldn’t lift my arm. But they could tell how grateful I was that they were there. I crossed the finish line in 3:13, fourth overall woman. Second in the female master’s division. I stumbled through the finish chute, grabbed my medal with my good arm, found a chair to sit on and cried.
They were tears of relief, sadness, elation and disappointment all rolled together. Relief the race was done. Sadness that it was the last marathon. Elation I had placed. Disappointment it was my worst finish time in over seven years. There were a few tears of pain mixed in there, too.
After the awards ceremony, I sat down in the park where the finish line festivities are held just so I could soak it in a little longer. Now it’s three days later. Rumor has it that next year will be the last year for TOU. It will be the 20th running. With so few runners, they aren’t breaking even. Every year they lose more. There is no shortage of runners, but there is no shortage of races, either, others offering more downhill than TOU. This continues to break my heart as TOU is so personally special to me. The race directors love their runners and it shows in the care they offer. The volunteers, the one-of-a-kind awards, their enthusiasm- it all makes for a day like no other.
I loudly declared this would be my last local marathon for awhile, but I’m not sure I can miss next year, especially since it’s their 20th anniversary, and definitely if it’s their last year.
Sitting at the Center Street Grille with my family munching on onion rings and burgers, taking in the fall colors, and enjoying the cool breeze after a tough race, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Life changes. Priorities shift. Bodies grow older. But TOU remains a unique and emotional yearly event and I’m not sure I’m ready to let that go. My heart says “Yes” while my body says “No.”
To be continued…