The Desert News Classic Marathon is a point to point event with shuttle buses dropping us off 26.2 miles away at 4 am for a 5:30 am start. According to their Facebook page, “First run in 1970, the Deseret News Marathon follows the path that Utah pioneers followed into the valley and is the oldest marathon west of the continental divide.” It’s held each year on Utah’s state holiday, “Pioneer Day.” This commemorates the arrival of Brigham Young and the original Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Though officially for everyone and all pioneers everywhere, it’s got strong ties to the Church of Latter Day Saints and in SLC there’s fireworks plus a Days of ’47 Parade.
I’m awake. It’s been like this for hours. My phone says it’s 2:15 am. My alarm is set for 2:20. I weigh the cost benefits of trying to doze another 5 minutes. I ultimately decide it would probably only make things worse.
I’m up and showered and driving to the Rice- Eccles Stadium to catch a 3:30 am shuttle to the start line. Seemingly as a hive mind we are all thinking the same thing — this seems unnecessarily early for a 5:30 start, no matter what unexpected obstacles might occur. But they’ve been doing this race for 46 years. Maybe they know about the need for contingencies that haven’t dawned on us.
I’m on the lead bus. It gets lost and the caravaning bus train behind us follows suit. It’s not a huge issue — our driver took a turn too early because some expert previous runner on the bus gave her bad advice. A minor detour and roundabout later and we arrive at the start area by 4:10 am.
All of the buses are there by 4:20. We have 70 minutes before the start. Again the hive mind grumbles at the early hour, lamentations for a half hour extra sleep. Some people brought books to read. They must be veterans.
My phone says sunrise isn’t until 6:14 am… Yet on the horizon, the golden rays are already puncturing the night sky. Despite heat advisories, there is a bit of cloud cover and I’m hoping it holds for the next few hours to minimize the direct sun and rising temperatures.
An a cappella National Anthem gives way to a final countdown. The starting arch is inflated as the numbers tick down. Given our wandering hour and change onsite, it’s an oddly hurried and anti-climatic.
We start through the darkened roadways, the rising tide of light hidden behind mountain ranges. The opening miles are mostly downhill and I make good time.
I pass a couple running in Batman v Superman attire. Superman claims to have the advantage this time but I tell him not to count Batman out; the girl nods appreciatively and I hope she kicks his arrogant butt.
The hushed whispers of warning said the hill was supposed to start around mile 5 or 6. It does. The altitude and my shakey ankle aren’t helping matters but I make the climb and hit the apex right around mile 8.
The downhill section that follows does a number on my quads. Even more than my ankle, my thighs are giving me some sore mileage. I don’t know if it’s partly due to my stride trying to weirdly compensate for the ankle or if the course is more challenging than I had realized. It’s no Big Five but it’s taking a toll.
As mile markers come and go, I’m slowing markedly. Runners from behind have slowly and methodically gained and are passing me. I trudge on, my feet feeling like they are encased in 1930s gangster cement galoshes.
The miles go on… And somehow so do I. The ankle hurts no more or less than it has been. Somewhere in the late teens I start calculating times. I’ve blown my downhill pace from the opening miles but if I can maintain a steady pace from here on out I’m looking at a 3:25 run. This turns out to be a fool’s quest.
Around mile 22, I pass the Rice-Eccles Stadium and think how close I am to my car. Instead I carry on, lured by the promised parade route miles ahead supposedly lined with 10’s of thousands of people who will cheer me on.
The 3:25 pacers pass me; I try and keep their lime green shirts in sight but they soon disappear over the horizon. For despite my belief that the hills were behind me, there’s still a few rolling ups and downs afoot. The parade route is lined with people but the sun has finally broken through the clouds and folks seem overheatedly bored. A few cheers here and there but mostly people are sacked out on camping chairs or picnic blankets, tossing those exploding snap firecrackers and buying overinflatedly priced inflatable cartoon character balloons.
I round the corner and head up one final hill, the sun directly in my eyes, looming ever larger in the sky above me. It’s hot, I’m tired, my quads hurt, but still I press on.
A spectator cheers me on and tells me I’m almost to the shade. This is almost better than the finish line… Which lies two turns away now.
I check my watch and it ticks past 3:30. I had hoped to keep it under that… And in the opening miles I even dared to dream of a BQ time under 3:10. But as the digital readout on the official clock rolls to 3:31:45, I cross the finish and get my medal. It was a hard fought race and my ankle and quads are walking wounded.
But I ask one more favor of them. The shuttle bus back to the stadium is nowhere to be seen. Buses keep turning up but we are told they are for the schools participating in the parade that’s just started. After waiting ten minutes, my legs cramping, I decide to just walk back to my car. It’s a little over 1.75 miles but I forget part of that is uphill. Still, my feet do not fail me and I get to my car a little before 10 am.
I navigate the barricaded parade route and finally get back to my hotel. Because of the early start, I’m able to grab a post-race shower without even needing to ask for a late checkout.
I make my way to the airport, winging my way back West so that I can recuperate for this coming Sunday’s San Francisco Marathon.
The journey continues…
I wrote this on my Southwest flight, a screaming baby in front of me precluding any chance of a nap. I hope it comes off as mostly positive. I’m glad I endured and though I’m hurting quite a bit in my quads and ankle, it doesn’t seem debilitating. Sure, sure… I find myself flashing onto Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith in Lost in Space. He’s sighing dramatically, “Oh, the pain. The pain!” And then I see the robot. His arms akimbo, shouting, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”