In 1995, six months after the birth of my first son and less than three weeks after I had turned 30, I found myself at the starting line of the St. George (Utah) Marathon, a downhill 26.2 mile route passing the Veyo Volcano, into Snow Canyon and the city of St. George.
I entered with the goals of losing my pregnancy weight and setting a new personal record (PR) at my second marathon. My former husband, six-month-old son and my parents had come to cheer me on as I raced towards my personal best, a 3:15.
Nineteen years later, I registered again for the St. George Marathon. By this time, my younger son and I had moved full-time to Park City. It was club soccer season AND his senior year, with his first college application due the next month. I was unsure if timing would be on my side. I had run 11 marathons and wanted to round out my marathons to an even number. I set a goal to break four hours, a "realistic" goal for my age and circumstances.
My years of competitive running dwindled with my new love of trail running. My last long run before St. George was a half marathon trail race in Park City on my 49th birthday, which I bookended with a one-mile warm-up run and a four-mile warm down run, for a total of 18 miles. Many of my more experienced running friends would typically run at least one 20-mile run before a marathon.
I had arranged two nights on my own, with a four and a half hour drive from Park City to the race headquarters on Friday night. Picking up my number and swag bag, I learned Clif Bar was beginning an info session for their pace teams. I had heard about these pace teams for years and was curious how they worked.
The Clif Bar pacers introduced themselves and I had an immediate feeling about the young coach from Los Angeles, who worked for eBay and had run 95 marathons. His energy was captivating. Right then and there, with less than 12 hours before I would be on the bus to the start, I set a new goal of 3:45 with Coach Joe. I reset my expectations and took 15 minutes off my goal.
The next morning, with hoards of other runners milling around at the start, I found comfort with Coach Joe and his group. With the marathon underway, Joe talked us through one mile to the next, keeping us perfectly on pace for a 3:45 finish.
We could see the 4500' summit in the distance, while skirting the Veyo Volcano. At the base just before our final ascent, I stopped to pick up a penny, a lucky penny. I trusted this was going to be my day. Joe was keeping us perfectly on pace at the half marathon mark, and I was feeling much stronger than I expected. I felt myself physically having to hold myself back from going faster. Was it the adrenaline?
I couldn't take the feeling a minute longer. At mile 14, I made the bold move to leave Coach Joe. Would I later regret this and hit the wall? Would I watch my fellow teammates pass by, hitting our goal of 3:45?
The sun was excruciating, beating down on us with no reprieve. The crowds thickened as we neared the finish line. This time, no one would be there to cheer for me, but I had become accustomed to this. I was internally-driven.
I crossed the finish line in 3:37, 23 minutes better than the "realistic" goal I brought to St. George and seven minutes better than Coach Joe's pace.
I had planned to round out my marathons with an even 12, but why not try to break 3:37 before my 50th? I am now registered for another downhill course. Mount Nebo Marathon, here I come.