Spectators aren't allowed on the first 14 miles of the Top of Utah marathon course--there's no room for them along the narrow Blacksmith Fork Canyon road that runs from Hardware Ranch down towards Logan Utah. So, my first opportunity to cheer for my sister Suzy and her husband Rick was at this beautiful place at the mouth of the canyon:
It was September 19, 2009, and this was Suzy and Rick's first marathon ever. I wanted to be as supportive as possible, especially knowing how much time, effort, and discipline the preparations for this race had cost them.
As I stood along the road waiting for my first glimpse of Suzy and Rick, I decided to make myself useful and cheer for the other runners.
"Looking goooood!" I'd yell and clap. "Looking strong!!" Some of them smiled. Some of them waved. Some of them ignored me. Some of them blushed. But hopefully all of them felt encouraged.
When Suzy and Rick arrived, I cheered loudly for them too. I was curious to hear how the first 14 miles had gone, but didn't want to slow them down, so I decided to jog along next to them for a while so we could chat. I didn't have my running shoes on (not like I even having running shoes!) and wasn't dressed for it, but I thought it would be fun anyway.
I loved being able to hear their impressions and experiences in real-time. After I'd had my fill of news and they'd had their fill of talking, I asked them if they'd like me to wait for them at the end of the course, or if they'd prefer to have me cheer for them a little sooner than that.
"Please meet us sooner" Suzy said. "It gives us something to look forward too, and is a good distraction".
So that's what I did. I'd drive my car a mile or two, park, and then walk back along the course until I found Suzy and Rick. Then I'd run with them to my car, and repeat. I believe I did that 9 times along the course.
Each time as I walked the course in reverse to find Suzy and Rick, I'd pass the same group of runners. Each time I'd cheer for them, and after a while many of them would talk and joke with me as they went past.
The longer the race went on, the more the runners seemed to appreciate the encouragement. One particular time, as I walked past a woman I had cheered for before, I was distracted and wasn't cheering. So she called out to me "Hello! Hello!" and waved, so I could send some encouraging words her way, which I was delighted to do.
It was a beautiful experience. I loved seeing the grit of the runners. At one point, Suzy was very discouraged, and didn't think she could finish the race. She had been required to wait about 7 minutes to use a porta-potty, which caused her muscles to cool down and start to cramp, and so the running was incredibly difficult after that. But Rick encouraged her. And she was determined to finish. And so she kept going. The two of them held hands as they went along, and thought of ways to distract themselves from the pain. They'd run a minute and then walk for three. Then they'd try other strategies. But most important of all, they just kept going.
As long as you don't stop, and don't change direction, eventually you'll arrive at where you are headed. And that's what happened for Suzy and Rick. Here's a little video of them crossing the finish line:
Afterward, they were happy to be able to relax with their three beautiful daughters in the park:
Here they are with their finisher medals:
Here they are, enjoying the cool water running through the gutter. (One runner just sat directly in the gutter!)
As we relaxed, two other runners made their way through the crowd to find and thank me for cheering for them. "I was running on motivational fumes" one of them told me. "THANK YOU!" But they didn't need to thank me....it was my great pleasure and beautiful privilege to witness the strength and determination of the human spirit that day.