State number 18 of 50 States for Sole
The 32nd marathon in my lifetime.
I suppose I should have been slightly more leery of the fact that the Tagline for the Utah Valley Marathon (the one that is proudly and prominently highlighted on everything from their website to the race shirts) is “Pain You Enjoy.”
But I don’t let that stuff get into my head and bother me!
Heck, everyone and their Tough Mudder boasts that their race is the toughest, the meanest, and the most bad-ass on the planet. I have done them all -everything from Dances With Dirt in Hell – with race shirts that actually sport the part of the waiver that warns participants of death as a viable possibility due to the difficulty of the race course – to the Tough Mudder – as well as Ironman and a host of others. They are all tough. They all offer their own laundry list of challenges – but the Utah Valley Marathon had it’s own special brand of pain- veiled in beauty and breathtaking surroundings.
In a way, the race was much like “Jokey Smurf” from the old Smurfs cartoon I used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid. Jokey would give various other Smurfs a beautifully wrapped present – complete with a big red bow – which, upon opening, would promptly explode in their face. He would laugh and laugh, and they would just stand their, dumbstruck, with black soot and an unhappy look on their face.
As a kid I always wondered why the Smurfs continued to accept Jokey’s presents. The village was pretty small, and they had all been tricked by the exploding gift numerous times over, yet they were still drawn in by the big beautiful box wrapped perfectly with a big red bow. How on Earth could they be tricked over and over by the same gag?!
Perhaps, as a Captain Crunch scoffing ten-year-old, the subtle innuendo that seemed to escape me as I munched down on a mouth full of crunch berries- was that- maybe- this was pain they enjoyed! They couldn’t help themselves. How bad could it really be? Everyone loves a gift, don’t they? Wouldn’t a little pain for the thrill of the gift be worth it?
I think the Utah Valley Marathon, voted one of Runner’s World Magazine’s Top 10 Marathons, is a gift of beauty, wrapped in amazing scenery and feelings of adventure, and the big red ribbon of promise that the course is all “down hill.” Then you open it, and the 3:00 am bus ride up the canyon, the altitude and elevation, the hills, and all the wind and dry air blow up in your face.
At first you stand there a bit stunned by the explosion, but because it’s pain you enjoy (crazy Smurf that you are) you would do it again and again, since the experience of it all is just that amazing.
That being said, don’t think for a minute that I actually enjoy pain. Quite the contrary, I’m the biggest wimp there is. I can nearly stand the site of a needle, and having a fever can reduce me to tears.
But to me, “Pain You Enjoy” doesn’t mean you love pain, necessarily. To me it means what Girls With Sole and running means to me, which is, that to be resilient we must learn to face our fears and move forward no matter what. If we want to achieve our dreams and our goals, discomfort is a necessity. We can get through it to reach the greater good, and the pain we experience actually makes us stronger and prepares our minds, bodies and souls for the next trying experience that challenges us along the way. We endure because we enjoy the satisfaction of enduring. We love the achievement of breaking through a barrier to prove to ourselves that we could do something we once thought we could never do. We feel uncomfortable at times, but we know that we are “Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement.”
The Utah Valley Marathon was one that proved to be more than just a little challenging, and was quite honestly, very painful for me at times, but that made the “Finish Line Feeling” all the more sweet, with a sense of achievement as big as the mountains surrounding it.
For a “non-morning person” one of the greatest challenges of all could very well have been the fact that we had to catch the bus that took us up into the Canyon for the race start at 3:30 am! The busses started picking up the runners in front of the host hotel at 3:00 am, and they ran continuously until 4:15 am. Taking the last bus was strongly discouraged, of course, since they didn’t want every runner trying to get a few extra winks and then all showing up for the same ride. I decided to show up somewhere in the middle, and rode the 3:30 bus. The bus filled up quickly with tired, but chatty, nervous runners, and wound through the steep and dark canyon roads until it reached a ranch that had a fenced in pasture void of four-legged live stock. Instead, you could look into the pasture and see small groups of humans huddled around short metal drums containing bonfires in the pitch dark. It was pretty cold up there at the elevation of 6,300 feet, and the moon wasn’t exactly casting much heat. Runners of all ages, and skill levels sat hunched over as close to the fire as possible without getting burned, or breathing in too much of the smoke that permeated the air. It was incredible! I was so uncomfortable and happy all at once!
The race started quite abruptly at 6:00 am, and the temps warmed up to a balmy range between 52 to 59 degrees at that time. The only thing colder than the temps, was the occasional message that one of the locals spray painted for the benefit of the runners, about every 30 feet or so, for the first few miles. The messages started out (in neon orange) saying things like, “Go Away” and “Get Lost!” After running over a few of them, they got a little more graphic, and actually made the people who paid any attention to them laugh hysterically. I don’t think that was the affect the person was trying to illicit…but whomever sprayed those messages on the street obviously has no idea about running, and clearly doesn’t understand runners.
That person was also the only bad apple who tried -and failed -to spoil the whole bunch, because everyone else on the course – spectators, volunteers, and runners – were all friendly and welcoming.
Even the horses up in the canyon seemed to watch the race with intrigue and a welcoming presence. One of them had his head propped up on the fence -and I watched him, standing there comfortably at his post, as we ran by in what had to be – in his eyes- a confusing mass of weirdos in bad outfits. If horses had chins, his would have been resting his on that fence post so that he wouldn’t miss a single minute of the “worst parade ever” that immediately followed the “worst bonfire party ever.”
The little town that we started in, called Wallsburg, Utah, is home to only 274 residents, and was the beginning of the over 1,700 feet gradual descent in what many people would like you to think of as an all down hill marathon. It’s a pretty steep, quad-crushing downhill, but there are most definitely some major “rollers” thrown in there for good measure. (That, and some serious wind. Oh yeah, and some extremely dry air that chaps your lips and makes you feel like a sponge out of water.) But it was so dang pretty!
For about seven miles or so we ran along the gorgeous Deer Creek reservoir, which is an amazingly beautiful lake up above Provo Canyon. They said that the local wildlife included mountain lions, hawks, turkeys, moose, deer, fox, and ….beaver. That made me chuckle, not so much because I didn’t see any of these creatures, but mostly because my maturity level is lower than the moisture level in the Utah air.
As we made our way down the Provo Canyon, I came upon a group of fire fighters running side by side, in full gear! It was so inspiring to see them running in their helmets, fire jackets and pants, and I thought about how difficult it would be to complete a marathon wearing all of that heavy stuff. It was really incredible, so I took a quick picture of them before passing them with a quick, if not awe-inspired, “hello”.
The course ran along the Provo River for a while, and past the Sundance Resort. I didn’t have a chance to say “Hi” to Robert Redford, but I did take a moment to think to myself: “What if?”
What if the documentary being made about Girls With Sole, called “Finish Line” is actually shown at the Sundance Film Festival one day? It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched as I began to encounter more than a few coincidences or “signs” on the rest of the marathon course.
Sign number one: I had to pee around mile 4 or 5, so I stepped into a port o pot. When I walked out of it, the first person I literally ran into was Sandy – one of the women I met while running the New England Challenge a few weeks before!! The timing was incredible! It was almost as if we had planned to meet there, and if we had, we still couldn’t have pulled that off.
Sandy and I ran together for the next 12 miles or so. We chatted like old friends as we passed Vivian Park, where the 16 mile railway between Vivian Park and Heber City is located. The railway is actually called the Heber Creeper, and is now a non-profit organization that served as the “Olympic Steam Team” for the 2002 Olympics, carrying spectators from Soldier Hollow to Heber City. (Is it just me, or does the Heeber Creeper sound like an old guy in your neighborhood that gives all the little kids the Heebie Jeebies?)
At mile 17 or 18 (basically just before Sandy and I began to part ways, as fellow runners often do when one person is feeling great and one has most definitely had better days) we came upon the double waterfall called Bridal Veil Falls.
It was said that the falls cascade over 600 feet down into the Provo River, but on race day it was a trifle more like a trickle than a cascade. Nonetheless, I was excited about it, and asked Sandy to take my picture with the water falls in the background. I had been carrying my phone the whole way for just this reason, and wasn’t going to let the lack of water pressure “dampen” my spirits.
(Insert the second “sign” here!) I stopped in the middle of the street…she snapped my picture and we both went on our ways. I wasn’t feeling great, and had a lot of lower back pain, whereas Sandy was having a great day and ran ahead. Later, after the race when I had a chance to look at the pictures …I couldn’t believe my eyes! The picture Sandy took of me looked as if a sun beam was shining down from heaven, casting a single, golden spotlight on my head. It looked as mystifying and eerie as the Heeber Creeper sounds. I really felt like it was yet another sign that Girls With Sole is on an unstoppable train to reach girls in need of our programs no matter where they are!
I guess that must have been what was carrying me along, unbeknownst to me, as I made my way to the mouth of Provo Canyon and began to enter Mount Timpanogos somewhere near mile 19. My back was starting to really scream at me, and I wasn’t feeling great, but knew I would be able to gut it out and keep moving forward. I began to go through my thoughts of inspiration, such as the kids I work with, my husband and kids, and even my dog. I got choked up as I considered all the things I have been through in my life, as well as the hard times that many of the Girls With Sole kids have been through. Compared to much of that…this marathon wasn’t shit. I thought about how to many of the kids in GWS, running in our LULA 5K feels as tough to them as this marathon feels to me.
I began to feel that the temps were getting higher, and consider the last time I took in a Clif Shot energy gel and some water. It was time for some more.
Then, like an oasis, the Clif sponsored rest stop was up ahead waiting for me. Yep…this was “sign” number 3! But wait! There’s more! I kept my eye on the prize and kept running until I was close enough to ask the two Clif reps working the tables which one of the flavors contained caffeine. I always try to take the ones that have caffeine in them, to get a little more bang for my buck, so to speak. There were three tables with three different flavors laid out on them. The third table was the only one that had caffeinated energy shots on it, so I bee lined over there to grab one. Now you’re not going to believe this…but that table was also the only one that also had a magazine laying on it. Out of all the magazines in the world, and all the issues of those magazines, which one do you think it was? It was the June 2014 issue of Family Circle Magazine that featured a story about Girls With Sole, complete with photos of me and some of the girls! I couldn’t believe it! The Clif rep saw me putting my paws on her magazine, which I think also had her phone and her keys stuck in between the pages, and came over, smiling at me. The other rep followed her over as I exclaimed, “Im in this!” They both looked at me funny and said “no way!” I flipped to the page that the article was on and proudly held it up and said, “Girls With Sole, baby!!” The young lady looked at it and started to read it, while saying over and over how incredible it was. I had the hugest smile plastered on my sweaty face, said, “that’s me!” and continued on my way.
To make this “sign” even crazier, I need to fast forward a little bit – to four days after the race. On the Wednesday after the race, I’m home, working on Girls With Sole stuff when I receive an email from a producer of the NBC Today Show who saw the article in Family Circle and would like to do a story on Girls With Sole!
There is pain in my heart at times for the girls I work with. The pain is empathy – not sympathy. It’s pain I feel because I worry that I don’t do enough for them, or that I’m not reaching enough kids who need GWS. Sometimes the pain creeps in to remind me that I’m human and although I’m not afraid to work hard, I become weary and feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. Sometimes the pain disguises itself as fear – and sometimes it presents itself as failure to succeed in ways that I would like to. But no matter what form the pain comes in, I know that I will always keep moving forward, and that forces that go way beyond me are pointing me in the direction that is to be. But most of all, I know in my heart and my soul, that everything I do for Girls With Sole is “pain that I enjoy”.