When I started running in 2008, I had no idea I would never stop.
I was working for Kym and Pete Buttschardt at Roosters in Layton when they decided it would be “fun” to put together a few relay teams to run the Ogden Marathon. I was 31 and NOT a runner. In high school I was in marching band, and the punishment for showing up late to practice was running a mile around the track. I NEVER wanted to be late for practice.
I decided I would participate on one of the three teams representing Roosters. The five-member team would run the entire 26.2-mile race in increments ranging from three to seven miles. Of course I ended up with the first leg of the relay which was the longest. I was completely intimidated by the idea of running seven miles.
I started training. I bought my first pair of “real” running shoes. I bought a hydration belt. I started talking to people about running. I started logging miles. I discovered trails and paths by my house (were they really there all along??). I complained to anyone who would listen that I would never run again after I fulfilled my obligation to my team.
The day of the race, I hopped on a bus at Washington and 25th Street with my fellow Roosters buddies. We made our way through Ogden Canyon where we were eventually dropped off in a cold, dark field. There were groups huddled around barrels of fire, long lines for the porta-potties, and an energy that I had never experienced.
The announcer warned when we were 15 minutes from the race start time. Runners began shedding their layers of warm clothing; they were preparing for a battle I couldn’t fathom. We were herded onto the asphalt, falling into starting spots based on our estimated running pace. The final countdown began, a gun was fired into the chilly spring air, and off we went.
I knew I would average a 10-minute-per-mile pace. This would be my first time running a full seven miles and I felt like it would take forever. I got in my groove: left, right, left, right. Arms swinging. I had never been on this road, so I took in the scenery. I passed the first mile marker. Then the second. Then the third. I was surprised how good I felt; the adrenaline was pumping through my body. “This must be a Runner’s High,” I thought.
The miles continued to tick by. I was starting to hurt, but was still enjoying myself. When I got to the relay transition aid station, I ripped the Velcro anklet off and handed it to my teammate. I was relieved to be finished. I grabbed some water and oranges, and hobbled toward the bus that would take the relay runners down to the finish line. I was feeling sore, accomplished, and REALLY proud of myself. Until we started riding back through the canyon and I saw all the marathoners.
There was one runner in particular- he was wearing a tutu and a headband with bright red braids so that he looked like the girl on the Wendy’s logo. I thought he was both amazing and incredibly stupid, all at once. Why would anyone run 26.2 miles, especially in that getup?? (Full disclosure: I have since run a marathon in a tutu.)
When the bus dropped us off, we made our way to the crowd of cheering spectators at the finish line. Someone handed me a cowbell and I joined in with the shouting of encouragement to the runners. It dawned on me that I had done the longest portion of the relay run, and I wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy the feeling of crossing the finish line.
I could tell there was magic in that finish line. I saw it on the face of every person who passed me. Men, women, young, old, every shape, size and color. It didn’t matter. When they crossed that finish line, they were triumphant. I was covered in goosebumps and tears rolled down my cheeks. I wanted to know what that magic felt like. I wanted to cross a marathon finish line.
The following year, I did just that. And I found myself at that finish line. At the time I said I would only do one; I have now done eight full marathons, countless half marathons, an ultra-marathon, three triathlons, and eight Ragnars. I am an ambassador for the Ogden Marathon today (discount code ‘bernal18’ for anyone still needing to register!). Running has changed my entire life, for the better.
My husband, who was never a runner, is currently training for his second Ogden Marathon. Some people ask me how I’m “making” him run. I can’t even get him to turn his clothes right-side out when he tosses them in the hamper. I’m certainly not forcing him to run against his own accord. But I am happy that in some way I inspired him to find his own magic at the finish line.
People tell me they don’t know how I do it. I tell them I don’t know how I can’t. All I know is this: It all starts with one step. The arduous agony of so many left, right, left, rights. It leads to the finish line. And there is magic to be found there.