It was the race that almost wasn’t. The third race of the Bear Lake Marathon Trifecta came to a slow, dusty halt last Friday at 8:52 pm.
As the race course director, it was my job to measure the course from Garden City, Utah, past the golf course, and over the hill to Meadowville in scenic Rich County — only the gate which I had passed through the previous year on the same route had a thick chain and a shiny new lock blocking my way.
Two-hundred and sixty athletes had registered for the half and full marathon. Over 150 of them had already completed half and full marathons in Idaho and Wyoming as part of the three-day, three-state trifecta series. If I couldn’t get through the gate, the third race would be a measly 10 mile event when folks had paid for the pain of 13.1 or 26.2 miles.
Years of race organization experience and months of preparation didn’t abandon me on that dusty road at dusk. I opened my trusty laptop and looked for the number of the person who had issued my permit.
He didn’t know who had locked the gate.
Then I found the number of the person over the sewer district who had built the road. He also didn’t have access, but he gave me a number to the county commissioner who might know. Finally around 9:25 p.m., I got a call back from the commissioner. The land had changed hands recently and the new owner did not necessarily recognize the county right-of-way through his private property. The commissioner would try to call the landowner to have him unlock the gate.
With a pit in my stomach, I turned my truck around and took my boys, Hyrum and Hunter, to where they could be camping with their Scout troop that night (Smithfield Troop 123 would be our volunteer crew for the event). By the time my boys were zipped into their tent, I headed back to the race course, ready to jump the fence with my field chalker and direction signs if I needed to.
But the athletes who had run two marathons already wouldn’t be hopping over a gate. I had to get it open somehow.
Finally around 10:40 p.m., the commissioner called back with good news. Despite the late hour, the property owner agreed to let us through the gate for our event. As long as we cleaned up after ourselves and didn’t let out his cows, the race could go on.
During the next three hours as I finished marking the course without my boy’s help, I had a lot of time to think about the preparation that goes into events like the trifecta or the famous Ragnar. Hundreds of hours go into planning events like these. So many people work with the crew, the traffic control, or the volunteer corps.
What motivates race organizers to get landowners out of bed at 10:40 p.m., wake up residents at dawn, and chase runners around a course all day?
Well, it isn’t the money. Most people who work races volunteer or are paid very modestly. But there’s something gratifying about helping people accomplish something.
Some of the athletes at the Trifecta were trying to check off three states in their goal of running in all 50 states. Some of the athletes were there to train for qualifying races. Some hoped to finish their first half or full marathon. Some came to earn money for their favorite charity.
I would mark the course until 1:40 a.m. because those runners had big goals. I would help them along their way.
The next day, tired, sunburned runners ran through the open cattle gate on the journey to finishing what they had started. They went past mile marker after mile marker, stopping only to get water and race gels from the chipper Boy Scouts who cheered them on.
Wellsville’s own Dani Warren ran the event in under four hours, making her the second woman overall. River Heights’ Jordan Mendenhall came in a few minutes after, claiming first place in his age group. Runners from Hyde Park, Smithfield, Hyrum and Logan joined others from as far away as Arkansas, Ohio, and New Jersey.
Some of those runners were fast and others were not.
Scott Amos, an Ogden runner who had come back from an ankle injury, was dead last and struggling on the course when local Marine vet Adriann Kalanik found out Scott was a Navy man. She walked with him the rest of the race true to the principal servicemen and women live by – never leave a man behind. Other veterans joined them the last few miles of the event to walk, wave flags, cheer, and support Scott and Adri until they finished the race.
Locking the cattle gate after it was all over, I thought about them.
Months of organization, days of hard work, and nights of little sleep were all worth it for that finish.
Even though I ended the third race at least as exhausted as the runners, I’ll probably sign on to organize the races again. Even though the preparation will include boring meetings, mounds of paperwork, and removal of roadkill from the race course, I am already planning next year’s race.
Only next year, I’m bringing bolt cutters. Just in case.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at email@example.com.