On July 24, 1847, a determined company of Mormon pioneers realized their dreams upon entering the Great Salt Lake Valley. Pulling handcarts and driving wagons with oxen, they slowly trudged across the plains to a vast desert landscape. After exiting Emigration Canyon and cresting a small hill, the group’s leader, Brigham Young, looked out on the valley, took a deep breath, and told his followers:
“This is the pla—“
“YO! ON YOUR LEFT!”
The interruption took Young and the pioneers by surprise. Hundreds of people, clad in neon-colored spandex (and one in a Spiderman suit), trampled over the canyon in pursuit of a sub-three hour marathon.
“You guys better hurry,” one runner said to Young, gesturing in the direction of the finish line, “or they’ll be out of pie and beer by the time you get there.”
Wait, you say that’s not how it happened? Oh. Heh. Well, then.
Depending on who you ask, Pioneer Day is either a state holiday to celebrate the Mormon pioneers or a gentile’s day off work to eat pie and beer. But for a small subset of the population, it’s also a day to pursue land speed records at the Deseret News Classic.
Established in 1970, the Deseret News Classic is the oldest road race in Utah and the 4th oldest marathon west of the continental divide. In addition to the 26.2 mile distance, the event also offers half marathon, 10K, and 5K races. In honor of Pioneer Day, the races follow the path the Utah pioneers traveled when they first entered the valley. The marathon, for example, starts above Emigration Canyon and traverses through the area now occupied by the University of Utah and downtown before coming to a finish at Liberty Park; shorter races begin along the same route, closer to the finish line.
A July marathon is a rare thing in the United States, as most runners prefer to race long distances in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. But most runners also prefer to race fast courses, and the Deseret News Marathon is fast, thanks to a 3,200 drop in elevation from start to finish. To address concerns about high temperatures, the starting gun fires at 5:30 A.M., allowing runners to avoid the heat of the day.
The crowd support also provides a rocket boost to many runners. Finishing along the Days of 47 Parade route, where many have camped out overnight for a primo viewing spot, provides a built-in cheering section for the race. Most of them really wish the runners would hurry up and finish so the parade can get started, but they still clap and offer polite cheers.
Though many runners stuck around Liberty Park post-race to watch the parade, quite a few darted off in search of pie and beer (likely at KRCL’s annual party at Beer Bar). Runners do have to replace those carbs, after all.
31 year-old Jonathan Kotter of Salt Lake City, a former BYU runner, broke the finish-line tape of the marathon with a time of 2:25:01. Julie Jorgenson, 29, ran a 3:23:43 to take the top podium step for the women.
In the half marathon, former Weber State runner Brett Hales won the men’s race for the fourth consecutive year, sprinting across the finish in 1:04:19.1, while women’s winner Jasmine Sessions clocked in at 1:16:33.
In the 10K, Sandy’s Jason Lynch, a former UVU runner, won the men’s race handily in 29:15; Rena Chesser’s 32:57cinched the women’s race.
Thomas Merrill (19:41.8) and former Weber State runner Janae Richardson (20:30.1) won the men’s and women’s 5K races.