SALT LAKE CITY — After he crossed the finish line of the 42nd Deseret News Marathon, Jon Kotter slumped over to catch his breath and steady his wobbly legs.

He nodded graciously — unable, it seemed, to muster the strength to speak — to the rows of well-wishers who congratulated him with cat calls, cheers and handshakes.

Despite the physical toll that running 26.2 miles on a muggy, overcast morning took on his body, a tired grin of pure contentment never left Kotter's face. He had, after all, a good reason to smile: running his first marathon in more than eight years, the 26-year-old law student at BYU won the men's division with a time of 2:24:02.

"This is just amazing. I saw my family as I turned the corner and it hit me that I would actually win," Kotter said. "I'm tired, but it's awesome."

The only person who was more excited than Kotter for his first-place finish was his mother, Laurie. Her son had barely made it past the gates of the finish line when she wrapped him in an emotional victory embrace. She then stayed by his side as he wandered the grounds of Liberty Park to recover from the race.

"We were standing just around the final bend, and then I saw Jonathan's head pop up and started screaming. I couldn't help myself," Laurie Kotter said. "Right now he just looks really tired, so I'm keeping an eye on him. That's what moms do."

Fritz Van De Kamp, a 31-year-old Salt Lake native, finished about 30 seconds back at 2:24:31. The two runners paced the field by more than 10 minutes, with James Moore coming in third at 2:35:25.

"I lost them right at the beginning," Moore said. "I mean, they took off faster than I thought was possible. I hoped I'd have a chance to catch them, but they just kept up that pace."

Kotter extended his lead to about 380 meters at the 24-mile mark, though Van De Kamp's late burst brought him closer once the two reached the finish line.

"Jon got ahead of me at mile 17, along Wasatch Drive," Van De Kamp said. "I just kind of faded there for a bit until I reached Foothill. I've raced a lot, so I knew I'd feel better and just needed to get through those tough miles. I finished pretty strong, but he paced it really well and pulled it out."

John Rosswog and Trent Jensen rounded out the top five with times of 2:39:52 and 2:46:50, respectively.

Rob Murphy won the Master's Division (40 years and older) with a time of 2:50:14. He finished sixth overall. Competing in his 15th marathon, Murphy was running at a slower pace with a friend from Florida. But when his friend faded halfway through the race, Murphy decided to turn it on.

"I feel great right now, mostly because I ran the first half really easy," Murphy said. "Running a marathon in Utah during July isn't ideal for fast times, but I'm happy with how I ran today. Just getting out and competing is always fun."

Kotter, who won a half marathon last week, hadn't run a full marathon in about eight years. He ran both cross country and track at BYU, where he specialized in the 10K. Kotter said he'll likely try to defend his title next year, but with graduation on the horizon, he can't predict what will happen.

"I graduate next year, and I'd like to stay here in Utah and get a job," Kotter said. "I'll keep running for a while, but we'll see what happens. Running is always great — you feel a sense of accomplishment and competition whether you take first place or not. It's just a lot of fun."

email: mpayne@desnews.com