The moose. It’s synonymous with the Top of Utah Marathon held in Logan, Utah, each September. On the finisher medals, he’s a cute little guy. All happy and fun-loving. Kind of like a cute little Disney character.
This week, however, the moose takes on a different meaning.
The Top of Utah race is a favorite of mine. It’s a relatively small marathon with just under 2,000 finishers this year. The volunteers, many of whom had been awake more than 48 hours in preparation for the big day, are cheerful, helpful and as excited as the runners.
The course is well-marked and I love that the aid stations are a predictable two miles apart, with stations every mile for the last seven miles. I always know where I am and how far I am from a port-o-potty. Priceless information.
I’ve run Top of Utah more than any other marathon for these very reasons. My goal is to earn the “10-year clock” given to all those who complete 10 Top of Utah races.
This year was my fourth attempt, and to conjure up a familiar cliche, it was the best of times and the worst of times.
The race organizers always do a fantastic job, whether it’s putting together a convenient and efficient race expo and packet pick-up or organizing buses to take runners from their hotels to the shuttle buses. It’s all so streamlined and simple. They know what they’re doing.
So race morning found me toeing the line with the happy running masses. My foot, which has been bothering me, was taped up courtesy of the free taping offered at the expo. My drop bag was securely stored in a bus to meet me at the finish. I have yet to have a lost bag. Over the loudspeakers, runners were encouraged to get to the start as they were beginning on time. A good sign.
And then, the heavens opened. I like a good shower, but only after my morning run. This was all reversed! But it’s part of the marathon experience, so while others ran for cover, I and a few other crazies, braved the elements and waited for the gun to go off. As I surveyed the others nutty enough to welcome the rain bath, accompanied with a fair amount of thunder and lightening, I made a couple of friends.
That’s what running does. It creates an instant bond between perfect strangers. In this moment, I bonded with a girl named Heather. We quickly discovered our pace and time goals were similar, so when the gun went off, so did we. Together.
Not far into the race, we picked up another friend, Rebecca. She, too, had similar goals and joined in the fun.
Then came Shelah. We actually had a mutual friend, but quickly became running friends ourselves.
As we made our way down the beauty of Blacksmith Fork Canyon, and in between stabbing pains in my foot, the thought crossed my mind that I am one blessed girl. I was running through one of my favorite canyons, made only more beautiful by the fall colors and inclement weather. I was running with new friends who loved to do what I love to do. And we were doing it together.
We were cheered on by happy campers, literally people camping and cheering us on the side of the road. We ran surrounded by green, amber, and gold speckled mountains and calming waters. Not even the rain could dampen my mood.
So Mother Nature let it hail. Yep, at Mile 12 I realized I had forgotten to bring an important piece of racing equipment - my helmet. What do you do when an insane task becomes absurd? You laugh. Really. What else can you do? Sure, it’s ridiculous to run in rain, lightning, thunder and hail, but at least we’re all ridiculous together! I kinda liked it.
Mile 14 is my favorite spot of the race. Runners exit the canyon and are greeted by their adoring friends and family for the first time. I get choked up every time, but this year I didn’t expect to see my family. My kids are all about comfort. They think they want to camp, but I know that an hour of sleeping on the ground and they’ll be begging for mattresses. Their idea of roughing it is having to manually change the channel on the television when the remote doesn’t work.
Imagine my surprise to see them all huddled in a shivering bundle cheering on their mom! OK, they were really crying and begging daddy to take them to the car because they were wet and cold, but in my imagination, they were mini cheerleaders. The fact that they were there at all lifted my spirits. And the fact that my husband was willing to drag our little wet rats around the course to support me just proves to me how super awesome he really is.
The last half of the course is a tour through residential areas and main roads. Coming out of the gentle downhill canyon, the up and down nature of this section can be a challenge. Some racers aren’t as fond of this, but for me it breaks up the monotony and is a little more interesting.
The rain stopped.
There were spectators where we needed them most. Our newly formed group broke apart in the last few miles, but we all finished within minutes of each other. Victory was ours. We conquered Mother Nature’s obstacles and the marathon beast in one day. My feet looked like hamburger and my right quad quivered with fatigue, but I had my medal and I was happy.
So, back to the moose.
There are some obvious reasons why the moose is the Top of Utah mascot. It is northern Utah and it’s not an uncommon animal in these parts. But upon further investigation, I discovered that the moose is significant in many more ways.
According to Native American animal symbols, the moose is symbolic of one who is headstrong, unstoppable, has longevity, integrity and value.
To go on, moose energy brings in the power of self-esteem through recognizing one’s own strengths. If someone sees a moose suddenly or finds oneself noticing moose on television or books, this moose may be showing you that you have reason to feel good about a recent accomplishment of task you have completed.
In other words, marathoners and moose are one in the same.
On this particular race day, we were unstoppable. Longevity is in our blood. We were more than a little headstrong, determined to finish our task with pride.
As I crossed the finish line between screaming, cheering spectators and swapped stories with fellow runners over chocolate milk and Fat Boy ice cream, all I noticed everywhere I looked were moose. Moose on medals. Moose on trophies. Moose on photo backdrops. Moose on shirts. Even moose on my Top of Utah tattoo.
I think I have a reason to feel good about my accomplishments.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner whose feet closely resemble the hooves of a moose this morning.