Discipline of music will serve half marathon runners well in S.L. races

Published: Monday, April 15 2013 12:52 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Thierry Fischer was hoping running could heal his back pain.

Claudia Norton turned to running to help her deal with the death of her brother.

And while running provided something special to each of them in their separate private lives, it was a casual conversation between Norton and Fischer that led to an usual work-related experience.

Norton, a bassist with the Utah Symphony, was enjoying her noontime run last fall when she saw conductor Fischer running with a colleague.

“I said, ‘You guys should be running with me,’ ” said Norton, who has played with the Utah Symphony for 45 years. “We came up with the idea to get a group together from the orchestra and do a race.”

That little conversation led to 37, including staff members, musicians and Fischer, signing up for the Salt Lake half marathon that is set for April 20, an event celebrating its 10th anniversary with Saturday’s races.

“I’m really excited to run with some players and (staff),” said Fischer. “I think it’s going to be a good group, and I think it’s going to be something really special.”

It’s already been enjoyable for those who decided to participate.

“For one thing, it’s really been fun to do it with our conductor,” Norton said. “He’s still pretty new to us because he’s not here all of the time, and it’s fun to get to know another side of him — a fun-loving, athletic side. When you suffer together, which we’re all going to do, it does build an esprit de corps, which is helpful. I think it’s been great.”

Norton said she took up running when she was 29 years old.

“I started running at a hard time — I’d just lost my little brother,” she said. “I started to try and get some happiness going. The more you run, the more you feel happy and fit. … Most people think of it as a fitness activity, but I think of it as the whole nine yards — physical, spiritual and emotional.”

Norton said it isn’t the first time the Utah Symphony has been supportive of her running endeavors.

“Thirty years ago I ran Boston and the musicians took up a collection to pay for my airfare,” she said. “So it’s the second time I’ll wear a Utah Symphony T-shirt. … Training for a race is always a good thing. It helps you every way. … I’m sure I’m the oldest tenured person by 10 years, so this will be very special for me. I’ll probably finish last, but I’m fine with being slow at this point.”

Fischer started running 10 or 12 years ago on the advice of his chiropractor. The flutist turned conductor manages a high-stress career that includes a significant amount of travel.

“My life asks for a lot of energy, thinking and being focused,” he said. “I talked with some friends and with my chiropractor and the problem, he said, ‘You don’t move enough. The best thing you can do is run.’ ”

He gave Fischer a workout schedule, and almost from the very first step, Fischer loved it.

“I have no back problems anymore,” he said. But pain relief isn’t even the most cherished gift running offered Fischer. “I am able to be on my own, outside, smelling and listening to the nature with nothing else to think about, and that’s what really drives me. It’s completely positive. People say it’s boring to run, and a long run is always the same. Yes and no. It’s always the same, but because it’s always the same that I am able to empty my mind, to create space to be a better thinker.”

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