Amy Donaldson: New owner promises to honor roots of classic Deseret News Marathon race
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Some look at that which is old and see piece of history.
Some look at the aged and see the outdated and out-of-style.
But then, there are those, who look at the residue left by time and see a glimpse of the past — of what was, of where we came from and what makes us who we are today.
Dan Hill is the rare person who can imagine and create new experiences while appreciating the visionaries who came before him.
The 32-year-old Farmington man was one of the three men who co-founded the country’s most popular overnight relay series — The Ragnar Relay races — while he was attending BYU. After nearly a decade of innovation, he left Ragnar to seek another adventure. Within a year, he founded one of the country’s fastest growing running crazes — the Electric Run. The nighttime 5K, which will make its Utah debut on Sept. 20, combines music and light to create an experience that is as much artistic as it is athletic.
Hill is philosophical, even spiritual, about the sport that has embraced the experiences he’s offered. Still, the father of three young children hardly seems like the kind of guy who would want to take over one of the country’s oldest marathons.
In fact, he’s never even participated in a marathon.
But when Hill found out the Deseret News might be interested in allowing him to take over the race, he wasted no time making his pitch. Because as much as he loves dreaming of what unique innovations the future can offer, he understands the value in paying proper respect to the past.
“This is my chance to say thank you, to give back,” he said. “I think it’s important for Utah to have a classic race that’s part of its heritage.”
When the first Deseret News Marathon wound down Emigration Canyon on July 24, 1970, the 26.2-mile races were very rare. In fact, there were only a handful in the U.S., including Boston, which began in 1897 and is the oldest annual marathon in the country.
Organizers chose July 24 to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. And while it was a date significant to the state, the intense summer heat — along with the mountainous course — became part of what caused some runners to opt for other events at more hospitable times and on more inviting terrain. As the sport exploded in popularity, runners had almost countless options, with new races cropping up all the time.
Hill had the ability to start something new, but instead, he chose to revitalize the state’s oldest marathon. While he changed very little last year, this year he added a half marathon to the traditional marathon and 10K. Hill re-branded it the Deseret News Classic and overhauled the website. He said the only changes he’s making are to enhance what runners have come to know and love about the tough, beautiful course.
“My vision in taking this over is to preserve it,” said Hill. “This is a classic race." He acknowledges past discussions to abandon the marathon altogether, and added that it’s never been profitable. None of the negatives deterred him from wanting to restore the race to what he sees as its glory days. While he may make other additions in the future, he said it will simply be a beautiful, well-supported classic road race under his direction.
“This race is part of Utah’s heritage,” he said. “I’m passionate about that course.”
The 5:30 a.m. start at Big Mountain offers runners a spectacular view of the valley transformed by those pioneers who first saw it on July 24, 1847, after months of struggle, sacrifice and searching for a home.
“It’s a beautiful course on Utah’s day, and you get to run on the parade route, which I think is pretty rad,” said Hill. “It’s going to be a runner’s event.”
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