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.”
Fischer schedules his runs just like he would any other appointment, and he runs outside regardless of the weather conditions. He said that he loves the way running makes him feel.
“If I stop running, I’m miserable,” he said. “I’m always surrounded by people — which I love. But it’s very rare to be really on your own — no phone, no iPhone, nobody asking you questions, no food, nothing. Now it’s more than I love it, I need it.”
The long runs that he engages in four times per week are part of what helps him in all aspects of his life.
“The other thing I like very much is the chemical reaction,” he said. “When you burn something, like wood, it creates a warm energy, and it’s the same with our metabolism. When you burn something in your body, whatever it is, it creates energy. People say running takes energy, but I think it’s exactly the opposite. It creates energy.”
Both Norton and Fischer agree that being a musician likely helps them with the commitment needed to succeed — and enjoy — running.
“The discipline you need as a musician is the same you need for running long distances. The results only come after the work,” said Fischer. “I like to say, ‘The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. The real challenge is not to do it, it’s to have infectious fun.”
He said the hard work involved in training helps him enjoy (and succeed) in racing; just like study, practice and an open mind help him enjoy conducting.
For some members of the Utah Symphony family, it will be the first time they’ve run a race, and most of those will participate in the 5K. For others, it is something they’ve done a number of times, and they will run the half marathon. The USO’s pianist, Jason Hardink, is an ultra runner so he’ll participate in the full marathon.
Louise Vickerman, who plays the harp, started running on a regular basis after some friends asked her to run on their Ragnar Relay team in June’s Wasatch Back.
“I had the most fun,” Vickerman said. “I couldn’t even imagine how much fun it would be.”
So when they told her she was invited back for the 2013 race, she decided she needed to come up with a training regimen. She decided she’d try to run a half marathon each month starting with September’s Big Cottonwood race. Saturday's Salt Lake half marathon will be part of her Ragnar training.
“Basically the half marathon is my goal,” she said. “I don’t have any aspirations to run a full marathon.”
She said she finds solitude in her running.
“I don’t and I never have considered myself 'a runner,’ ” she said. “I buy my shoes at Nordstrom on sale for $35, and I don’t do the Gu or gel or gear. I guess I just like the solitude of it. It just clears my head and keeps me fit at the same time.”
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