One down, four to go!

Saturday morning I ran the Ogden Marathon — the first of the five marathons I plan to run in celebration of my 40th birthday.

The Ogden Marathon is one amazing race!

Not that my time was amazing. It was, however, a personal record. I finished with a time of 4:54:59, and my only other marathon time — two years ago in the Salt Lake Marathon — was five hours and six minutes.

My goals Saturday were modest.

1. Finish.

2. Get to mile 17 by 11:30 a.m. so race officials don't ask me to leave the course.

3. Have fun!

My work schedule is a little hectic right now — it is state tournament time — and there was a bit of road construction on I-15, so I didn't check into my hotel until about 11 p.m. That was interesting. I made a reservation at the Ogden Marriott and specifically said I would be checking in late. But as they had my credit card, I figured that meant I had a room. I found out from the very nice desk personnel, "It means you have a room, but we just don't guarantee which room."

They explained that it was "first come, first served" and most of the other runners had checked in, so I was likely going to get a hospitality room with a roll-away bed. I was OK with that because I was exhausted and knew I wasn't going to be sleeping a lot, but I did want a shower and I didn't want to pay $110 for this secondary accommodation. When I asked how much that would be, the clerk left to ask a manager and then returned with some good news. She said I was getting a luxury suite in the hotel's most exclusive, secure floor — for my originally quoted $110. So I made my way up to my exclusive room and discovered a room that looked an awful lot like the one I'd reserved.

My youngest sister, Dani, 18, ran this marathon with me. It was her first marathon so she was a little nervous and excited.

I was not excited. I was tired and worried I had forgotten something. In fact, I was so nervous I had to get up every hour or so and eat a slice of bread to keep from vomiting. At about 2 a.m. Dani woke up and saw me eating bread. After a few minutes, she got up and ripped open a PowerBar and ate it — in our king size bed. I asked her if her stomach was upset as well.

"No," she said in the darkness. "I was just worried you were carbo-loading without me. I don't want you to have more energy than me."

Two hours later, we woke — without an alarm — and got showered and dressed for our race. I was so worried about the heat that I wore shorts and a tank top and didn't even bring a sweatshirt. Unlike others, who actually read the e-mail we got from Ogden Marathon officials, we didn't know it would be between 35 and 40 degrees at the start of the race.

We walked a block to the shuttle bus and shoved our way through the crowd and onto a warm, crowded school bus. Then we spent about 30 minutes winding our way up the canyon to an open field with campfires and portable toilets. This was 5:30 a.m. We spent the next hour and a half either huddled around a fire, scurrying away when the embers landed on our bare skin, or in line for a bathroom with people who wondered where our jackets were.

I've never been so glad for the start of a race.

For the first few miles, I ran with my iPod on, singing and enjoying what must be one of the most beautiful courses in the country. Sunrise in the mountains and the best race support I've ever experienced. There were plenty of bathrooms, and any kind of liquid, paste or solid food one could want, and it seemed it was nearly every mile.

At about mile 8 I noticed a group of runners from a local running club, Locomotion. They were running four minutes, walking one minute. After I realized they were keeping pace with me, I decided to join them. Blake Ostler and his son-in-law, John, became my pacers and race companions for the rest of the race. They shared their supplies with me and kept my mind off any aches or pains as we made our way around Pine View Reservoir and down the Ogden Canyon.

It was interesting to try the four minutes of running at a bit faster pace and then walk for one minute. I'm not sure I would do it every race, and as Blake pointed out, it's a way to reduce the intensity and hardship on your body — and you still finish in pretty decent time. I also felt I had more left at the end of the race than I did my first marathon.

Dani, who ripped out of the starting gate at about an eight-minute-mile pace, also met some very nice friends on the route. Three gentlemen who've run dozens of marathons took her under their wing, advising her on when to slow down, walk and urging her on when she hit a wall at mile 24. They even talked a nice woman into allowing Dani to use her restroom when a portable toilet was just too far away.

I loved the race, and I commend the organizers on an outstanding support effort. Friendly, helpful and constant encouragement was what I noticed from 5 a.m. until I left at about 1 p.m.

My race experience reminded me why I love distance runners. I enjoy running because of the physical and emotional benefits. At times, it is a most spiritual experience as well. But I love the camaraderie and companionship of the runners out there on the courses with me. An energy and atmosphere exists on those courses that I can't really describe if you haven't been struggling up a hill, with sore feet and tired legs, with aching lungs and too little sleep, with your mind questioning your sanity and your heart soaring because you made it another mile.

When my sister was struggling those last two miles, her friends said to her that this was the point where they decided whether to go it alone or stick together and just finish. No man, or woman, would be left behind. She agreed and they got her across that finish line.

I cried when I saw her finish because I know what it means to finish something as huge as a marathon. She said to me afterward as we smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our mouths and sucked down free Jamba Juices, "I think I can do anything. I ran a marathon."

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