I first noticed Sarah Oliphant on a stretch of road that reached uphill just a little too long around mile 11 or 12 of Thursday's Deseret News Marathon.
She is the very definition of baby-faced.
I, myself, was struggling with the hill, so I did not talk to her until much later in the race. I still don't know much about her, including why she loves to run or why at just 13 years old she decided to take on what is one of the toughest marathon courses around.
I just know that watching her gut out the last eight miles of the marathon was as rewarding as finishing myself.
"My dad gave me the idea," said the native of Sunnyvale, Calif. "My brother, Eugene, ran it last year."
Her brother and mother met her on the course with various liquids and supplies.
Eugene, 23, even made her stop and then doctored her sore toes at mile 22.
He said he chose the Deseret News Marathon last year because it was on a Saturday and on the way to a family reunion. Sarah might have questioned his affection for her at about mile 20, but Eugene met her several times during the race to offer her supplies and encouragement. His younger sister earned the respect of veteran runners as she ran through the aches and pains of long-distance running and never lost her sense of humor.
"Now that it's over, I'm great," she said, flashing her braces complete with blue rubber bands that matched her blue running outfit. "It's over."
As for a second marathon, she's not sure.
"Maybe," she said as she began searching for post-race food. "We'll see. Not today."
And then, one more smile as another runner stopped to congratulate her.
Watching someone like Sarah tackle her first marathon made it easier for me to get through my third. I wish it was overconfidence, but I struggled the last six miles simply because I didn't do enough long runs in June or July. It is a tough course, but it is one of the most beautiful as well. (Although, I will say we need water every mile for the last six miles instead of every other.)
The start time is brutal, I'm sure in an attempt to beat the heat which, when you run as slowly as I do, is not possible. I caught the first bus at 3:15 a.m. from Rice-Eccles Stadium and then spent two hours trying to stay warm in a tent that was standing room only by 4:30 a.m.
I met a lot of first-time Deseret News Marathon runners first thing in the morning, including Stacy from Herriman, who started running to get in shape, and a woman whose twins were not even a year old. We spread our bags out on the rocks and shared conversation and Gatorade at 4 a.m., and their stories helped pass the ample time we had before the start of the race.
After a few miles, I began to meet people who'd not only run the Deseret News Marathon before but had run dozens, including two who had run more than 100 of marathons. One of those was 63-year-old Larry Macon of Texas. He said the people he'd met on race courses across the country were the reason he kept running.
"I just love it," he said. "It's so much fun. Where else can you meet interesting people like this?"
The most impressive aspect of Macon's performance in just over five hours was that he planned to compete in a 24-hour race today, where he said you just ran as many miles as your body and mind would allow.
"I hope to get about 70 miles," he said. "Then on Sunday I'm running another marathon."
He invited me along, but I told him I had plans.While he's pushing his body to its limits, I will test my stomach's capacity. I plan to camp out at my local bakery and carbo load. After the eclairs have worked their magic, I will resume what I started. I think the next month will be a little easier as I carry the stories, courage and grit of my new friends with me on those lonely training runs.