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The Goal Foundation
An aerial photo shows runners making their way down the canyon along the South Fork of the Ogden River as part of the Ogden Marathon.

OGDEN — Never has the motto for the Ogden Marathon been more fitting, "Utah's Spring Run-Off." Not only was the Ogden River maxing capacity, so were the buses hauling a record number of runners 26 miles out of town for the 11th annual race.

This was my fifth time descending through the canyons with Ogden's South Fork at my side. I couldn't have asked for more perfect weather, a cool-high 40-something to start and a refreshing-high 50s at the finish.

It's my hometown marathon, the one I can still sleep in, the one I could almost walk home from and the one to which I'm most loyal. Even before the gun goes off, it's party time in Ogden.

For one thing, the Ogden Marathon Fun & Fitness Expo the Friday before is more like a neighborhood reunion party. There's definitely more fun than fitness going on. And as I casually stroll through the booths of running, cycling and nutrition products, I spend way more time catching up on the lives of friends and acquaintances.

It's not like most fitness expos, usually held in hollow, warehouse-style buildings with as much character as a box of rocks. It's at the Historic Union Station, a place with a long and colorful history and perfect for people to cross paths and share stories. If you're lucky, you may even spot one of the ghosts that roam through the allegedly haunted edifice.

After the expo, you have absolutely no reason to complain that there was no pasta dinner offered. As you spill out onto 25th St., you quickly discover a myriad of carbo-loading cuisine, most of which has been specially prepared by local restaurant owners who alter their menus to cater to marathoners.

Come marathon morning, I knew exactly what to expect, and I probably followed about the same routine I usually do.

Wake up, shower, get dressed, eat oatmeal, check the gear, lace up the shoes, rush out the door, catch the bus, etc., etc. It's a routine that has always worked well for me. That is, except the time I arrived and there were no more buses. I filled my Jeep with some other tardy runners and we drove up together that year.

In a nutshell, the course goes like this. The first seven miles drop about 500 feet as it comes down from Causey Reservoir along the river. The next 11 miles lazily meander through the farms of Ogden Valley and around Pineview Reservoir until you reach the top of Ogden Canyon. During this stretch of the course, runners are welcomed by a party, music and plenty of support as they pass the halfway mark.

At about the 17th mile, you are greeted with another pleasant descent of 500 feet, which ends at about the 22-mile mark as you pass by a cool waterfall at the mouth of the canyon.

The course then picks up the Ogden River Parkway, a paved trail alongside the river, and continues until it reaches Grant Ave., about a mile from the finish, where for the first time, it veers away from the river.

My running experience was about what I expected. I usually have an unrealistic goal, a time it would maybe take a miracle to beat. I have a middle-range time I feel is "acceptable." Then I set a goal at which I would be devastated to break, sort of like a personal record for slowness. If I hit that third mark, it usually meant something went very wrong.

As it turned out, I finished in the middle range, on the fast end of it, so I was happy. But as I started to put my thoughts together, I noticed that I really hit a wall about the same time the course turned south away from the river, almost as if the energy of the river was powering my legs. With about a mile to go, it was all I could do to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

I had already slowed down a bit, as I usually do at the mouth of the canyon. It's a natural spot to slow your pace since you merge onto a flat part of the course after just running down hill. But hitting a wall at the last mile was very abrupt, something I haven't felt before, at least not so suddenly.

Crossing the finish was an amazing feeling, mostly because I could stop running, but also because of the accomplishment of completing another difficult challenge. Even though some irrational thoughts, like "Why do I do this?" and "I must be crazy," passed through my mind. I realize you should never make any life-altering running decisions in the moments following a marathon.

Now that I am back to reality, it's really not hard to figure out why I'm so loyal to a race Runner's World ranked in its top 10 marathons for first-timers. The reasons abound.

For me, it's one of the most beautiful courses around, but there is so much more. I could name a long list of things, like volunteer friendliness, organization, an abundance of "resources" (like Porta-Potties and fires) at the starting line, plenty of GU Energy Gel and fluid at the aid stations and a big one for me, the sweet design of the participant shirts and medals.

The organizers, a nonprofit group called the Goal Foundation, deserve a huge medal and a toast with (insert chosen beverage here). Or even better, maybe a huge week off in Cancun. They truly outdid themselves, and after the pain of walking wears off, I'm sure I'll be one of the first to sign up for next year.

Brian Nicholson has completed marathons from Boston to Beijing, a host of Ragnar relays and developed a keen taste for all things GU.