(Running) is a lifesaver. I feel so much better. I love the people. It’s a whole way of life for me. It helps me focus and enjoy my life. —Sandt Straley
SALT LAKE CITY — Kim Paulding never thought she’d skip her annual tradition of sleeping out on the Pioneer Day parade route to line up at the Deseret News marathon’s starting line.
“I spent so much time at races as a teenager, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m done with that,’” said the 43-year-old Salt Lake woman. “It’s kind of bizarre that I’ve never run it. It’s kind of a family legacy.”
While Paulding’s grandmother, Lila Straley, made sleepouts on the parade route an annual event, her parents ensured the marathon became an integral part of the entire clan’s celebration of the Utah holiday, which commemorates the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake valley.
“I’ve slept out on the parade route for 38 years,” said Paulding who now has three children and two stepchildren of her own. "It’s my whole extended family.”
While none of Straley’s seven children wanted to sleep out on the parade route with her, it became a cherished tradition she shared with her 18 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Not only did Straley and her grandchildren ensure themselves prime seats for the parade, they were also able to cheer on those family members — mostly her children and their spouses and friends — who ran the Deseret News Marathon.
“When the marathon would run down the parade route, we’d wait for them, all my aunts and uncles and my parents and cheer for them,” she said. “My two uncles have always raced the 10K.”
Paulding’s parents, Dan and Bonnie Hooper, lived on Larchmont Drive and decided to start a running club, the Larchmont Running Club. The Deseret News Marathon was among the country’s first 26.2 races when it began in 1970.
It began when then-University of Utah track coach Jim Santomier approached then-Deseret News public relations manager Keith West about starting a marathon.
West wasn’t sure anyone could — or would — run that far. Santomier convinced him that not only would they do it, but they’d pay for the experience.
In that first race, 43 of the 73 runners who started crossed the finish line. The Deseret News Classic remains one of the ten oldest marathons in the country, and the race’s history is intertwined with the state’s annual Pioneer celebration.
When the Deseret News Classic began, no one foresaw how popular marathons —or running races in general — would become. In fact, women weren’t even allowed to register for the Boston Marathon until 1972, although several ran unofficially as early as 1966.
Paulding said there was never any hesitation about having women participate on equal footing with Larchmont’s male members. In 1977, the St. George marathon was born, and neither race ever excluded women.
“It was never even discussed,” Paulding said with a bit of a laugh. “Of course you should run, it was all very equal. Everybody was always very supportive of each other.”
Her parents, her aunts and uncles and their friends ran just about any and every race available to them. One of her aunts, Sandy Straley, will run her 70th marathon in Friday’s Deseret News Classic.
“I started running with Kim’s dad because I wanted to get in shape,” said the 60-year-old Salt Lake City woman. “They were running with the group, and I just started running with them.”
She was 25 years old at the time and had no idea how important the sport would become in her life.
“It’s a lifesaver,” said Straley, who joins Paulding for long runs. “I feel so much better. I love the people. It’s a whole way of life for me. It helps me focus and enjoy my life.”
Straley said she never listened to those who questioned whether it was wise — or dangerous — for women to run long distances because she was paying attention to those closest to her. “I was listening to my running group,” she said.
She didn’t set out to run 70 marathons.
“This was just a fun group,” she said. “We’d go out and do all these races and one race just always led to the next. We kind of worked up to this.” She said she’s always had the “why did I sign up for this thought” around mile 23, but it never deterred her.
“I did it another 69 times,” she said.
Friday will be Straley’s 12th Deseret News marathon, and she would have run more if organizers had kept the runners on the parade route as they did originally.
“I stopped running it because they wouldn’t let us run the parade route anymore,” she said. “Then one of my friends talked me into running it a couple of more times. It’s a course where you have to save enough energy to make it to the finish.”
Two years ago, new management decided to allow those runners who could make a three-hour-and-30-minute cutoff to run on the parade route.
Straley will run with Paulding and other family and friends this Friday. Having company on the 26.2-mile route makes a painful endeavor enjoyable.
“It makes is more fun,” she said. “So you’re not alone.”
Paulding thought she’d had her fill of races as a child. But when her father was diagnosed with skin cancer, she began walking and jogging as a way to deal with the stress and sadness. She began running in 2006 and her affection for the sport has grown to encompass her own family. She and her husband are avid runners, and she now oversees the Larchmont Track club that her parents started.
Dan Hooper passed away in 2008, so Paulding will run her first Deseret News marathon in memory of her dad. But she will also be honoring her grandmother and the family tradition of embracing the holiday as a way to connect — and reconnect — with each other. “My grandmother died two years ago, and she just loved the 24th,” Paulding said. “She loved the grandkids, and she loved that her kids would race. It was such a big deal. Then after, we’d all go to my uncle’s house and have a big pool party and BBQ.” She will think of her dad, and how his passion for running has now become her passion.
“It’s just kind of cool to run a race you know a lot of your family has run,” she said. “All of my uncles have run it, my mom and my dad. It’s just kind of cool.”
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