SALT LAKE CITY — Travis Fuller was the first to cross the Salt Lake Marathon finish line Saturday, but he really won the race in every training session since Oct. 8, 2017.
That Sunday in Illinois was the second time the Provo man failed to finish a marathon. The first was two years ago in St. George. In the fall of 2015, he was recovering from an injury, and the former BYU runner was advised by his coach, Ed Eyestone, not to even attempt the race.
“I thought, ‘It’s just 26 miles,’” he said, after winning the first marathon he managed to finish Saturday morning with a time of 2:27:53.03. “‘I can just go run it.’ I had to drop out of the race with calf issues, and those just lingered.”
The Mountain View High alumnus felt like he was in the best shape of his life heading into Chicago.
“Ten miles in, I had to drop out because my calves gave out,” he said. “The winter was rough, and I had to cross-train the whole thing. The past two months, I’d been able to start running.”
Finding ways to stay fit wasn’t the most difficult aspect of his post-Chicago training. It was battling the doubt that grew more persvasive with his second marathon failure.
“All winter long, almost every day,” he said of thinking that maybe his body just wasn’t built to race 26.2 miles. “I think a lot of (overcoming) it is that you set your eyes on bigger goals. I feel like I’ve got some of those goals down. I just focus on what I have control over. And I tried to recognize that it was just a little unlucky.”
He said he was in such great shape, he was determined “not to waste it.” So he began, almost immediately, planning a spring marathon.
Eyestone suggested something at sea level, maybe in California. Once again, he eschewed his coach’s suggestion in favor of a sentimental option.
“I was trying to pull the trigger on a race because it’s in my training cycle,” he said. “Then I saw this race, and my mom ran this race like 10 years ago. In fact, she really inspired the whole thought of running in the first place, so I thought it would be fun to go do the same marathon.”
Fuller said he never aspired to be a marathon runner.
“I always joked that I’d never do a marathon,” he said.
But watching former teammate Jared Ward at the U.S. Olympic Trials where he qualified for the 2016 Games, and then placed sixth, began to fuel a desire that was really inspired as Travis watched his mother, Heidi Fuller, train for and run marathons while she attended nursing school when he was a teen.
“Watching Jared, that’s been pretty exciting,” he said, adding he had another friend qualify for Olympic Trials. “I thought, I’d like to give it a go.”
But then came the St. George and Chicago debacles, and he started to feel "cursed."
It seemed his bad luck with marathons might persist in the Salt Lake Marathon, when he came down with a vicious stomach bug two weeks ago. Fuller was bedridden when he first got it, and he’s still feeling the effects in intestinal distress. He worried that he might not have the stamina to finish such a grueling distance.
“Something like that can wreck you,” he said, acknowledging that while runners often joke about being unable to control their bowels in a race, his fear on Saturday was real.
“I was nervous I wouldn’t even be able to finish the race,” he said. “I honestly just felt grateful to finish without any serious injuries, and I was just grateful that I didn’t have to stop and use the restroom, that my body held up. Getting the win was just a cherry on top.”
The finish — and victory — feel like fresh fuel for the aspiring distance runner.
“When I finished today, it got me really excited,” he said. “I didn’t know my body’s condition, so to cross the finish line and have it hold up was a miracle. I actually feel pretty decent. I’m definitely sore, but to still be standing, this is super motivating. It makes me want to get after it and see what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”
Fuller ran the first half of the race with the second-place finisher, Daniel Bishop, who finished in 2:31:19.61. They were passed by third-place finisher Sampson Mutua, of Colorado Springs, who crossed the finish line in 2:31:52.62, but Fuller caught him at mile 13.5 and then passed him about mile 14. He ran the rest of the race out front.
The women’s marathon was won by Jen Rock, of Michigan, who was in town for a conference and missed a few meetings to run the race. She won with a time of 2:50:23.53.
Tara Beth Lewis, of Lehi, was second with a time of 3:02:32.85, while Janel Zick, of Salt Lake City, earned third with 3:08:18.76.
The fastest half marathon time in the women's race belonged to Emily Jameson, of Salt Lake City, with a time of 1:22.12, while Arizonan Allison Delancey was second with 1:23:42. Logan resident Megan Flanagan finished third with a time of 1:27:57.
For the men, Riley Cook, of Ogden, won with a time of 1:06:46.06, while Nathan Peters, of Salt Lake City, earned second with a 1:08:48.69. Ben Van Beekum, of Ogden, was third, crossing the line in 1:13:10.44.
Editor's note: The winner of the women's half marathon was Emily Jameson, not Diana Daus, as previously reported. Incorrect results were provided to the media, listing Daus as finishing first, with Jameson second. Marathon officials said there was a technical error in the results provided and apologize, along with the Deseret News, for the error and any confusion it caused.