SPORTS

Salt Lake Marathon Finally Returns After Pandemic Pause With Increased Participation

Apr 21, 2022, 4:18 PM | Updated: 4:23 pm

runners in salt lake marathon...

Photo: Amy Donaldson

SALT LAKE CITY – For two years, the music of the Salt Lake Marathon has been silent.

No whoops of joy.

No tears of frustration.

No cheers of encouragement.

This Saturday, that changes. The event returns with more participants – so far – than signed up for the event in 2019.

But it isn’t just the runners who hoped to challenge themselves on the tough but beautiful 26.2-mile course who yearn for the event’s return.

“What I’m looking forward to with the Salt Lake Marathon is that I’m hoping people feel they can celebrate the movement out of an era,” said Debbie Perry, owner of Salt Lake Running, one of the event’s sponsors. “Now it’s going to be more endemic, and we’ll have strategies to cope with that, but this is really the biggest thing we have in the Salt Lake area as far as running events go. We just really love this kind of situation. We’re hoping people are happy and just celebrating making it through the hardest stuff. We’re on the other side, and now let’s go enjoy the future.”

Perry said she’s sure there will be ‘vibration in the air’ as the running events, as well as the bike tour and 10K skate, get underway Saturday starting at 6 a.m.

She said the events create excitement, positive energy and real change in the lives of people who set out to chase a goal that ends at the Salt Lake Marathon finish line. The organizers of the events will see runners crossing a finish line for the first time since the spring of 2019, as the 2020 race was canceled just four weeks before it was scheduled to run.

“That’s hard to put into words, it really is,” Jennifer Nelson, Marketing Director for High Altitude Events said of what it will be like to see runners on the course this weekend. “Having to cancel two years in a row was just devastating and heartbreaking. This is something we plan for 12 months…and it was crushing.”

So the idea that thousands of people will be lining up before the sunrise to run, ride and skate through Salt Lake’s streets this weekend, is almost overwhelming for those who plan the events.

“We are beyond excited,” she said. “We cannot wait to see athletes at the start line Saturday live and in person. …It’s incredible to be able to see athletes crossing the finish line again. You can feel the energy. …And everyone, sponsors, athletes, spectators – everyone is so grateful to be back to some semblance of normalcy.”

In fact, the numbers reflect that enthusiasm.

The numbers for this year’s events are 10-15 percent higher than 2019.

Mori Paulsen, president of the Bank of America for Northern Utah, recalls standing at the finish line of the 2019 Salt Lake Marathon. He expected to see people showing off their medals, searching for snacks and reveling in their accomplishments.

But it is what he didn’t expect to see that stuck with the President of Bank of America for Northern Utah. And it’s one of the reasons he wanted the company to be the presenting sponsor in the event’s first year back after the COVID-19 pandemic paused it for two years.

“I stayed around for two or three hours helping volunteers, bringing people across the finish line, giving them medals, and really watched the social interaction at the finish line,” he said of the 2019 event. “I was a first-hand witness to all of that. What I learned is that this is not only a great event for people to be able to go out and run and see what they can accomplish physically, but a lot of people do it for fun. And afterward, it seemed like almost all of them gathered at the City-County building for a great social event and celebrated just being together, a great cause and running a race.”

Paulsen is a part of the community that makes the Salt Lake Marathon possible. So what does a financial institution get out of sponsoring a race?

“It’s a great investment, so to speak, for us to be able to make in our community,” he said. “It reminds me of the phrase, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’, and we believe that. …We’re really invested in our communities.”

For Bank of America in Utah, that means investing in local arts projects and efforts to help eliminate poverty and create more economic mobility.

“We don’t put as much into healthcare, so this is something that’s a little unusual for us in the community at this time,” he said, noting all of these things can be interconnected. “We believe that if we’re providing economic mobility and lifting members of our community for generations to come, that helps all of us. It’s going to help our company, our employees …everybody benefits.”

And this year, maybe more than any other, Paulsen said he and his colleagues are looking forward to helping to provide an event that will bring people together in a way that uplifts and changes lives for the better.

He said the race was just another in a long list of social gatherings that we missed out on because of the pandemic.

“Going to movies, getting together for concerts, whatever it was,” Paulsen said of how the volunteers from his company felt about the event’s two-year hiatus. “This was just another one of the things we weren’t able to get together and bond as a community, teammates, friends, whatever, and so we really missed it.”

Perry said their company, like most, struggled in the first months of the pandemic shutdown. But when times are tough, people seem to find solace in activities like running and places like Salt Lake Running Company.

“We’ve been around almost 27 years, and we went through the downturn of 2008,” she said. “In a very real way, we are aware that the service we provide is a real stress reliever. “

When public health advice suggested the outdoors were safer if people wanted to recreate or gather, their business had to figure out ways to adapt so they could serve customers while keeping customers and staff safe.

“We were here to help the situation, and it felt like it was more of an empowering situation,” she said of how helpless many people felt during the pandemic. “The very largest percentage of our customer base are just trying to get out of bed, be happier and take care of their bodies.”

While events were rocked by the pandemic closures, companies Perry’s enjoyed some of their best years ever.

Now they get to see a communal manifestation of their efforts alongside other sponsors, community members, and of course, the athletes.

“We’ve made it,” Perry said. “And we get to move forward. Our business is not dependent on races…but we do appreciate the Salt Lake Marathon events because they help keep people motivated. They do help to inspire people. That’s the part that is important to us as a community supporter of that.”

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