Taha Mahmood was familiar with every turn and hill on the course, Judy Mercon wasn't. Mahmood's strategy came from memory, Mercon's from a map. Saturday, Mahmood and Mercon were crowned winners of their respective marathons.
Mahmood, a Salt Lake City resident, won this race last year and called on his memory to win it a second time, albeit with a slower time.Mercon, from Clearwater, Fla., only decided to run in the event a week ago and didn't arrive in town until Friday. Her one and only look at the course before the start early Saturday morning came from the front seat of a car as the sun was setting the night before.
Neither racer broke any records in the 24th running of the Deseret News/KSL Radio marathon, despite what both runners called "ideal running conditions." Mahmood's time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 49 seconds was nearly 12 minutes off the 1982 record, while Mercon's time of 2:58:26 was nearly 13 minutes off the 1980 record.
Second in the men's race was Michael Cahill of Salt Lake at 2:29:40 and third was Cameron Smith of Orem in 2:31:32.
In the women's race, Debbie Hanson of Pleasant Grove was second with a time of 3:00:09 and third was Susan Anderson-Ayers of Salt Lake City with a 3:06:59.
Mahmood's time was nearly two minutes slower that last year's. He admitted that even through running conditions were better this year, he wasn't.
"I didn't feel well, not at all," he said after the race. "I think I started out too fast. I heard there were some runners in from out-of-town that were pretty good and I wanted to show them that this was our course. Also, I'm 10 pounds heavier this year. That may have had something to do with it.
"Around the nine-mile point I got cramps. I started to relax and chew my gum and they went away. But I never did feel good after that. There were times when I wasn't sure I could finish."
He was able to do one thing he hadn't before - beat Cahill. While this is the first marathon they've gone head-to-head, Cahill has the edge over him in other races - 10Ks, 5Ks and fun runs.
Concerned over reports of the uphill runs, Cahill said he ran a conservative race. He started well back of the leaders, in 16th at one point, and steadily worked his way up. He caught a glimpse of the leader as he turned on to South Temple, and again on the Main Street turn.
"I figured there was no way I could catch Taha at that point. Then my running coach told me he was fading big time. As I turned on to 9th South I saw I had a chance, but there was nothing left. I couldn't do it. In the last couple of miles I made up 45 seconds on him, but there was nothing left at the finish. If I were going to do it all over again I'd start out with Taha and stick with him," Cahill said.
Mercon said she'd heard about this race and happened to be looking for a "training run" she could do before a big race back east.
"I came out knowing I could win. I planned to win," she said. "It was harder than I thought, though. I'd heard about this course and I saw the hills as I drove over the course last yesterday. It's good the hills come early. I found it a real psychological boost knowing that they were behind me."
She added that she was not completely happy with her time, but that she was hoping for anything under three hours, "and I'm happy with that."
Winning the wheelchair marathon event was John C. Brewer of Salt Lake City, with a time of 2:39:15. Second was Bill Calder of St. George, with a time of 4:08:30.
For their victories, Mahmood and Mercon will each receive two round-trip tickets to any city served by Delta Air Lines in the U.S., Canada or Mexico.
When the gun sounded early Saturday to begin the marathon, there were 500 marathon runners lined up to run.