On the morning of Oct. 20, I stood on top of the C Trail overlook in Cedar City, and gazed down below at the town where I had spent all of my teenage years. I thought to myself, “Why have I never run this before?” and “Since when did Cedar City have such awesome dirt trails?”
I then refilled my water pack, grabbed a handful of potato chips and then made my way back down the trail to complete the remaining 18 miles of my 33-mile journey through the mountains of Cedar City.
It was about a month earlier when I felt the urge to embark on another long running adventure, and that's when I noticed that Cedar City was hosting its first ultramarathon event, called the Cedar City Thunderbird 50K. Having run on a couple of short dirt trails on the outskirts of town, and only knowing of those trails, I wondered where the race would take place. More than that, how on earth would there be enough dirt trails to cover over 30 miles?
After all, I spent 11 years as a competitive runner from junior high school through college in that town, and all I remember was running on pavement and the occasional “suicide hill” up parts of the C Trail gravel road. No fun mountain trails. No spectacular scenery. Just the running motion on hard surfaces.
And for the most part, I was OK with avoiding Cedar City's dirt and rocks. For an entire summer, or so it seemed, I remember hauling loads of it in a wheelbarrow while working on backfilling my family's trampoline hole as I tediously sifted through the unrelenting amounts of rocks. I also remember going on a day date for prom riding bikes on a dirt path, only to come out badly sunburned with a scrape on my shoulder to boot. Needless to say, Cedar City's dirt and I were not on friendly terms.
That is, until the morning of Oct. 20.
From the start of the race, I was able to run atop rolling red rock with a splash of white sandstone. I made my way through a river wash below those same sandstone walls. I ran, or rather hiked, up a steep single-track that went from a firmly packed trail to one covered in new fallen leaves, then all the way to recently fallen snow that thawed out revealing a thick coat of slick, squishy mud.
As I made my way back down, I realized how very steep that climb was with a now relentless downhill trek. The trail made a turn onto another single-track that was rocky and technical, yet incredibly beautiful. I crossed a blanket of black slate rocks that had no business being there in the middle of red rocks, but belonged there just the same.
At 26 miles in, I was trekking through trees on soft ground that rolled in a series of molehills that at the time felt like mountains. For miles I hiked up those molehills, wishing for some downhill so I could open up my stride and run freely.
The downhill finally came around mile 29, as I let my tired legs fly down the recently built “Lichen It” trail that was covered in — you guessed it — lichen. I thought back to the time a few months ago when I ran this trail with my husband and oldest son. I remembered how free I felt, and how smooth my legs were. I drew strength from that time, and as I made my way down, the miles ticked by.
Soon, I had entered an even more familiar place. It was Canyon Park. This was the first place I visited in this town when my family moved to Cedar City 25 years ago. And just like my first visit, it was October and covered in fall leaves. I remembered jumping in the leaves with my siblings, and looking forward to our new life there.
Just then, I saw my family waiting at the park from my childhood, and several of them ran with me toward the finish line.
Cedar City is a place I will always call home, and after today I have a new home within that home filled with dirt, rocks, trees and stunning views as far as the eye can see. And I will waste no time getting back there.