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Arianne Brown: The Cedar City Thunderbird 50K showed me places I never knew existed in my hometown

Arianne Brown gained appreciation for her hometown when she ran the Cedar City Thunderbird 50K on Oct. 20.
Arianne Brown gained appreciation for her hometown when she ran the Cedar City Thunderbird 50K on Oct. 20.
Jana Herzog, https://www.janaherzogphoto.com/

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.