SALT LAKE CITY — Ashley Paulson ran through the tape at the finish line of the Deseret News Marathon and immediately started scanning the crowd.

When she saw the faces she was searching for behind a barricade, a grin lit up her face and she ran into the arms of a couple overwhelmed with emotion.

As the 40-year-old St. George woman emerged from an embrace, she pointed to her shirt — an extra large, sweat-soaked, cotton Deseret News Marathon shirt from 1988. 

“This is my dad’s shirt,” she said between hugs from family and posing for photos with admirers after she won the marathon’s women’s division with a time of 2:57:18.

“He wore this for his very first marathon, and I remember seeing him going over by the zoo running in this T-shirt just looking absolutely miserable. It seriously planted that seed inside me to want to run a marathon one day.”

She laughs and then continues at what seems like a contradiction and then continues, “It was like why did he decide to do this? And then, at the same time, why do I want to do that?”

She was only six at the time, but she said that even if it didn’t make sense, she “knew I wanted to run and be like him.”

So last year, when he gave her the shirt, she was moved and inspired. She decided to run in it last year and ended up winning the women’s marathon. 

“My goal was I wanted to win it for him,” she said. 

This year, however, she didn’t think winning was an option.

That’s because less than two weeks ago, she ran one of the toughest ultra races in the world, the Bad Water Ultramarathon, which is 135-mile course that starts at 282 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley and ends with a climb to Whitney Portal, the trailhead of Mount Whitney, which sits at 8360 feet.

The course and distance would be challenging enough, but the temperatures are almost mind-boggling.

“That was a dream race,” Paulson said of Bad Water. “That’s when I’ve been really working towards the last like, 10 years.

“I want to do that one, and so when I found out I got into it this year, I really wanted to do well at that race and it ended up being a perfect race. I ended up actually setting a course record.”

Paulson crossed the Bad Water finish line in 24:09:34, setting a new course record. She knew most people wouldn’t recommend she run another race 11 days later, but she didn’t look at Saturday’s 26.2 miles as a race, as much as she looked at it as another opportunity to honor her dad.

“I knew my legs were gonna be tired,” she said, noting her heart rate was higher than normal, “and I had no time planted in my head.

“I just was like, I hope that I would still see like a sub-three (hours) just because it’s a downhill course and my legs were feeling OK, but I also didn’t want to push a pace.”

Paulson said she hoped the joy of running a race near and dear to her heart would override any fatigue.

Her approach was just to enjoy the morning.

“I knew a nice long run wouldn’t be bad,” she said laughing, “but I knew if I tried to push a specific pace that could cause an injury and that’s not worth it.”

Jennifer Smith, 44, finished second with a time of 3:08:24, while Bethany Brown earned third place with a time of 3:14:27.

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The men’s marathon had a bit of confusion at the end of the race. A runner from Florida took a wrong turn late in the race and finished about 15 minutes faster than the actual winner.

He immediately told race officials that he didn’t think he’d won and that he might have taken a wrong turn.

The actual winner was a very familiar face — Jonathan Kotter, who finished with a time of 2:28:07.

He’s won the race multiple times, and his first race was as a fourth grader.

“It’s an ongoing family tradition,” he said. “This race is so fun. You can’t take anything for granted. Even today, I actually have real questions coming in because I had some setbacks, injuries and I got COVID.”

He said his family and friends, some of whom showed up with signs and banners, may have made the difference. 

“Honestly, just throughout you really feel the support of your family and friends of course,” he said, “and today, particularly with this warm weather, it really pushed me on.

“I really appreciated all of it.”

As for the confusion about who won the race, he shrugged it off.

“Those things happen,” Kotter said of the mistake. “Runners generally are very fair competitors, so mistakes happen.”

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Kotter said he was with the lead car the entire race, and he ran alone from about mile 16 on. 

“I know there are some great runners out there today,” he said, “so I thought we’d be together a little longer, but honestly, it’s a warm day.

“It’s hot. It’s rough on people.”

Nate Clayson, 36, earned second with a time of 2:31:54, and Robert Pedersen finished third with a time of 2:32:40.

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