SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Nelson found himself in a bit of a quandary after winning the Deseret News Half Marathon Saturday morning.

The 22-year-old Nibley man ran a scorching 4:57 pace and crossed the finish line so much quicker than expected — in 1:04:53 — that race officials nearly missed his finish.

“I wanted to be under 65 (minutes),” he said. “I knew I could do that, if there were a bunch of quick people that could pull me through the race. …I’m super happy with that.”

Because he’s local, his victory would have earned him $1,000. But because he wants to walk on at Utah State as a cross country athlete this fall, he can’t accept the money.

NCAA rules prevent him from accepting prize money for running, even though athletes can now be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness. 

Nelson shrugged when asked about it, while race officials said the money would become the prize of the next local runner.

For the Ridgeline High grad, chasing his dream of being a college runner was worth more than the prize money.

“I was never fast enough to run in college,” he said of his high school career, “so I went on a mission, came back and I’ve been doing lots of road racing.

“Hopefully in the future I can run in college.”

Nelson returned from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 2020. He said COVID-19 precautions aided in his post-mission adjustment.  

“I think it was almost better because there were no expectations, no big races,” he said. “I could sort of grind by myself, and then when races started, I could go race.”

He spent the year after his mission just running what and when he wanted.

“I just do my own stuff, run by myself, mostly,” he said. “I just do everything alone.”

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Saturday was the first half marathon that he’d specifically trained for, and he was thrilled with how he performed.

Running, he said, drew him in because it was so accessible.

“It’s something you can do alone,” he said. “Get out, go run, it doesn’t take a whole lot of gear, and you can sort of do what you want….I like running because you get out of it what you put in.”

Jake Heslington, 27, of Provo, wasn’t far behind Nelson, crossing the finish line of the 13.2 mile race in 1:05:37.

Dallin Letham, 24, of Ogden, earned third place with a time of 1:07:48. 

On the women’s side, Tori Parkinson, 27, of Draper, won the race with a time of 1:14:05. Natalie Callister, 32, of Ogden, earned second place with a time of 1:14:41. Madey Dickson, 26, of Herriman, came in third with a time of 1:15:31.