On Oct. 5, 3,900 runners finished the 2019 St. George Marathon.
Among those finishers there were five women — all friends who train together in Utah County — who completed the distance in under two hours and 50 minutes, taking second, third, ninth, 10th and 11th places overall.
To put this in perspective, running a 2 hour and 50 minute marathon takes averaging fewer than 6 minutes 29 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles.
But this isn’t just a story about elite runners who have honed their craft all their lives. It isn’t a story about sponsored athletes with everything at their disposal to run fast. It’s a story about women. It’s a story of friendship and camaraderie built through miles on their feet while their kids are still asleep. It’s a story of women with lives outside of the sport they have grown to love. It’s a story about a coach — a father figure — who sees potential in everyone and wants those around him to be successful.
Runner’s Corner Elite is what they call themselves, and each member of the team has worked hard to earn a jersey to adorn alongside her teammates. One such woman is Emilee Palmer, of Pleasant Grove, who moved to Utah from San Francisco last January, and upon arrival, searched for some running friends.
“When my family and I moved to Utah earlier this year, I wanted to find a group to run with,” Palmer said. “I Googled running clubs, and it took me to Runner’s Corner in Orem. I went the next day and was connected immediately with a group.”
Palmer, who is a stay-at-home mom to four sons, didn’t grow up running; she actually played basketball at Snow College in Ephraim. The competitiveness and innate drive to succeed athletically led her to running and to eventually break the 2:50 barrier to finish in 2:49.33, coming in at 11th place. According to Palmer, it was the friendships she built that made the difference.
“The training group pushed me to be better, but it also gave me friendship,” she said. “It’s hard to get up at 4 a.m. to train, but knowing that there are people there who care about you and your success on and off the road makes it easier. As a mother, it’s hard to find balance, and the girls in this group have been a good example to me of that. Having friends to look up to on the racecourse, really helped me reach my goal.”
Palmer was also quick to acknowledge the importance of the team’s coach, Hawk Harper, who is the owner of the running store, “Runner’s Corner.”
“Hawk has taken an interest in helping us reach our potential,” Palmer said. “He creates workouts that keep us on our toes from tempo work to mountain cross training and recovery days. It’s been great to have his expertise and guidance.”
Someone who knows this firsthand is Harper’s very own daughter, Amber Andrews of Orem, who came in third place at the marathon, finishing in a time of 2:43.58.
“My dad has always seen potential in people,” Andrews said. “He’ll train runners who others may not have invested time in, and he has trained them to run fast — even Olympic Trials qualifying times. I really think he does this because he knows what it feels like to experience success, and he knows that being successful impacts everything else around you. And sharing success with others makes it even better. ”
Andrews knew success early on as a lifelong runner who holds the 5K freshman record at BYU. But, like many successful athletes, the grind took its toll on her, and she took a break. And just like life has a way of doing so, hard things happened, and running soon became a way to cope and restore feelings of success during times of deep sorrow. This is what it has done for Andrews.
It was in 2015 when she gave birth to her second child, a daughter, Avryl, who was born with several chromosomal anomalies that have resulted in countless surgeries, constant care and even more worries.
“Running will never replace my desire to be the best mom to my kids, and giving them what they need,” she said. “What it does do is allow me time to recharge and restore something that has been part of me for so long.”
Like Palmer, Andrews agreed on the importance of having friends who share common goals to train with.
“There is always strength in numbers,” Andrews said. “We’re friends outside of running, also. We get together for lunch, and really get to know each other. This has increased our bond, which has helped us all achieve our individual goals.”
The other women in the running group who broke the 2:50 barrier at the St. George Marathon were Emily Barrett of Provo, 2:42.57/2nd place, who is a wife and mother of an 18-month-old daughter, and who also just earned a master’s degree in dietetics. Janae Baron of Orem, 2:49.19/10th place, is a mother of two and running blogger at hungryrunnergirl.com. Ashley Anderson, 2:49.33, a BYU student and Runner’s Corner employee.
Sylvia Bedford, who won the marathon in record time of 2:34.18, is also a Runner’s Corner athlete who lives in Salt Lake City, and does not train with the team. Bedford and Barrett have already qualified for the 2020 marathon Olympic Trials, and Baron and Palmer will be trying for their spots in the coming months.