For the last few steps of a marathon, a sign can make all the difference

Motivational signs placed on the route of the 2018 St. George Marathon ahead of the race, Oct. 5, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Any long-distance runner will tell you that somewhere on the course you will hit a virtual wall, but most will say it is the final couple miles that truly test their resolve.

Cramping, blistering, chafing and sheer exhaustion have all set in during this final stretch, and you begin to question whether all the struggle and pain is worth it. These are the moments when spectator support can be invaluable.

Kids have opportunity to make motivational signs for runners at the 2018 St. George Marathon Expo, Oct. 5, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

While the finish line is great for excitement and grandeur, for runners like Daron Cowley, it is the support he receives during the last few steps – when he really needs it the most – that makes all the difference. 

On Saturday, Cowley will undertake his 30th St. George marathon and the 60th in his lifetime, reaching his goal of running 60 marathons by the age of 60.

He has been joined by his children in a marathon on occasion, as well as his wife a couple of times, but his special group of spectators have been with him every step of the way.

Each year except one, Cowley’s sister Chadley Anderson has traveled down to Southern Utah to cheer on her brother as he races by, towering over the others at an unusual height for a marathon runner: 6 foot 2 inches. Since the very first race that she joined Cowley’s wife as a spectator, Anderson has been a fixture on the sidelines with signs of support that everyone has come to love and expect.

“It was so much fun watching him and cheering him that it just grew into kind of a family gathering each year,” Anderson said.

What began as a sister holding a few simple words on a piece of paper has blossomed into a large entourage of supporters that include his two other sisters, brother-in-laws, nephews, nieces and many other relatives and friends joining together to place signs along the route that offer encouragement and support to all the runners.

“Toenails are unnecessary,” “Smile if you pee’d a little,” “Runners high legal in all fifty states,” and “Look alive, mortuary ahead,” are just a few of the phrases Anderson and her companions have come up with over the decades to divert runners’ minds away from the race. The family hopes they can bring just a little distraction to her brother and others who are most likely in a great amount of pain and feeling discouraged.

He is a great brother to start with, and this just gives us a reason to let him know how much we care about him,” Anderson said.

As one of the original sign makers on the course, Anderson has seen many changes over the decades and said runners are in much better shape these days, and it has been a lot of fun to see the transitions each year.

Supporters of St. George Marathon runner Daron Cowley with motivational signs of support, date unspecified, Veyo, Utah | Photo courtesy of Chadley Anderson, St. George News

Known for her water spritz station and big rubber cleaning gloves at mile marker 23, Anderson said she hopes her signs have given runners something to think about besides the challenges they face during a marathon. It is just a small way she can assist them in reaching their goals.

Over the years signs have improved with firmer backing and increasingly clever sayings, but her goal has always been the same: to give runners something to think about and maybe something to laugh about. This year the group will hold up a sign asking runners what number this marathon attempt represents, and they hope runners will signal back and give the group a chance to personally respond.

Anderson said she cleared out the local dollar store of rain ponchos, and her small army of supporters will be out in Veyo on Saturday no matter what to cheer on and celebrate their favorite runner’s milestone 60th finish, even if the rain is pouring down.

“We are just going to be happy for him,” Anderson said.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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