In an era when Internet memes that mock failed goal-keeping attempts are more common than actual tales of stamina and dedication, meet Liz Dalton.
The 59-year-old Tooele native was inducted into the 20-year club at the St. George Marathon on Oct. 6, culminating two decades and thousands of miles of pavement-pounding, sweat-induced and sometimes pain-riddled devotion to the act of staying active and healthy.
It’s a story that almost wasn’t, but even despite the injuries, road blocks, and dark, sometimes lonely mornings, Dalton, who teaches family and consumer science at Stansbury High School, wouldn’t have it any other way.
With a young family at home, repeated pestering from a close friend to train for the 26.2-mile race was avoided for years until finally she agreed. But she made no long-term promises.
“I finally said OK. My kids were old enough. We started in January that year training,” Dalton said. “It is very time-consuming to prepare for a marathon, because there are a lot of miles you have to put in. I was aiming for a 4:20 finish time that year and I got 4:01. Even though I did very well, I said I would never do it again, but it’s kind of like having a baby. It’s a good hurt.”
And there she was the next year — running through the red-rock landscape of the sunny southern Utah town. She blamed it on a friend luring her in once again by saying he needed help training for two more marathons to make it into the 10-year club.
“He said, ‘If you do that I won’t bug you anymore,’ ” she said.
But after three years she didn’t need help with the motivation any longer. She was hooked. But, if she was going to make any goal it was going to be that she run consecutive races and not press pause until she reached a similar fete.
“There’s not many people who have reached the 10 or 20-year club by running consecutive races,” she said, her go-big-or-go-home attitude peaking through.
Dalton said the mostly downhill race, with red, high bluffs scraping the blue sky, and usually comfortable weather, seems deceptively easy to onlookers.
“It tears up your quads,” she said.
Dalton faced some other obstacles along the way to her proverbial finish line.
“I didn’t commit to the 20 until my 16th marathon, but after the 17th, I had a great big lump on the back of my heel,” she said. “I went to Dr. [Kim] Halladay and he had it MRIed and discovered a torn Achilles. He said it would take six months to a year to heal properly. I said ‘I can’t do that.’ I told him, ‘I need to run three more marathons. You have to do whatever you have to do to help me run these marathons.’ ”
Referred to a physical therapist, who is also a marathoner, Dalton followed the advice given. With specialized stretches, she was back on the pavement in a mere three weeks with one caveat:
“He said I could only run three days a week,” she said. “I had been running six days a week at that point. That was really hard to cut back. It made me slower.”
A slower pace meant the possibility of not finishing the marathon entirely. For safety reasons, runners who don’t make it to mile 23 by 1 p.m. on race day aren’t allowed to finish and are instead bused back to the finish line.
“On my 18th marathon, I had 45 minutes to spare,” she said, adding, however, that she kept getting slower, which increased her worry that she wouldn’t achieve her goal of 20 marathons in 20 years. “Last year, I beat it by half an hour.”
In 2018, and on the brink of a long-time goal, Dalton started getting plantar fasciitis.
“That feels like knives stabbing you in the foot,” she said. “As you move it starts to warm up and so that helps.”
Running through the pain, she beat her 2017 mile-23 time by three minutes.
“I was faster than last year because I was so stressed about whether I was going to be able to do it, so I gave it my all,” she said. “When I hit mile 23, I was texting everyone. Everyone didn’t know if I was going to make it. It was awesome.”
As she crossed the finish line the clock read 6:33 — a time over two hours slower than her first marathon decades earlier, but not any less treasured.
“It was a great feeling,” Dalton said. “When you do something hard like that it means a lot. I wanted it so bad. It was cooler with just a little rain and I think that helped me. The moon and the stars lined up for me to get that done. I had that will and desire.”
As training companions continued to drop out over the years to injury or other interests, Dalton only had her goal — and accumulated finishing medals that she’d hang around the house— to motivate her to get up at 5 a.m. almost daily to get her average five-mile run in.
“People would always comment ‘I always see you out,’ ” she said. “There were times when it was below zero and we would read that you shouldn’t run because it would freeze your lungs. On those days, I would swim. I’m very athletic and just like to do something. I don’t have a finished basement and sometimes I would even do laps down there.”
Because running can be hard on the body, Dalton agrees that it’s not for everyone. But, for her, the benefits have far outweighed the negatives.
“There’s not just physical value, there is mental,” she said. “I would solve problems running. It got me outside and away from everything where I can think.”
Now even some of her children, who use to chide her on her obsession with the sport, are active participants as well.
“They used to always make fun of me and now I’m making fun of them,” she said.
Her plantar fasciitis has kept her sidelined since the marathon, but it hasn’t kept her off her feet completely.
“I can’t sit still,” she said. “Even watching that 18 inning Red Sox’s game, I couldn’t sit still. I had to get up and do the dishes. I love being outside. I hate cold weather, but I’m not cold when I run. It clears my head. I’m able to think, meditate and solve problems. I’m sure it’s the adrenaline and endorphins. Running is my medicine. I watch runners out there and I want to do it, but I can’t right now and it’s killing me.”
It won’t be long before Tooele County residents start seeing Dalton out running on Droubay, Bates Canyon or Skyline Drive again. She’s determined to not let injury keep her from lacing up her running shoes and hearing the rhythmic thump of her feet against the road.