Two and a half years ago, Grantsville resident Jay Miller took up running as a way to avoid spending his entire winter on a treadmill.
In just a short time, what began as a way to stay in shape has taken the 45-year-old to one of the most prestigious events in distance running, as he was one of three Tooele County residents to take part in the iconic Boston Marathon this spring.
“The Boston Marathon — there’s a lot of history that goes along with it,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of pride and stuff that goes along with that event.”
Miller used to race motorcycles, and began cycling several years ago in an effort to improve his fitness level. He had never been a big fan of running, but decided he wanted to reach different fitness levels and focus on building different sets of muscles. When winter hit a few years ago, he decided that he wasn’t going to let the cold weather keep him cooped up indoors for months at a time.
“The warm season ended and we headed into winter and I just decided that I didn’t want to face another winter doing treadmills and indoor stuff,” he said. “I kind of made a goal that I was just going to run every day, weather permitting. I just started doing that from there.”
Miller began to enjoy running a bit more, competing in a couple Wasatch Back Ragnar relays in addition to 5Ks and half-marathons. He took part in his first marathon at the 2014 Utah Valley Marathon, but was disappointed when sickness limited his ability to record a fast time.
However, when he took part in the Big Cottonwood Marathon later in the year, he was able to record a time that not only was more satisfying — it qualified him for one of the sport’s most prestigious events.
“Sometimes with marathons, you go through a few different things mentally and physically,” Miller said. “It takes a little time to get that dialed in. When I did the Big Cottonwood Marathon a few months later, my goal was to kind of have that stuff dialed in and I didn’t even know it was a Boston qualifying event.
“I was able to run a good time in that marathon. It’s a fast marathon anyway with a lot of downhill, and then I realized I did qualify for Boston.”
Still, despite the fast time, Miller was skeptical. There was paperwork involved, and even with a qualifying time, there remained the possibility that Boston Marathon officials could decline his application. But, figuring he had nothing to lose, Miller applied for his spot in the race anyway.
“I submitted my paperwork and thought ‘we’ll try it and see what happens,’” he said. “It didn’t matter to me at the time because it wasn’t really on my radar. Everything worked out, the paperwork went through and I was able to go to Boston which was quite an experience.”
Miller went into the race not knowing quite what to expect. But when race day came on April 20, it was hard not to notice the differences from the smaller races Miller is used to competing in, and the nerves began to build as he made his way to the starting line in nearby Hopkinton, Massachusetts, through navigating an unfamiliar city and its unfamiliar mass-transit system.
The field, which consisted of more than 30,000 runners, was split into four separate starting “waves.” The top-level runners were in the race’s first wave, while Miller ran with the second wave.
However, Miller’s nervousness increased just before his wave was set to leave the starting line.
“Long story short, I ended up getting to my wave late,” he said. “I was right at the back of my wave. I had to run up to the starting line and then they announced that the race was going to start in a minute and a half. Next time, I’ll make sure that I get to my wave a little bit earlier and try to start closer to the front.”
Despite the nervous start which made it difficult for him to pass his fellow competitors, and rainy conditions that included 20 mph headwinds, Miller was able to complete the course in three hours, 23 minutes, 45 seconds. But the time wasn’t what Miller remembered most about the race.
“The amount of fan support that goes along with it is pretty amazing — it’s pretty overwhelming,” he said. “Hopkinton’s kind of a rural area with two-lane roads as you’re running out of there, but basically from the start of the marathon all the way to the finish was just lined with fans and specators. Right off the bat, you have people cheering you on and they don’t have a clue who you are. There’s people out on their front lawns cooking out and making a party out of it. That’s the thing that struck me the most — the amount of people that support that event is huge. It’s bigger than anything I ever imagined.”
Miller also had the opportunity to run with two of his cousins in the race, one of whom is Steven Allen, a Stansbury Park resident who finished the race in 3:20:39. A third Tooele County resident, Tami Searle of Tooele, finished in 4:19:30.
Miller had the support of his wife, Monica, and their three kids, in addition to his parents. They provided valuable motivation as he neared the finish line.
“Most runners say that the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest,” he said. “You kind of hit a wall and you need something to motivate you. I kind of hit that wall a little bit and kind of had to push myself to keep going.”
Miller noted that the memories of the terrorist bombings that affected the 2013 Boston Marathon still were present, particularly with the number of survivors who came back to take part in the race. However, he was impressed with the security and the overall feeling that came with competing in the event.
“You could feel it when you were there, but it wasn’t like you were on pins and needles waiting for something to happen,” he said.
Miller’s time at last year’s Big Cottonwood Marathon was good enough to qualify him for two Boston Marathons, so he is eligible to compete again in 2016. He already is preparing for next year, beginning with Saturday’s Utah Valley Marathon, where he hopes to improve on his personal-best time and submit a faster qualifying time for next year’s Boston Marathon.
He also will compete in the Big Cottonwood Marathon this year, in addition to some longer trail races in the fall.
“Running is just a nice peaceful thing to do,” he said. “It takes you away from the stresses of normal life. It started as a way to be more fit and more in shape, but with cycling and running, I really like doing it so much that fitness is kind of the side benefit. I wish I would have done more when I was younger.”
Marathon running also has another benefit for Miller.
“I can run a marathon early in the morning on Saturdays and make it to my kids’ baseball games in the afternoon,” he said.