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#60 – St Joe River Marathon

Marathon Man - St Joe River Marathon

9 June 2013 – 4 hrs 37 min

The road to the start line had been long after leaving Bear Lake at 2.30pm I was expecting to drive around 8 hours to St. Marie’s in North Central Idaho, although with traffic delays due to road works and the simple fact that I was exhausted following the latest back to back marathons around Bear Lake it was important for me to take it easy and take some rest stops along the way. I stopped for petrol and a burger at Five Guys and started to feel the sleep deprivation as the clock approached midnight.

The distance was such that I had driven across time zones and on arrival into St. Marie’s discovered that although it was 2.30am in fact it was only 1.30am here. I quickly pulled into the hotel after arriving under the cloak of darkness and unloaded my bags before ringing the doorbell and finding the hotel proprietor stumble to the door to greet me. He was very friendly and quickly directed me to the room to find a few hours sleep.

I was a little surprised when parking the car to find another car pull into the already full car park only a matter of seconds behind me and then while collecting my keys realise that I was not the only one that had made the crazy drive from Bear Lake with two of the legends of the marathon world also having the same idea and following me to St. Marie’s for the St. Joe River Marathon in a few hours time.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonNow while St. Marie’s is the largest city in Benewah County this pretty little spot was very quiet in the early morning hours with a total population of only 2,382. This day would turn into a very special experience with the promise of some incredible scenery ahead.

I was a little focused on the reality that return flights had been booked out of Salt Lake City on the same night, and that the drive ahead would be around 12 hours, so decided to start in the early 6.30am group. I was very pleased with this decision as it was in fact an hour later where I was heading, and every minute would count if I was going to make this connecting flight from Salt Lake City to New York.

On arriving to the start line at 6am there were a few others doing the same and in a matter of minutes there were soon around fifteen of us ready to take on the challenge ahead. It was great to meet up with Devon Barta the Race Director at the start line who had been very supportive of me including the St. Joe River Marathon on the World Record schedule.

It was not too long before we were all ushered to the start line with the official timing clock counting down and then we made our way through the quiet early morning streets of St. Marie’s, leading us through the centre of town before winding our way out and around towards the trail leading along the river. It was not long before I was forced to take a pit stop as this is the price of eating late in the evening on the long drive a matter of hours earlier. I soon met up with a couple of runners on the approach to 3km into the journey and discovered that this was the first marathon for Cayla Hannon. This chance meeting was soon to represent the clear reason for me travelling so far across the country and perhaps the world as the story proved to be one of the more powerful and inspirational moments of the year.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonCayla is 26 years old originally from Coeur d’Alene in Idaho and had only started running around a year a half ago in an attempt to get healthy, having previously smoked cigarettes. She was searching for a new lifestyle after gaining 35 pounds and decided that her new life with running would be a great.

Cayla soon revealed that there was more to the story, having spent her 25th birthday in a Drug Rehab. It was a shock to the system having thought that the old life had been left behind to start out on an exciting new journey with her new husband, to find only a matter of a months into the marriage the temptation to return to the old world was calling. The major difference now was that this relapse proved beyond any doubts the dangers that drugs can have on families no matter the age or stage of life.

This was not a new experience, although as Cayla mentions it was a “really big surprise”. Following the wedding and added responsibility of being a wife and living in a new home with the man she loves,  she had not replaced the demons that had been around for more than 10 years. The reality was that according to Cayla she soon found herself “back at square one, although it was probably a little more degrading” due to the fact that she was about to turn 25. Having been clean from drugs for two years while dating, this addiction was replaced with alcohol, pain killers and the relationship. Following the honeymoon Cayla was heavier than she had ever been and attributes this as the primary reason behind returning to the lure of drugs only a matter of weeks into the marriage as an attempt to find an easy fix to escape reality and be thin.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonHer introduction to alcohol was as a 12 year old drinking cooking sherry at home, with this leading to future alcohol abuse where there were no limits. Soon it became the standard to drink until you blacked out and you never really knew what happened. This was not a great feeling the next day and soon this escalated into the world of hard drugs that would take over her life and become the preferred method to change state and live on the edge with the serious drug addiction starting out at the tender age of only 14 while at school.

Following a really strict upbringing, and after 16 years of marriage, her parents divorced and her Dad was gone. It was at this point that Cayla mentioned while growing up she never embraced reality and always lived in a fantasy world where she would look to escape as a child and this would develop toward an association with escaping into the world of drugs while still such a young girl.

The alarming story was that a girl at school had been selling methamphetamines such as crystal meth for as little as $20, starting the journey towards all types of hard drugs at such a young age that was soon to spiral out of control for a number of years with no drug ever being turned away, making for a different world as a teenager and all in her life. At the time it was seen as being the thing to do with the dealer doing a great sales job in the school yard making it ever so enticing and this scenario has sadly been way too common right around the globe for too long.

The breaking point over recent years arrived when Cayla’s husband Ryan was working out of town as a linesman and she would lie to him and tell stories continuing the pattern of behaviour that had been formed over many years. Having been dating for six years prior to getting married, Ryan would dig through her drawers and her brother Tyler would be in the house doing what was recognised as “recon” missions to check up on her and make sure she was ok. At the time, Cayla had perfected playing the victim by insisting that she was an adult and saying “how is this affecting you?”, clearly not recognising the impact that her life choices were making for all around her and having lost who she was and who she wanted to be as a person. There were many times where it felt like those closest to her were ganging up on her, and the natural instinct was to push people away.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonThere would be times where Cayla would go out to dinner and think this was great, only to find all around her extremely frustrated and mad at her behaviour, all the while not recognising why everyone was upset with her actions. The return to rehab was an important part of the journey after having already been for treatment in the past and not having made a difference. Cayla was “scared” that it would be more of the same, though this time would prove to be different as Cayla was now seriously ready to change and take the brave step as a responsible adult leaving the problems in the past.

Cayla now works full time in a carers role for adults with mental disabilities, and has embarked on a new lifestyle which has seen her buy a bike and ride 10 miles to the gym for a work out each day prior to going to work. It was soon clear that the diet was still hurting with no significant weight loss progress noticed and it was time to change this up with a new diet and attention to the newly discovered addiction to sugar.

It is so enlightening to find someone so aware and guess a real sign that the therapy and journey of self discovery really was paying off … Many go through life ignorant of such patterns of behaviour and choose not to recognise or embrace the reality let alone accept it for what it is and then take action. There could be little doubt that Cayla has been through an incredible journey to date that has provided knowledge and acceptance beyond her years.

It was recognised that there have been a number of compulsive patterns over the years, where in one instance her Grandma gave her a bunch of yarn to crochet and soon she started crocheting hats, scarves, headbands and anything else that she could think of in a manic way. The examples were clear for all to appreciate with the association to the dark days of the hard core drug world, and the fact that Cayla was running her first marathon as opposed to running a smaller 5km or 10km event. There was no doubt that if this girl was going to do something then she was going to go all out and do it as big as possible. The challenge was to make sure the energies are channelled in the right direction and that this was to be a force for good.

The former circle of friends had not played a part in Cayla’s life for so long and then suddenly she crossed paths with one of the old friends, telling him that she wanted to get high whereas in her mind she was telling herself that “you don’t have to do this recognising that this was going to be a really bad choice and then saying oh well and she did it…” This would be the final time of going back and on August 3rd this year it will be 2 years clean from the scourge of drugs and alcohol!

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonCayla made the decision to have no contact with the previous bad influences in her life two weeks out of treatment. She changed her phone number and made it clear to people that she really wanted to be different in this lifetime. The weight issues were associated with the time away from the drug world and the continuing spiral into alcohol. This is unfortunately a very common story that can affect anyone at any stage of life, no matter where in the world you are, and one that Cayla has bravely searched for the answers over the years.

The family were very supportive and accepting of the struggles with drugs between the ages of 14 – 21 with one of Cayla’s cousins having penned a heartfelt letter expressing her feelings and support during the time. No matter the love and support and encouragement there were a number of times where Cayla would continue to follow a different path. It was recognised that this is a lifelong journey and it was clear that the love and support of her husband Ryan, brother Tyler Pierson and Mum along with the spiritual help provided the opportunity to get life back on track.

The Spiritual journey started during the last treatment when it was identified that there was a need to find a higher power and this was seen to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Although not going to church every week, Cayla continues the search for meaning finding comfort in prayer and keeps an open mind and heart for the higher power. Having grown up in a spiritual family there is little doubt that parents would have attempted to include the church in Cayla’s life and this was recognised as another area of rebellion over the years. The ability to now embrace this spirituality and go full circle really is profound and represents a significant step forward in the evolution. Embracing the spiritual side with the knowledge of a higher purpose no matter the church provides guidance and purpose behind the journey.

Following years of replacing one dangerous addition with another along this journey it was the latest positive addiction to running that was now proving to be most rewarding. It was recognised after the latest time in rehab that exercise would play an important role in the journey to keep fit and healthy with the objective to lose weight and look good as it had the potential to be a really depressing factor in life. Cayla had been worried and identified the need to do something about it and started to go to the gym right away after rehab and then started running. It was really hard at first following the years of abuse starting out running at 4.5 miles an hour although she would stick it out for 45 minutes and then be on the treadmill every day. This journey was shared with two others in recovery and then a new friend at the gym provided support.

It was at this point that I put out the challenge to Cayla that in discovering the world of the marathon it would not be too long before she would have to find the ultra marathon world. The reaction was priceless as this clearly was a world that Cayla had not heard of before and I would soon be explaining the background to a ultra marathon being any distance over the 26.2 mile marathon and sharing stories of my previous 250km Marathon des Sables and Sahara Race adventures across the Sahara Desert and at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Hopefully this is one world that Cayla may look further into as I have no doubt that the mental strength that she possesses will provide the necessary fuel to take on these challenges when the time is right.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonCayla mentioned that for others that may be struggling with similar issues and were unhappy with the situation and behaviours that it is important not to be embarrassed about it and be prepared to ask for help because there are many others that have been through something similar and while perhaps not identical to many other peoples story hopefully there may be some that can relate and take something positive out of this journey that is still in progress.

There are people with similar experiences that can relate to them and find things that work for you that will work in your own life. It was mentioned that it can “be crazy being lost in yourself out there” and the importance in praying for help even when you don’t believe in God was something worth doing. While a challenging time in life Cayla is now a real inspiration looking to help others where possible in a recovery setting to offer support where possible. There is so much to be thankful for in Cayla’s life with the four year wedding anniversary ahead later this year, the contribution to others each day in the workplace and to those in recovery, a possible future as a personal trainer and then of course the great people in her life plus the new world of marathons and perhaps ultra marathons down the track.

I was fortunate to have had this experience and conscious of the clock ticking with the long drive ahead so I put the foot down in the closing stages and realised that nothing would stop this young lady and she would power home to cross the finish line in style. I was pleased to finally be back on the road after running the majority of the day on a trail with some big rocks to maneuver past. The scenery along the river had been magic with many people in spectacular river front cabins and camping in tents or in motor homes along the journey.

Marathon Man - St Joe River MarathonTalk about a great escape to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and also run a scenic marathon with the freshest quality of country air. The return towards the finish line weaved through residential areas, crossing the train tracks and the local saw mill. There was a nice little hill leading into the finish line and on arrival the presentations for the earlier half marathon and 10km events had commenced. I was really pleased to cross the line in 4:37:41 and have the opportunity to meet up with Devon and her husband Alex and kids for a quick photo before gathering my breath quickly and then jogging back to the car to start on the long return drive to Salt Lake City.

In the end I sincerely felt like a higher power had guided me to this most scenic of locations at the St. Joe Marathon to meet up with Cayla and it was rewarding to later find out later that she had crossed the line for the first time in 4:53:28 and like me be the first in her age group on the day. Hopefully it would not be long before returning to continue the new marathon adventures.

The long drive ahead continued the marathon travels of late and the only way to make the flight was to push it hard back to Salt Lake City and thankfully with only time for three brief stops for petrol I was able to make it into Salt Lake City in around 11 hours to check in for the 11.59pm flight to make it across to Charlotte Airport in North Carolina and then connect to La Guardia Airport in New York arriving into a wet and cool New York City.

St Joe River Marathon Gallery

2013 Statistics:

Marathons Run – 60
Total Distance Run – 2,531.7 km / 1,572.0 miles
US States Completed – AR, AZ, CA, CT, FL, ID, LA, MA, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NV, OH, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI + DC
Countries Completed – England, France, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, USA
Total Drive Distance – 13,511 km / 8,396 miles
Total Flight Distance – 81,978 km / 50,940 miles
Total Train Distance – 2,330 km / 1,447 miles

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