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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton math teacher shows 16-year resiliency in preparing for Boston Marathon

Dec 01, 2021 02:07PM ● By Julie Slama

After 16 years of trying to run the Boston Marathon, Brighton High math teacher Afton Brown completed it in her best time. (Photo courtesy of Marathonfoto)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In October, Brighton High math teacher Afton Brown took a couple days off and slipped away before the weekend with a neighbor to Boston.  

It wasn’t for a “girls’ getaway,” but rather, the two were running the Boston Marathon.  

Brown didn’t say much to her colleagues or students for fear it wouldn’t happen, because she had been down that road before. 

“It’s taken me like 16 years to get to Boston,” she said. “I wasn’t going to jinx myself and tell anybody that I was running, because after all this time, what if I wasn’t?”

Brown’s first marathon was in 2000 when she ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota soon after graduating from Jordan High. She also ran the Salt Lake City Marathon, but she didn’t start aiming for the Boston Marathon until 2005 when she was trying for a qualifying time of 3:40. Instead, she ran a 3:44 at the St. George Marathon, “so I gave up running marathons. It was way too much time and effort.”

Fast forward 10 years when her neighbor, Susanna Messinger, became her running partner and Brown learned she didn’t put in as much effort as she thought with her previous marathon training.

“We run every morning and she convinced me to try to qualify again,” Brown said, adding that they typically would run 50 miles per week with some speed work mixed into the endurance runs. “So, we did the Utah Valley Marathon in 2018 and I ran a qualifying time. I ran 3:35 and the qualifying time was still 3:40.”

However, even though Brown’s time was fast enough to register, it doesn’t guarantee entry into the race.

“Depending on how many people register, the time drops, and the qualifying time was dropped so I didn’t make it by 12 seconds; so once again, my time was too slow,” she remembered. “It’s heartbreaking because I don’t know, I thought for sure I was in and I told people, ‘Hey, I made it into Boston’ and I really didn’t.”

Still determined, Brown ran the 2019 Ogden Marathon and finished with a time of 3:29.68, but this time, the qualifying time was faster at 3:35. 

“It gave me a five-minute buffer and I was fast enough to get in (the lottery). I got a confirmation that I made it and my running partner made it and we trained through all winter. Then, like everything else, the race (set for spring 2020) got canceled and rescheduled for fall 2020, which of course, didn’t happen. They bumped it again, and cut the field size significantly,” she said.

Aging up proved helpful in this case as a slower qualifying time was posted for her age group so her time still qualified her—otherwise, Brown said, she’d be still trying to qualify.

Then, the race set for Patriots Day 2021 was delayed until October.

With each postponement of the race, it meant changing her flight and hotel plans and hoping she still would be able to run the race of her dreams.

At long last, Brown packed her bags, flew to Boston and checked in, but it wasn’t until the night before the race when she picked up her race packet that she believed there was a chance it would happen.

“I had a nightmare that I couldn’t find my COVID vaccine card, and I couldn’t prove I was vaccinated, so I had this constant fear that running it wouldn’t actually happen,” she said.

Meanwhile, a colleague shared with others that Brown was to run the Boston Marathon “so I got a lot of people wishing me good luck beforehand.” 

Still, reality didn’t quite hit until she was at the rolling start after taking a shuttle bus to the start.

Then, Brown said she made the wise decision to go out slow.

“It seemed like a really humid day and a lot of people had a hard time, but I started out super conservative,” she said. “The course starts out downhill at first, then it has some hills at the end, and it seemed like a lot of people started too fast and struggled on the hills. I fortunately didn’t. I think having the hills at the end is what makes that course so difficult. They call it Heartbreak Hill because that mile 21 you’re climbing.”

Each time Brown passed a sensor along the racecourse, she had a surge of positive energy.

“I knew my family was getting an update on my time, and some back home were tracking my progress and they were sending me positive messages,” she said.

The entire 26.2-mile course, Brown said, was lined with fans.

“The crowd, their energy, it’s pretty amazing. One of the fans said, ‘You look great’ and I picked it up a little. They were cheering on everyone—and at the finish area, there were even more fans,” she said.

This was meant to be her time to race as Brown ran 3:27, her best time.

“I really just wanted to be under 3:30 again. I just wanted to have it happen. So many times, I had a fear that it was going to be canceled again,” she said. “It took me a really long time to get here, so it meant a lot to me. The race was everything I dreamed of—the crowd, the city, the volunteers, the course, it was all worth it. I loved every minute of it and I’m mostly grateful that I was able to do it, thankful for the experience that I was able to experience something that I’d dreamt about for so long.”