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How many laps does it take to run a marathon around Salt Lake City’s rainbow whale?

Four men stand arm in arm in front of a rainbow whale sculpture.
Martha Harris
From left to right, Caleb Leftwich, Wyn Barnett, Jackson Bradshaw and Evan Service stand in front of the “Out of the Blue” whale sculpture in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood on Oct. 30, 2023. The four friends came up with the idea of running a marathon around the whale sculpture and completed the “Whaleathon” on Oct. 21, 2023.

What do you get when you run around Salt Lake City’s giant, rainbow-colored whale 630 times? Some blisters, and the honor of having completed the 26.2 mile-long “Whaleathon.”

It’s an unofficial, open challenge that was dreamed up by four friends who were the first ones to run it on Oct. 21.

The whale, a public art piece officially known as “Out of the Blue,” sits in the middle of a traffic roundabout. It’s a 0.04-mile loop, according to Wyn Barnett, one of the original runners.

Barnett was training for the Salt Lake City Marathon with his friends Jackson Bradshaw, Evan Service and Caleb Leftwich earlier this year. During one of their training runs, Service said, the friends decided to run around the whale roundabout several times as a joke. Then, taking it a step further, the friends thought it would be funny to run an entire marathon around the whale.

Bradshaw wasn’t able to do the Salt Lake City Marathon with the rest of the group, but the friends still wanted to run a marathon together. So, they picked a date and decided to turn the Whaleathon joke into a reality.

A marathon is challenging as is, but running in a tight circle for 26.2 miles brings some unique challenges.

“It’s just a constant turn. Your body is leaned in towards the whale the entire time,” Leftwich said. “All your joints are screaming.”

Around mile 16, Leftwich said his right knee was throbbing. The pain was so excruciating that he stopped running and walked for about 10 laps.

Braden Ure used the Strava app to track the 26.2 miles he ran around the whale sculpture.
Braden Ure used the Strava app to track the 26.2 miles he ran around the whale sculpture.

Every 30 to 45 minutes, the group switched directions, but the uneven, angled surface in the center of the roundabout was still a challenge to run on. Bradshaw said he started to feel it in his ankles and had to change his shoes. Even though it was uncomfortable and painful at times, Bradshaw kept pushing through.

“I think all of us being together really helped. We were all obviously experiencing it all at the same time and all in the same pain. And we’re able to talk to each other and cheer each other up,” Bradshaw said.

The four runners said they’ve been repeatedly asked if they got dizzy while running in a circle 630 times, but they say they didn’t. It was also less tedious than they were expecting, and Leftwich thinks the time flew by because they were doing it together. The group tracked the number of laps they’d run with clickers.

“Personally, I think the Salt Lake City [marathon] that we did earlier this year was more difficult than this,” Leftwich said.

The group was also supported by people who drove or walked by the roundabout. Barnett said people would cheer and honk for the runners, but they also asked ‘why?’

To that question, all four said it was fun to do something ridiculous and a funny badge of honor.

“I think it was just fun to come up with something to, like, make your own fun,” Bradshaw said. “For me, it was my first marathon, and it’s definitely not one that I’m going to forget.”

Before Barnett ran the Whaleathon, he said his goal was to get one other person to do it. But since Oct. 21, eight more people and one dog have run it.

BYU student Braden Ure joined the finishers club after he ran it with his friends on Oct. 28.

“It’s just always fun to do something hard with a bunch of people that you love and care for,” Ure said.

Leftwich joked that he wants the Whaleathon to get so popular that the city puts planters around the statue to prevent people from running around it.

The whale has something of a cult following online, with people joking that it’s the reason Utah received so much snow this past winter — saying “All hail the whale.” After running hundreds of laps, the original four runners all say they’re “team whale.”

“The world's really serious a lot of the time, and this is something that's not so serious,” Bradshaw said.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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