My Aunt Diane gave me the best piece of advice for running. It’s a quote she has stuck on her fridge. Printed on a white page in heavy type are the words, “Dead Last finish is greater than Did Not Finish, which trumps Did Not Start.”
She reminds me of the quote every time I struggle with my speed or distance, or just the ability to get one foot off the couch, out the door and on pavement. She lost her husband to colon cancer in 2004 and ran her first race, Mary’s Walk, benefiting the Maine Cancer Foundation in 2008. A veteran of 29 races since then, she is my running inspiration.
I played field hockey and lacrosse growing up – two sports where your mind is taken off running and instead primarily focused on putting the ball in the net. I was never the fastest but always had the heart. I opted to wear my full goalie kit while running sprints, having the squeaks from the foam pads rubbing against each other with each stride and cheering my teammates on ahead of me. I could have taken them off but I didn’t want to take an easier way out and instead pushed myself. Always finishing, never complaining.
In 2010, I made the decision to sign up for the Beach to Beacon 10K road race. Running this beautiful race that I’ve heard so much about was one of my few life goals and seemingly more realistic than the rest of the list: marry newly single Ryan Reynolds, have the lady version of the aforementioned future Mr. Bell’s abs, visit Paris, have a hefty savings account, etc.
Besides the spectacular views, I heard the race was all about the community. The heart. People cheer you on the whole way, scream your name written on your bib and even blast you with water or sweet jams from their speakers they rent once a year for the occasion. The community carries you through. Runners have told me they never felt their feet touch the ground the whole race, nor could they hear the doubts race through their head over the deafening cheers.
My roommate is the closest thing I have to a training partner. We’ll call him Joe Benoit Samuelson to protect his identity. He told me the night before the online Beach to Beacon registration that he was going to try and sign up. Having this built-in alarm clock, I decided to sign up, because if I can’t run a 10K at 25, saving that item on what will be my bucket list, rather than my life’s to-do list, might not be as easy.
He got in while I dealt with error messages. Registration closed in a matter of minutes so I decided to try the lottery. When I checked my online bank statement a week later and saw $35 had been deducted from Beach to Beacon race registration, I yelped and proceeded to forward my digital confirmation to my family and friends. Subject: Holy (expletives!)
The day I got in, in March 2010, I went to Borders and got a journal and a guide to running. I kept track of daily workouts, diet and a running countdown until the big day. I wrote of my fears and feelings with each workout.
When the race day came, I couldn’t sleep I was so terrified. We made our way from the big city to the starting line in Cape, arriving with about 15 minutes to spare. I was in total panic, running purely on adrenaline, so I tried to look busy stretching out. Route 77 had been blocked off and all I could see were the 5,500 other runners. People littered the woods on either side of the road, relieving nervous bladders before the 8 a.m. start. We were packed in, just waiting, when we heard a distant horn blast. The elite runners had started but we wouldn’t move for about five minutes. Then, the pack of sardines dressed in spandex and moisture-wicking material pushed forward and we were off. I hadn’t given too much thought to the start of the race. We were all moving for a few hundred feet when all of a sudden the start line and giant balloon arch appeared. (I had mentally budgeted running for exactly 6.2 miles and was hoping for some credit on the back end to make up for this run before the official start.)
I crossed the start line with two simple goals: Finish the race and do it before the 2-hour mark (at which point they start handing out medals to the Kenyans.) I hoped to spare my family the shame of seeing their daughter in her bright pink shirt, tripping across the finish line in a huge front page photo as the elite runners were already cooled down, napped, massaged and receiving their trophies.
In the last few miles, there is a beautiful turn on Shore Road that offers you the first real look at the ocean. It’s one of my favorite spots in the world. As I took in the awesome, expansive view, I realized how perfect the weather was (cloudy and warm). I thought to myself, if I have the opportunity to sign up before registration closes in 2 minutes next year, I would love to do this again.
Old me would have slapped the new, almost-a-runner-me in the shin splints.
It was the closest thing to the runners high (that I keep hearing so much about) that I’ve experienced.
This March, when signups rolled around, I registered with ease. Last year when I was training, I kept pushing every day because I was terrified. This year, I have slacked and am in serious denial, using the rationale that because I did it last year, I can totally do it again with little to no training. (That’s the procrastinator in me.)
I went out for a jog in preparation for writing this column and to prepare for the race in less than a month. It made me realize that, while totally screwed, with a few simple tricks I can fake it until I make it and am one day on that sweet runner’s high. (You’ll know I’m there when you see me sprinting around town in my sports bra/hot pants without crippling anxiety.)
First and foremost among my tricks, make a bitchin’ playlist. Fast beats, angry gangster rap, Gaga, and anything in the title saying, “run, finish” or “gotta get through this” are a must. Some running purists would disagree, but I love having music to distract me of the pain and struggle. I would label myself a music fan who occasionally runs. For me, it’s more about the iPod than the Asics.
They say running is all mental: I tell myself I can do anything for 30 seconds or 1 minute to push myself past the next turn or telephone pole. I’ve found that reminding myself what I’m doing in that very second helps, too. Chanting, “I’m a runner” over and over whenever I have any doubt keeps one foot in front of the other. If your head believes it, your feet will, too.
It also helps to have a partner. Your own Joe Benoit Samuelson, if you will. The guilt you will experience if you leave a friend hanging at 7 a.m. is worse than the pain your legs will feel. In a pinch, a virtual friend will suffice. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app for $1. It provides interval training, starting off with mostly walking but adding in running for short bursts over the eight-week training schedule. Depending on your workout, you’re told to run or walk over the music you want to listen to from your personal library. You don’t have to think, just follow the robot voice.
And if all else fails, I try to take in the beauty around me, whether it’s the sunset casting a bronzy glow on the world, or the beautiful piece of man meat running on the next treadmill (bonus points for finding one without a shirt). Be thankful for health and each step. It’s only running, after all. It’s supposed to be fun, right?
Good luck to all the women participating in Tri for a Cure. To the athletes raising money for cancer research, physically pushing the limits of your bodies while being a part of an amazing community – you truly are the heart.
Katie Bell and Joe Cote celebrate at the end of the 2010 Beach
to Beacon, at Fort Williams, in front of the beacon, Portland
Headlight. Look for her in the exact same outfit this year; she is
superstitious and believes a lucky headband/shirt/shorts combo will
fill the holes in her training shortcomings.