CAPE ELIZABETH — I’ve never understood the point of running. I’ve always been satisfied to get my cardio workout playing co-ed soccer; my strength training at the rock climbing gym. Why would I want to lift weights or go for a jog?
For the past three weeks, I’ve been enjoying the drama of telling people how I was “suckered” by my editor at the last minute into running the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K, but I think the truth is I was curious about that question. Why run? Could I become a runner?
First of all, you have to be kind of crazy to be serious about running. (A marathon-running friend of mine seems to get his kicks running up Munjoy Hill at 5 a.m.)
Driving into Cape Elizabeth on Aug. 1 toward the starting line at Crescent Beach, we passed a few joggers. “That girl better not have a bib number,” my running partner, Lori, said as we crossed Route 77 onto Scott Dyer Road. Sure enough, this crazy woman was warming up for a 6.2 mile race by running several miles to the starting line. And she wasn’t the only one.
We got out of the car and jogged a few hundred yards before settling onto the road shoulder to stretch, surrounded by hundreds of others doing the same. Twenty minutes before start time, we nudged through the crowd of joggers, stretchers, talkers, walkers, high school teams, 50-year-old women, dads and daughters, you name it, toward the “10-minute-mile pace” sign. It was the last sign before “walking,” and the people there seemed pretty normal – none of those Speedo running shorts.
We listened on the speakers as they started the wheelchair race, and my nerves finally kicked in. Six miles? What are we thinking?
I’d interviewed a few running and race experts during the weeks before the race, and everyone said I should try a run-walk routine in order to safely reach the finish line. When race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson asked what my longest run had been during my three weeks of preparation, I couldn’t bear being honest. “Oh, maybe three miles,” I said, exaggerating by a full mile.
She scoffed and told me I should go out that afternoon and run four or five, take a day off, and go for a short jog on Friday to keep my legs for the Saturday race. The last time I ran four or five miles, I was a sophomore in college, and my lacrosse coach would have cut me if I’d refused.
Thursday, I ran about 2.5 miles of Back Bay, from the parking lot to the end of the highway bridge, and made my race-day plan of alternating running two miles with walking quarter miles.
Lori, also not much of a runner, agreed.
We listened to the start of the Kenyans and other elite runners over the loudspeaker, and crept forward with the crowd, speeding up to a jog a few hundred feet before the starting line. As we jogged down the hill that starts the race, we saw before us a multicolored sea of t-shirts.
Realizing I was surrounded by 6,000 runners, the mood changed from fear to awe. I actually had goosebumps.
For the most part, that feeling didn’t change for the entire race. I hardly remember breaking a sweat, and don’t recall ever being out of breath. A mile into the race, we overheard a 12-year-old boy tell his dad: “This is a good all-day pace, we could do this until Mile 4.”
And I had to agree – until the hills started at about Mile 5, I felt I could have kept the same pace for hours. But it had little to do with the actual pace, so much as the adrenaline, the sea of runners, and, mostly, the fans and volunteers lining the road.
The easiest parts of the race were the sections lined with people cheering, clanging bells, spraying sprinklers and hoses across the road. Hand-drawn “You’re awesome” signs kept me going.
Lori said after the race that she got really energized running through the town center, and even on hilly Shore Road, where neighbors stood at the tops of hills cheering runners to the top. “You got it! Almost there! You’re awesome!”
At the Mile 2 sign, we re-evaluated our run-walk scheme and decided to walk a few hundred feet at water stops to drink, and run the rest until we couldn’t. We never reached that point.
Turning into Fort Williams, I actually had to yell at Lori to slow down. The energy of the race was pulling us – fast – up the last hill, and I wasn’t sure we could keep the pace. Somewhere along the route, “You’re walking on sunshine” had blared from speakers, and it’s all I could think of for the last two-tenths of a mile through the park. My feet weren’t actually on the road, and I couldn’t feel my heart pounding in my chest. I sprinted ahead across the finish line, and met Lori with a double high-five and a hug as she crossed.
One hour, eight minutes, 16 seconds. Twenty minutes faster than I’d expected, and with no ambulance rides. My editor would have to wait for another race to get the wished-for photo of a reporter being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by Joan Benoit Samuelson.
We grabbed water and muffins from the media tent, stretched, watched elite runners milling back and forth waiting for the awards ceremony, and made our way up through the park.
One hour, eight minutes, 16 seconds. And hardly sore at all.
Monday morning, a friend called to see if I wanted to jog around Back Bay, and I grabbed my sneakers (which finally look used, after three weeks of training and one 6.2 mile run). We only made it about two miles, proving the energy of the Beach to Beacon was something of a miraculous fluke, but I was still pretty proud I was out running post-race.
In the pre-race interview with Samuelson, she said that for her, running “adds a reason to every day. You start to make room for that run, it becomes a priority during the day.”
“It gets to the point where if you don’t run, you don’t feel right,” she said. “If you’re not there yet, you will be very soon.”
I’m not quite there yet, and I have no plans to try any marathons. But my sneakers are ready for tomorrow morning.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or email@example.com.
Race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson, left, joins the overall men’s and women’s winners of the 2009 TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K, Ed Muge and Irene Limika, both from Kenya. The fifth-place men’s runner, Tekest Kebede of Ethiopia, is in the background. The Cape Elizabeth High School girls soccer team crosses the Beach to Beacon finish line as a group on Aug. 1.Young competitors shoot off the starting line in the Beach to Beacon Kids Fun Run, which was originally scheduled for Friday night, July 31, but was postponed because of rain until after the 10K on Saturday.A birds-eye view of the finish area of the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K, from the observation deck of Portland Head Light at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth.