Last summer was a summer of firsts. I sang a solo. I earned my motorcycle license. I traveled to Africa and cried at the sight of wild lions and elephants. I attended FIVE weddings. And I decided to run my first half marathon. Yep, I thought it was time to try a challenging 13.1 distance run for the first time in my life.
I’d squeeze in a run when I could. I’d peel my body from bed at 5 am on fair weathered days, shove my headphones in, and run at a leisurely pace until I felt accomplished. I continued with this until August, when I boarded a plane for Africa. I returned home, ran 10.5 miles, and decided I was just going to show up for my race and wing it. And that’s exactly what I did.
I remember seeing this group of women in bright pink shirts around mile eleven. They had enough breath to encourage each other. “Come on ladies – we got this!” I watched the herd of pink shirts slowly pass me, as they continued on – constant and strong. I stared down angrily at my sneakers, which felt like cinder blocks, and focused intently on putting one foot in front of the other… and I did just that until I crossed the finish line at KSC.
Since I’m here writing, it’s obvious I didn’t die. I finished the race, collected my medal, and ate my victory meal of chicken wings at Elm City. I returned home, unlaced my running shoes and left them in my closet for five months until I got the itch to run one warm day in February. I continued casually running until mid-June when I spontaneously signed up for the race again. It was about the same time that I heard about the FREE, “13 in 13” training program. I didn’t think twice. I jumped on DeMar’s website and signed up immediately. I met the ladies in the pink shirts at my first run. I was introduced to one of the most supportive, encouraging group of people I have ever met. I fell in love with my community all over again.
This past summer I’ve run tempos, distance, marathon simulations, progressions, and “easy” runs. I’ve run uphill, through rain, in 90% humidity, in direct sunlight, in eighty degree heat… but I haven’t done it alone. There’s a single mom who has inspirational life chats with me on our distance runs. There’s a 69 year old man who’s running his first half marathon – ever – before his 7th decade. There’s a lady that offers me fruit chews and announces our pace at every mile. There’s a coach who singles me out and tells me I could be a rock star. And along with them, there are a bunch of other people smiling, joking, and persevering – one step and one run at a time.
The thing that distinguishes a community is first its people, but second is what those people value, and how they act to bring those visions to life. It takes the 38 year old road race to partner with the local establishments. It takes the local physical therapist’s custom training program to come to life. It takes the local owner of a personalized fitness center sacrificing four days of her week to plan routes, pep talk, run every course, and keep it fun. It takes the local shoe and sport store to open up his doors as a starting point for the long runs. It takes the support of the local Rotary Club and the local newspaper who prints weekly excerpts with training tips, runner biographies, and reflective pieces on the training process. And then it takes a group of immensely brave, determined community members to show up, engage and put this vision into action.
I will run 13.1 miles on Sunday, September 25th in Keene, NH. I’m not sure what color the shirt will be this year, but I know I will be there in spirit and comradery with my fellow runners. I will be stronger, faster and better prepared, with tunnel vision on that finish line. And after the sweat has dried and the pain has healed, I will be honored to be a part of this unique, small town community which affords me the opportunity for incredible experiences and memories such as this summer. Thank you to all of my fellow 13 in 13 runners. I’ll see you at the finish line!
Here are a few snapshots of my favorite run of the summer with the 13 in 13 group… our run around Spofford Lake!