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Journey was tiring, yet inspiring

Last weekend, I joined more than 4,000 runners on more than 400 teams, running Reach the Beach, a 205-mile relay that took us from Franconia to Hampton Beach.

I have run races, but this one was different, partly because of the physical challenge of running through the night on very little sleep, and partly because I was part of a team. And for me, it was a special team.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer and went through a difficult treatment. This spring, feeling healthy and ready for a new challenge, I said “yes” when the doctor who I credit with saving my life invited me to join the Monadnock Community Hospital Care Bears Reach the Beach team. While my surveillance tests show I’m cancer-free, nothing could make me feel healthier than crossing that finish line in Hampton Beach with my team.

Looking back, it was fun, exciting, challenging and kind of crazy. Much of the weekend is a blur. The combination of exertion, adrenalin, and too little sleep left me discombobulated. I came away with a handful of observations:

∎ Running with a team adds a level of support, encouragement and camaraderie that runners don’t often experience. It also adds a sense of responsibility and self-inflicted pressure to push harder. I was a newbie – one of three new to the race in our van of six runners, which was half of our two-van, 12-member team. I didn’t know what to expect, other than I needed to be prepared to run three “legs” over 24-plus hours. The distances I had to run were 8.62 miles, 5.64 miles and 3.15 miles, or just over 17 in all. It all seemed manageable until I went to the race website and saw the description for my first leg as “8.62 miles: hard.” I didn’t need much more to be worried! I knew I could do the mileage but was concerned about the pace I could hold. But team encouragement and pride kicked in. I remember thinking, while slogging up a hill in the dark, “I can’t let my team down.” Being part of a team also brings laughter, 4 a.m. giddiness, and the closeness and solidarity that come with accomplishing a goal together.

∎  Running at night is an acquired taste. My second run started around 2 a.m. With my head lamp and reflective vest on, and my rear blinker blinking, I was ready. I was running through Laconia, and in town, there was plenty of light, but once out of town, heading up a long hill, it was dark – just me and the reflectors on the guardrail. With visibility limited to my head lamp’s reach, I couldn’t get a real sense of where I was or how much farther I had to go. Some on my team assured me that hills are better when you can’t see the top. I’m not sure I agree. I liked the solitude of it, though, and was really glad to not have any late-night wildlife encounters.

∎  Eating between runs is necessary but tricky and port-a-potties are never a pleasant experience.

∎ Running in the rain is lousy, and I didn’t even have to do it. Helen and Beth, our van’s first two runners, started the race in the pouring rain on roads with cars and 18-wheelers barreling by, pelting them with 55-mph-spray. Both posted great times – right on pace or better – and I was amazed at their resilience.

∎  The Monadnock region is well represented at Reach the Beach. In addition to the Wonder Women and Sub5 guys and two teams from Dublin School, Lou Heikkila and Mary Fish of the Souhegan Valley Ambulance Service in New Ipswich were there. I met Lou early Saturday morning at Bear Brook State Park, where we had slept, or tried to sleep, for a few hours while waiting for our team’s other van of runners to complete their legs. Lou has been an EMT at Reach the Beach for a number of years and until this year, her partner was Rhonda Traffie. On Saturday, at the Windblown Ski Area in New Ipswich, a 5K race will be held in Rhonda’s memory and to raise money for local families affected by cancer. Given Rhonda’s commitment to helping runners, it seems a perfect way to remember her. To register, go to  www.guardianssnh.com.

My lesson in all of this is that goals, even the most challenging, are achievable with personal commitment and the help of the camaraderie, encouragement and support of your team, whoever that might be. If you’re looking for a 5K, run Rhonda’s Race Saturday. You’ll feel the pride of accomplishment at the finish line, knowing you’re helping the community.

Heather McKernan is publisher of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

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