Race #2 – Running for Volunteer Firefighters, First Responders

By Karen Hendricks

Once you make the decision that you will not fail, the heart and body will follow.

Kara Goucher

I faced and conquered a life-long fear during this race! That’s what the above quote from two-time Olympian runner Kara Goucher references. More on that, in a moment.

Ringing the PR bell at Bethany

Race #2: Bethany Beach First Responders Sports Weekend: Half Marathon (they also do a Triathlon & 5K), Bethany Beach, DE

The cause: The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and First Responders

DYK: 70-75% of all firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers? In terms of the number of American fire companies, 85% are all or mostly staffed by volunteers. Fundraising is often a major component of their operating budgets. In Bethany Beach, fundraisers help pay for firefighting gear and equipment, plus building improvements.  Many of our communities entrust our homes, our towns, our personal safety, to firefighters who “choose” to protect us. I feel strongly that this is noble calling that we should not take lightly or for granted.

Bethany Beach is one of our family’s favorite beach vacation spots, so this weekend’s race was the perfect opportunity to give back to this community we love, celebrate my belated birthday weekend with my husband, celebrate the “last hurrah” (last weekend) of summer, and include my favorite race distance–the half marathon–in at least one of my 50 races.

It was also an opportunity to face one of my biggest fears. I was drawn to the Bethany Beach Half Marathon, but once I saw the race route, I almost wrote it off. That’s because the route travels over the Indian River Inlet Bridge on U.S. Route 1–not once, but twice since it’s an out-and-back course. I have a life-long fear of heights, especially high bridges, and especially those that are “peaked” with a steep ascent and descent. I struggle to drive, let alone run, on peaked bridges.

The Indian River Inlet Bridge

Visualization is a powerful tool for runners. My coach Fred at Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg first introduced me to visualization about two years ago and described it as a way to anticipate anything that could go wrong in a race and mentally prepare yourself to be successful through those challenges.

I’ve also been reading two-time Olympian Kara Goucher’s book Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You. I love the format because it includes journaling pages where her prompts help you personalize the book with your own struggles and stories. Her section on visualization techniques is AMAZING.

To fully reach your potential, you must first be able to see it in your mind’s eye.

Kara Goucher, “Strong”

I visualized myself successfully running across this bridge (and back!) during every one of my training runs for the past several months. I talked myself through the entire race course, especially focusing on the bridge, and conquering this fear. A lot of people say “50 is fabulous” but I say “50 is fearless.”

Also, back to “the cause” for a moment. Can you imagine the courage required of first responders and firefighters to deliberately put their own lives in danger in order to serve their communities? Surely if they can respond to emergencies and tragedies, and handle varying degrees of fear, then surely I can overcome a fear of heights–while doing what I love, running.

Race time!

So, fast forward to Saturday, September 21! My wonderful supportive husband cheered and took photos at the 7:15 race start. The starting line was literally behind our hotel, right on the boardwalk, so I had the “luxury” of leaving our hotel room at 7 am. It was a beautiful summer day, clear blue sky, and I felt completely relaxed and ready. Tapering my long runs for the past two weeks made me feel like I had tons of energy.

I loved the entire course–we headed north on U.S. Route 1 to start, took a few miles on wooded, shaded trails around Fresh Pond State Park, then we rejoined Route 1, and there it was nearly two miles ahead in the distance–the bridge. I had a moment’s hesitation, then I felt determined and excited to conquer the bridge.

No lanes of traffic were shut down on the bridge; runners had to utilize the outer pedestrian/bike lanes along the outer edges of the bridge–a true test. I would have been much more comfortable somewhere in the middle of the bridge!

It felt amazing to reach the peak of the bridge and look down on the white waves breaking on the shores at Delaware Seashore State Park up ahead. The sun was glinting and casting diamonds of light on the ocean. It was also an amazing feeling to speed (fly?) down the bridge’s descent. The course looped around the state park a bit, and under the bridge, so it was another mile till we returned over the bridge, on the other side. I actually had tears in my eyes and I paused to take a photo as I came down off the bridge for the second time. There was such a strong feeling of accomplishment, that honestly that would have been victory enough for me, no matter how the rest of the race went.

Finishing the second crossing of the bridge!

But the truth was, I was ahead of my half marathon pace, and feeling super strong heading into mile 9, so I decided to continue to push my pace because I was on track for a PR (personal record or personal best). I have never sprinted the final half mile of a half marathon before, but I did at Bethany–and it helped that the course turned onto the Bethany Beach boardwalk lined with cheering spectators. I finished with a race PR that cut nearly 3 minutes off my typical half marathon time–that was the icing on the cake… at the age of 50… at a race that benefitted volunteers who protect and serve their community.

Good luck on your half. Conquer the bridge. Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Do one thing each day that scares you.’ This will be your one thing.

-My friend Crystal’s text, the night before the race

The fact of the matter is that running is not for the faint of heart. I think those of us who run also secretly (or perhaps not secretly) love the challenge. We like to push ourselves and test our limits. If you share the feeling, you probably already know that in running, you encounter tough and unpredictable moments. You can combat these uncomfortably moments by preparing with visualization. Then, if or when you encounter this situation, you know you can handle it because you have already conquered it through visualization.

Kara Goucher, in “Strong”

Know about a great cause or race I should run during my 50 races to benefit 50 causes? Feel free to comment below!

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