Running My First Non-Disney Race

Beach to Beacon 10K
Beach to Beacon 10K

Recently I participated in my first race outside of Walt Disney World. I don’t consider myself a serious runner, but have done eight 5Ks previously, so this wasn’t my first race either. My running adventures started after I had major knee surgery five years ago. I set a goal for myself to do a race two years after I was up on two good legs again. I completed this goal by participating in my first runDisney race in October of 2010, doing the Mickey’s Halloween 5K through the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Since that first race, I have completed several more 5Ks, all at Disney, and even did all of the 5Ks that they offered in 2011. This secondary goal was challenging, especially since I ended up running a couple not knowing I had bronchitis at the time. I thought at some point I should continue to test myself by increasing my distance and that I should do a 10K. When I lived in Cape Elizabeth, Maine there was a race that was founded there by Olympic marathon runner Joan Benoit Samuelson who was from the town. In the back of my mind I planted the seed that I wanted to do this race sometime as my first 10K. I had cheered before and seen friends from high school return home to participate in the race as it passed just blocks from my dad’s house.

Fast forward to 2013 and I decided to follow through with this goal and registered for the Beach to Beacon 10K. I have subsequently registered for the inaugural Minnie 10K at Disney during marathon weekend of January 2014. I knew Beach to Beacon was the biggest race in the state of Maine, but didn’t know exactly what I was getting in to. I tried asking friends who had run the race before or knew someone who had. I tweeted at the race account on Twitter and wrote on their Facebook wall to find out things I couldn’t see on their website. I verified that they do not sweep runners and that there was no required pace to participate. This helped assuage my fears a bit.

The race registration is rather insane, even more so than Disney races from what I’ve experienced. It filled up in 4 minutes for the over 4,000 slots that were available and then another 1,950 went to lottery winners. Fortunately, I set my alarm and was up early in March when registration opened around 6am. I’ve gotten up early for races before and even to cheer, but never before just to register. Within a minute I had confirmation of my entrance in the race after I paid the $45 fee. This is one of the major differences between Disney and non-Disney races: the fees. I usually pay in excess of $50 just for 5Ks at Disney, and I think I paid $110 for the 10K coming up in January.

I’ll skip over my training, because I didn’t really do enough of it to say the least. My work schedule has me unavailable from 1:30pm – 12:30am including commute and I’m not much of a morning person. I suffered for this, trust me. I got to Maine the Thursday before the Saturday race. That afternoon the expo and packet pickup were held from 4-8pm at the high school I attended. It was also on Friday from 2:30 – 8pm. This was a similar setup to what I was used to at Disney races in that you got your bib and pins based on your bib number. Based on bib numbers it appeared that over 6,800 runners eventually registered. The odd thing to me at the packet pickup and expo was that I didn’t have to show photo id or present a waiver.

Race packet pickup
Race packet pickup
Picking up bibs
Picking up bibs
Race expo
Race expo
Bib
Bib
Race shirt front
Race shirt front
Race shirt back
Race shirt back

The expo was familiar with shoe and clothing vendors, Cabot cheese, Gatorade gel blocks, massages, people getting taped up, etc. Shirts were picked up in the expo when you presented your bib and they marked on the back that you got your tech shirt. ESPN Boston had a booth present and there were several local news crews there during the expo, which was a little different. Outside the expo a local Italian restaurant was making free small plates of choose your own pasta for anyone who wanted to wait in line. My brother tried this and said it was really good.

When I was at packet pickup I asked if they had the finisher’s medal on display. This is where I learned there was no medal for the race participants, only prize money for the winners in each category. I had spoken with friends who ran last year and got medals, but didn’t find out til this point that the medal was a special thing just to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the race. I have to admit I was more than a little upset/disappointed. Many runners will admit that they continue to run for the bling. While I was doing the race to achieve a new personal distance goal, I was also doing it for the medal.

I tried to rest the day before the race and get to bed early. I woke up every hour pretty much because I was making sure I wouldn’t get dehydrated. Just the week before the temperatures in Maine were in the 90s and had crazy humidity. There had been a half marathon in Portland the previous week where numerous participants were hospitalized for dehydration. I wasn’t going to end up in the hospital on this trip (been there, done that).

Gear ready to go
Gear ready to go

The race didn’t start until 8am, but they recommended that everyone be at the start between 6:30 and 7am, so I was up at 6am ready to go. Like most races, I had all of my gear and clothes out and ready to wear the night before. Start line was a bit before Crescent Beach State Park and the finish line was at Portland Headlight at Fort Williams (hence the Beach to Beacon title). Most runners park at the high school or get dropped off there, and then are shuttled by school buses to the start line a couple miles away. I was warned that the high school parking lot fills up quickly, so I opted to park at the adjacent middle school and walk a few blocks to the buses.

Now, I knew going into this race that it was usually won by elite runners from Kenya who were often Olympic medalists or marathon winners from prestigious races like Boston. I was not prepared for what I encountered on the bus or at the start. While riding from the high school to the start I heard a few ladies in front of me discussing how they were upset at 9 minute miles on their recent training runs. Several of my friends are capable of this, but I typically train at a 15 minute mile. This is when I started to get apprehensive that I was way in over my head. Then we got to the start.

At the start I saw the typical line for bag check, portapotties galore, and then the signs for the corrals, which were self placing. I walked toward the front, since I had over an hour and 15 minutes before the race, and saw the last corral for the slowest time was a 10 minute mile. This did not help my nerves. Like Disney races, the wheelchairs started about ten minutes before everyone else. As I got closer to the start line, I saw that the corral behind the elite runners was for a 5 minute mile. It isn’t that there aren’t elite runners in the Disney races, but this was almost exclusively elite runners. There were no Sunday joggers in this race.

The race was started by a runner who was injured in the Boston Marathon, and we were off. There were no fireworks, which I’ve grown accustomed to, but there was a DJ that I could hear as I approached the start line. I had driven the course the day before and knew it well from living in the town for years. I was on pace for my 15 minute mile, but towards the end of the first mile I pulled my left hip and felt a pinch. I tried jogging some more, but the uneven plane of the road only aggravated it, so I slowed to a walk.

Sun rising before the race
Sun rising before the race
Noticed increased police presence
Noticed increased police presence
Dropped off at the start
Dropped off at the start
In the corral
In the corral
Waiting to start
Waiting to start
Start line
Start line
Mile 1 with the inn I worked at in high school behind
Mile 1 with the inn I worked at in high school behind

I was so discouraged and realized I was in dead last place only 18 minutes and a little over a mile into the 6.2 mile race. Tempted to quit, I came around a bend to people cheering me on. The other runners closest to me were already out of sight, so they were all cheering for me. Dozens of people outside their homes were there waiting just for me. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion since I’ve never been close to a position of being last in a race with my Disney fun runs. Then I went by one of my high school friend’s houses and she and her mom were out there cheering. Her mom, who was our high school nurse, came running out to me and gave me a big hug saying how proud she was of me. It was at that moment that I knew I wasn’t going to quit. No matter how long it took me, I was going to finish.

Shortly after this, I passed my old neighborhood and kids came running up to me wanting to give me high fives as I passed by at my walking pace. I’ve participated in eight races prior to this and never before have spectators and people cheering along the course meant so much to me. Unlike Disney races, which often take place in a park or places where most people can’t cheer, this race is through neighborhoods and through the center of town. There are literally hundreds, if not more, people along the race route standing in groups of dozens at a time at the end of their street or on their front lawn. To have people there still when I was a good 10-15 minutes behind everyone else at this point was so incredible. More than a few times I cried, completely touched by everyone’s support.

There was a truck following me to indicate the end of the race and I slowed up between mile two and three to make sure he wasn’t going to pull me from the course. I knew that I would make it before the road closures listed were scheduled to open back up, but again, I’m used to Disney sweeping on longer races if you don’t keep pace. He said he was there as long as I was moving, so don’t worry. This was reassuring, but I was still in a lot of pain and wasn’t even to the halfway point.

My dad, his wife, and my brother were waiting for me just after the 3.1 mile marker and they asked if I wanted to quit or if I wanted them to walk the rest of the way with me. I was not quitting. I was in pain, but that wasn’t going to stop if I did, plus I’d have to deal with the failure. I declined their offer to accompany me and I kept on moving. As I kept on, the crowds continued to be extremely supportive and called out my name as I neared. Around mile 4 I started seeing runners heading back towards me since it was quicker for them to run back to the start than to wait for the buses.

There is something about the acknowledgement wave or nod of the head from another runner that is some of the best encouragement one can ever get. No matter how slow I was going up and down the winding hills, I was still moving and people seemed to be impressed that I hadn’t given up yet. Between mile 5 and 6 a police officer pulled up beside me to let me know that I could keep going, but to stick to the right lane since they were going to open traffic from the other direction. One of the paramedics jumped out of her ambulance and asked if she could walk with me for a bit, and I let her for about half a mile before I entered Fort Williams and left her behind. As I climbed the last hill, I knew my friend Cindy was still amazingly waiting for me at the finish. She had driven over from Vermont for the weekend for a getaway, but also to cheer me on. She got there around 6am, and was now there at the finish with a homemade medal for me after 10am.

Mile 6
Mile 6
Finish Line
Finish Line
Race photo
Race photo
Medal Cindy made me
Medal Cindy made me

There were literally no other spectators other than Cindy. The photographers were there to capture my finish, along with the medical tent staff just to make sure I didn’t need any medical attention. I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment that I had hoped, but more perseverance. I had been off of twitter and facebook since mile 1, but had been texting with Cindy to let her know I was still alive. When I finished I was completely overwhelmed by the amazing support from friends near and far who had been cheering me on. I took my time walking almost another half mile or so to get to the bus back to the high school I stopped and had a breakfast of orange slices, watermelon and a lime popsicle.

Portland Press Herald with race coverage
Portland Press Herald with race coverage
Dead last finish, but I did it
Dead last finish, but I did it

This was one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of my entire life. I didn’t know what I was getting in to. I didn’t train well enough, and I suffered for it. I did it, and I don’t ever need to do it again. I finished, but barely. My time of 2:17.34 was a personal record, and I ended up doing about 8 miles all in with getting to start everything. What I think meant the most to me was later that day and the next day getting messages from two friends in particular that said I inspired them. I don’t know that I have ever been an inspiration to anyone before, and this made me feel incredible that I helped them not give up. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way. It was an amazing experience I don’t ever care to duplicate. I do look forward to doing better in January and breaking my PR, but with a lot more training under my belt. If I can hobble through this race, anyone can do it! Train properly and reach your goals.

No matter what, always remember DLF>DNF>DNS.

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