Why I Run: Sarah Bowen Shea + Friends

Two of the big "reasons" why I run: Molly (blue) and Kristin (purple)

I run for myriad reasons—to feel alive, to test my limits, to be outside, to listen to music without kids talking over it, to get out of the house, to not look like I eat as much as I do (a lot!)—but in the last few years, an overriding reason has been to spend time with friends. Brunch or coffee dates aren't my scene, but more and more, I now get in my socializing on the pavement before the sun peeks over the horizon. Two of my bestest running buds are Molly and Kristin, who took on Portland’s Holiday Half on December 16. I was supposed to run it with them, but then I double-booked a family vacation. I was with them in spirit—and now you can, too, thanks to their joint race report. Enjoy!

Six months ago, my new friend Sarah Bowen Shea caught me at a weak moment: I’d just finished a half-marathon 44 seconds shy of my goal [2:00:44]; I was susceptible to peer pressure. Sarah hugged me, smiled enthusiastically, and waxed eloquently about a mythical future race that we would do together. In this race, she would unlock the secret to achieving an under-two-hour half-marathon. As we were talking, laughing in fact, Molly walked up and was quickly swept up in the plan. Molly had already been able to attain this elusive goal with SBS but she wanted to reclaim the euphoric feeling of doing it again. It all sounded, well, doable to be honest. In the sunny, late spring weather I thought, no I knew, I could do it.

We had some great training runs. When you find people to share thoughts, ideas, plans, frustrations, and joy with over the miles, it elevates the soul. I wish that for everyone. Sarah kept us on track, watching her Garmin to make sure we stayed on pace. Kristin had a day that was hard to keep the pace, and I had a day where I barely kept the pace (and looked for every chance to stop for traffic or a red light). Both Kristin and I had doubts about how race day would go, but Sarah acted like we were in good shape for the race (she’s like that).

Like any good OCD racer, I began checking the weather forecast 10 days in advance (and probably more than 10 times a day).

Slow pan across a crowd of elves, Santas, reindeer, and other athletic holiday types. The crowd parts as three beautiful, elfen women approach, sparkly skirts blowing in the sideways rain.

Yup, race day was cold, damp, and windy. Sarah was in Mexico. Does that even seem fair? Kristin had recruited her friend Shauna to pace us in Sarah’s absence. Shauna couldn’t have been more gracious about helping us. She is a fasty and 100 years younger than I am. But what she lacked in fat and age, she made up for in grace and encouragement. The woman had even written down the split times on waterproof paper to keep us on track. After a long line for the porta-potties, we are off.

It’s rainy, windy and chilly, but the energy is amazing. When people cheer for each other, something happens to your feet. You get faster whether you mean to or not. We are weaving through the crowd, making our way to the middle of the pack. There are great, festive outfits everywhere, including a guy rocking an all lime green Lycra “Elf” costume--a little frightening and quite ballsy at the same time. All around us are smiles, grimaces, and the race cacophony comprised of eager chatter among friends in the beginning miles of a race. I love this sound: It’s like the hum of a hive. So much is going on and so many people have worked so hard to get to this moment. Things are good.

At Mile 4 my right quad started to give me trouble. Harumph, that’s new. Like any runner, however, I largely ignore it and keep running. Molly, in her usual style, is running so lightly on the tips of her toes she looks like a fairy princess about to tap someone with her magical fairy dust-filled wand. Although I admire her effortless style of running immensely and wish I could emulate it, it’s a tad infuriating for someone like me who lumbers along like a pregnant water buffalo.

The elves post-race: I'm thinking they look too cute to have just run their pointy ears off in pouring, driving rain. Hmmmmm.....

Anyway, there’s Molly chatting away with Shauna as if this is no effort at all; I, however, look and sound like I was running hard. But it is going well and I am still taking in the scenery when not being pelted in the face by rain. We’re on an unprotected part of the path, which allows for pretty good gusts of wind to push us around. Molly assures me the wind will be helping us when we are on the return trip, since it’s an out-and-back course.

Where in the heck is the turn around?! It seems like forever: I swear we are at Mile 126 before we finally hit the orange cone with the slick flour arrow on the pavement. Kristin says, “remember the code of the runners...” right after the turn around. No! She can’t be dropping back! Hell and damnation! I can’t turn around and run at the same time, my neck doesn’t turn well and I get nauseous, (lucky me), where is she?! Shauna says she’s right behind us. Hang in there, Kristin!

I love the halfway point of a race: It’s a mental milestone. By now, Molly and Shauna have pulled ahead. Pre-race rules were that Shauna kept the pace no matter what and Molly and I were to run our own races. If we got in front of or behind each other, it was okay. Uphill, into the wind, and cold: I am hitting the wall. I wallow for about 60 seconds.

Then I remember: Everyone is racing in the same conditions; it’s tough for all of us. I didn’t train to almost make my goal. I am going down fighting. I summon the advice of a great coach, “just hang on for as long as you can.” Okay, suck it up and move your feet, I tell myself. It starts to get a little easier. I knew by Mile 8 it would be close at the finish. With so many miles left, it could go either way. So I fight. I watch the elf-ear-clad heads of my friends bob up and down and treat their presence as if we are tethered. I wasn’t losing them. They check on me often as good friends do. Making sure I am there. Shouting at me periodically. Knowing I need to do this portion by myself.

I am okay until about Mile 9 where I stop to take a GU and grab a water from the aid station. One of the few hills is right after the aid station. Shauna, who is superhuman, has no need for fuel or hydration; she’s also caring Kristin’s coat, which she is now waving at me from the top of the hill to catch up with her. The “sprint” up the hill leaves me huffing and wanting a break, but there is no break in racing, so I plug along. Shauna slows down by a couple of seconds so I can catch my breath (a bit), and I feel better, for a while. Miles 10 and 11, I want to stop. Shauna keeps moving, saying, “you have this,” so I keep on.

Mile 9, and I check my watch. It’s tight, but we are still tracking on our goal. I know if we lighten up at all, we won’t make it. I want to slow down slightly, but we can’t. We are within a minute or so of our goal--not much wiggle room. Heads down to block the wind and working hard. The girls are in front of me and I can see that they are still talking. How is that possible? Little did I know around Mile 10, Molly starts to doubt our ability to make it.

By the time I hit Mile 10, this is happening. No matter what. I am determined. Except for the pesky wind, my tired legs, and my mind that is willing me to slow down or stop, this is totally happening. No question...right? I mean, we only have a 5K left.

Then my quad starts getting tight again. And my right knee. And my breathing goes all crazy. Woah, girl, get a hold of yourself. Breathe deeply and believe. ’Tis the season. You can do this. All that training. All those hours. All that hard work. Fast feet.

Mile 11. I am doing this. 2.1 miles. That’s just over eight laps on the track. The girls are right there. I can see them. Don’t let go. There are more spectators now. I silently thank them. More wind. Mother Nature, I really don’t appreciate this. Running isn’t easy. Not everyone can do it. That’s why you do this. If the weather was perfect, you wouldn’t be able to take so much pride in kicking this race’s rear end. Seven laps, then six laps. Seriously, six flipping laps around a track. That’s nothing. You can do this. This is hard! No really, you are so close. Don’t let it slip away. Molly and Shauna keep looking back. I’m right here. Not letting you go. Promise.

Mile 12 I have to slow down. I can’t keep the pace. I don’t want to keep the pace. Who cares? Not me. Not at this moment. Why do I even try to push myself? What is the purpose?  I slow down with maybe a half-mile left. For a bit. Then I feel better. I can hear the finish; then I can see the finish. Let this baby be born already, let me hear her cry!

Kristin is right behind us, she never falters.

This is more like it: three drenched elves, Shauna, Molly, and Kristin (l-to-r).

Five laps, four laps, three laps. Now it’s two laps. Why don’t I see the finish or hear many people? Where is the promised downhill finish? Then I round a corner and hear my husband yelling. Then Shauna is back holding her hand out to me to literally pull me in. No, I grunt out, I got this. Molly has crossed the line. I look at my watch and guess what…I did do it. 1:58:30. I think I’m elated, but I’m not sure.

I had Shauna to pull me along, but Kristin only had her own gumption and stubbornness, yet there we were at the, God love it, end. Me 1:58:11, Kristin 1:58:30. We both won.

Both Molly and I say, “that was f*#ing hard!” at almost the same time. Me dropping the F-bomb is not uncommon, but coming from Molly...that’s saying something. I absolutely could NOT have done this without my friends.

So why do it? Why push oneself? To feel? To doubt? To know limits, to push up against them? Maybe all these reason and some I haven’t discovered yet. I’m glad I did it. I don’t want to do it again soon, but I’ve said that before. Maybe I will push myself again and see if I stop, slow down, or just keep on running.

When I read their race reports via email on my iPhone while in sunny Mexico, I got tears of pride and joy in my eyes….and I immediately confirmed the running date with Molly the morning after we got back. Running friendships: reason #3,839 why I run.   

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8 responses to “Why I Run: Sarah Bowen Shea + Friends

  1. Yay for running reports from good friends and for running with friends. I have replaced many of my coffee meet ups for runs and my heart–physically and sentimentally–is so much better for it.

  2. Thank you for this post- I’ve been wondering about your friends ! Beautifully written ladies! I was there too, trying to PR (which i did, finishing in 2:03!) and thought I’d have to stop to wring out my shoes at mile 8. It indeed got tough at mile 10 & I love how you both found what you needed to keep going. It was not an easy day by any means! Yay for you both! Thanks for inspiring!

  3. I read this last night right before collapsing into bed after the Parental Christmas Eve Night marathon. It made my heart happy! Very inspiring. At my age (51) and PR state (2:08:21), I don’t know if a sub-2:00 is in me – but among the many reasons why *I* run is that there is always a Mother Runner (or two) out there writing race reports like this, making me think it’s really possible. Thank you for this gift! Merry Christmas! And Shauna/Molly/Kristin – what a superlative group effort!!!

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