Reach The Beach is a relay race that stretches over 200 miles from the Mountains of New Hampshire to the state’s coastal shores, and tests the physical, as well as mental fortitude of 12 teammates.  It’s a race that will not only change your perspective on running, but life in general.

I’m a stubborn runner. I like to run on my terms, and not follow any type of structure or schedule. I just want to show up and do the damn thing. On this day, my stubbornness almost got the best of me.

All I could think of was, “just don’t quit.”

Before my first leg (about 11 miles), our van’s captain Saul asked me when I wanted van support;

My response, “Um, how about around mile 8? I like to lock in a pace and just keep going.”

He made an inquisitive expression, then refused and said, “We’ll be there after about 2.5 miles.”

I shrugged and continued to stretch. The moment Johnny slapped our team’s baton bracelet on my wrist, I sprinted. For about the first half mile I was flying, and then my shins decided they didn’t want to hang out for the day. The pain that shot through my legs was unbearable.

I thought to myself, “What am I supposed to do? It hasn’t even been 2 miles of an 11-mile run, and everything’s going wrong?!”

Whether it was the lack of training, hydration, or the Italian village I had eaten the night before, my body was shutting down. I had basically conceded and decided to just run until the van became visible, where at that point I would tap out in defeat.

Van Support: How I Reached the Beach

The thing is, when a hand is extended, everything becomes a lot easier, and the road ahead seems much shorter. The moment I saw my team and that white shining vessel, everything changed. The grimace on my face turned…. well, I was still grimacing, but inside I was smiling ear to ear. All I could think of was, “Just don’t quit.” 

Over the next 24 hours, this relay would take many twists and turns. Sometimes your leg would surprise you with a route that made running through Mordor seem like a trot in the park. Plans and schedules were tossed out the window, and the only guarantee was that if you didn’t think the van smelled that bad—you were the smelly guy.

“One of the most important things I learned this weekend is that the human spirit’s potential is immeasurable.”

Before this past weekend, I wasn’t a fan of running with other people. To me, running is a personal experience. I’m constantly chasing the runner’s high, and always competing with myself, which is how I think people should view their fitness—a competition with yourself. Comparing yourself with others can sometimes lead to disappointment, and impede your progress. The problem with comparing yourself to others is you have no idea what certain individuals are capable of. One of the most important things I learned this weekend is that the human spirit’s potential is immeasurable. Whether it was the groups of middle-aged women donning smiles on their faces as they cursed out another impending hill, or the old guy striding by me, the day became more humbling as it went on, and I started to appreciate what was taking place.

I was running a 200-mile relay. 200-miles! About four years ago I couldn’t say “Reach The Beach” without becoming exhausted. Reflecting on where I was, and how far I’ve come health-wise, should have been my primary motivator. On the final stretch of the relay, all of this began to set in, and my emotions started taking over. As I rounded the final bend of my last leg, the feeling of catharsis that washed over me is indescribable. I’ve never felt more vulnerable physically and mentally than I did those last 100 yards.

The cheers from people lining the course soaked over me, saturating my muscles and curing any aches or pains afflicting my body. These individuals didn’t know me, or needed to have a vested interest in my performance, but as the decibel levels in their voices raised, so did my spirit. My opinion of spectators before the weekend was quite cynical. They were nothing but a sound my headphones drowned out. However, as my earbuds faded, this “sound” became the ultimate record.

Relationships started to build, not through words, but with simple facial expressions. A smile acknowledging another mile down, or scowl at the sight of another elevation change, was all it took to create bonds that carried until the finish line.

“A runner is someone who measures success by participation, not completion.”

We often ask ourselves here at Runkeeper HQ’s, “What makes a runner, a runner?”

I used to think there wasn’t a wrong answer to this question, but after Reach The Beach I’ve learned that’s not true. There is a definitive answer, and here it is;

A runner is someone who measures success by participation, not completion.

If you can jump out of a van, and begin running down a strange road you’ve never seen before in the middle of the night with a smile on your face; you’ve earned the right to call yourself a runner. Reach The Beach was a reminder of this, and I’m thankful for every one of those 200 miles.

Van Support: How I Reached the Beach

Giving up is easy, especially when you’re facing adversity on your own. This race embodies a lot of the trials and tribulations we face every day. Those times where hope and faith seem to be luxuries we can’t afford.

This race wasn’t always fair or easy. Life….isn’t always fair or easy. But if you keep your head up, and look for your van in the distance, support is always there when you need it—you just have to ask for it.