Keep Fit: Run for the Hills on Shelter Island

A post-race picture with Bill Rodgers
A post-race picture with Bill Rodgers. Photo: Kelly Laffey

This weekend I learned an important lesson in racing on Long Island.

There are a lot of hills out here. And they’re all on Shelter Island.

I signed up for the Shelter Island Run, a 10K, a few weeks ago, determined to get it on my calendar so as not to miss it, like in years past. The race is a storied event for the caliber of runners it attracts, with 2013 marking its 34th annual running. This year would not disappoint, as “Boston Bill” Rodgers—a four-time champ in that oldest continuously run marathon in the world—and Joan Benoit Samuelson—the 1984 Olympic gold medal marathon winner—were confirmed attendees.

I run on a daily basis, but I wouldn’t say that I “trained” for the Shelter Island 10K. I was interested in running it for the experience and for getting a benchmark time. How fast can I run 6.2 miles right now?

The question I actually ended up answering was “How hard can I push myself to finish a race I was mostly unprepared for?”

Shelter Island is beautiful, and the 10K atmosphere reminded me of the Artists & Writers game. Both are great community events with star-studded, but approachable, attendees. (Joanie and Bill are just as big as Mark Feuerstein in the running community, and I was able to chat with both.) It seems like everyone on The Rock comes out to support the runners, some bringing hoses for us to run through, even more trying to not spill their cocktails as they clapped, all cheering and offering high fives. Every turn brings a new water view more beautiful than the last, and the greenery provided much-needed shade.

My brother and I got to the start and heard the announcer declare that Bill Rodgers was going to lead a group with the goal of finishing in 50 minutes. Wanting to run sub-45, I was torn between going as fast as I could and running the entire 6.2 miles with a legend.

Turns out, those goals were the same.

We decided to race it, and I went through my first mile way too fast, at right around a 6:35 pace.

Then those rolling hills caught up to me.

And then Bill Rodgers caught up to me.

We met around mile 5, and I reorganized my thoughts to focus on one thing. Not the hills. Not the heat. Not the distance left. It was to finish will Bill Rodgers.

I was hurting, but I reminded myself that I could do this. That I’ve already run the absolute worst race of my life. It was a 5K in college the day after finals ended, and by the time I crossed the finish line, I was dangerously close to not being asked to run for Wake Forest the next

Enough time has passed since that day that the race has become a comical rallying cry. So I matched Bill’s stride, hoping that I could finish sub-50, and climbed up and down the hills of the final mile, taking in the hundreds of mini American flags that lined the street in memory of Lt. Joseph Theinert.

I crossed the line as the 160th finisher, and I was just a few seconds behind Boston Billy.

So the takeaway is this: You win some, you lose some. But it can all be fun if you let yourself enjoy it.

And this: Bill Rodgers, at age 66, will run the Boston Marathon in 2014, in light of the events at the 2013 race.

I’ve caught the racing bug again. Catch me at the Southampton Firecracker 8K on July 8 in the village. But this time I’ll come prepared.

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