Letter from a Board Member

Letter from a Board Member: Helene Sisti

By: Helene Sisti

Never-ever have I said, “I wish I skipped my run today.” Never have I thought, “I regret going for a run today.” There have been many times when I thought, “I need to go for a run,” or “I want to increase my mileage.” I think it is mostly about getting fresh air, moving my legs to get my heart pumping, and clearing my head -- not necessarily in that order. I’ve noticed a pattern with respect to when a run is imminent. If I go 3 days without exercise, my mood plummets. Negative events overshadow positive ones. It’s time to go for a run.

I have always been a bit of a thinker -- introverted and prone to reflection. Just like many runners are. Running gives you the chance to let your thoughts go. No need to think too hard about putting one foot in front of the other. This makes it different from many of the other sports I’ve done. Gymnastics was the first sport I really fell in love with. There were times I experienced the dreaded “mental block.” Where my mind prevented me from performing a trick I had done hundreds of times before. It sparked in me a deep and enduring interest in sport psychology. This includes the question, “Why do people run?”  My master’s thesis was on this very question. It was on the runner’s high, an idea that was first popularized in the 1990’s.

I like to run because it keeps me healthy. More time spent running means less time spent on the couch. It keeps me social. I like the easy conversation that happens when you run with people. Quiet pauses no longer seem awkward. You can take in the scenery. Focus on your breath. Listen to the sounds around you. 

Running motivates me to set goals. Having a goal on the horizon keeps me engaged. I especially like the energy I find at road races. It is supportive and encouraging as we all try to beat our own best. I always leave race day feeling uplifted and inspired. People of all ages, abilities and personal challenges are putting themselves out there to be better. I remember one race in particular when I was in high school. It was the first time I saw a blind person compete in the 100 meter dash. It was so awe inspiring. I run because without fail, it sets me on course for a positive reinforcement cycle. Set goals. Reach them. Repeat. 

I would sometimes see t-shirts at Track and Field meets that read something like, “Our sport is your sports punishment.” Every runner has encountered the person who replies to your running experience with some version of, “I only run if I’m late for the bus.” I’ve always been athletic, so I’ve done a few different sports. I played some club soccer. Most recently, there’s skiing and mountain biking. All of these sports are a lot of fun, but very different from the simple joy of going for a run. They each have several requirements – some combination of special equipment, the right weather, years of training, or a whole bunch of people. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to figure out the ideal dimensions of my next set of skis. How long? How wide? Downhill or all-mountain? Does all-mountain even exist, or is that just a marketing term? The same could be said of a new bike. 29-inch wheels or 27.5? Hard-tail or full suspension? New or used? Dropper seat? Women’s frame? Does that even matter? The buying options are endless as engineering continues to advance, and the prices keep pace. This is in sharp contrast to running. The equipment couldn’t be simpler. I need to remember only two words. Motion stability. That has guided my running shoe purchases for about two decades now. No need to check in on forums. No need to ‘pray for snow.’ No need to wait for the mud to dry out. No need to coordinate, plan, or even think too much at all. If you can tie your shoelaces, then you can go for a run.

Now that I’ve done my first half-marathon (thanks to the Upper Valley Running Club!), the question comes up, will I run a full marathon? I am guessing I probably will at some point. Right now, I have my eyes set on the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock. I am hoping to beat my last time. I am also looking forward to entering a few more trail races this summer and fall. I love being surrounded by nature and the attentional demands that come with trail running. The mountain, no matter how big or small, commands your attention. I also like the explosiveness that a steep vertical elicits. There are times it is so steep and so long, your humble body is forced to walk. But this too, I like. It gives me a chance to catch my breath and re-group for the next more manageable stretch. Then, there is the downhill. You can open up your stride and let the mountain carry you a bit. Again, you must keep focus on the constantly changing terrain beneath your feet. But, still, the mountain carries you. Your legs open up and your only job is to keep momentum, stay upright. As you breathe deeper, extends your arms for balance, and let your body go, it’s a pretty freeing feeling. My first (and only) trail race was the Farnum Hill last fall. I had heard that the course had a nice long downhill stretch at the end – about a mile. I was able to close the gap between myself and the runner in front of me, resulting in a win and free sweets from the apple orchard. 

I started running (and jumping and hurdling) when I was a freshman in high school. I found success in the sport and was recruited by colleges. It was an exciting time to receive recruiting letters in the mail and even more of a thrill to compete as part of a Division 1 program for four years. One of my teammates would go on to become a gold medal Olympian. Several others were contenders. Regardless of the medals, those 8 years on Track and Field teams were filled with the easy friendships that come when you are all doing something you enjoy side by side. It does not matter what else is going on in your life. I run because a good run with good people always makes the bad things less bad and the good things much better.  


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