It is 5:30 a.m. on a dreary Western Massachusetts morning. Late fall has arrived and winter is coming soon. Neighbors are still asleep as Jennifer Bell slips on her running shoes and opens the front door. She steps out, walks to the end of the driveway and begins her ritualistic run.
Her mornings begin this way. Most every day, unless she is on her way to a marathon in another state. In her 54 years, this running hobby is still relatively new to her body but when you start at age 49, or any age for that matter, the refreshing afterglow of the physical activity, the power of movement, is all you need to keep you going.
Jenn has raised a family, she is a great mother, a devoted wife to a husband who also runs and it was in her late-40s with a lot of time on her hands and some excess weight that she began to walk and walk A LOT. Inevitably, the temptation of running to the next telephone pole was to hard to resist and that, in turn, led to the next pole and the next pole and to her first race, a half marathon.
Fast forward 5 years and 70 marathons later............
Forty-one states completed and nine to go to join the 50 State Marathon Club. A group that requires running a marathon in all 50 states. Besides that being the major goal in her running, her biggest transformation has been a desire for longevity.
As my co-star friend Velma said in the "Human Race" film, "A day will come when I will stop running but today is not the day". That is Jenn. Not today.
A plant-based diet, yoga, cycling, and kayaking have contributed to her injury-free lifestyle.
(Notice: not just running, but a variety of activities that helps her maintain focus and self-discovery.) For Jenn, this is what her running has given her. Self-discovery and the gift to pursue her limits. The ability to decide the outcome. It is her choice and it is in that choice she has found moments when she has forgotten she is even running.
There is kindness and giving in her life. As a track and field coach at her local high school, she works with young athletes with or without disabilities. She observes and learns from the camaraderie and support they have for each other, but above all, their enthusiasm is contagious. Her guidance, I am sure is a gift to them in return.
I asked Jenn for some advice and this is what she told me:
1) It is easy to buy into, that as we age we are slow. Not true.
2) Have the patience to ride out the rough days and be thankful.
3) Technology can be a blessing and a curse. Don't let it rule you.
4) Your goals are yours and yours alone but remember to have quality time with those close to you and use creative scheduling to stay balanced.
The best advice she has been given?
Work hard at all you do.
Be kind to all you know.
When I think of Jenn I think of the numerous times I have seen her radiant smile of positivity.
I saw it when we first met four years ago at Boston when she finished another marathon. I saw it in St. George, Utah as she came down the finishing straightaway to run her personal best. I saw it at Mile 15 of the Hood to Coast Relay, a 200 mile event, as she ran down the winding asphalt from Mt. Hood. Effortless. Flowing. Strong. She even smiled at 2 a.m. in the cold pre-dawn darkness, when it was her turn to climb out of our warm van and run again.
All too often we only recognize those we are associated with as we know them, runners.
However I believe our lives are not measured by the stopwatch the miles we run or the races we finish.
We are so much more than that.
In the end we are lucky.
Lucky to know a kind heart in this world and lucky to have Jennifer Bell.