Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com. Here are a few highlights from this week’s program.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: I’m very delighted about this choice. I think that you’re only as healthy as your least healthiest person, and it starts with good education at an early age. Not only are we helping the children, we’re trying to help the parents realize what their children can be with positive steps, and positive nutrition, and good physical activity.
Maya Cohen: That’s a pretty big program that involves not only just recycling bottles, we compost recycle cardboard, we shuttle people, bike valet. It’s a much larger program than just picking up plastic bottles.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show #305: Maine’s TD Beach to Beacon, airing for the first time on Sunday, July 23rd, 2017. This year on August 5th will be the 20th running of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race to Cape Elizabeth. This event attracts unique runners from around the globe, as well as recreational runners from across the country.
Today, we speak with race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. We also speak with volunteer coordinator Maya Cohen and her husband, Dr. Mylan Cohen, who cares for race participants when necessary in the medical tent. Thank you for joining us.
Speaker 1: Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at artcollectormaine.com.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It is my great pleasure to have with me today Joan Benoit Samuelson, who founded the TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race to benefit children’s charities in Maine. This year on August 5th, the TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Thanks for coming in today.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: It’s my pleasure, thank you.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You grew up in Cape Elizabeth, and that’s now where this race is being held. How much running did you do in Cape Elizabeth when you were there?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: I did enough running in Cape Elizabeth for the Department of Public Works to give me a little bit of a hard time. Just in jest, but I’ve put in a lot of miles in Cape Elizabeth, and I always thought they were some of the most beautiful roads in the world, and dreamed of bringing a road race to my favorite roads in my hometown of Cape Elizabeth. That was really the impetus for the founding of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It is, it’s a beautiful point to plan a race. I mean, you’ve got beaches, you’ve got the lighthouse. I really can’t think of another race in Maine that has quite the scenery that you have.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well actually, when I was thinking about the race that might be someday, I was thinking about the Examiner Bay to Breakers out in San Francisco. I thought, “Well, why don’t we have an east coast version of that race?” Now we’re on a much smaller scale, granted, but I liked the “B2B” sort of sound, and so I thought, “Where can we develop a course that would include the beaches and Portland Head Light?” It became the Beach to Beacon, and it runs from just outside the gates at Crescent Beach to Portland Head Light. So, Beach to Beacon.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What size of a race were you hoping initially that you would have?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: I had no idea. I really didn’t. I just wanted to give back to a sport and a community that had given so much to me, and when I came into the tunnel in LA in 1984, I said, “Are you prepared to carry the mantle that will come with a win in the first Women’s Olympic Marathon?” I only had a few seconds to think about it and I said, “Well, there’s no sense in not trying.” I came through into the light of the coliseum, and that was really the moment when I thought, “Now how am I going to give back?”
As I said, I trained on some of the most beautiful roads in the world and I wanted to benefit children; I knew that because I believe children are our most valuable resource. Did a lot of thinking and a lot of talking with people, and it finally came to fruition with the handshake of Bill Ryan, who was then the president of the People’s Heritage Bank, which is now TD.
That’s how it all began, and I really had no idea what we would start with, and where we would go. The event has transcended the sport in many ways; we have a great board, we have a great organizing committee, we have amazing volunteers and sponsors, and we have the best in road race directing in David McGillivray, who also directs the Boston Marathon.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This year, you’re benefiting Let’s Go! here in the state of Maine.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Right. I’ve been actively involved with the leadership committee of Let’s Go!. It’s an organization that benefits different children in the state with sound nutritional advice and physical activity programs, and Maine Health has long been a sponsor of the Beach to Beacon, and it made sense to give back to an organization that really benefits the children of Maine.
You know, there are many food deserts in the state, and there are many communities that are lacking sound physical activity programs because of the school budget cuts. I’m very delighted about this choice. I think that you’re only as healthy as your least healthiest person, and it starts with good education at an early age. Not only are we helping the children, we’re trying to help the parents realize what their children can be with positive steps, and positive nutrition, and good physical activity.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This is an interesting program because as you said, Maine Health is kind of a lead on the Let’s Go! program, and they’re a healthcare organization. You don’t always see healthcare organizations that are so actively involved in public health initiatives like this.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, one of my missions, and perhaps my biggest mission in life, is to bring awareness to the fact that conservation is to the environment what prevention is to health. Really, the two are inextricably linked; this is one of the ways that TD Beach to Beacon has transcended the sport of running. For instance, this year, the students at MECA worked to design a poster that will commemorate the 20th running of the Beach to Beacon.
We try to incorporate the entire Maine community in this one event, and we draw from every county in the state, and just about from every state and numerous countries. It’s a destination race for many of our runners; when they think of Maine and where they might run, TD Beach to Beacon 10k comes right to the forefront of their radar screens.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: We’ve actually written about you before from a conservation standpoint. You have a large garden, and you’re actively involved in, I believe Friends of Casco Bay, who do yardscaping; you’re very good about trying to create wellness in the land in which you live. How does this tie into the running piece?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, although I’ve left over 150,000 miles of footprints, I try to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. I’m out there every day, I’m really a human barometer for climate change; I see these little changes that keep adding up. You know, Maine is a beautiful place. It’s where I have my roots and it’s where I choose to live my life, so anything I can do to promote health in any aspect throughout our state is something that I’m happy to do.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Given that you grew up in Cape Elizabeth and you went to Bowdoin, you’ve spent a lot of time here. What have you noticed as you’ve been out running, and talking with people, and living your own life? What have you noticed that has changed?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: I think erosion on the coast is one thing. I think the acidification of Casco Bay is another thing that I’m very concerned about. You know, eutrophication in ponds and lakes and such, the green algae blooms. The changes in weather, the drastic changes in weather that occur almost without notice, and just the air we breathe, and the food we eat.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: In planning the Beach to Beacon 10k, what types of steps are taken in order to ensure that the footprint of this race, which has lots of runners, is going to be ecologically as small as possible?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, one thing that we’re very proud of is our certification from the Council for Responsible Sport, which is an organization that ranks road races and other sporting events based on their commitment to environmental issues and social issues. Just recently, we received the highest level of achievement, which is Evergreen status. We’re the only road race currently to have that status in the country and there’s a 15k, I believe, in the United Kingdom which also shares that status.
We’ve worked very hard with Athletes for a Fit Planet and Bruce Rayner to achieve this status. In this day, it should be that we do everything that we can to leave a smaller carbon footprint, and to have as healthy an event as we can; not only for the participants, but the organizations in our community that benefit from socially responsible and environmentally responsible efforts.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: If one is racing in the TD Beach to Beacon 10k, what types of things will one see?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, you won’t see a plastic bag to take you through the expo to pick up all the little things that some of our vendors and sponsors may want to share with the runners and their families. You won’t see a lot of unnecessary plastic water bottles; you’ll see bigger containers. You’ll see tables set up at every place where it’s possible to dispose of either compostable items, or plastic items, or trash. We used to just use the bins but we found that if we had a sorter, if you will, right there at those strategic places, they’ll sort quickly through what’s compostable, what’s not, what’s trash, what can be recycled, and that’s worked very well for us.
There are a myriad of ways in which we can reduce the carbon footprint, and we’re all on it even when it comes to the serving items at our lobster bake and at our volunteer event. The volunteer event takes place on Wednesday night before the race and the lobster bake is basically a celebration for our invited athletes, our sponsors, our host families, and other people who have really contributed in many good ways to the success of the event.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: When you won your Olympic medal, you were the first. You were the first female to win an Olympic marathon, and I think that the sport has really come a long way. Women and running, it’s almost a given now. But it wasn’t always that way.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: No. I recently, just this past weekend as a matter of fact, ran a race in Washington, DC. It was the 45th anniversary of the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race, and 60% of the participants were women, 40% were men. Actually, Kathrine Switzer, the woman who was jostled in the Boston Marathon in the infamous incident with she and Jock Semple, she was there because she was the first woman to win the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and we had an opportunity to talk about where our sport has come.
Kathrine was very influential in getting the marathon to the point that it was accepted by the IOC for the Olympics. She worked with Avon back then to sponsor races around the world; to bring awareness to the fact that yes, women could run 26.2 miles without doing detriment to their bodies. When I was in high school, it was thought by the so-called experts in the sport that if a woman ran over a mile, she’d do bodily harm and never bear children. Well, two children and over 150,000 miles, I’m still at it, enjoying it as much as I did when I first started out as a young teenager, who was really embarrassed to be seen out running on the roads.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How do you get past that? If you are a teenager and somebody’s telling you, “You’re going to hurt yourself, don’t go out running any longer than a mile,” how do you push through that?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, I always tell people to run their own race in life, and that’s really applicable to anything one sets out to achieve. You can’t run anybody else’s race but your own, and I took a lot of grief by the commentators, unbeknownst to me at the time I was running, that I’d made a grave error in not taking water at the first water station, but I knew I had to find my own space and run my own pace, and run my own race in order to run as efficiently and as well as I possibly could. That’s what I did, and that’s what I do.
You know, I was trying to shed a tomboy image at the time; I grew up with three brothers and I lived in a neighborhood full of boys. I was really not wanting to be seen by the public out on the road, so most of my running was done within the confines of Fort Williams, because at the time they didn’t allow any vehicular traffic in there. I would walk from our home to the Fort, run to my heart’s content, and then walk home.
Then one day, I was walking home and I saw a woman who I knew, who was running on the road. She was actually the coxswain for the Princeton eight, and I said, “you know, If she can get out there and run, so can I.” I never looked back after that time. We all inspire each other; it’s a two-way road out there. Everybody has a story to share, and I just encourage people to get out there and tell their own story.
As a matter of fact, it’s great to see the elite athletes come across the finish line, all attempting to run personal bests or improve the course record, but it’s really the runners at the back of the pack who never thought they could cover the distance or do anything like this and to see them come across the finish line, achieving something just really makes them feel so good and gives them self-esteem to power forward is something that’s a reward that I never expected.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This race is so popular that people literally sit online and wait with their fingers on the mouse or the keypads to be one of the first to register. Then you have to cap it, because there’s only so many people that you can actually have run. Why do you think that this is so? After 20 years, there are other races that are out there that aren’t as popular as this one.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, I really think we have the best race committee, the best race director; people who are passionate and committed to the sport, selfless people. You know, as I said earlier our volunteer force is just incredible, as are our sponsors, and I really think our greening effort has helped with our sponsorship because everybody wants to be part of something that’s positive.
To say that any one person, or any one organization, or any one sponsor is solely responsible for the successes of the event would be very wrong. It’s a collective effort, it’s a happy effort, it’s a positive effort. In this day and age, we need something positive to grab onto and run with, literally and figuratively.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’ve been surprised in my lifetime, and I’m getting up there in years so maybe that’s a long lifetime-
Joan Benoit Samuelson: You’re talking to the wrong person.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Okay, all right. But I’ve been surprised to see running really increase in popularity, recreational running. Well, also at the college level and professional level as well, but the races I used to run in where there would be like a couple dozen of us here in Maine in the middle of the winter, you know, they are full. People are doing triathlons, people are … I mean, we have the Pub Run here in Portland. There’s just lots of different ways to run. In some ways, that kind of surprises me because this is Maine, and it’s not always easy to run in this state. What’s your take on that?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, I think running is affordable, and it’s accessible. With all the messaging out there about taking control of your own health and wellness, running is really the first thing people can grasp onto, as far as getting themselves out the door and getting themselves into a routine. You don’t need a lot of special equipment, you don’t have to travel to a facility; most people can run right outside their front or back doors, or workplaces.
You know, I encourage people who want to get in the game to find a partner to run with, because if you’re expected to meet somebody in the early morning hours or after work, it’s a lot easier knowing that somebody’s waiting for you out there. It’s harder to say, “Oh, I’ll just bag it for the day,” or, “I’ll do something else.” I think one mile leads to the next. I think people start to realize how much better they feel by doing some sort of physical activity, and for a lot of people, it’s walking, or jogging, or running.
Then when people decide that they want to test their fitness or join something positive, the Beach to Beacon is there to support those people and the elite athletes. You know, every year we have the most competitive race amongst the Maine runners, and we have some of the best runners in the world here in the state of Maine. I mean, Ben True won the race; he was the first American to win the race last year, and he’s homegrown. I was just thrilled to see that happen, and the main component of the race is always highly competitive, and there are a lot of bragging rights associated with the victories, and that component of the race.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’ve had to run through some injuries yourself. I mean, anybody who runs over a lifetime is of course going to have injuries, and any woman could potentially even be pregnant and run through those phases. How do you keep, I don’t know, focused on the after-injury?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, I’ve been blessed with very few injuries, and I think the reason for that is because I really believe in living a balanced and healthy life, and in athletics we talk about the mind-body-spirit triad, and I just try to keep those components of my life as balanced as possible. I do a little more cross-training now that I’m aging than when I was younger, and that helps with balance. I think a balanced diet helps.
There are lots of things that go into the equation to balance one’s life, and I think people need to make choices, and prioritize what’s important to them; what’s going to make them feel better, act better, and contribute in a healthy way by inspiring other people to take notice of an improved life, and running is a vehicle in which to do that.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Food, as you’ve mentioned, is very important to you. I know that you grow your own, you make a lot of the food that you eat, and this has become more in the forefront of people’s minds at this point, but it hasn’t always been the case. We definitely went through our processed food, Betty Crocker phase as Americans. What are you seeing in, I guess, younger people today as far as food choices?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, I tell people I’m on a strict “see food” diet. I see food, and I eat it. I eat what I crave, and you are what you eat, we often say in our sport. Certainly the local food movement; I think more people are embracing that movement, supporting our local farmers and growers. I think that’s important to a healthy community; not just the diet, but supporting those who are trying to make a community cohesive and improving that community as we contribute to the efforts of others.
You know, I love to garden. It grounds me. I love to feel the good earth, if you will, and going to the garden is something that really helps to balance me and calm my nerves. I mean, I’ve been known to go out with a headlight, returning from a trip late at night just to see what’s grown while I’ve been away.
It’s part of who I am, just like my running is. I try to balance all of that with other interests as well. I talk about balance all the time, it’s just so important when we’ve tried to balance the success of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k by reaching out to others in our community, as people reach out to us.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: After 20 years of doing this, I’m guessing that you’ve probably learned a thing or two about putting on a road race; specifically, this road race. What are some thoughts that you have?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Just the important of collaboration, and listening to others, and having great leadership, and having committed people; people who are passionate about what they’re doing. Mike Stone for instance, our current president, came to the race because he was working at People’s Heritage Bank at the time, and he didn’t have a clue about running, but his business was the title sponsor of the event, and he wanted to be part of it. As being part of the race, he decided he should start running, and he started running. He runs just about every day, and he’s run a marathon, and that’s really to me a success story.
Not only are we benefiting a different children’s charity, but we’re pulling people off the sidelines to embrace their health and well-being by participating in a race. They see these great runners, and these beginning runners, and these mediocre runners, and these runners of every description pass in front of them as they cheer them on. They say, “Well, maybe I could do that,” and then they challenge themselves to get out there and do it. I think everybody who has run this race has a story that will motivate and inspire others.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What would you like to see happen in the next 20 years?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Oh boy. I just want to see a healthy Maine community and people who find passion in whatever it is they choose to do with their lives. We all have the ability to contribute in one way or another, and I think people just have to realize that, and find out whatever it is that floats their boat, and get in it and start paddling.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Very well said. Along with several members of our staff from Maine Magazine, we will be out there running the TD Beach to Beacon 10k coming up here on August 5th in Cape Elizabeth, 20th anniversary. It’s really been my pleasure to have a conversation with Joan Benoit Samuelson, the founder of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race, and also of course, the winner of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles in 1984, and also a fellow Bowdoin grad, so go U Bears. Thanks for coming in today, and thanks for all you’ve done for Maine, and for runners in our state and around the world.
Joan Benoit Samuelson: Well, thank you, Dr. Lisa. It’s my pleasure and honor, and we’re just delighted to have Maine Magazine involved this year. I think it’ll be a great partnership going forward.
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Tickets for Maine Live are available now. Maine Live is a day of inspiring talks and stories of grit by the business and creative people shaping the future of our state. Join host Dr. Lisa Belisle and 14 mesmerizing speakers that will inspire conversation and connection. This fifth Maine Live is on Thursday, September 21st at USM’s Hannaford Hall. Go to maineliveseptember2017.splashthat.com for more information, and to purchase your tickets.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: My next guests are actually a duo, both in life and in the job that they are doing as volunteers for the TD Beach to Beacon 10k. This is Maya Cohen, who is the volunteer coordinator of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k and her husband, Dr. Mylan Cohen, who is the co-medical director of the race. Thanks for coming in today.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Thanks for having us.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Now I’ve actually spoken with both of you before on multiple occasions. It’s nice to have friends back in the studio to have a conversation about something that I love, running. You’ve both been involved in this race for almost two decades now. How did you get involved?
Maya Cohen: Well, you put it that way, that’s a long time, actually.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: It is a long time.
Maya Cohen: The inaugural race, we were actually moving into our home in Cape Elizabeth, and our home actually happens to be right next to Fort Williams. The year that we moved in, we couldn’t understand why our moving truck wasn’t making it to the house, and so while we were waiting for our furniture, there was a lot of noise going on in the park next to us.
A woman walks up the driveway with a sunhat on, and wanted to know if she could take a look into the house. I said, “Sure, I guess.” She said, “I want to see my childhood bedroom. I’m Joan Benoit, I’m Joanie’s aunt.” I said, “Oh, all right.” So she came and she looked at her childhood bedroom and reminisced; she says, “Well, before people realize that I’m gone, I should probably get going.” That was that. That was our introduction to the race.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: We eventually did get our furniture.
Maya Cohen: We eventually did.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Later on that afternoon, Joanie Benoit Samuelson is walking around and reminiscing about cleaning out the birdbath and whatnot, and the next thing you know, we’re invited to be-
Maya Cohen: Host families.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Host families for runners. Shortly after that, Maya became the volunteer coordinator, I was volunteering in the medical tent, and-
Maya Cohen: Here we are.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Here we are, and we’re both on the board now. We’re fully involved with the race.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Are either one of you runners?
Maya Cohen: No.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Once upon a time I ran a little bit, but no, I’m a bicyclist.
Maya Cohen: I’ve tried running in the past. I’m not a natural runner. I can do a lot of other things; running is just not one of them.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: We enjoy supporting those who love to run.
Maya Cohen: Yes, we do.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, that I guess is my question. If you’re not runners, it’s not about the race per se, it’s not about the competition as much, it’s about something else.
Maya Cohen: Yeah. I fully appreciate the athleticism that’s involved, and the commitment to training for running. I admire that, but as far as being involved with a race, it’s really a … being involved in a community event.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: I think it’s about giving back to the community.
Maya Cohen: And giving back to the community, and being involved with the community. It is a feel-good event. I mean, everyone, it’s … they enjoy volunteering. It is in some ways like a big family reunion, really.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: It’s an incredible team.
Maya Cohen: Yeah.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: It’s an amazing team that puts on this race. It’s the same support staff that puts on the Boston Marathon as well. You have top in the world people putting on this race, and for me in a way, it’s kind of in the genes. My grandfather was a physician for the Boston Marathon; we’ve since become involved with the Boston Marathon.
I do think it’s … The race benefits children’s charities across the state of Maine every year and through that charitable part of the race, we feel like we’re not only helping people who are running the race, but we’re giving to the state of Maine by supporting a race that contributes to worthwhile charities.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Maya, why is it that … well, I guess this is a silly question. I was going to ask why volunteers are so important. What are the different jobs that volunteers are needed for at this race?
Maya Cohen: Oh, it’s not a silly question. Volunteers are essential to actually having a race like this function safely and efficiently. If you were to say, “We’re going to have 6,000 runners come to Cape Elizabeth and we’re going to start at 8:00 in the morning,” and you have no volunteers at all, you would be hard pressed to have any kind of success, I think.
The kinds of jobs that volunteers do, they range from helping pack and pick up for the runners, manning water stations, handing out t-shirts, driving buses, help manage crowds on race day, handing out food, preparing the runner’s food tent; we have an outstanding medical team that keeps runners safe. We have a number of programs that people volunteer for, and really, they’re essential to making sure that people get from point A to point B, people get to safely cross the finish line, and we clean the place up pretty darn quick.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Yeah. By noon, you’d never know there was an event that involved 6,000 runners and 2,000 spectators.
Maya Cohen: Or more, yeah.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How many volunteers does it take?
Maya Cohen: We run about 800 to 840 volunteers every year. It fluctuates obviously depending on the year, but that’s about a sweet spot for us is 800.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: And do you ever have any difficulty that number of volunteers?
Maya Cohen: Some years we do, but we usually manage to get our volunteers by race day, really. We have some areas that have been typically difficult to recruit for, but if we don’t have enough people, we have volunteers that say, “I can help out when I’m done with this particular job.” Everyone is rolling their sleeves up to get the job done.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Which are the jobs that people don’t like?
Maya Cohen: I call them … they are not as sexy as other jobs. Things like sustainability; our sustainability program, also known as recycling, the sustainability program has been a program that has grown over the years. Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint, and last year was a major push to be one of a few races to achieve what we call Evergreen status from the Council for Responsible Sport.
That’s a pretty big program that involves not only just recycling bottles, we compost recycle cardboard, we shuttle people, bike valet. It’s a much larger program than just picking up plastic bottles.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: It also has a social aspect.
Maya Cohen: And it also has a social responsibility aspect to it. The other area is our parking and shuttle program. We have a pretty extensive shuttle bus program that we’re able to take runners or spectators from different satellite parking areas, and get them to the starting line, or getting them to Fort Williams.
It takes a lot of people to kind of get people in the right bus, get them in the right location, and that takes a lot of people as well. In some cases, they are, these volunteers who work in those programs are in a way, the first face that people see for the race in the morning, so they’re also our ambassadors.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It is interesting because this is a point to point race, versus an out and back. The challenges of parking or transportation are going to be bigger than if you just ran one continuous loop.
Maya Cohen: That’s correct.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: That’s right. We’ve entertained over the years having it be a loop, but to be able to start at Crescent Beach and end at the iconic Portland Head Light is just hard to beat. In order to continue to have that kind of amazing group, we’ve decided to continue doing the work that we have been.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Mylan, you have a Masters in Public Health from Harvard, and you are currently a practicing cardiologist at the Maine Medical Center. For you, there are some bigger things that must be really interesting about this race as well.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Well, first of all, any event like this is really potentially a planned mass casualty event. That’s what my colleagues in the emergency medicine field would call it and so it does take a lot of planning. You do kind of have to put on a public health hat; work very closely with the professionals in the fire department and the police department, town officials, in order to make sure that things are as safe as possible, not only for the runners but also for spectators and volunteers.
We’re also now getting more into looking at the processes that we use to treat runners, and we’re looking more at potentially even doing some research so we can learn from these processes and help other races. In fact, a lot of the things that we learned about taking care of overheated runners at the Beach to Beacon, those things that we’ve learned have been transitioned into use at the Boston Marathon and have saved lives there.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, give me some examples of that.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: If we have a runner who overheats and has a core temperature that may be life-threatening at 109, we take that runner and we put that runner basically in a tub of ice water, and cooled them down as quickly as possible. They’re actually going to do a lot better having that happen in the field in our medical tent than being transported to the hospital.
Those people in our community might subscribe to the Boston Globe or followed the Boston Marathon last year, there was this amazing photograph on the front page of the Globe of the runner being carried across the finish line. He had collapsed like 200 feet from the finish line, and we treated him; he had a core temperature of 109.
I’m not violating any patient confidentiality here; he gave a full interview and recounted all of this to the Boston Globe, but what’s really amazing is that he came back this year to the Boston Marathon medical team and spoke in front of an audience of nearly a thousand people, thanking them for what we had done for him, and just recounting what it was like to be carried across the finish line, get cooled, and then to recover in the hospital after that. I think that the processes that they used for the Boston Marathon weren’t always the same, and that’s where our knowledge here at the Beach to Beacon really has helped another race.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: There’s a broad range of wellness that people who decide to enter in the TD Beach to Beacon 10k have. Some people are, maybe they run only once or twice in the weeks before the race, and some people are high level athletes, so I would imagine that there’s a range of issues that you’re dealing with, having to deal with people’s innate health.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Yeah, their innate health and fitness. You’re exactly right, there are some people who get out there and say, “Well, it’s just 10k. I can do this, I don’t really need to train for it-”
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Which is 6.2 miles.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: That’s right.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Just for people who aren’t thinking in metrics, but yes.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: That’s right. I think from a public health perspective, I would say you absolutely do have to prepare for this. Depending on what the temperature is that day, you do have to hydrate. Unlike a marathon, electrolyte problems aren’t generally the problem, it’s more heat and so you want to dress appropriately as well.
I’m amazed how many people come across with wearing black; they look very chic, black running long pants, black tops that cover their arms, and a black hat. Meanwhile, it’s getting to be a pretty warm day with the sun beating down, and I can just pick out those people that we’re going to be treating for heat stroke. I think training, being well hydrated, running within your ability, dressing appropriately, and listening to your body; those are all things that people can do to help themselves to have a really enjoyable day on the race course and stay out of the medical tent.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Now we’ve been talking about weather as it relates to the people who are running the race, but I’m guessing that there is also an impact on the volunteers, Maya.
Maya Cohen: No, there is. I always remind our volunteers during race week that they need to prepare for race day as well, and you know, we work rain or shine so I always tell them that. I also tell them that they also need to dress appropriately. They need to wear appropriate shoes. I mean, not necessarily sneakers, but something you can be in all day. They need to hydrate, they need to take care of themselves, because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.
I really make it a point that you need to take care of yourself before race day. I also tell people that when you’re working with other volunteers, and you see someone struggling, or you see someone who’s tried, or you see someone who’s not well, you need to take care of your fellow volunteer as well.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: When I think about 800 volunteers in the days immediately before and immediately after, that’s a lot of people to coordinate. How does that work for you logistically?
Maya Cohen: I am very lucky to work with an incredible organizing committee. The organizing committee has different coordinators for different areas. We’ll have a person who coordinates just the water program, and that individual is in charge of that program, and we’ll communicate with each other about different difficulties in recruitment, or staffing shortfalls in that program.
The Beach to Beacon is very, very fortunate in having an organizing committee that has a group of coordinators that has had exceptionally low turnover. People that I work with today, I worked with when I first started this job 16 years ago. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge, there’s a lot of fun; they’re like another family, too. I’m very fortunate to work with a group like that, it makes my job infinitely easier but also a lot of fun.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: The fact that you’ve both been working on this together for this amount of time, and you’ve been married for this amount of time, and you share a son who is just a little bit older than the amount of time you’ve been working on this race I believe-
Maya Cohen: Yeah, you’re right.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: That’s interesting, that you have to be able to figure out how to navigate your different roles that each of you are taking within the relationship. How’s that worked out for you?
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Works pretty well.
Maya Cohen: It actually works really well.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: I know that as volunteer coordinator, she is my boss.
Maya Cohen: And it works out just fine.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: It works out just fine.
Maya Cohen: We’ve been doing it for so long, even with our son, it’s kind of, “This is what we do as a family.”
Dr. Mylan Cohen: He’s volunteered as well.
Maya Cohen: He’s volunteered. Our son is 20 now, he knows that August, it’s Beach to Beacon; you might as well have a Hallmark card thing for us. It’s gotten to the point where when it gets close to race day, I receive email cards from friends, family, other past volunteers saying, “Good luck, have a good time.” You know, strong work, that kind of stuff. It’s worked out pretty well. This is just kind of what we do together.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Now that he is 20 and he is finishing up his junior year in college, and so obviously he’s out of the house and now the two of you get to have this different life than you had before … I know that you do a lot of sailing, and motorbiking, or something?
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Motorcycling, right.
Maya Cohen: Yes.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: And you’re out in the world. Does this change the way that you this change the way that you think about the Beach to Beacon?
Dr. Mylan Cohen: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think so. It’s still something that grounds us in the community every August. We’re not going to miss it, we’re going to be there. This is just what we do that time of the year. It is kind of interesting going out into other communities. Every once in a while I’ll be present at another race, or we just happen upon another race, or … I’ve been in New York for the New York Marathon, for example.
You just kind of watch it and go, “Hmm.” You know, you pick up little things, you think about things that you can bring here home to make our race even better. I think that Maya said it; it’s just really become something that our family does. Even though our son is away from home right now, if he were to drop in, he knows what he’d probably be doing if he were here on the first weekend in August each year.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Right. I’m interested in, and this is a little bit more of a serious topic, obviously, but given the tragedies that occurred at the Boston Marathon several years ago, I’m interested in how as volunteers for that marathon, how that changed your perception of the safety of big races like the TD Beach to Beacon.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: I think we’re very fortunate to have an incredible public safety department at Cape Elizabeth. Chief Neil Williams is just an amazing individual, really great depth of experience, obviously huge connections in the law enforcement world, and between the chief and also the chief of the fire department, they have vast experience and do a great job in preparedness.
I would say that in the race following the Boston Marathon, security was stepped up exponentially. We still take security extremely seriously. I think it’s safe to say that it is something that’s kind of in the back of our minds-
Maya Cohen: Right.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: But it hasn’t taken over our lives.
Maya Cohen: No, no.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: I think … I’m confident. I feel confident in our public safety people to make sure that the race stays safe and secure, and that not only runners, but spectators and volunteers can just attend to their duties and not worry about other things that are happening in the world, or could happen.
Maya Cohen: I think that also, the year following Boston as Mylan had mentioned, it was the year that security was stepped up. There were many unfortunate things we can talk about, but one thing that I think is unfortunate in particular is that, that event changed the face of all racing; it changed how we functioned.
That year when we had the Beach to Beacon, I think that one of the things that for me was important was to get to work. Get to work, and also to demonstrate to our volunteers that you know, we’re going to still do a world class race, we’re going to do it well, and we’ll be safe about doing it.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Yeah, I agree.
Maya Cohen: And that I think for me was, I think that gave our volunteers some sense of, “Okay, let’s just go do this. We’re going to be okay.”
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Every year since, both down at Boston but also up here, I think has been an affirmation of what is good about people, about what’s good about volunteers. It’s an affirmation of really positive things that happen in our communities, the positive impact that we can have through putting on an event like this and benefiting various charities. That’s what we focus on, is the positive.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Maya, you already introduced the idea of the Evergreen certification-
Maya Cohen: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Do you see other things changing in the next 20 years of this race?
Maya Cohen: When we started this race, we thought it was the right thing to just recycle, just recycle bottles. Then we were, what 20 years ago? We were completely paper-based when it came to applications, and here we now fast forward to now, where we compost and recycle, we do everything online. I think in the next 20 years, who knows where technology will take us, but I do think that the one thing that is really important to this race is its impact on the community, its impact on the environment, and I see every year we make small improvements. In 20 years, who knows what we’ll bring, but I can assure you that it will be an improvement every single year.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: And what about from a medical standpoint? Anything that you’re seeing changing?
Dr. Mylan Cohen: There are a lot of possibilities. Just from better communication technology; Fort Williams is a tough place when it comes to communications. We just want a cell tower that we can reliably get cell service. But no, seriously, we do have new ways of communicating wirelessly there. We were talking about new ways of handling electronic records of runners, better ways to communicate with emergency services, and to hospitals if we have to transport someone.
We’re constantly looking for better ways to treat people inside the medical tent, and just like medical technology in your physician’s office or at the hospital, we’re benefiting from medical advances every day. I do think though, sometimes what’s old is new, and as funny as it might sound to some of your listeners, dunking a hot runner in ice water still is the mainstay of how we treat a majority of the people coming to the medical tent. That probably won’t change. Beyond that, probably some improvements in communication would be where we make advances.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, I will be joining you this year as part of the Maine Magazine running team.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Excellent.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You will see us all with our t-shirts, we’re very excited to be doing this. I’m hoping we will not need your services, Mylan-
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Stop by and say hello, that’s all.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, that’s good. Maya, I’m certain we’re going to need your services-
Maya Cohen: Yes.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: The services of your team. I appreciate not only the work that you’ve been doing for nearly the last, I guess 16 years officially plus, and I also appreciate your taking the time to come in and talk to us today. It’s a very complex set of logistics that you’re working with, and you are doing a great job to pull it all off.
Maya Cohen: Well, thank you for having us.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Well, thank you very much for having us.
Maya Cohen: It was fun.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: Great to be here.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Maya Cohen, who is the volunteer coordinator of the TD Beach to Beacon 10k and her husband, Dr. Mylan Cohen, the co-medical director of the race. We’ll see you in August.
Maya Cohen: See you then.
Dr. Mylan Cohen: See you there.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show #305: Maine’s TD Beach to Beacon. Our guests have included Joan Benoit Samuelson, Dr. Mylan and Maya Cohen. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page.
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Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at lovemaineradio.com. Here’s a track from Spencer Albee’s new album, “Relentlessly Yours,” in stores and online now at spenceralbee.com.
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com. Here are a few highlights from this week’s program.