They run for different reasons. Laura Martin is wrestling with depression and the creeping effects of cerebral palsy. Heather LeFriec loves the burn of competition and the sense of community that comes after a race. Rachel Toor finds that the incessant pounding shakes words loose in her mind. After she runs, she writes. What they have in common is that running provides them with an outlet, be it creative, emotional, spiritual or physical. And on the eve of Bloomsday, they're just a sampling of the vast cross-section of runners — be they hardcore racers or folks just trying to shed a pound or two — who take to the course every May.
"You have a whole buffet of options, of ways of being a runner," says Toor. "In each week you can be a different kind of runner."
When Amanda Bellefeuille started running in 2008, she weighed 270 pounds and had heart problems. Her doctor warned her that if she didn't change her ways she was going to have to resort to medication.
So she joined Weight Watchers and started jogging. She hated running, but stuck with it, one step at a time. Her beagle-terrier mix Shiloh proved to be an encouraging coach.
"Even on days when I was like, 'I really don't want to run,' she's like, 'Let's go,'" says Bellefeuille.
Over the course of three years, Bellefeuille lost 100 pounds. In 2010, she ran her first half-marathon. A year later, she ran a full marathon. Now, she's run two marathons, is training for her third and is a proud member of Spokane's Flying Irish running club.
"One of the biggest reasons I keep going back to races is the running community," she says. "Everyone is supportive there."
Running and writing go hand in hand for Rachel Toor. The Eastern Washington University English professor started running when she was 30, prompted by her boyfriend at the time. Shortly after, she started writing. Since then, she's run more than 60 marathons and ultramarathons, and written four books, two about running. She also writes a bimonthly column for Running Times.
"I write less when I'm not running," she says. "Things shake loose in my head when I run, especially when I'm working on a book and I'm stuck."
As she gets older, Toor is focusing more on helping other runners. She volunteers as a pacer for marathons. Supporting competitors as they fight for their goals is a better feeling than winning her own races, she says.
"The only times I've ever cried after races is when I've been pacing and someone else meets their goal," she says.
Heather LeFriec runs to win. But as much as she loves winning, the running community is the bigger draw. In college, LeFriec ran for Gonzaga University. When she graduated, the self-described "race junkie" missed competing and the cameraderie of team sports. So she started running marathons.
"I think we're instinctively born to run," she says. "I think people get hooked on it because it releases all those feel-good chemicals. For a lot of people it would be taking drugs."
Laura Martin runs for the endorphins. Martin has cerebral palsy, a cognitive disorder that impairs her movement and causes a slight limp. She also suffers from depression, but avoids medicating.
"To be honest with you, I really hated to run when I was growing up," Martin says. "It was the worst feeling in the world. I just hated being out of breath."
But much like Bellefeuille, Martin was told she needed exercise. If she didn't, her doctor said, she'd end up in a wheelchair. So she started and quickly found it helped her deal with the chronic pain caused by her disease. More important, she found a way to deal with her depression. Running connected her with a new community of friends. Martin runs weekly with the Flying Irish.
"They're like my second family," she says. "I may not be very fast, but on the way back from the route they're like, 'High-five, high-five Laura. You're doing great, Laura, keep going.'" ♦