SRJC teacher runs marathons for health and bragging rights

Claire Tillinghast, Staff Writer

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Growing up, SRJC teacher Carole Bennett never took much of an interest in sports, until she competed in her first marathon. Now having completed her 10th marathon in January, she has no intention of quitting. Along with teaching online courses for SRJC, she participates in an annual marathon called Buffalo Run on Catalina Island every spring.

The run is very difficult, starting at sea level, climbing up to 1,700 feet and stretching 13 miles around the island. The breathtaking views alone make for an unforgettable experience, bringing racers back year after year. This past spring, there were 500 participants, 50 percent were women. The runners came from a total of 27 different states, and two traveled from Dubai. Runners came out for a multitude of reasons, ranging from getting in shape to supporting friends. Many participants also use the half marathon as preparation for the lengthier Catalina marathon in March, according to ecatalina.com.

Bennett earned her Ed.D. at the University of San Francisco, School of Education, before moving to Novato, but it wasn’t until age 40 that she took up marathon running. “I’ve never thought of myself as a very athletic person,” she said. “I did a little tennis in high school, but that was it.” Things changed after she took a body conditioning class at SRJC with fitness instructor Izzie Derkos. “Izzie opened up a whole new world for me,” she said.

From body conditioning, Bennett said that the transition into marathon running was gradual. “Friends would ask, ‘Hey, do you want to do this run?'” she said. Her husband, a tri-athlete familiar with the running community, accompanied her when she decided to participate in her first marathon. “I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve never run that far before,” she said.

For an average participant the race takes a little over two hours. Bennett was determined to push through her first race and has continued running marathons ever since. She tried several different events but always returned to Buffalo Run on Catalina Island for its beautiful views and even terrain. The track is about 80 percent dirt, making it much easier on her knees and her favorite spot to run, Bennett said.

The race is unique because the runners are not surrounded by cheering crowds or a crush of runners. Bennett pointed out that because the trail wraps around a mountain, the participants begin running in a crowd, but then reach a point where they are more dispersed. Runners can then take the opportunity to enjoy the seaside views in a much more peaceful setting as they work their way through the course.

The event takes place at the end of January every year, so Bennett usually begins preparation at the start of the year. “I’ll go for two or three long runs and short runs twice a week and then do a hike,” she said. For a first time runner, more time to train would be advisable.

“Everyday I try to do something, whether it be hiking, muscle building, yoga or running,” she said.

Bennett’s battle with breast cancer played another big role in her decision to take up running. She wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. She also decided to switch to a predominantly vegan diet as she became more health conscious. “I like to be healthy. I pride myself on taking care of my body and my health,” she said.

Bennett’s biggest triumph came at the end of this year’s race: “I beat my husband!” she said. “I’ve never beat him on anything before. We were running side by side, and then I just got this burst of energy and went for it.” Bennett has significantly improved her running over the past decade and completed this year’s race, winning first in her age division.

Bennett has advice for aspiring runners: “I would explore some of the new concepts of running. There’s a really good book, called ‘Born to Run,'” she said. Bennett learned that many Americans have incorrect beliefs on how to run which leads to various injuries that could have been prevented. The book mentions running barefoot and running with the weight focused on your toes rather than your heels. “For long distance running especially I think it’s better on your body,” she said. In the future, she plans to continue training and to participate in the Buffalo Run each spring.

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