Beth Laniken – Back in the Race for the Great Columbia Crossing

October 2016 was the first time in event history that the Great Columbia Crossing was cancelled due to inclement weather. The Great Columbia Crossing, a 10K walk/run race across the Astoria-Megler Bridge, is a fundraiser for the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. The event has been held every fall since 1982 – with the notable exception of 2016. While safety was first and foremost in everyone’s mind, the cancellation came as devastating news to local runner, Elizabeth Laniken.

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Beth Laniken started running in 2004 and has participated in the Great Columbia Crossing on and off for the past ten years. Photo courtesy: Beth Laniken

After moving to Hammond in early 2004, following an unsettling divorce, Elizabeth (Beth) began focusing on her health. She refused to allow her situation to take its toll on her body. At the age of 49 Beth started running. “I kept thinking I have nothing to lose; why not do something I never thought I’d be good at,” she said. It wasn’t an easy transition for her. She started slow, working her way up to jogging. Once she could maintain pace for 20 minutes without stopping – a feat that took Beth almost four months – she decided to make running a permanent part of her life. “Running saved me. I could have wasted away, feeling sorry for myself after my divorce. Instead I committed to something that made me stronger and continues to challenge me daily.”

In April 2005, Beth looked for races she could train for to keep up her motivation. Beth was running six miles along Astoria’s Riverwalk – an urban path that stretches from Youngs Bay to the Alderbrook neighborhood – in the evening after she got off work. She soon learned of a local race that drew a few thousand participants every year; “The moment I heard about the Great Columbia Crossing I knew I wanted to be a part of it. What a unique race in such a unique place! I was so happy to find something like it in the same area I chose to live. It felt like kismet.”

astoria bridge race
The Great Columbia Crossing is scheduled for Sunday, October 15, 2017. The 10k race travels over the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Photo credit: Shalan Moore

After deciding to enter the race in the fall of that year, Beth began training in earnest. She began slowly adding miles to her evening jogs during the fair-weather summer months and keeping track of her time. “I never had any desire to be the fastest,” she said. “I just figured if I was going to enter a race, I should at least know a bit about where I was time-wise.” There was one noteworthy difference between Beth’s training regimen and the race terrain. She said, laughing, “I could run until I was blue in the face on the Riverwalk, but the bridge – as everyone knows – has a pretty steep incline. That’s terrifying for a newbie!” Beth’s fears, however, were unfounded. In the fall of 2005, she participated in the Great Columbia Crossing, her first race, and never looked back. Beth went on to compete on and off in the race for the next ten years, until an accident in the winter of 2015 stopped her in her tracks.

“I wasn’t even out for a jog,” Beth said, shaking her head. “I was just walking to my car.” Coming out of a store while shopping for a few last-minute Christmas gifts in Portland, Beth slipped on an icy patch and, with her arms full, fell headlong onto the concrete. She suffered a grade three tear to her medial collateral ligament – or MCL. “Devastated would be an understatement. This new life I had built for myself, I just saw it all crashing down. I went from moving 12 miles a day to being completely immobile.”

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Beth Laniken’s training for this year’s Great Columbia Crossing race takes place on and off the pavement. Photo courtesy: Beth Laniken

Beth’s injury took a little over three months to heal, but her recovery would last throughout the year. “Even after I healed, I wasn’t ready to run. My endurance was so low. I could barely walk without my legs feeling tired.” Beth did not give up, however, she continued to walk, train, and eventually run. “Once I actually did get back to the point where I could jog, it was amazing how quickly everything started to feel normal again.”

Beth felt sure that by October 2016, she would be able to participate once again in her favorite race. Her hopes were dashed, however, when the Chamber announced the cancellation. “I took it hard. I had worked so hard coming back from that injury for the bridge run, then it got cancelled. What a blow. That’s why this year is so important for me. I can’t wait. I’ve been watching the weather forecast for race day for about two weeks.”

Beth hopes participating in the Great Columbia Crossing on Sunday, October 15 will allow her to put all past fears behind her. “This event is more than just a race to me. It represents life on my own terms, and I’m just so thankful that I have the chance to be a part of it again.”

To learn more or register for the Great Columbia Crossing, click here.

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