Years ago, I cajoled my non-runner brother to join me in a local, 10 mile race for the first time (he would go on to run one more with me before lovingly telling me to buzz off). In our race packets, in addition to our race bibs, we received blank bibs with the prompt “I run for ________.” It was likely a branding opp of some kind, and I didn’t bother with it, but my brother dutifully showed up wearing it on his back. In the blank, he had written, “those who can’t.” At the time, I fully admit that I giggled at the bald and saccharine sincerity of his sentiment, written in his child-like scrawl. He meant it. I knew he meant it. But I still giggled.
Distance running (and endurance events, generally) can be a pretty selfish endeavor. You spend hours each week working towards a goal, often at the expense of your friendships or partner or family. You forgo happy hours, postpone dinners, leave celebrations early, steal vacation time for a workout. In 2012, I started running in
earnest, and I PR’d at every distance over two years. I focused on my needs. I joined a running team that encouraged us to plaster the internet with our branded selfies (all the better to see you with, my dear). For me, training for marathons can take me away from the world for upwards of 10 hours per week, and that’s not including time spent showering, stretching, hoovering post-run snacks at the kitchen counter, or boring people with my training logistics. (See Chart) I’ve since stepped away from that myopic attitude, as well as marathons, but I’ve recently begun to toy with the idea of trying my hand at 26.2 once more. As I ponder those goals, and the sacrifices that they require, I realize that I’ve shifted my perspective a bit. While I’ve yet to race for a charity (honestly, the idea of asking people for money has always given me the dry heaves, but Caitlin’s recent efforts to raise money for Free to Run have inspired me!!), there are other ways that I’ve sought to make my hobby a little less about me.
Gear: You have to buy it, and while I’ve seen a guy running in full business casual attire (no joke – full on button down and chinos), chances are that you’re currently eyeing some cute tanks or shorts or socks. Maybe you like to reward or motivate yourself with new gear. One company I’ve recently discovered is working to better the world one cute tank top at a time — Janji. Their motto, “Run For Another,” speaks to their mission of pairing their consumers’ needs with charity organizations. Every purchase you make goes towards providing clean water to people in places like Guatamala, Haiti, India, Rwanda, and even the United States. (Yes, parts of the US have a water crisis. On New Mexico’s Navajo reservation, some 40% don’t have access to running water, which is insane to me. Read this story and cry with me.) I recently bought the Kenya shorts, which are incredibly fun and comfortable, and provided one Kenyan with a year of clean water. I won’t pretend I’m saving the world by buying colorful shorts, but I’m doing more than I was.
Races: When looking at signing up for events, I’ve found myself more interested in a race’s charity partnerships. Are you donating some of your proceeds to Girls on the Run? Share Your Soles? Back on my Feet? In years past, I’ve manned a water table and the taps at a beer tent (befriending a fellow Hilary!) on behalf of GOTR (and had a blast in the process). I may have enjoyed myself, but this organization was working hard to provide a healthy outlet for many girls whose neighborhoods or communities are devoid of the many opportunities I was lucky enough to enjoy. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to run a 5k in memory of T’s good college friend, Mike, who passed away from Crohn’s Disease and small bowel cancer in 2004. The more than $7,000 that race raised went towards a scholarship fund in his honor. Being able to see the emotion and gratitude in T and Mike’s dad’s faces was really powerful, and reminded me that these charities have stories behind them.
I may have giggled at my brother’s gesture back in 2011, but I also cried at the start of that Memorial Day weekend race as a bugle played Taps to honor those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands of us – different shapes, sizes, colors, and beliefs – had been able to gather in tiny, expensive, immodest clothing, without fear of personal safety, to enjoy a hobby that many would consider a luxury. The National Anthem that played was representative of that in many ways – of a country (and a world) where there is so much opportunity, but so much disparity. There is more to life than being able to run, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a minute, in whatever form that might be, to remember, honor, or assist those who, for whatever reason, cannot.