Learning to Love Charity Running

charity run group shotThe ugly t-shirts, the pre-race nerves, the post-race bananas, the older guy who goes out way too fast; when I first started running I couldn’t get enough of that stuff. I was a race junkie, signing up for a local five or 10k every weekend, often in support of charities. But as I grew as a runner and my goals changed, I stopped racing as much and I started training differently. With the specific workouts I had on my training schedule, I found it harder to fit the fun charity runs in. If a race fit my workout plan, or if it was on Thanksgiving and I’d get a t-shirt with a turkey on it, then I’d make an exception.

The less I raced, the more pressure I put on myself when I did race. I would set almost impossible goals and then make myself sick about it before the race even started. Finally I just gave up. I wasn’t having fun, so what was the point? Then I got snobby, telling myself I was busy running marathons, I didn’t need to be bothered with a local 5k. These are the lies I told myself.

Then I got a different, though unwanted, view that showed me the healing power of the charity run.

On a windy, slightly cool, yet beautiful morning on Cleveland’s lakefront I found myself surrounded by a group of about 20 family and friends who had gathered to run and walk five kilometers. They were there because I had asked them to join me. I was there because the doctor treating my mother’s brain cancer handed me a flier a few months ago. The flyer was for the “Head for a Cure” 5k run/walk to support brain tumor research. I looked at that flyer in my hand and I looked at my mom and before we left the hospital, I put out the call for friends and family to join me.

This race was just like any other local race, in fact I’d run the same course for other charities before. However, when the cause is something personal, you begin to see the ordinary through different lenses. You see those battling the disease, you see those who love someone who is being attacked by the disease, but you also see the power of running. I saw a cancer patient pushed in a wheelchair for most of the run, but she got up and crossed the finish line on her own two feet. I listened to my mom’s doctor talk and I know that he wants to cure this disease more than anyone. This run brought people together to remember, to love and to hope.

And while all that was occurring, a race was still happening; a race that encompassed every aspect of what makes running great. There was competition and speed with the superstar husband and wife who won the race in sub-16:00 and sub-19:00 minutes respectively. There was my friend Crystal who dug deep and broke her goal of a sub-30:00 5k on her second attempt at the distance. I ran with my daughter who completed her second 5k about 12 minutes faster than her first one. When she got tired, I told her grandma was doing something that was hard and that we could do something hard for her. I watched my daughter listen to that and start running faster.

img_7730I watched as my niece ran her first 5k in under 30 minutes. I watched her face light up when she realized that she had won her age group. Behind that smile, I could see the seed being planted of someone who could grow to love running as much as I do. I watched my mom’s childhood friend finish the 5k with her granddaughter. I watched my daughter take my friend’s daughter by the hand and convince her to run the kids’ dash.

I hugged my aunt and uncle as they finished the race even though the long uphill mid course was more than they had bargained for. I watched as my friends talked and laughed and ran together. I watched all of this and it helped me heal. And no, this race didn’t heal my mom, but it did heal me just a bit and give me strength going forward. Strength to be what my mom needs me to be.

I have to think that for every local race out there, there is someone watching the race unfold through different lenses. And while for many of us, the race is a place to have fun, enjoy friends, try new goals and to test ourselves, it’s also helping heal someone. Someone is healing just a bit knowing that people came out to support them. They are healing a bit more knowing that much needed funds are being raised for the cause closest to their heart. They are healing watching others do things they didn’t think they could do.

So yes, I will start making time in my schedule for the charity race. Yes, I will set goals for some of those races, and I’ll get myself a bit worked up and nervous before them. But I’ll also remember the bigger picture. I’ll remember that this is one more way that the sport I love helps heal and make a difference. I’ll remember that it’s not just another charity run.

It there a charity run that is particularly close to your heart?

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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8 comments

  1. I have run in a 5k in Cleveland for that past for years, for a place called the Gathering Place that offers support services for those who are dealing with cancer and for family members as well. It is such a wonderful cause, as I have a had a few friends who have dealt with and have survived cancer. The atmosphere is electric! There are so many supporters, survivors, family and friends. I look forward to this race every year!

      1. I love The Race for the Place! The gathering place helped my mom when she was going through cancer. I’ve done the race a couple times over the last few years when I’m in town. It is a very special race. I ended up finishing with and talking with a cancer survivor. So inspiring ❤️

  2. First and foremost, big hugs to you…your mom, and your entire family. While I hate the reason you all came together to experience this race(F U Cancer), I love that you were able to- and take such thought provoking and honest things from it. Makes me wonder how many times I have gone into a race that I knew was a charity race, but didn’t take the time to think about much more than the running part of it.

    There are 2 specific charity races that really come to mind for me. The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester hosts the Pink Ribbon run 5k on Mother’s Day every year. The first year I ran it I was just thinking about the run- not realizing how amazing everything about it was. It is a women’s only race, that gets THOUSANDS of runners and walkers (that never happens in a Rochester 5k!) and almost everyone is wearing some shade of pink for the cause. Like Michelle described about the race above, it’s just electric atmosphere. You cannot help but be inspired. The race showcases fighters and survivors, but also family members. It’s one of my favorite races to do simply because of the cause and how amazing it is to be around that all.

    The other race that really comes to mind is the St.Jude Memphis Marathon. I’ve only done it once but you can bet I’ll go back. The race is 100% charity, and the course even runs through the St.Jude Hospital Campus. When you run through there, there are hundreds of sick kids, doctors, nurses, family members out there cheering, holding signs, playing music, and supporting….There were very few dry eyes of runners as we passed through there.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful writing, and sharing something your personal perspective. I think it’s a great reminder, and one that can help inspire good feelings after a race no matter the time you finish. I’ll send good thoughts for your mom’s treatment and recovery!

  4. This is a beautiful article Dill, we’ve come to expect this from you! My favorite runs are those in which I dedicate for a cause beside myself and my goals. I have to say that my reason for running was inspired by my daughter’s cross country team comradery, but I actually started running because of my sister’s journey with breast cancer. She lived every moment to the fullest and changed my life, for good. The gathering place was one of the most helpful organizations for my sister. Life banc blessed us with hope for the future. Both of these organizations helped us in so many ways, I ran both the Gathering place 5k and the Life banc 10k with two of my daughters and we were so inspired by the opening ceremonies, the testimonials and the races. Honestly I felt honored and blessed to be able to run, live and breathe. So much we take for granted.

  5. Dill, I love this so much. I’m so sorry for what you are going through. I’m sending so many prayers your way. I’m a fan of the Purple Stride benefitting the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. My grandfather passed away two years ago from the disease, and I’ve been involved in the race since we found out he had pancreatic cancer in 2012. It’s always an emotional run for the reasons you listed above. Last year was tough, the first race without him. Ginkgo/Meggie came, and it meant so much to me! <3 It truly is healing.

  6. This is such a sweet post, Dill. I’m so sorry about your mom. My dad had a stroke in 2012, and the next year my sister ran the Marine Corps Marathon — her first — for the National Stroke Association. It definitely made a meaningful experience even more meaningful for her and the whole family.