by Alison Conway
Last weekend, I finished my longest run to date: North America’s oldest road race, Around the Bay, in Hamilton, Ontario. At 30 km (18.6 miles) it is not a marathon, but it has its own torments—winds off Lake Ontario and rolling hills on the back 10 km. “Rolling” makes the hills sound picturesque, but they gutted me. To add insult to injury, the race includes a monster incline that awaits runners around kilometer 26. It is, as they say, a challenging course.
I approached the race with a mixture of dread and excitement. Many times I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer is simple. Running has changed my life profoundly since I took it up again after decades away. It seems like a miracle to be able to claim the streets at middle age; as the miles add up, my confidence and joy grow. The running community provides support with its bottomless enthusiasm and acts of generosity and kindness. And, as it turns out, I love to race. So there I was, on those rolling hills, duking it out with my doubts and aching legs, feeling grateful.
The transformations running has made possible in my own life have led me to consider how it might transform the lives of others. I’ve been volunteering for Start2Finish, a reading and running club that works with at-risk children in elementary schools around Canada. The children with whom I feel most connected are the girls approaching puberty. Puberty looks to me a little like middle age: changes in the body that can’t be controlled, self-consciousness, fears of failing, negative self-chat. For this particular group of young women, add the challenges that attend the socioeconomic realities of their community. These girls are brave when they face down Race Day.
The Centre helps women lacing up their running shoes, metaphorically speaking. To step out the door into a new life requires a trust in the larger community and a belief that a better future is possible. Please join me in helping women gain the strength they need to go the distance. If you’d like to support the cause with a donation, you can do that here.
How about you? Do you feel more motivated when you’re running for a cause? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University. Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.