SoleMate September: Leah’s Someday is Today

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I’ve always been athletic, but I never enjoyed running outside. I never thought I was good at it, and I never pushed myself enough to try harder because I always told myself “I can’t.” About 8 months ago I changed jobs, which allowed me to work downtown, meet some amazing, inspirational women, and gain confidence in my athletic abilities.

It was at that time that I started running outside, and I quickly fell in love with the sport. At first it was difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge. I even made a New Year’s resolution to “run 15 miles per week, in preparation for a marathon someday.”

When Girls on the Run sent me an email asking me to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on their behalf, I was excited, nervous, and scared. I went back to that “I can’t” mentality, unsure if this feat is something I actually could take on. But, was this my “someday?”

Over the next week , I contemplated my options and realized that my running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon would not only give me the confidence in myself and my abilities, but I would be raising money and running for all of the girls who think they can’t. I can give the girl who “can’t” participate in GOTR due to financial hardship the opportunity to benefit from their life-changing program. The money I raise will help so many young girls realize they CAN through their participation in Girls on the Run.

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I am so excited and honored to be running my FIRST marathon for such a wonderful cause.

A powerful message from Girls on the Run which I will carry with my throughout my training:

“WE BELIEVE THAT EVERY GIRL
CAN EMBRACE WHO SHE IS,
CAN DEFINE WHO SHE WANTS TO BE,
CAN RISE TO ANY CHALLENGE,
CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
CAN.”

YES, YOU CAN! 

Thank you so much for your support and donation!

~Leah

Help Leah reach her fundraising goal by donating here!

SoleMate September 2016: Sloan’s Biking Adventure

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Whenever I talk about the Girls on the Run program, I literally get goosebumps. While in college, I volunteered as a coach for two years and also worked at a running store that was a major sponsor of the program in Michigan. I spent my winters fitting little girls stinky feet with running shoes. I know – gross, yet so fulfilling to chat with the girls who were excited to get started, nervous, or had done the program before and couldn’t stop talking about it. I wish I had had a program like this when I was younger, because the lessons the girls learn are invaluable. I encourage any parents of daughters to enroll them in this special program or volunteer themselves. I know from experience that the coaches get as much out of it as the kids!

Instead of running the marathon (I’ve been battling injuries and my body just doesn’t want me to run that far this year), I’ve decided to set out on a 200 mile bike ride to Grand Rapids, MI. I’ll travel about 100  miles a day, leaving from Chicago with my first overnight will be in Stevensville, MI at my mum’s house. Followed by another early morning, I’ll end in Grand Rapids at my best friend’s house. This will be my longest ride yet by over 100 miles! I love taking on challenges that I know will be tough, but I also know I can push through the difficult parts and complete it.

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As of right now, this will be a solo ride in the first weekend in October, and a huge part of me is actually pretty stoked to do it alone. I have a lot to learn (what if a chain brakes? what if I get a flat? what if I run out of water?) and a lot of prep to do. But I’m mentally ready and getting physically ready by bike commuting daily, riding in high gears, and doing lots of plyometrics at the gym. I’ll start working out on tired legs soon to prepare for my second century day.

I am so excited and would love any support for my fundraising efforts, or tips and tricks for biking 200 miles!!!

~Sloan D.

Click here to support Sloan and to help young girls grow up to be healthy and confident!

Always give it your best shot!

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Girls on the Run has changed my life by helping me make healthier choices and teaching me to always try my best.

Participating in Girls on the Run has helped me stay healthy. In one lesson, we were taught to understand what it means to be healthy. You may not love carrots, but they are healthier for you and more nutritious. I like eating healthy, because it makes my body stronger and faster. But health is more than just about what you eat. You also have to take care of your hair and skin, and your feelings and thoughts. It is important to be physically and emotionally healthy. For example, I need to get more sleep, but I am working on it!

Girls on the Run has taught me is that even if you’re not the fastest or the best player, you should still give it your best shot, and that is what really matters. Sometimes I miss when I shoot free throws in basketball, but it’s alright because I tried my best and that was good enough for me!  So even if you don’t win, it’s okay. Just never give up and keep on trying!

My favorite part of Girls on the Run is the lessons, because in each new lesson I learn something new and important. In one lesson, we learned to change negative self-talk into the positive self-talk.  I can do this by turning a situation around. For example, we talked about siblings – sometimes siblings can get very annoying, but if you focus on the positive, you could say how much you love playing and talking with your siblings.

Girls on the Run has helped me with life skills that made me want to make the world a better place as I grow older. All these lessons have helped me to stay positive, to make healthy choices, and to never give up!

~Stella H. 

SoleMates of the Summer: Sandra & Aminah

 

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Mother

I became aware of GOTRC when my daughter Aminah was in 4th grade. Her school offered the program as an alternative sport for girls.  I love track and field – I ran in college and have reconnected with running occasionally during my post-college years.

I personally wanted my daughter to be active into sports and running, as a sport has the best mental and physical effects.  Additionally, I lost my husband two years prior and I knew that his death had a profound effect on Aminah.  After her father’s death, Aminah became very shy and withdrawn.  I turned to sport, activities and eventually running as a positive bereavement therapy for my two children and myself.

Since I was not employed at the time that GOTR was offered at my daughter’s school, I was able to volunteer my time with training the girls. We trained with about a dozen other girls in the spring of 2009 for 6 weeks (I think).  On race day, I was as excited as she was to run our first ever 5k together.  I thought it was a super awesome thing for each girl to share their race day experience with the participation of a parent, family member or loved one.  Thus, the seed was planted: Aminah enjoyed her experience with Girls on the Run and continued to run in middle school whenever the opportunity was offered.

When Aminah entered high school, she joined the track team.  When we learned that there was an opportunity for high school students at her school to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for charity, we both decided that we would do it together.  It was a way for me to reinforce a good value to my children, that being, a way to pass on our good fortunes and blessings to someone else.  In the words of Muhammad Ali – “The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”.

The summer of 2015 was a very exciting summer for me.  My amazing daughter amazed me even more as we trained through the scorching summer heat.  She was the one encouraging me when I wanted to give up (many, many many, many times—-because it hurt soooo much).   It was that ripe window of opportunity to make memories for a lifetime.  We would not have had the opportunity to share memorable moments and form a closer bond if we did not run together. On Sunday October 11, 2015, my daughter and I ran our first marathon together.

We look forward to training for our next marathon — maybe or maybe not.  Perhaps, it might only be running a few more hundred miles together just for the fun of it.

~Sandra

Daughter

I joined Girls on the Run in 2009, when I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade. My mom thought it would be a good alternative to just sitting in after-school care and she wanted to introduce me to running, an activity she loved to do. I agreed to sign up since my mom was encouraging me to do it and a couple of my friends were also going to participate. Every Tuesday and Thursday, about a dozen 3rd through 5th grade girls met in my school’s library after school.

During our sessions, we did a lot of team exercises that involved talking to the other girls about the lesson topics and doing different physical activities led by our two coaches and my mom as a volunteer. Girls on the Run was great and never dull, compared to sitting around just waiting to be picked up. I looked forward to it every week. It was nice getting to know girls outside of my grade and talking about different issues and problems girls face. Getting physical exercise also made me feel really good. I think the fact that my mom was involved and the fact that she loved running made me enjoy the running even more.

All throughout our sessions, we were constantly reminded of the 5k run we would be participating in at the end of the program. I was completely freaked out about it. At the time, a 5k seemed as long as a marathon, and even though I was excited to run with my mom, I was also nervous because it was over 3 miles. I had never run a race that long. When race day finally came, my mom ran the whole race with me even though I kept stopping and complaining about how long it was. I may not have finished first like I had hoped, but I was so excited after crossing the finish line. I think training and doing the 5k with Girls on the Run gave me a huge confidence boost in my physical capabilities. After running the 5k, I felt like I could run any race and play any sport. My newfound confidence was the foundation of my running career and my motivation to continue running.

In 6th grade, I joined my school’s cross country team. We were a pretty small team – there were only about 6 of us, but I LOVED cross country practice. Our coach had us do different activities involving running around the local park. We did relay races and laps, and the work was tiring and a lot harder than Girls on the Run, but I loved it. I loved the feel of my feet pounding on the pavement, the burn in my legs, the satisfaction of finishing another lap without stopping. My training and 5k with Girls on the Run made me confident that I could do cross country and that motivation paired with my competitiveness kept me driven to keep going.

My first ever cross country race was in 2011. Again, I didn’t end up getting first place, but I was proud of myself because I kept running for most of the race, further building my confidence in my running abilities.

With all my running experience and confidence from middle school, I joined the Cross Country and Track & Field Team at my high school. During try outs, my coach placed me in the distance group and we trained through the fall and winter for indoor season. High school Cross Country and Track meets are a lot more serious, and you have mix of girls – especially the older ones – who look like professional runners. Throughout my time on the team, my primary races included the 800 meter race, the 1600 (1 mile) and 3200 (2 miles). Although I do love track, it’s much more competitive than even I enjoy. I like running just to run and don’t really do it to beat everyone.

I got an email from our dean about joining the school marathon team around December of 2014. I was instantly intrigued. As a runner, running the marathon is the biggest thing you can do. I was conflicted; on one hand, running a marathon was on my list of things to do before I die and joining the team would allow me to train, run, and raise money for a good organization. But a marathon is 26.2 MILES!! I had never run a race so long.

Several things eventually convinced me to run:

  • My mom said if I signed up she would do it with me, just like the Girls on the Run 5k.
  • Several of my friends were joining.
  • I could do something I loved while simultaneously helping other people by running for a charity.
  • I could cross something off my bucket list.
  • I thought training would help build my confidence more, and help my endurance in track.

I realized that this was just like when I was 9 years old and the Girls on the Run 5k seemed impossible. At 15, the same thing was happening again. The marathon seemed impossible too. If I could run a 5k at 9 years old, why couldn’t I also run a marathon? Reflecting on experience with Girls on the Run was the final push I needed to sign up for the team.

Training and running the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life. While training, I raised money for kids in Africa in dire need of clean water, a luxury many of us take for granted in more developed countries. I got to train and bond with my mother. I checked an item off my bucket list as a runner. Most importantly, I grew as a runner and a person. Training to run 26.2 miles is physically and mentally exhausting, but you come out better on the other side of it.

Let me be clear: getting through 12 miles on a hot summer day in July is not easy. You have to develop a positive mindset throughout training because the miles can seem like they stretch out forever. You have to keep the end goal in mind while running, keep pushing yourself, test your boundaries, see how much pain you can take, pull through to the finish, and most importantly, believe in yourself. All the confidence I gained from girls on the Run forward helped me push through training and grow as a runner.

On Sunday, October 11th, 2015, I ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, finishing in 5 hours and 56 minutes, as the 34,313th person to cross the finish line (YAY!!!). Running the marathon was grueling, and I was sore for a week afterwards, but the pain was a constant reminder of my humongous accomplishment. I would have never ran the marathon or become a runner if not for the foundational role Girls on the Run played in my journey as a runner. I am eternally grateful for the role that Girls on the Run plays in my life and the lives of girls across the globe.

~ Aminah

Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

Participating in an endurance event this year? Join Team Girls on the Run and help empower the next generation of women with the power of #ICan!

Badwater Salton Sea: Hissing Snakes, Humidity, & Hemingway

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Goofing around on the Salton Sea trail!

Hello again everyone! One week until the STYR LABS Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, a 135-mile run across Death Valley and the third instalment of the Badwater Ultra Cup (the completion of all three races under the Badwater brand). I completed the Badwater Cape Fear 51.4 mile in March, and below is an update from the Badwater Salton Sea 81 mile race from May, as well as the Florida Keys 100 mile run.

Badwater Salton Sea challenged 35 teams of two or three runners (running together as dues or trios) to tackle a course both on road and trail across the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California. My good friend Jane and I would represent a mixed pair. After the usual check in and race briefing, we started the race and plodded along. The day passed with the usual run walk strategy and the heat encouraged us to drink water like it was going out of fashion.

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My race bib – yes I am number 37🙂
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Keeping balance during Salton Sea!

We hit the trail section early evening. We are both fans of trail, and we both dialled into our favourite iPod songs and moved forward. I was listening to Barry Manilow. Yeah you heard me. Don’t diss Barry ‘Badwater’ Manilow. Exhibit A your honour: the song “Mandy.” Case closed. The song was in full swing when luckily, I noticed Ronda the rattlesnake slowly crossing our path. 3 more steps would have been followed by a love bite from Ronda, Jane running back down the hill, no medal, and several days in the hospital. Thank goodness my eyes and brakes worked! We carefully passed Ronda, who offered a brief hiss. Not sure if that was good luck or go away. I don’t speak snake.

Shortly thereafter we see a mixed couple team in distress. We stop to offer assistance in any way we can and continue on to realize that the steepest part awaits them. The golden rule in endurance events is that everybody helps everybody.

Team Echo 37, my movement for gender equality, crossed the line in a respectable 11th place in a time of 20 hours and 18 minutes. It was a great event! A  huge thank you to Andrea and her awesome dad for being our crew.

Next stop? The Florida Keys 100.

The Keys Ultra is a popular annual event offering a 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile run. The course is flat, and if you picked the 100 mile like me, you literally run down one long road across numerous bridges from Key Largo to Key West, home of Ernest Hemingway. For me, it offered the chance to conduct some serious heat training ahead of Death Valley, albeit humidity versus dry heat. Jane had agreed to crew, providing extra support along the way.

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Hot & humid at the Florida Keys 100!

Starting at 6:30 a.m., I commenced a slow jog at about an 11-minute mile. The scenery was stunning with beautiful villages and amazing coastline helping the first 20 mile. Mile 25 offered the first glimpse of a problem. I did not expect to feel like this so early. What is wrong with me?, I kept asking (aside from the obvious decision to run 100 miles J). The sun had its hat on as midday emerged, and I was slowing down and beginning to suffer. Big shout out to the crews who not only cared for their own runner but any other runner. “Do you need anything? Water, ice? How can we help?”

At mile 40, I think Jane really knew I was in trouble. The famous 7-mile bridge soon appeared, which meant high winds, big trucks, and no fuel for 7 miles. A super scary experience even if it were cooler! Leaving the bridge at about 7 p.m., it was now full-on survival mode. No fast time today for this little runner, I thought. How am I going to finish?

As the sun set, I switched over from music to an audio book about the Iowa State legend Dan Gable to offer some words of encouragement. Did I mention I’m a Hawkeye ‘til I die? Remember the mission folks: this is about gender equality, not Big Ten loyalties. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Hersky donated to Girls on the Run!

Gable was famous for his mega work ethic, but even he was struggling to motivate me as I passed the 60 mile mark. It was possibly the toughest moment I have ever had in a race. Hemingway once said. “It’s not a sport if you can’t die.” This was officially a sport. It is very hard to convey how bad you feel. Self doubt, nausea, panic, stomach pains, muscle cramps, and an imposing feeling of fatigue. A constant battle with yourself and the growing need to sleep compels you to lie down and rest. Darkness creates insane hallucinations. Just keep moving, I tell myself. You try to recruit every trick in the book: childhood memoirs, moments of strength, fear of failure. You attempt to access every nugget of strength and repeat the immortal words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic.” Get to the next aid station.

Lights up ahead offered hope. Praying this was not my mind playing tricks, I was so relieved to see Jane. She helped me get to the car so I could rest and recover. 15 minutes later, I sat up and gobbled down salted crisps (sorry – chips) and composed myself. At least I had Jane to pace me for the last 30 miles.

The rest of the night featured a lot of walking, declaring war on all bugs, cursing the relentless humidity, and meeting a variety of other wounded runners. The happiness of eventually seeing the sun rise was accompanied by the threat of sun burn. Yay as another great crew shared their sunscreen! The final 3 miles seemed to go on forever, probably because I was walking slower than an ant with some heavy shopping. Running next to the beach, we saw couples walking hand in hand and people walking their dogs on a beautiful Sunday morning. The tears were on stand by as people started to clap and cheer us on. “Almost there!” “You got this!” “Just around the corner!”

Jane ran ahead to the finish line to take some photos. I saw her momentarily slow down to offer some words of encouragement to another runner. Then she turned a corner and was gone. Hobbling after her, a massive wave of relief wash over me. “You did it Will! That was tough!” The cheers became louder as I approached the end. After 27 hours and 14 minutes I crossed the finish, swiftly followed by sitting down, having a cold beer, going back to hotel, and lying down.

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Florida Keys finish photo (after a solid few hours of resting first!)

Information about the race soon appeared. 45% of runners did not finish, which was up from 22% the previous year. Record breaking humidity for the event had forced many of the favourites to retire on a brutal day for all runners.

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Jane and I representing Echo37.

However, it was a good day for gender equality as once again! Aly Venti dominated the race. 4 hours slower than her course record, she still won the overall 100 mile run. She is without doubt one of the best endurance runners in the world. In the 50 mile event, 9 of the top 10 finishers were women. Forgive me when I shout “In your FACE!” to everyone who has ever mocked a female athlete. Go challenge Aly to a run!

Echo 37 was launched the following week. A blog/website to promote gender equality providing insight as to how across of all aspects of world, from business to sport to entertainment. www.echo37.com. Echo is a neutral form of communication and 1937 is the year the great Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

At 9:29 p.m. on Monday, July 18th, I will be standing at the start line in Badwater basin, 200 feet below sea level, next to 99 other runners about to go on a journey of a lifetime. I look forward to sharing this experience with you!

Until then, please support Girls on the Run, please promote gender equality, and in the immortal words of my hero Amelia Earhart, “Never interrupt someone doing something you said could not be done.”

~Will

Donate to Will’s fundraising goal!

Badwater Ultra Cup Series Events

 

Coach Spotlight: Jen D.

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I’m Coach Jen, an ultramarathon runner, a marathon coach, a radio personality, and a first-year coach with Girls on the Run Chicago. I was introduced to the organization through my friendship with GOTRC board member Jennifer Elliot. We have run marathons together through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, where I currently serve as a marathon coach during the summer months.

Running has always been something that I enjoy doing. It is one of the only activities where a person can set his or her own goals and achieve them without having to rely on anybody but one’s self.

My own relationship with running has been therapeutic.

It’s easy to compare myself to others, but somehow that has never been even a thought when it comes to running. In fact, I don’t follow the news about runners breaking records or know the names of the elites in the field. It’s all about my journey to self-awareness and betterment. I enjoy the weather, the people, and just finishing the miles of each race I enter.

When I typically run, my cares seem to disappear.  I have a constant smile on my face, which my fiancé tells me from a spectator’s point-of-view is unconventional of a participant in an endurance event. I use long runs, marathons and ultramarathon weekends as a way to escape.

I know how rewarding it is to see people completely transform their lives just because they began running. I hear these adults constantly say, “I wish I had started sooner,” and that is one of the reasons that I was attracted to Girls on the Run.

I completed my first Chicago Marathon in 2008 while fundraising to find a cure for blood cancer. Since that time, I have become a mentor, then coach for TNT, and in 2015 coached 160 members through five months of training to a Chicago Marathon finish. Because of my involvement, I have run seven marathons and more than 20 ultramarathons (races any distance more than 31 miles), including one, 100-mile finish in 2015.

I do not remember a time ever in my life that I have felt as confident, well-balanced and simply as happy as I am currently after years of building up my relationship with running.

I was never very confident through my teenaged years into adulthood. I don’t exactly know why, but I know that I was never happy with myself. There are so many tools that I wish on a daily basis that I had in my toolbox growing up, and I am blessed to be able to provide those to the group of girls that I coach with GOTR each week.

We do a lesson on negative self-talk, and seeing it in action is enough to break your heart. Hearing eight and nine-year-old girls shout things such as “I’m not smart,” “I’m ugly,” “nobody likes me,” was a difficult day. They ran laps around the school with these phrases on sticky labels, and placed them on a balloon which we promptly popped after the run was over. Their goal leaving that day was to identify when negative self-talk was happening, and try to dissuade it.

The very next practice, as I was leading a lesson, I tripped over my words and messed up. The unsure, teenaged version of myself said aloud, “I am SO BAD at this! Why can’t I ever do this right?”

Immediately, a few of the girls ran up. Sydney jumped in front of me so I could not walk away, and said, “No you aren’t! That’s negative self-talk! You’re really good at this! We love you.”

Wow.

There I was in the midst of being the teacher, and in turn becoming the student. Little did I realize that as an adult, I still would be guilty of the same instincts I am setting out to eliminate. Sydney and the other girls not only taught me a lesson, but I realized that they just got a really amazing head start at being confident grown-ups.

This is just one small example of the remarkable acts that I get to experience each time I walk into the school to coach. The generosity and inclusion they express to one-another is something that I may have never actually seen executed throughout my entire life. I am so proud of these girls, and am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to know them.

~Jen 

Coach Spotlight: Claire N.

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I first began coaching Girls on the Run two seasons ago not knowing much about the program. During my first season as a coach, I fell in love with Girls on the Run! It is a great opportunity for girls to get to know themselves, build relationships with other girls, and develop a positive self image. GOTR encourages girls to identify their strengths, to work together, and to discuss their own life experiences and challenges. And on top of all of that, the girls learn how to live a healthy life and build up to running a 5K!

I have been able to coach both current and past students, which is a special way for me to continue to foster and develop relationships with these girls that are different than the typical classroom relationship. I’ve seen firsthand how confidence can completely change a girl’s attitude not only towards herself, but towards others and the world around her.

During my first season as a coach, I had a girl in my class who was very quiet and often kept to herself. That spring, her mom signed her up for the Girls on the Run program at our school. At the beginning of the season, the girl behaved much like she did in my classroom – she rarely shared in our group discussions or activities and preferred to run alone. A few weeks into our season at the end of one of the practices, one of the other girls gave her an energy award. She applauded her for running the whole time that day and never giving up. I will always remember that moment as a turning point in this young girl’s life! She lit up upon receiving that energy award and from that day on, she began participating more during our practices. She found a couple of girls to run with each session, and I could see her confidence building from practice to practice.

Not only that, but I saw her confidence shine through in school, too! One day I decided to use an activity from the Girls on the Run curriculum in my classroom as a team building activity. This young girl, who used to rarely participate and preferred not to interact with her classmates, raised her hand and asked if she could explain the activity. I watched as she explained what to do and shared her experience with the entire class!

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That is just one example of how I have seen Girls on the Run positively affect one of the girls I coach. There are countless other stories of girls whose confidence has improved, girls who feel so successful crossing the finish line on race day, girls who made a new friend, learned about themselves, and much more! The Girls on the Run program is one of the most positive, inspiring programs I have ever been a part of, and I’m so grateful to be a coach again this season.

~Claire

Badwater Cape Fear: Pirates, Dolphins, & Magic Beans

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You may remember me. I’m the average kid from Birmingham, UK, who is attempting to complete the STYR Labs Badwater 135 ultra marathon, the world’s toughest endurance event. The goal? To promote gender equality and to provide an inspirational story to prove that anyone can achieve absolutely anything.

The Badwater brand includes two other ultra-marathons; the Cape Fear 51.4 mile and Salton Sea 81 mile events. Completing all 3 in the same calendar year earns the prestigious Badwater Ultra Cup. Determined to promote gender equality and to raise further donations  to support the Girls on the Run programming, these two races are now part of my journey.

The Badwater Cape Fear 51.4 mile race took place on March 19th, 2016 on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. The 1989 film Weekend at Bernie’s was filmed here, and the Bald Head Island Conservancy does a great job of protecting four distinct habitats: beach and dunes, maritime forest, freshwater lagoons, and salt marsh estuary. A plethora of wildlife resides on the island, including sea turtles, dolphins, and alligators, plus over 260 species of bird.

Cape Fear is a prominent headland jutting into the Atlantic Ocean from Bald Island. The Cape also forms part of a treacherous stretch of coastline known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic, final resting place to numerous shipwrecks including the Queen Anne’s Revenge, flagship of the famous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. One of the runners in the race even dressed up as a pirate – awesome.

Bright and early the day of the race, I head to Old Baldy, the pet name given to the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina and the starting point of the race. Two events would be taking place today: a 50k and a 50 mile. The national anthem plays and final instructions are given. “I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen,” I say to myself as I press play on my iPod. The starting gun fires and off we go! Freddie’s distinctive vocal chords deliver the line, “Open your eyes/And look up to the skies/And see.” I smile and obey. The sun is fighting a losing battle to break through the clouds, but the scenery is still stunning.

I typically start slow to try and settle myself. After all, it’s going to be a long day. Those runners who adopted a similar strategy were unfortunately about to enjoy my screeching rendition of  Queen’s masterpiece, along with an ongoing request to do the fandango. Those poor souls were the first casualties of the day.

The first nine miles were on road as we passed the vacation homes and golf course. At mile 10, we hit the trail and two action packed miles of subtropical forest commenced. One other thing you should know about me is how much I love theme tunes from 80’s TV shows. Seriously – my iPod is littered with them, from Charlie’s Angels to Happy Days. Yes I know, I’m super cool. Just like Fonzy.

I smile from ear to ear upon entering the forest because the theme tune to MacGyver flows through my headphones. A constant limbo dancing contest complements the music as I am forced to duck n’ dive under and over branches and various other obstacles. However, the sound of a sudden thud brings proceedings to an instant halt as I turn around to see what I had dropped. My bag of magic beans had fallen out of my pack, and I am really going to need those little beauties later. Magic beans? Read on…

A well-stocked aid station greets runners as we emerge from the forest. The volunteers are amazing as always. They provide words of encouragement and support. I will talk more about nutrition and training in later updates, but one thing to share now is that my fuel of choice is Coca-Cola; it’s the perfect sports drink. I chug the bottle and wave goodbye to the volunteers. It was time to visit the beach for two loops of sand totaling 36 miles.

Will at aid station

I interrupt the shuffle feature on my iPod to enjoy another rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. “Anyway the wind blows/Doesn’t really matter to me.” Well here’s the thing Freddie: it does. It really matters – a lot. Of all the possible elements to grace a runner’s day, wind is the worst for me. Running on sand is tricky enough, and a torrent of wind and rain decides to slap me in the face the moment I step onto the sand. From the Windy City to the Windy Beach – perfect! Despite feeling akin to the feather from the Forest Gump movie, internally I felt reasonably strong and head north for nine miles to the turnaround aid station.

One minute I’m a feather, the next I am mistaken for a little fishy. Deep in my own thoughts, I inadvertently run straight into a fishing line. It scares the living daylights out of me and probably ruined a day’s fishing. I must have apologized 50 times, but the fisherman just laughed and told me to keep on running! So off I went and reached the turnaround point before heading back the way I came.

Ultra marathons are a great metaphor for life, full of highs and lows and a parade of problems to solve. Contrary to common perception, they are much less about athletic ability and far more about mental fortitude and problem solving. You meet veterans who have lost limbs and people who have overcome depression, tragedy, or the loss of a loved one.

Endurance events bring out the best in people, inspiring them to complete extraordinary adventures. On the beach, I had a delightful conversation with a middle aged mom of three who was taking part in her first ultra-marathon. Now that her children had left home she wanted to see if she could complete a 50 mile race. Meeting amazing people is something I love about endurance events and they help you so much when it gets bleak. There is very little competition, and people stop to help those in trouble, share food/water, and we always say ‘good job’ as we go past fellow runners. Few entrants run the entire distance and many adopt a walk/run strategy. Endurance events are a great symbol of equality – old and young and women and men of different nationalities and ethnicities all come together. In the ultra running world, everyone is equal.

We all experience tough times during these events, and mine arrived at mile 40. I did not feel too good and needed to walk for a while. You know the feeling will pass, but you still start to question why you’re here and how in the world you’re going to finish the race. Sometimes you can go a long time without seeing another soul. That can be demoralizing, and I was relieved to see the next runner up ahead of me. No way! It’s the guy dressed as a pirate.

Now it was time to deploy my secret weapon: the magic beans! The true value of salvaging these chocolate covered espresso beans was about to be realized. Sure enough, within 20 minutes, my spirits had improved and coincidentally the sun emerged. The sight of a dolphin and the sound of another 80’s theme  song only added to my good spirits. Soon I was running again in the presence of stunning scenery, accompanied by Flipper, listening to the theme from Baywatch “I’ll Be There,” chasing a pirate. Life is good!

Will by the sea

Once I had overtaken Blackbeard, an argument ensued between the ocean and I. The incoming tide was slowly pushing me up the beach onto the softer sand, which we all know is not conducive to running, and definitely not what I need after eight hours of running. “Take a day off!” I yelled. “You can ebb and flow all you like tomorrow, but today please go away!” My futile and, to other runners, crazy remarks fell on deaf ears. In the end, I embraced the tendencies of a 5-year-old and splashed through the water.

I left the beach and after a brief stretch of road, I crossed the finish line with a time of 10 hours and 12 minutes. Badwater races, similar to many endurance events, are small family–like affairs. Our fantastic race director places these events in locations that open your mind and challenge your soul.  It takes grit and a little help along the way from magic beans, volunteers, and other runners, but as I always say, anyone can do anything.

will and bob square bright

I sat down and consumed the post run meal of champions – pizza and beer! Once I felt a little better, it was time for a few photographs. I saw Bob Becker and asked him for a photo. Bob is a 70-year-old veteran of the Badwater 135, who had just finished the Cape Fear 50k race, and is further evidence that anyone can accomplish their dreams.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue on our journey to promote gender equality. In the meantime, please continue to support Girls on the Run. We need your help to inspire young girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident. We must promote gender equality, and everybody must believe they can do anything they want in life.

~Will

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Badwater Ultra Cup Series Events

Coach Spotlight: Emily P.

Emily coach photo

Similar to any running training program, my involvement in Girls on the Run started out painfully slow, but it has become a steady, enjoyable part of my routine. I heard about the organization as a college student and would periodically look at the website to try to figure out how to get involved. I didn’t have the time to coach, and I wasn’t even aware of any schools near my university that had teams, so I felt stuck. I still didn’t know much about the program, and with a full course load and extracurriculars, I put it on the backburner.

Summer rolled around, and while I was home in the suburbs, I re-familiarized myself with my old running routes. I was working at a wonderful camp for children with developmental delays, and I was starting research for my senior thesis about body image issues in women. I was already fully aware that working with girls was something I was passionate about after having my own issues with school and friends at a young age, but I hadn’t found the right place to make it happen – until I decided to train for a half marathon and use the opportunity to raise money for a charity. Those running routes soon became longer, my shoes quickly became dirtier, and my heart immediately grew. Girls on the Run would be my fundraising charity, and I couldn’t have been more excited not only to raise money for such an incredible organization but also to have the chance to share with those closest to me (my generous donors) the magic of GOTR.

In my training, I surpassed my running goals quickly – too quickly. I ended up with an overuse injury just two weeks before my race, and being the stubborn runner that many of us are, I didn’t want to accept it. I did whatever physical therapy I could in those weeks, got cortisone shots, and even showed up at 6 a.m. on race morning, proudly sporting my pink GOTR singlet, only letting my inability to walk to the starting line determine that I wouldn’t be participating in this race. Literal blood, sweat, and tears had gone into this, and I had no shiny medal to show for it.

I wasn’t able to complete a half marathon – I still haven’t – but that injury ended up being a blessing in disguise. It forced me to take a break from running, which had become less enjoyable, more frustrating, and mostly punitive. There was always a faster pace to go or a longer distance to run, and I needed to be forced into that break. Hey, I still raised money for something amazing, right?

Fall came and went (as did many hours of physical therapy), and I graduated college in December. As soon as I moved back home, GOTR was on my radar – I didn’t want to coach this time; I needed to coach. Honestly, the volunteer coordinator probably got sick of my desperate emails asking which sites I could help at because as a non-teacher, I didn’t have an automatic connection to a school. I’d get my hopes up, only to learn that the site that needed coaches last week had just found an extra parent or teacher to help out. Like my half marathon, I was too eager and determined to make something work that just wasn’t in the cards for me. Cue Team Adelaide, which I at first accepted as my “consolation prize” and soon reframed as a way to see how various sites approach the program. As someone slow to warm up to new situations (an interesting pair with my overzealousness), this was the best of both worlds – I could attend practices as an “observer” while still staying involved with the program as a whole. I was finally gaining momentum as my level of participation picked up.Emily coach 5k medal

Fast forward to the next fall, and I was able to coach, thanks to a tip from a co-counselor at the summer camp I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic! Our school was unable to participate in the official 5K because of the weather, but the sites in our district came together to host one another weekend so that the girls could celebrate their training. I had two running buddies and spent the time getting to know them better as individuals and listening to what they liked most about our season together. Both this race and the GOTR 5K I did while on Team Adelaide provided even greater rewards than any medal or tee shirt I could’ve received in the half marathon. These were the finish lines that were more meaningful to me, and I had reached them.

I was reminded at both 5K events why I run. Not only did the girls’ lessons and training cumulate into this event, mine did, too. In such an empowering, inspiring environment, it would’ve been impossible for any participant not to leave feeling proud of themselves and impossible for any coach not to leave feeling rewarded. The emphasis on setting goals, cheering each other on, and cheering ourselves on reminded me of all that I can do, so my mind wasn’t focusing on all those paces and distances I wasn’t reaching. That lesson sticks with me to this day, even if sometimes I need more reminders of it in any aspect of my life; running – and living – is about celebrating my abilities and enjoying the scenery, not about beating myself up. The girls in our program and the lessons at each practice are reminders of what’s important. One of my favorite memories from last season was when we were talking about habits we’d like to break, and one of our girls so insightfully said, “I want to stop saying, ‘I can’t.’” I sure hope she remembers that from our time together because she without a doubt contributed to my own learning of that very lesson.

~Emily