By my reckoning I have “started running again” eleven times in my life. Beginning in the fall of 1999, when I first put sole-to-street, straight up until this February only a few years have passed where I haven’t needed to start again with a slow slog. Each time I have started with different goals in mind; joining a cross-country team, setting a personal best, losing weight, or just training for sports teams.
This year, I started my running with a single focus – to run in the Kupenda for the Children 5 Mile trail race on Saturday, June 16th at the Gordon College campus in Wenham, MA. When I began training my running shoes had been collecting dust since January 2011. That was the point where my four-month pregnant belly communicated not-so-gently that the running had to STOP. The time hadn’t seemed quite right to pick up the running again since then. However, when I saw this race in June, a little over year after my son had been born – (hey, you just read about his birthday here!) – I knew I wanted to run in it for a couple reasons. The first would be proof that I was getting back to my A-game when it comes to athletic prowess. The second would be to support the wonderful organization Kupenda for the Children.
Kupenda for the Children is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that exists to meet the needs of children with disabilities in the Malindi and Margareni districts along the coast of Kenya. This organization was started by a partnership between founder Cynthia Bauer and the Gede Home for the Physically Handicapped in Kenya. I had the great privilege to meet Cyndi on the Salem Commons three years ago playing a game of pick-up soccer, which is how I first heard of the organization.
Through donations, Kupenda for the Children is able to “assist children with disabilities by paying school fees via one-on-one sponsorships, constructing special needs facilities, funding medical intervention, providing school supplies and medical equipment, creating awareness in the community, strengthening local churches for advocacy and assistance, and staffing qualified help for the children in need.”
Since meeting Cyndi I have been able to both get to know her on a personal level, as well as hear her speak several times and tell the story of the organization. Every time it brings tears to my eyes to hear of her great love for her work in Kenya and the good they are doing for the children there.
Getting back into running was hard, a lot harder than I was expecting since I have so much experience starting again. I might have given up… except that I had convinced five other people to run the race with me and it was for a good cause.
By the beginning of April I was running thirty consecutive minutes…but then I started using a jogging stroller a couple times a week. That added a whole new dimension to running and the decrease in pace time was demoralizing. There were almost walkers who were faster than me. Almost, but not quite!
By late May I was able to run forty minutes, a little under the 55 minutes I figured the 5-Mile Trail Race was going to take me. I was triumphant, and at least sure now that I would finish the race. And then… a Sinus Infection hit me over Memorial Day Weekend. Fatigue, headaches, and molasses-thick phlegm laid me low over the first week of June. I began to get nervous about the race, feeling as though I was cutting it close trying to work up to that final 50 minutes before Saturday, June 16th.
And then, Race Day.
Running on Saturday was my first real race since high school cross-country 5K meets and I knew I was about to run this a lot slower. Yet, after running 4 miles on Wednesday I knew could do it. Clipping my number to my shirt evoked feelings of pride, determination, and also calmed the butterflies in my stomach just under the number.
When the starting horn blew, I set out at the right pace and kept it up for the entire race, a double loop through the ponds behind the main campus of Gordon College.
Since I attended Gordon College for my undergrad, running a race there was a great way to link together a lot of my life experiences – memories of running races with my cross country team in high school – to times spent swimming in the lakes we ran by on the trail during my undergraduate years , to continuing a healthy lifestyle as a mother all went through my mind as I ran the 5 mile trail. (And trust me, 52:40 minutes was plenty of time to think about all this!)
Running the race was everything I wanted it to be; an entrance back into physical fitness, as well as a way to support a wonderful organization. The mental trip down memory lane was an added bonus.
*Kupenda means ‘to love’ in Swahili
— Beth Melillo