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Caitlyn Pilkington writes about what charity running has brought to her life.
Four years ago, I toed the line at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America — and ran to my still-standing half-marathon PR. I clocked 1:40:39, a time I’ve flirted with only twice since that race. [Ed. note: Pilkington ran 1:36:16 at this year's Carlsbad Half Marathon.] After crossing the line and teetering through the secure zone, my run bud and Team Challenge mentor John Majocha looked me dead in my tired eyes and said, “Never in my life have I seen anyone run with as much determination and conviction as you just did.”
Those words dug their way into my runner psyche and sparked a reflection on my performance: Why was this race so powerful?
Just 13.1 miles earlier, Majocha had explained, “You have to break the race into thirds — run the first with your head, the middle miles with your personality and the final ones with your heart. Remember why you’re out there when it hurts” — infamous advice that has manifested itself in a variety of forms for me since then. But on that particular day, those words oozed with a charitable cause and unexpected discovery of what running means to me — while supporting my “family” of 1.4 million Americans with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), I ran, hurt and PRed for Team Challenge.
A team dedicated to raising funds and awareness for Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, two debilitating versions of IBD, Team Challenge has expanded exponentially since 2009, now serving as the title charity for Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas, Women’s Half Marathon Nashville and Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, as well as bringing teams to both national and international events around the world. Since its first team at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose in 2007, Team Challenge has raised more than $15 million in the Vegas market alone and $49 million total. Spanning more than 30 chapters nationwide, the army in orange has made bigger strides toward this “closet” disease than any other IBD movement I’ve witnessed.
“Team Challenge has done a tremendous thing for [IBD] awareness by just being out there,” says Craig Comins, Team Challenge national director. “At an event such as Vegas, you can’t get away from the cause — it’s everywhere. It’s just elevated us to the point where races come to us, asking for a partnership. That exposure in the endurance industry has given us more exposure to the public, raising more awareness than ever before.”
After six seasons of training, fundraising and racing (and post-race partying) with the team, it’s become clear to me the role of charity running has transformed into something more than a simple training plan meant to get novice runners across a finish line. While the current boom of untimed theme fun runs and flash mob workout groups focuses on pure enjoyment and a bit of zany camaraderie, it’s the charity running movement that has been preaching fun for years: Grab a bud, sign up for a destination race through a charity program and meet some great people with a similar goal — to fight the good fight. Over the past 15 years, charity running has grown into one of the largest platforms for community building, networking and awareness in the U.S.
While the social factor has definitely been a blessing in my continued mission toward self-advocacy and understanding, most days I travel back to that rule of thirds and the moment I realized what each third is really meant to portray.