BY: NIKKI SCOTT
On May 28 and 29 the Envision Financial Run for Water will once again change lives. Thousands of runners will take part in different distances over the weekend while raising money to bring clean water to villages in Ethiopia.
One of the distances is a team-friendly ultra marathon. Early on May 28, a group of runners will gather in the UFV parking lot, with laces tied and gear bags packed, ready to set out on a scenic 55 km route that covers much of Abbotsford’s Discovery Trail. It has become a much-loved part of the Run for Water events each spring – creating almost a cult-like following with a number of repeat runners who are happy to mentor those new to the distance.
This ultra stands out in the running community because the only part that is race-like is the start and finish line. All 55 km in between have runners working as a team. Committing to an ultra marathon can be a pretty daunting task, and Run for Water is inviting relay teams to join the cause. This event has always been made special by its group dynamic and the support that lends to each of its runners – registering to run as a relay team of two to three runners is the perfect way to use that support and share the training and fundraising efforts along the way.
Running as a paced group is a very different way of running an ultra marathon, but it stems from the fact that Run for Water has such a meaningful cause. It’s not about being first, it’s about channeling the same energy and dedication it takes to run such a long distance and using it to raise money and awareness about the impact of clean water on the lives, education and futures of so many people in Ethiopia.
It’s about taking every one of those steps during training and making every single one of them matter for the rest of someone’s life.
I was one of those nervous, excited runners in that parking lot at UFV four years ago.
Having barely completed my first marathon just months before, I had been incredibly inspired listening to ultra-runner and record-holder Ray Zahab speak at a Run for Water gala. I took the plunge and committed to the ultra marathon in 2013.
My own running story began when I was catastrophically injured in a car accident and was told I would forever be in pain and never able to run again. After years of physical therapy I had gotten to the point where I wanted nothing more than to prove them wrong and find some form of my active lifestyle again.
Over the course of a year, I struggled through running clinic after running clinic, always the last runner in the pack, always in some form of pain or tears but I managed to learn to run again. And I felt amazing because of it. In the years before my first Run for Water ultra, I had run more than 20 half marathons, ran through both of my pregnancies and completed my first marathon.
In learning to run after my accident I had regained my confidence and found joy again. Staying fit and being active became my most effective form of pain management. In short, running is what saved my life after such horrible injuries.
As I sat and listened to Ray’s inspiring message, I couldn’t help but relate my own experience with recovery and running to the incredible work that was being done with Run for Water. Running had already changed my own life so much and now I had found a way I could run and help change the lives of others.
In that moment, my whole running journey suddenly came full circle.
For months I trained my heart out, pushing myself further to be ready to run 55 km all in one day. I also had to push myself on the fundraising side but attacked it like a training plan, challenging myself each day to share what I was working towards, why it meant so much to me and inspire others to join in and support me. I surprised even myself and raised over $1500, and all of it went toward building clean water systems in Ethiopia within months of the ultra.
When I finally arrived in that parking lot on the morning of my first ultra marathon, I knew I was ready but was still filled with nerves and excitement. Through so many months of hard work I had become a stronger runner, but also a more inspired person.
As we checked our gear one last time and waved goodbye to the family and friends who had come to see us off that morning, I had no idea that I’d just taken my very step on a whole new journey with Run for Water.
I have gone on to complete the Run for Water ultra marathon three times, and every year my spirit for running and compassion for this cause is reenergized. I am always inspired by the amazing group of runners whom I get to know quite well over our seven hours of running. Every year I also push myself to be a stronger runner going into the ultra marathon. I also try to inspire more people to get involved by running any of the distances or contributing to the cause. My life has changed because of my decision to get involved with Run for Water.
This past November I surprised myself again when I found myself running up the majestic mountains of the Simien National Park in Ethiopia with Run for Water on a trip of a lifetime. In the same spirit as we run the ultra each year, a different group of 20 runners (some other ultra runners were part of this group too) raised funds for clean water and a new school for the village of Kudo, and then visited it together to meet the people we helped.
My experience in Ethiopia has made me want to work harder and help more.
Spending time in the Tigray region of Ethiopia showed us just how impactful clean water is. We visited the schools that children can now attend once their days are free from walking hours and hours to fetch water. We met the women and children who now have the chance to earn an education. We saw first-hand how the families in these villages are able to learn new skills so they can earn enough money to send their secondary school-aged children off to study now that their time has been freed and they have been able to attend school.
For the first time these children are being taught to have goals. With the introduction of clean water and dedicated schools, they are finally able to start dreaming of futures they would never otherwise have had.
My time in Ethiopia is something I will never forget and something that would
never have been possible had I not taken that first step and run the Run for Water ultra marathon. This event is so much more than just an ultra marathon, it’s a movement, and I am excited for this year’s runners to experience it.
This year’s ultra marathon is three months away, but you can bet that as you sit reading this article there are runners on the roads and trails right now, training their bodies to be ready for this challenge.
Registration is now open for all Envision Financial Run for Water events including a 5K Fun Run around Mill Lake, 10 K Run, Half Marathon, the Ultra Marathon and relay, and a brand new Nissan Run for Water Trail Race. All details can be found at runforwater.ca.