The Journey Begins: Race #1 – Running to Help At-Risk Youth

By Karen Hendricks

Race #1 – Diakon Adventure Challenge 5K, Boiling Springs, PA

We all only reach our personal best—as runners and people—by giving back to others. — Meb Keflezighi

I’ve been planning and dreaming of this day for about a year. It’s the first of 50 races I’m challenging myself to complete, to benefit 50 causes, while I am 50.

It’s basically one race per weekend, celebrating my milestone birthday by “giving back” to causes I believe in, charities and nonprofits. I look forward to highlighting each race and cause over the coming year!

Race #1: Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge 5K

The cause: Diakon Youth Services and its 170-acre Diakon Wilderness Center help transform the lives of at-risk youth. Their program challenges youth to month-long wilderness-based experiences such as high ropes courses, alpine climbing and hiking.

The 5K is a trail race on hiking paths through the woods, up and down steep mountain hillsides, and along crushed gravel camp roads. There’s a reason the word “challenge” is in its name! To add to the challenge, five minutes before the race start, a downpour of rain burst through the treetops and it continued throughout much of the race.

I am hoping to make each race even more meaningful by running with friends. My friend Crystal joined me for this first race, to launch my (crazy?) plan! When I first described my “Inspired Miles” idea, right away she asked to join me. That’s when you know your friend is truly a friend indeed. Crystal and I attend church together, and I think Diakon’s mission appeals to us because it is Christian-based.

Coincidentally, one of our mutal running friends, Ali, was a race volunteer who cheered for us and encouraged us to win–little did we know his prediction would come true. Another coincidence: During the race, I discovered a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in ages, Melany, was also running!

Trail races are especially challenging due to rocks and tree roots, so it’s rare for me to participate. But I’ve done a few, and I also know it’s wise to walk/hike the steep uphills. And there was one steep uphill on this course! There was also a downhill which I continued running. I had visions of tripping or turning an ankle, putting the remaining 49 races in jeopardy, but thankfully that did not happen. I do love the outdoors, and this setting in the woods was beautiful.

It was actually one of those magical race experiences where everything seemed to click for me. I felt great, I was excited to launch my Inspired Miles, and from mile one onward, I worked my way up through the pack and continuously passed runners, with not one passing me, exactly as my running coach Fred has always instructed (at Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg).

Trail race paces really can’t compare to road races, so I didn’t pay close attention to my pace, watch, or the clock at the end. In fact, it wasn’t until 15-20 minutes after the race that I even checked the race results scrolling on a monitor and discovered that I placed 2nd in my (new) age group of 50-59. So it was super special to receive a medal at my first Inspired Miles event… even better to share the experience with friends and give back to a worthy cause changing youthful lives for the better.

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