Race #4 – Running in NYC to Support AKTIV Against Cancer

By Karen Hendricks

In addition to the well-known benefits of health and well-being derived from exercise, there are other unique advantages to being a runner. You are more attuned to not only your body but also the world around you. The outdoor life you lead as a runner gives you a special relationship with your surroundings: nature, the climate, the seasons. As you depend on these things to accommodate your activity, you grow to understand and appreciate them.

Grete Waitz

Race #4: Grete’s Great Gallop 10K, by the New York Road Runners, Central Park, New York, New York

The Cause: A nonprofit organization called AKTIV Against Cancer which works to integrate physical activity into cancer treatment. It was founded by Grete Waitz, one of the greatest female long distance runners of all time. The nine-time New York City Marathon champion died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 57.

According to AKTIV Against Cancer, physical activity helps cancer patients in many ways, including increasing strength and energy, while reducing cancer progression.

This fits right in with two movements I believe in, wholeheartedly–that food is medicine and that exercise/fitness is also medicine. The food we choose to eat and the activities we choose for exercise impact our health and wellness!

Additional reasons for running: Cancer touches all of our lives, our friends or family members’ lives, including mine. But this race had the added appeal of:

  • Honoring the memory and legacy of the amazing Grete Waitz, someone I grew up idolizing
  • Running in NYC!

One of the most exciting, unexpected offshoots of this “50 races for 50 causes” project is… the snowball effect. I feel very blessed that friends are constantly contacting me, inspired by my project, and asking to do a race with me. I’m so excited and honored to have friends joining me for lots of upcoming races. *insert warm and fuzzy feeling here!*

As part of a girlfriends getaway, to celebrate my 50th birthday, three dear friends joined me for a weekend in NYC. We have been friends for close to 25 years!

We’ve enjoyed several previous NYC getaways that included running in Central Park, but this is the first time we’ve planned our weekend around a race. Injuries unfortunately got in the way of all four of us running. So on race day, two of us ran–my friend Ruth and I. And how lucky that we had two of the best race spectators/supporters ever!

The crew!
Because running/race photos reflect early morning, no makeup, sweat, etc… here’s a “normal” photo of us, ready for a day on the town, a few hours after the race. 🙂

Central Park is one of my favorite places to run on the entire planet. Every time I’m in the city (visiting family, attending conferences, etc) I run in either Central Park or along the Hudson River Greenway. Several years ago, I was fortunate to run the NYC Women’s Half Marathon in Central Park. But last Saturday was Ruth’s first time doing a race in Central Park, so I loved experiencing the race through her excitement and her eyes.

The outer loop around Central Park is almost exactly 10K (6.2 miles) and it’s a challenging course especially in the northeast section of the park where “the Harlem Hill” hits. Then there are four rolling hills on the west side of the park. But, it’s all gorgeous!

Ruth’s first race in Central Park!

I think it’s very challenging to maintain your “normal” 10K pace on the course, but Ruth & I did nearly that. We placed 94th and 95th within all 247 women in our age group. For me, it wasn’t a 10K PR but it was the best pace I’ve ever maintained in Central Park.

However, the pace and numbers really didn’t matter, compared to the energy, enthusiasm, and cause behind the event. Lots of our fellow runners wore shirts that identified them as running in honor or memory of a loved one with cancer. Some of the shirts said, “Imagine a world without cancer.” It was powerful motivation.

And I had a special shirt for this event too! My friend Crystal (who ran race #1 with me) surprised me with a gift–a running shirt that speaks to my motivation and outlook for this project as a Christian. She didn’t know (until I opened the gift) that it’s one of my favorite Bible verses, one that inspires me, and one of two that I write in Sharpie on every pair of my running shoes.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

The statistics for cancer rates can be overwhelming. But there is always hope in the Lord. And there is hope and motivation in “fitness as medicine” and groups like AKTIV Against Cancer. My prayer for all cancer patients is that they draw strength from all the love that encircled Central Park via the steps of nearly 8,000 runners on October 5.

My goal has always been to introduce other people to running. They might accomplish something they never thought they could.

Grete Waitz

Read more about Grete Waitz’s legacy here.

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