Race #41 – The Longest Run for the Biggest Cause: 500K for COVID-19 Relief

Team JOKA (Joanne & Karen) – launching our One NY 500K virtually on May 15
Team JOKA in our final miles, late July

Race #41: The One NY 500K Challenge, May 15 – Aug. 31, the distance across New York state

The Cause: COVID-19 relief efforts in New York by Direct Relief, a nonprofit organization

All runners are tough. Everyone has to have a little fire in them, that even in tough times, can’t be turned off.

Shalane Flanagan

Challenging times call for challenging races. I never would have attempted a 500K had it not been for the pandemic. I never would have thought myself capable of a 500K, even spread out over several months. (500K = 310 miles)

“Never” turned into “ever” grateful for this experience.

First, I want to explain how this challenge stretched me as a runner.

May 15: I logged my first miles with a 15-mile run on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, with my daughter nearby on her bike. 15 miles down, 295 miles to go. The end seemed so far away, but I thought about the parallels to the fight against COVID-19 in New York City, one of my favorite places in the world, where my oldest daughter lives. My heart broke for NYC, its doctors and healthcare professionals, the surge in cases, the deaths.

I thought the energy, friendship and camaraderie from in-person races, paired with motivating causes would carry me through this “50 races for 50 causes” challenge. But the pandemic changed all that.

Instead, many of my runs from March onward, were solo runs. Traditional races morphed into virtual runs–and challenges like this one. But the energy of traditional races was somewhat replicated, virtually. For this One NY Challenge, a Facebook group and Instagram account connected all the participating runners. Photos and posts helped us feel a little less lonely.

One special person who also helped fill that gap was my running friend Joanne. We both love NY and loved everything about this challenge. We signed up as Team JOKA, combining our names, and checked in on each other regularly by sending words of encouragement. Joanne and I finally got together (social distancing style) for a few runs in July. We hadn’t run together since March!

Karen & Joanne, July 12 at the North West Lancaster Co River Trail – 1st run together since March!

The uncanny thing was–even though we ran separately for all but a handful of runs, we were almost always within a mile or two of each other for the entire challenge!

Did I mention that runners love stats? Every run was entered into One NY’s website and we loved seeing our little runner “move” across the state of New York throughout the challenge (it’s the little things, ha ha). You could even zoom into see the map in fine detail. It also calculated how many more miles you had to go, and what percentage of the challenge you had completed.

Speaking of stats, by the end of June, both Joanne and I believed we could finish by the end of July. The challenge officially went from May 15 through August 31. As I started seriously tracking my stats, I also believed I might be able to crack the top 200 in my age group, comprised of 800 women. I also thought I might get close to the top 1,000 of 7,100 women.

Here are my final stats:

  • 500K (310 miles) in 75 days, May 15 through July 28 (34 days to spare)
  • Average per day: 4.13 miles
  • Top 1,500 out of 10,000 runners total, both men & women (finisher #1,467)
  • Almost in the top 1,000 (#1,019) of 7,100 women
  • MAIN GOAL: Top 200 (#169) of 800 in my age group (women, 50-54)
  • And just for fun: 14th of 75 Karens in the challenge

I watched the sunrise during my final 10-mile run on July 28. My route was one of my favorites, along a winding country road, then looping through my neighborhood where I spied a happy chalk drawing. I love capturing scenes along the way–the ones that take my breath away–because they take me right back to those special moments. I could feel the heat rising, as the sun glistened and sparkled on the golden tops of the cornfields.

I thought about how far New York had come since the start of the pandemic. But I reflected on how far so many other cities and states had slid, in their battle against the virus. And it’s not just a battle against the virus–it’s a battle against misinformation, politicalization, access to testing and healthcare, and much more.

This is the real reason I’m running. These are the real stats that matter:

  • To date (July 28), there are more than 4.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.
  • 148,450 deaths
  • Yesterday (July 27), there were 59,179 new cases
  • Over the past two weeks, there’s been a 9% increase in new cases
  • Over the past two weeks, there’s been a 49% increase in the death rate

When I began this challenge, I had hoped that we’d be seeing progress as a nation by the time I finished. While New York has turned its situation around dramatically, the overall condition of our country feels dire and doomed, depressing and frustrating. We are back-sliding.

  • Why are we fighting rather than uniting?
  • How can people politicize mask-wearing?
  • How can people NOT be affected by the fact that we’ve had nearly 150,000 deaths?
  • Going a step further, only half of all Americans say they are willing to get a coronavirus vaccine when it comes out. One in five said they would refuse. (According to a podcast I listened to while on the run, the other day.)
  • How did we become so distrustful of, or how have we politicized, the fields of science and medicine, as a society?
  • There is so much hate underlying major American issues today.

These are the kinds of issues that plague me as I run. When I embarked upon this “celebration of being 50,” I never imagined the causes being this dire. Running ultimately helps me feel as though I’m part of a solution, by making my miles count for a cause that could not be more relevant or current.

One NY’s goal was to raise $75,000 for COVID-19 relief. As of today, donations have topped $77,000 including a few hundred dollars from two friends near Harrisburg, PA who ran a combined 1,000K.

Here are a few more memories from my One NY runs:

And just for fun… here are photos of animals spotted “on the run” during One NY runs!


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