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Dec 6, 2023

Running to Give Back

In this season of giving, our thoughts often shift to how we can help others. We donate food and clothing or contribute money to fundraising drives. Some give through service, volunteering at food pantries, or other organizations helping people in need.

We can also give back through running.

November is my birthday month, and during my birthday weekend last month, I had two opportunities to share my love of running with my community and help others in the process. One afternoon, I handed out race bibs and shirts for runners registered in our local Turkey Trot, making new friends and reconnecting with old buddies. It was a great way to help support an organization that promotes running in my region and get more people engaged in activities to promote health and fitness.

My favorite experience, however, was helping someone else complete her first 5K.

Girls on the Run is a nonprofit organization that aims to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident” through an experienced-based program using running as a foundation. By the end of each season, the girls complete a celebratory 5K.

Each girl runs with a “buddy” – often a parent, but sometimes a coach or community member. Running buddies are often needed for participants because not all parents are able to complete the race. That’s why, when my Black Girls Run group put out a call for running buddies, I quickly raised my hand.

I don’t have girls of my own, so I looked forward to the opportunity to experience some girl power by running with Girls on the Run. I met my buddy, Bre, that morning and told her I’d make sure we completed the race in a way that would make her feel proud. My job was to help her maintain a comfortable pace, as many young runners often go out too fast and tire too easily, but I also wanted to encourage her to dig deep near the end to experience the thrill of running through the finish line.

The horn sounded and we were off! Bre, a third grader, had done a practice 5K before through the program, but this was her first real race. She was able to run without stopping for about 10 minutes, and I let her know how awesome her start was. That put her close to the mile marker, and once we crossed that line, we took some walks and water breaks so she could get some energy back.

The whole route was filled with “cheer zones” – people from other running or community groups that spent their morning standing in 30-degree weather to support our local girls. I encouraged Bre to get all the high fives she wanted – after all, it was her first 5K and it should be fun!

We passed the Black Girls Run Cincinnati cheer zone with just a little bit left to go and then I told Bre to go for it! We sprinted the last quarter-mile to the end and charged through the finish line. I gave her a big hug, and she did one final sprint when she saw her mom and dad and ran to hug them too.

The Girls on the Run 5K might not have been my fastest race, but it was one of the most impactful. And I love knowing that running doesn’t have to be an activity benefitting only me – I can use it to give back to others.

By Shannon Shelton Miller /Twitter: ShannonSMWrites, Instagram: shannon.shelton1

Shannon Shelton Miller is a longtime writer and journalist who enjoys writing about sports, fitness, health, beauty, and parenting. She has been running for 27 years, starting from joining her high school cross-country team. She has run a marathon, two half marathons, and countless 5K and 10K races.