My family ditched me at the charity walk. To be fair, it was a charity 5K walk and run, but I had never intended to take it at anything faster than a stroll, a nice moderate pace I could maintain while sipping coffee in the spring sun.
My plan started falling apart when we woke up last Saturday morning to yet more rain. My three kids didn't want to go. A few days earlier, they had seemed mildly interested, especially after I told them the walk was to raise money for breast cancer research (Grandma survived breast cancer) and for a local group that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses (they just think that's cool).
At this time of year, it is easy to find a charity walk. I was eager to go on one and thought it could be a fun way to combine family time, fitness and a charitable contribution. We had our pick of more than a half dozen last weekend.
Lake Phalen was double-booked Saturday with the National Walk to End Brain Tumors "Go Grey in May" followed two hours later by the Minnesota Promise Walk for Preeclampsia benefiting the Preeclampsia Foundation. On the same day, there was a walk in Andover for 4H, a walk in New Brighton for a school for deaf children and a walk in Bloomington for Parkinson's disease.
"It is kind of the land of 10,000 walks," says Robert Bizan, director of development for the Minnesota AIDS Project, which held its big fundraising walk along the Mississippi River last Sunday.
I don't like keeping track of three kids in large crowds, so I opted to take my family to the much smaller Lucky's 5K Fun Run, Walk, Crawl on Saturday, a community run organized the past three years by Lucky's restaurant in Mendota.
We showed up about a half-hour before the start to find dozens of people milling in raincoats and shorts in the parking lot and around a fire pit in the patio.
"This should count as a biathlon," quipped an older man. "A run and a swim."
I stepped up to a table
The boys were excited to pin racing bibs on their jackets, and I could see a thought forming in my 8-year-old son's head: "Why walk when you have a race number pinned on?"
His plan solidified as I chatted with Elyse Levine Less, who was intending to run the 5K with her 10-year-old son, Ethan Less. He had cheered his mom when she ran a half marathon and now wanted to run a race himself.
"This is the first time we've done it," said the West St. Paul mother. "It's just a really cool thing to do as a family."
As people gathered at the starting line, my husband and I hung back with the other strollers. Our 8-year-old edged his way toward the front. He had never run longer than a mile fun run at school.
"He thinks he's going to win," said his big brother.
At the signal, the runners took off, and the walkers spread out along a paved, tree-lined path. We hugged the bank of the Minnesota River as it headed northeast on its way to join the Mississippi. Behind and below us was the Sibley House Historic Site, one of the state's oldest settlements, where the American Fur Co. traded with the Dakota in the early 19th century.
My 11-year-old son was soon distracted and ran ahead to catch his brother. Sigh. So much for family time.
In the rear of the pack, there was little sense of urgency or competition. My husband and I chatted and admired the scenery through the drizzle. I pointed out a heron to my daughter as it launched itself out of the trees and slowly flapped over the water. Brownish swirls and lines of foam flowed lazily downstream. We saw a barge. Soon, we walked past the tip of Pike Island, where the waters of the Minnesota flow into the Mississippi River.
About 15 minutes into the race, we spotted the first runner coming back down the path toward us. Then, another man. Then, a steady stream, including Levine Less and Ethan.
"Your boys are doing awesome," she reported as she jogged by.
A few minutes
"Great job," I said. He hardly looked up.
Seconds later, the 11-year-old jogged into view, determined to gain on his younger brother who had beaten him a few weeks ago at the school race.
My husband turned around and loped after them, to cheer and supervise. Who knew how many granola bars an unattended child would eat at the finish line?
"You can't just turn around here," I heard my indignant 11-year-old son say as his dad jogged next to him. "You have to go to the end and then come back."
"That's OK," said my husband. "I'll disqualify myself."
I decided to finish the whole 5K - 3.1 miles. I started calculating. At 3 mph, I'd finish in about an hour. By then, the boys and my husband would have finished all the granola bars.
I picked up the pace, breaking into a shuffle jog. Admittedly, I'm not a runner. I get out of breath when I run for the bus.
After a couple of minutes, I started getting hot. I took off my hat, which was soaked with rain. Then, I peeled off my raincoat and tied it around my waist. My sneakers had absorbed more water than a wet diaper and were squishing at every step.
A man and woman were handing out plastic cups of water at a table that blocked the path and marked the turn-around point.
"Just throw the cup on the ground when you're done," he said.
I kept up my shuffle jog while drinking. Water spilled down my front, soaking my last few square inches of dry clothing. So much for sipping coffee in the sun. I clutched the cup in one hand for a dozen yards before I could overcome decades of anti-litter conditioning and toss the cup into the grass by the side of the path.
By now, I was leaning on the stroller as if it were a piece of assistive technology. My daughter wanted me to tell her a story.
"Ma...ma...can't... talk... now...," I huffed.
Finally, I had to stop and walk. The nice thing about a 5K run is you automatically fall in with people your speed. There were plenty of other people jogging and then walking. I played games with myself the rest of the route, setting short-distance goals: I'll run to that tree jutting out of the cliff ahead. I will run to the curve in the road. After one such curve, I saw the big white banner over the path that said, "FINISH."
The announcer cheered individuals as we approached. An official-looking clock with red lights flashed 38:12 when I crossed. Woo hoo! A 12-minute mile. My husband had kindly waited for me. My sons were off eating free food. I was surprised at how elated I felt, despite being so wet.
More than150 people walked or ran the route, fewer than expected because of the rain. The event raised about $4,000, according to Bonnie Reinke, a manager and event organizer at Lucky's. A portion will go to Wishes More, a local organization that provides experiences, scholarships and memorials for ill children. The rest will be split between two teams that are walking the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in August.
After the race, I found my sons. Each was on a runner's high.
"I was afraid I'd get last place," said the 11-year-old. "So, I just started running and just never stopped. Maybe it wasn't fun while we were doing it. But it felt like it was an accomplishment. I'd do another one. But maybe not today...my muscles are sore."
Maja Beckstrom can be reached at 651-228-5295.
WALK AND/OR RUN FOR A CAUSE
You can walk for Lyme disease, ALS and autism. You can run for literacy, public interest law, breast cancer research, Habitat for Humanity and to build a preschool in Tanzania.
You can trot with your dog to support Helping Paws or dash in your lederhosen at the annual run down Summit Avenue sponsored by the Germanic American Institute.
If you want to combine a philanthropic and physical challenge, search the Web for "walk Minnesota" and you'll turn up dozens of events associated with charitable causes. Or search sites like active.com or raceberryjam.com. Registering online ahead of time will save you waiting in line and often money.
A word about finances. A portion of your registration or donation pays for expenses and this portion varies greatly from event to event. Some professionally run races include a relatively small charitable component. A grassroots volunteer effort might send nearly 100 percent of the money to their chosen charity.
If you think it is important to maximize your contribution, ask what portion of your registration covers expenses and what portion goes toward the charity's programming. Keep in mind that the walk/run is an end in and of itself - a way to build community and public support around a cause.
Here is a sampling of walk/run events coming up in the next few weeks, with prices and who benefits:
14TH ANNUAL BRIAN KRAFT MEMORIAL 5K RUN/WALK
Benefiting: Arnold S. Leonard Cancer Research Fund
When: 8:30 a.m. May 30 (Memorial Day)
Where: Lake Nokomis, 2401 E. Minnehaha Parkway, Minneapolis
Cost: $23 advance, $30 on race day
CHALLENGE HEARTS AND MINDS 5K
Benefiting: Charities Challenge (exercise support for people with stroke, diabetes and other health challenges)
When: 8 a.m. May 30 (Memorial Day)
Where: Como Lake, St. Paul
Races: 5K run/walk; 1.5-mile fitness walk; half-mile kids' fun run
Cost: $25 advance, $35 on race day; kids' run $10 advance, $15 on race day
2011 TWIN CITIES START! HEART WALK
Benefiting: American Heart Association
When: 11 a.m. June 4
Where: Target Field through downtown Minneapolis
Races: 1- or 3-mile walk
Cost: Free, T-shirt with $100 donation/fundraising total
Info: 952-278-7914 or twincitiesheartwalk.kintera.org
SUBURBAN ADVENTURE 5K/10K WALK RUN
Benefiting: HopeKids (children with life-threatening illness)
When: 9 a.m. June 4
Where: Spirit of Brandtjen Farm, Lakeville
Races: All-terrain 10K/5K run and 5K walk
Cost: $25 ($5 for kids' run); teams encouraged to raise $100 donation
NOTES FOR CLIFF 5K WALK/RUN
Benefiting: Notes for Cliff (K-12 music students)
When: 9:30 a.m. June 11
Where: Picnic Island at Fort Snelling State Park, St. Paul
Cost: $25 advance, $30 on race day
RUN/WALK TO REMEMBER
Benefiting: Baby Angels Foundation (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
When: 10:30 a.m. June 12
Where: Bunker Hills Regional Park, Coon Rapids
Races: 5K and 2K walk/run
Cost: $15 and $20 advance, $20 and $25 on race day
2011 MINNEAPOLIS LYMPHOMATHON WALK/RUN
Benefiting: Lymphoma Research Foundation
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Lake Nokomis, 4955 W. Nokomis Parkway, Minneapolis
Races: 5K walk or run
Cost: Free; donations encouraged
SAY THANKS DAY 5K WALK/RUN
Benefiting: Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund
When: 9 a.m. June 11
Where: Victory Memorial flagpole plaza, 4500 Victory Memorial Drive, Minneapolis
Races: 5K run or 2-mile walk to Victory Memorial Park
Cost: $15 (service members and family free)
BEYOND THE YELLOW RIBBON WALK/RUN
Benefiting: Beyond the Yellow Ribbon South St. Paul West St. Paul (military familes)
When: 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. June 12
Where: South St. Paul Regional Trail, 125 Hardman Ave. S., South St. Paul
Races: 10K run and 5K run and walk
Cost: $20 advance; $25 on race day (military discounts)
FIGHT FOR AIR WALK
Benefiting: American Lung Association
When: 9 a.m. June 12
Where: Como Park, 431 Lexington Parkway, St. Paul
Races: 3-mile noncompetitive walk
Cost: Free; suggested $100 fundraising goal
KIDS AGAINST HUNGER FILL THEIR PLATE RUN
Benefiting: Kids Against Hunger (food for Haiti)
When: 8, 9:30, 10:30 a.m. June 18
Where: Lake Calhoun Thomas Beach, 3751 W. Calhoun Parkway, Minneapolis
Races: 10K run; 5K run and walk; kids' fun runs
Cost: $25 and $30 advance, $35 on race day, $10 kids' runs
TWIN CITIES PRIDE RAINBOW RUN 5K
Benefiting: Twin Cities Pride Festival
When: 9 a.m. June 26
Where: Stone Arch Bridge to Loring Park, Minneapolis
Cost: $25 advance, $30 on race day
-- Maja Beckstrom
TIPS FOR GETTING INVOLVED
How can you determine which event fits what you want to achieve?
Identify a cause you feel passionate about. It will be easier to ask others for pledges and give you more motivation to train for a sports event.
Choose a charity that uses its money effectively, as far as you can tell from personal experience, examining the annual report, or looking at the mission statement and program descriptions in its materials.
Check out how the charity spends its money. Does the bulk of it go to program services rather than fundraising and administrative costs? Financial information and suggestions for evaluating charities can be found by contacting the organization or looking on these Web sites:
- Charities Review Council of Minnesota: smartgivers.org.
- Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance: give.org
- Minnesota Attorney General's Office: www.ag.state.mn.us/charities
- Guidestar: guidestar.org
- American Institute of Philanthropy: charitywatch.org
- Charity Navigator: charitynavigator.org
Determine your own priorities and select an event accordingly. Are you most interested in raising the maximum amount of money? Competing in your favorite sport? Forming a support group around a cause? Having fun? Doing something that benefits people in your own community? The exercise component?
Find out if your employer will match your donation.
— Debra O'Connor