Worth Running For

 
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To my right, I see miles of farm fields with wind turbines sprinkled along the horizon. Sometimes the fields are covered with blankets of white, but as we get closer to Texas from South Dakota the snow slowly dwindles away and the temperature rises. My mom and I are on Interstate 35, the same interstate that has been used to transport an unknown number of people from Texas, my home state, into the rest of the United States to be sold illegally into sexual servitude, domestic servitude, or forced labor. It’s been almost 3 weeks since I ran the Bryan-College Station half marathon in a polyester snowman dress, and now I’m sitting in the car in a different dress, The Jessica, handmade by a survivor of sex trafficking in Nepal. 

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Now that it is over with, the feat seems much less daunting, as I have found is true for a lot of ventures in life. I felt that way about driving cross-country to South Dakota and back during the holidays for the first time. I felt that way before moving away to college. I felt that way before I did Dressember for the first time 3 years ago. I felt that way again before I started Dressember this year, with a team goal of $6300 and a personal goal of $1000. Now that I have almost returned to Texas from South Dakota, I am one semester away from graduating from college, my team has surpassed its goal of $6300 and I am just $200 away from reaching mine. I realize how the things that start out as the most daunting become smaller as I reach for the next challenge-something bigger, someplace farther. 

So why 13.1 miles? 

I started running for exercise and stress relief several years ago, but I was never able to run more than 2 or 3 miles at the most, and never very fast. So when I first got the idea in my head to do this last January, I didn’t tell hardly anyone because I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I told myself that if I could get to 6 miles by May I would sign up. And then I started running religiously. Every other day, no matter what I had going on, I ran. Even if it was a bad run, even if it wasn’t more than one mile, I still ran. During this point in my training, I don’t think I had any other reason to do it other than to just prove that I could. I myself could barely believe that a 5-foot girl who used to not be able to run even one mile could run 6, let alone 13. 

On May 31st, however, I ran 6 miles in just over an hour. 

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"I realize how the things that start out as the most daunting become smaller as I reach for the next challenge-something bigger, someplace farther."


After this I let the summer go by without training seriously, with the resolve to pick up again in the fall to make it to 13.1 by race day on December 10th. I trained with less consistency in the fall than I had the previous spring, and my resolve dwindled as I struggled with one bad run after another and my schedule left such little room to complete the long runs I needed to do more and more frequently. It wasn’t until late October when I made the connection, that running in December meant running during Dressember and this changed everything. 

I have always been stubborn, I have always liked proving people wrong when they say I can’t do something, sometimes to a fault. Part of this whole running thing was just to prove to others and myself that I could do the dang thing. Most people were usually shocked or surprised when I mentioned it to them. But personally, I do not hold a lot of resolve. It is difficult for me to make myself do hard things if I am doing them for myself. However, if I can help someone, even just one person, I will do anything. While I did want to run this thing for my own reasons, I think I knew from the start that that was never going to be enough. I needed a good reason, and that is exactly what Dressember provided.

During a 7 mile run one evening in November, my phone died and it left me with a lot of time to think (because there isn’t much else you can do when running that far other than hate yourself). My mind would often wander back to the stories of men and women who have survived modern slavery, and to those who are still caught in it. I may never know their names or faces, but to me just knowing their stories and struggles is enough to know they are worth speaking out for, worth running for. I decided during that run that I wouldn’t just run in a dress, I would use the half marathon to tell their stories and raise money for this campaign. 

Through A21 and IJM’s websites, I found the stories of 12 individuals who had survived different forms of modern slavery. I dedicated a mile to each of them. The last mile I dedicated to the 45 million we have yet to find, but one day will with resources that campaigns like Dressember help provide. At 7 am on Sunday, December 10th, I put on the dress, my running number, and a paper sign on my back that said “Ending Modern Slavery with a Dress”. I wrote the names of each person on my hand and had four dedicated friends post about them online as I finished each mile. 


"I decided during that run that I wouldn’t just run in a dress, I would use the half marathon to tell their stories and raise money for this campaign."


And then I just ran. I ran because I had the ability and freedom to. I ran because I wanted people to see me running so they could see and know who I was running for and why. I ran because I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do it. In a lot of the same ways, I am determined to prove to others that we can and will end slavery. And after 2 hours and 45 minutes of slow, but consistent running, I crossed the finish line and hugged my friends and family who were there to encourage me. 

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"I ran because I had the ability and freedom to. I ran because I wanted people to see me running so they could see and know who I was running for and why. I ran because I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do it."


I have learned so many things from that run and everything else I have done in my dresses, but as I sit here in this car anxiously waiting to cross the border back into Texas and reflect on them, I know that the most important lesson was simple: It’s possible. It’s possible to do the things you never thought you or anyone else could do if you only have the right reasons and enough determination to see it through. It’s possible, through one person and one donation at a time, to impact meaningful, sustainable change in the world.

It’s possible. 


 

XO

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About the Author

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Beth Woods is a lover of all things outdoors, animals, and random dance parties in the car. She lives in College Station, Texas where she is studying international relations and French at Texas A&M University and hopes to continue advocating against slavery for her career someday.