Running for a Cause

Runners stop on the trail to play with some bubbles.

Runners stop on the trail to play with some bubbles. // Photo courtesy of Sharon Stone

By Alexia Suarez

On Saturday, Oct. 6, runners will be taking over the streets of Bellingham for the 11th annual Run Like a Girl race. Now a popular tradition, founder Cyndi Meuchel started the race in 2007 after deciding to make a change in her lifestyle.

Meuchel was addicted to fast food and grieving from a recent loss and decided she wanted a positive change in her life, so she started running. With Meuchel’s newfound passion, she began exercising, eating healthier and overall becoming happier. She even set a goal of running a half-marathon. Meuchel invited her friends to come run with her and soon word spread and the group grew.

Eventually, her hobby evolved into an official race, Run Like a Girl.

The Bellingham Run Like a Girl race is organized by volunteer coordinator Sharon Stone, who shared Meuchel’s story.

Stone recalled their first race 11 years ago. She said Meuchel and other participants pitched in to organize fun surprises at milestones along the race to make the long run more exciting. Stone said upon race day, 30 people joined Meuchel to complete her goal.

After the run, Meuchel donated the remaining funds to Whatcom County’s local branch of the nonprofit Girls on the Run program through the YMCA, and paired up with Stone to make Run Like a Girl a yearly, non-competitive race.

According to their website, Girls on the Run is a national organization that teaches grade-school-age girls ways to be healthy and confident using a curriculum which integrates running.

The Whatcom County branch of Girls on the Run has an average of 300 participants in the program per year over its two seasons, Stone said. After each 10-week program, participants run a 5K alongside their friends and family. Stone said the race is important because fundraising plays a major role in providing their programs to schools in the area.

Run Like a Girl will host their annual half marathon and 10K run on Saturday, Oct. 6. All of the proceeds from the race will be donated to Girls on the Run to be used for scholarships and more.

Stone said there are 25 running teams across different elementary schools in Whatcom County and most of the funds the race brings in go toward scholarships for families that might need help with the program’s cost.

The participation fee is $120, which Stone said can be too expensive for some families. She said scholarships for Girls on the Run work on a sliding scale, meaning families pay however much they can and the organization works to cover the rest of the cost.

According to Stone, last year Run Like a Girl was the biggest fundraiser for Whatcom County’s Girls on the Run programs, raising almost $15,000.

Shelley Buyagawan, a long-time supporter of Run Like a Girl, said she is drawn back to the race each year because of the its message and positive energy.

“The spirit of the race is what draws me back to it every year,” Buyagawan said. “You can come with no experience and feel welcomed, encouraged and have a lot of fun with women in the same situation as you.”

After seven years of participating in Run Like a Girl, Buyagawan is now involved with Girls on the Run through her daughter’s school, Happy Valley Elementary.

According to Buyagawan, Run Like a Girl encourages all women to get out and run alongside each other, regardless of shape or size. The race is not timed and there are decorated tents along the run with supporters cheering on the runners as they make their way to the finish line.

“It’s an experience I look forward to each year,” Buyagawan said. “[I enjoy] participating with other positive, like-minded women who are out to have an experience that’s memorable, encouraging and positive.”

Buyagawan said there’s even a special award for runners after they complete their race.
“At the finish line there is a firefighter waiting to award finishers a locally-made artisan medal for hard work no matter what time, skill level or how out-of-breath you are,” Buyagawan said.

Race day begins with registration at 8 a.m. in Fairhaven Park. The half-marathon portion begins at 9 a.m. and the 10K begins at 10 a.m. There is a pre-race dinner open to the public the night before the race where donations can be made.

Registration for Run Like a Girl and the pre-race dinner can be found online at their website, www.runlikeagirlbellingham.org.

Volunteer opportunities for set-up, take-down and other tasks can be arranged by contacting the coordinators with their information under the “Contact Us” bar on the website.

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