Running for Alexandria Kids
Brooke Curran’s Commitment to the Next Generation
By Kris Gilbertson
Seven years ago, marathon athlete Brooke Sydnor Curran committed her life to helping disadvantaged kids in Alexandria by promoting physical and learning activity through her foundation, RunningBrooke. She pledged to raise money doing what she excels at—running marathons. And she vowed to do this in every state and on every continent, including Antarctica.
Zebra’s Features Editor interviewed Brooke in late October.
How do you run a marathon in Antarctica?
The same way you run anywhere else. Of course, it takes three days to get there. And there were 40-mile-an-hour sustained winds, sleet and freezing rain, and snow. It was a triple out-and-back among the Chinese research base, the Chilean base, and the Russian base. That means you go out to a base, back to the start line, and then do that two more times.
It was quite obviously desolate. The road was gravel. We ran in March (2012), which was late summer there, so there was snow and sleet and also lots of streams from melting snow. That’s what made it the most difficult because it was exceptionally muddy and hilly and we’d have to run through streams. Imagine 100 runners doing that. I was the first female finisher that day.
When did this become your inspiration, your way to contribute?
My life work? My first marathon (Marine Corps Marathon 2004) was inspired off of my bucket list, which was prompted by 9/11. Before then it always felt like life was leading me; I wasn’t leading my own life. I was a pack-a-day smoker in high school and college. I’d obviously quit, married, and had three children, but it was 9/11 that spurred the realization of the fragility of life. At that point, I made a dynamic change in thinking, that I was going to go after life, instead of being passive about what it brought me.
The 9/11 moment spurred the marathon—and one marathon begets other marathons. I’m type A and I say that proudly. I’m competitive, so for years it was all about me. I trained really hard and I got really good, but it was ironic because the better I got, the less it meant to me.
In fact, I would train and work so hard that after four or six months of that, and then running that next marathon, meeting those time goals, I would feel empty at the finish line. No sense of accomplishment or joy. But I still loved to run and the benefits it gave me. I think that running pulled out who I was supposed to be in life.
About that time, I’m driving on Mount Vernon Avenue, stopped at a light. It was in Arlandria, an area where lots of working poor live. I’m first at the light and I don’t realize it but I’m staring —watching a young mom push an umbrella stroller across the street, laden down with shopping bags. I was watching that sense of heaviness in her life when she looked up, and our eyes met.
That moment was like a second 9/11 lightning bolt for me. I knew then that my running had to bring attention to those struggling in Alexandria and to raise money to level the playing field and give kids that don’t have opportunities like my kids and so many other kids have, the same opportunities in life to be successful.
That was 2009. I had no nonprofit experience, I had no fundraising experience at that time, I only had that passion and commitment to do something for others.
I said I’ll run a marathon on all seven continents, each of the 50 states, and the five world marathon majors: Berlin, New York, London, Boston, Chicago. I’ll run at least one marathon a month. I’ll pay all my own travel expenses and fees to bring attention to Alexandria’s underserved kids and make a difference in their lives.
I had to set that huge goal, I guess, to maybe make people doubt me in a way, and say, ‘Oh wow, she’s either crazy, or she’s serious. Let’s pay attention and see.’ I had no doubt that I would accomplish this. Since May 2009, that’s what I’ve been doing, running at least one marathon a month.
When that initial goal was completed [in 2013], it was like ‘Okay, what’s next?’ Next was 100 marathons and $1 million raised for the kids. That goal, that finish line is now.
[When this goes to print, Brooke will have run her 100th, the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30.]
How quickly life changes
Where are you from originally?
Richmond. That’s how the pack-a-day smoker happened. I remember as a child in elementary school—this was before we were even allowed to wear pants to school because little girls didn’t wear pants—they loaded all the little girls in our skirts or dresses on a bus to Phillip Morris. I remember seeing a kazillion cigarettes up on a conveyor belt, and the cigarettes are going down into packs, and then into cartons. At the end of the tour, the guide hands each of us a carton of cigarettes and says to take these home to your parents. This was probably 1976, or 1978. I graduated from high school in 1986. In 1984, I got permission to smoke at school.
It’s crazy how quickly life changes, how times change, and for the better. I’m so optimistic about where we’re headed in life. I know in this election time it’s hard to be optimistic, but I truly am.
When did you first start running?
I quit smoking cold turkey at 22, living in DC. It wasn’t until I started having kids that we moved to Virginia. I started to run to get out of the house when my kids were real young. It gave me peace.
Those were the days when you might be wearing a shirt with stains on it the entire day because you had no time to shower. What kind of kept me together as a young mom was to get out a couple of times a week, a couple of miles, super slow. People assume that I ran track in high school and college, but no, running was just the easiest thing. Seriously, all you need for running is a good pair of shoes, and some commitment.
I feel powerful when I run. Not always; sometimes I feel terrible, and I don’t want to run, but I always do and after I’ve done it, I feel great. It’s intangibly amazing.
Do you run every day?
I do something every day. I try to take one complete off day and I always try to do one yoga [day] because it’s good for my body. Sometimes I’ll swim or sometimes instead of a run, I’ll bike. I did a couple of Iron Men as well, and in a sick sort of way I kind of liked the training. It was a huge sense of accomplishment to be able to swim 2 ½ miles. I couldn’t swim the length of the pool before I decided to commit to this.
My body’s used to training now. I don’t have to train like a classic marathon person would. Because I run them every month, I have muscle memory. My longest run is maybe 12 miles, instead of 22 that someone else would have to train for.
Have you had any injuries?
Knock on wood, no. I take training pretty darn seriously. When I first started running a marathon, I wasn’t a weekend warrior. I did exactly what my coach told me to do, to the letter. I listen to myself. When something is feeling a little tweaky, I don’t run through the pain. I figure out, okay, what’s the pain? I also cross train. There’s a big science behind it and I’m not saying that I really know the science, but I know people who know the science.
It’s funny, or ironic, but I also learned at the beginning of this journey that I have exercised-induced asthma. It almost stopped me in my tracks, but thankfully I got the care that I needed to manage the symptoms so I can run.
I’ve run in Denver, in higher elevations and with my asthma, that’s a killer for me. What do I do? I stop and walk when I have to. I’ve run the Great Wall of China marathon, literally running the stairs of the Great Wall. I have run in temperatures over 90 during certain marathons. You do what you have to do to get through it, and just know that if you’re in a bad spot, it will get easier.
A beautiful gift
Will you keep running after number 100?
Yes! I can’t stop. Maybe it sounds goofy, but I feel like the kids are counting on me. I mean, they don’t know they’re counting on me, they probably don’t even know who I am, maybe they don’t even care who I am or care that I run, but I feel a sense of obligation to continue to run.
Sometimes the running is so difficult that when you have a good run, it’s just a beautiful gift. Like the perfect day I had in Berlin in 2008, when I felt like I was flying for 26 miles. I still get chills thinking about it. That day I literally floated the entire race. It was gorgeous; the weather was perfect. It was my first international marathon, it was extremely exciting — the crowds, the chaos, people smoking on the side lines. I had this Italian man, he must’ve had a newspaper or program or something, and he swats me on my rear end and says ‘Run! Run!’ — I’m assuming that’s what he said, but he was saying it with good intent. There was no malice there.
As much time, and effort, and money as I’ve put into this, I’m the winner here because I’ve gotten more out of it than I could ever imagine giving back to Alexandria.
What message, in particular, would you want this article to send out to the community?
That everyone can be involved to make sure our city succeeds. That it’s smart to focus on it, it’s smart to level the playing field, it’s smart to focus on kids that don’t have what we have because they are our future workforce.
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RunningBrooke – Move. Learn. Become.
To learn about RunningBrooke’s achievements on behalf of Alexandria’s disadvantaged children, to follow Brooke’s marathon victories, or to donate/volunteer, go to runningbrooke.org 107 S. West Street, #545, Alexandria, VA 22314
107 S. West Street, #545, Alexandria, VA 22314