People Giving Back: Kyle: Conquering 26.2 Miles for JOY

Hello Hearts!

My name is Kyle Jennings and I’m very excited to share my marathon training journey with you.

When I started this adventure, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was getting myself into. I’d always wanted to run a marathon (it’s been on my bucket list for forever), but I’d never really had the courage (or the confidence) to actually commit. After the tragedy in Boston, though, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer and I immediately signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon.

If you know anything about marathoners, or runners in general, you know that they are a special breed. It takes an immensely brave person to put their body through 26.2 miles: the months of training, the dehydration, the IT Band pain, the cramps, the shin splints, the stress fractures. Being able to run distance, day after day, takes an incredible amount of mental strength. Race day sees all of these super-humans come together in a spirit of healthy competition and camaraderie. They lift each other up, they help each other across the finish line, they cheer each other on. They bring hordes with them to do the same. For the duration of a race, the marathon is the happiest place on earth.

Katharine Switzer, the first woman to officially run Boston, sums it up perfectly:

"If you're losing faith in humanity, go out and watch a marathon."

The indomitability of the human spirit is on full display during a marathon. Its tenacity is undeniable, much like that of survivors and those who advocate for them.

In running this marathon, I wanted to make it worthwhile, make it really mean something. It was the perfect opportunity for advocacy and raising awareness (and funds)—I could draw attention to the work that Joyful Heart does and engage my friends and family in an important conversation. I knew training would be difficult, but if in enduring that challenge myself I could help others, it would be worth it.

"There was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you’ve got, being patient and forgiving and… undemanding… maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other."

- Christopher McDougall

Training has been a labor of love, as much as it has been a learning process. In this process, I’ve come to realize a few things, about not only myself, but also about the similarities between preparing for something like a marathon and working on advocacy and awareness surrounding the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Training for a marathon can be frightening. The immediate thought I had after submitting my registration was “How in the world am I going to run 26.2 miles?! There’s no way. I can’t do it.” Raising awareness and advocating on behalf of survivors can feel that way, too: “What can we do to change it? Who is going to believe this? There’s no way we can do it.”

"Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world… would do this, it would change the earth." - William Faulkner

But in advocacy, like running, if we let fear get in our way, we get nowhere. We have to push through and do it anyway.

Some days are really tough: the run might be bad, my body might not feel good, I’m probably battling injuries, or a packed schedule. Getting out to do my daily miles is hard and it would just be so much easier to just stay home, sleep, do it tomorrow. But other days? Other days are so good. I feel fast. My legs and lungs can carry me for miles. I can feel myself making progress. I finish my run full of energy, buoyed, ready to go again.

Advocacy is like that. Some days are hard, especially when coming up against ignorance and the stigma and the apathy. It’s easy to feel defeated when people tell me “I don’t want to talk about that,” or “Those statistics aren’t true. There’s no way rape is that prevalent,” which, unfortunately, I hear, frequently. But other days fill my heart. Meeting survivors, seeing their strength and their fire? It’s sustaining. It kindles the fire within me to keep pushing through to keep doing the work. Because the work must be done.

Marathon training takes persistence. So does advocacy.

But most importantly, training is action. It’s getting up and doing the work so you can accomplish something great. In that same way, advocacy is action. When we stand up, speak out and do the work, we can make a difference.

Marathons are, at their core, about bringing people together. That community, that family, that camaraderie brings us immeasurable power and unending joy. We come together to celebrate that empowerment, that indomitable human spirit and capability.

Similarly, it is only together that we can show society that the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are not issues that can be put in a corner, swept under a rug or left in the dark. To show that the stigma they carry is not stronger than our compassion for each other.

As I continue to work toward conquering those 26 miles, I find myself thinking about why I’m putting myself through such arduous physical work. On those long runs, I reflect on the work we have yet to do to end domestic violence and sexual assault, to ensure that survivors have the resources they need and deserve, and I’m energized. I can do this - and so can we.

Kyle Jennings is an editor and communications manager who enjoys running around Washington, D.C. in her spare time. In addition to exercising and advocating around the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, she tweets about television and film too much, is sometimes funny, and blogs about her adventures at You can follow her marathon training journey there, or on Twitter (@kylepjennings). And you can donate to her marathon in support of Joyful Heart here.

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