In 2017, I decided to run for a county office. Given that it was the first time I ever even thought about doing such a thing, my hopes for success weren’t high. But I’d decided to get off my arse and get in the game — because it’s a game that has consequences for me, my nearest and dearest, and my community.
As I knocked on doors during for most of a steamy summer, with sweat running into my bra as I pitched strangers on my value as a representative, I thought about how similar running a campaign was to running a race. Both require some training, a lot of stamina, and buckets of endurance.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Frieda K. Edgette, a former government affairs specialist, lobbyist, and appointed county commissioner turned certified leadership coach, neuropolitics professor, and pioneer for political well-being, came to the same conclusion and started Courage to Run last year.
Courage to Run is a nonpartisan 5K that celebrates women getting involved political life, which they are doing in droves right now. Last year set records for the number of women running for office — and this trend shows no signs of stopping.
The seeds of C2R were planted in 2012 when Frieda, a former high school cross country runner, started running in London’s Hyde Park as a way to reconnect with her body after wrestling with an eating disorder for 15 years.
“I would just run laps around and around and around,” Freida says. “I get into a meditative state when I run. It’s where I do my greatest creative thinking.
“I was training for a half marathon and I thought about all those women running for office in 2012. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it takes so much courage to run. It can be the most empowering experience, or it can suck, just like the physical act of running.’ A lot of it is defined by our state of mind,” Frieda says.
“When I returned to the U.S., I identified that real self-care is often the first thing to go when women seek office. We piloted these little day-long meet-ups that we would cap at 12 people. I created three different running/walking routes of varying lengths. We returned to do yoga. The day was focused on a different leadership topic, like authenticity, decision making, innovation, resilience, or curiosity.
“We would invite a guest speaker, a high profile woman executive to share a story. It would open up into a discussion,” Frieda says. “It was amazingly empowering, because you would have a huge diversity of women ranging from mothers who are re-entering into the workforce after maternity leave with these C-suite women executives, with entrepreneurs, with women just out of college, wondering where do I fit in?
And then, at the beginning of last year, watching the number of women filing to run for office continue to go up — it was amazing. I was like, ‘This is a BFD. We need to do something empowering and inspiring about this.’”
In three months in 2018, Frieda and her crew pulled together the first Courage to Run 5K in D.C. Five hundred politicos — Democrats, Republicans, and all points in between — ran together to celebrate the power of women in the political sphere. Along the way, Frieda recognized that not everyone who wanted to participate could travel to the nation’s capital.
“Duh,” she thought. “The light bulb went on. Of course you can’t — because you need to be campaigning in your district. We created a Virtual Run option, and we had women candidates ranging from school board all the way up to statewide legislature and congressional candidates. Some ran as their morning workout because that’s all the time they had before they went on a marathon of meetings. Some turned their runs into door-to-door canvases, which is incredibly creative. There was a group in Seattle of women and their daughters who ran together, which was deeply, deeply inspiring.”
While Courage to Run’s primary goal is to get women up and moving, they also want to break down race day barriers. In D.C., there will be a lactation station. There will be a kids’ dash for democracy and sign making station, which will include glitter because they are brave. Strollers are welcome.
“Making it as family friendly as possible is really important,” Freida says. “One, it normalizes moms running; and two, democracy is a family affair. It’s important that children see their mothers crossing that finish line, strong, powerful, and claiming their value.”
The mission doesn’t stop after race day. “One thing that we encourage and give permission for is that if all you have is 20 minutes to go and walk outside, you’re moving your body and that is good. You don’t need to be running a 10K, five times a week. Absolutely not. This about removing the black and white, which can be rife in politics,” Frieda says.
For me, at least, the work of running a campaign was worth doing, whether or not I won the office. I feel the same way about running races, too, which is good because the odds that I will win a race with more than one runner in it are very, very, very tiny.
I did win the county seat — and have spent the last year discovering that campaigning and governing could not be more different. It’s like the difference between being pregnant and having a newborn. One prepares you for the other in a small way, I guess, but not as much as you’d hope.