The McNelly Challenge

Today is the first of May, and I’m going to go running for the first time in many months.  I’ll probably end up walking a lot more than running, and that’s okay.  I’ll be starting.  And I’ve been putting off starting for a long time.

My goal? Run the Seneca Park Zoo Society’s Jungle Jog 5K on July 16.

I’ve been down this path before. I started running when I was 48 years old.  I had lost a significant amount of weight, and I decided it was time to get fit, because it would be easier to get fit before I turned 50 than after.  I hated running when I started, but I liked how quickly my body responded to exercise. Each time out, I ran a little farther, I walked a little less, I grew a little stronger. I ran my first marathon a few weeks before I celebrated my 50th birthday.

I have completed 11 half marathons (13.1 miles), two full marathons (26.2 miles), and a whole bunch of 5K and 10K “races,” including three Jungle Jogs. (That’s me in the picture above, at last year’s Jungle Jog.  And yes, that’s a GoPro on my head.)

I don’t “race.”  I participate.

I will never finish first, and that’s never been my goal. My goal has been to be out there, off the couch, celebrating the fact that I am still capable of walking and running and being outside with the sun (or the wind, or the rain) on my face.

But I stopped running last fall, for a variety of reasons (also known as excuses). I had already put some weight back on, and frankly, I’ve been sedentary and eating far too much.

And then something happened. Don McNelly, the founder of the Zoo’s Jungle Jog 5K, died at age 96. Don, too, started running at age 48, and then proceeded to run more than 700 marathons.

Don McNelly at Jungle Jog in 2011. Photo by Vasiliy Baziuk
Don McNelly at Jungle Jog in 2011. Photo by Vasiliy Baziuk

Don was and is an inspiration to many of us, whether due to his passion for wildlife and nature, or his infectious enthusiasm about it NEVER being too late to start running.  Don’s death made me stop and think about how I was letting him down–and letting myself down–by being inactive and allowing excuses to keep me from the joy I feel when I am active and feeling strong.

So, it’s time for me to start my journey to fitness, again.

And I’m wondering if it’s time for you, too. It’s easier to do this knowing you’re not alone, so I’m issuing what we’re calling the McNelly Challenge.

I would love nothing more than to see a group of people of my vintage or older at this year’s Jungle Jog, walking or running the course and supporting one another in our quest to get or be fit after 50. 

We have about ten weeks to work up to walking or running (or some combination of the two) 3.2 miles, which isn’t as insurmountable as you might be thinking.

If you haven’t been exercising at all, your first call is to your physician to make sure you’re physically capable of starting an exercise program.  And then, it’s just about getting out there, a few times a week. Start slowly. Start with a mile. Or a half mile. Whatever pushes you just a little bit is where to start, and then build from there. Slowly.

Life isn’t a race. And neither is the Jungle Jog at Seneca Park Zoo. It’s a morning we spend some time outside in an Olmsted Park and through the Zoo, celebrating what this Zoo means to our community and our families, and raising funds for the Zoo and for lemur conservation.

You can follow my journey on my Facebook page (Pamela Reed Sanchez) and on Twitter, and you can share your own journey with me on social media, using #McNellyChallenge.

I hope you’ll help me create a community of people honoring the legacy of Don McNelly by participating in this year’s Jungle Jog 5K and Conservation Walk.— Pamela Reed Sanchez, Seneca Park Zoo Society Executive DirectorRegistration for Jungle Jog opens May 3.MORE INFO + REGISTERNeed help getting started?The Couch to 5K app is a training plan to help you move from the couch to the finish line of a 5k.DOWNLOAD THE APP


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