On the evening of March 17th, I – alongside my fellow directors and our CEO – made the inevitable decision that our very passionate and dedicated James River Association (JRA) staff would need to telework.  At that point in time it felt temporary, but 8 months in, we now know different. There were so many changes and adaptations we had to make almost overnight. The good news is that we very quickly and very cautiously proceeded with our work. And I’m proud to say as the director of JRA’s programs, we have continued with each of our programs in some way, shape, or form since we left the office that day in March.

However for me personally – someone that is much programmed on a routine and extremely goal focused – I took all of these abrupt changes and uncertainties very hard, much like many others in the world.  All of a sudden life was so different, and I had no control over what the next day would look like. So I turned to the one thing that has been steady in my life for quite some time – running.  The morning of March 18th, I did the only thing that I knew I could that felt normal.  I went outside for a run.  And since that day, I have gone for a run every single day – and usually more than once a day.  Often times I’ll bookend the day with a pre-work and post-work run.  Rain, shine, hot, cold – it’s the very thing that has kept my life routine and feeling NORMAL since mid-March.

Running is my therapy. It’s where I work out the day’s problems in my head, it’s where I sometimes drown out all the world’s noise and choose to instead listen to the sounds of nature around me, and it’s where I take a very deep breath and know that life can seem normal.  And even though I’ve altered many of my running routes over the last 8 months to stay away from crowds, my best and favorite runs are always the ones with the river in my view.  (And so you know, I spent a very long time scrolling through all of my pictures of the James that were taken on my runs to find the perfect one for this blog. I hope you enjoy this one which was taken from one of my favorite bridges that provides me with a bird’s eye view of the James!)

I know I’m not the only one that has taken solace in the James. In Richmond alone, throughout the summer the James River Park System recorded over 100,000 visitors than previous years. Our public access sites are seeing more traffic than ever, and many of us are looking for any reason to be on or near the river.

As of March, I quickly transitioned from running in large-scale international races to running in virtual races.  Even one where I was on a team of 10 that ran 3,107 miles to virtually cross the United States in just 18 days. Now a quick qualifier – I have always been an athlete.  I started running 5ks with my dad when I was in 2nd grade, I turned in my running shoes for a swimsuit and swam competitively to college, and then returned to running shortly after. While this has always been routine for me, it is definitely the longest running streak I’ve ever held. Thanks to JRA’s great partner Sportsbackers, my current race is to virtually run 7 marathons on 7 continents, and I have until January 31 to complete this on my own.  At the time of writing this, I’m 12 days, 131 miles in and on my 6th marathon.  My goal is to finish all 183.4 miles by Thanksgiving. I’m asking for people to support me by way of giving back to JRA for all we do to ensure that there is access to a healthy and clean river.

Right now I have a reason to be outside doing what’s normal for me and doing one of the things that makes me feel thankful each day.  I hope in this time as we approach Thanksgiving, we all find that thing that makes us thankful and makes us feel normal. And as we like to say at JRA, “River On.”

If you’re inspired by Shawn, you can also show your gratitude for the James by signing up to start your own fundraiser through our ‘Raise for the River‘ platform! ‘Tis the season for giving back!