Running for water: Unexpected challenges

Damian Conlin, from our fundraising team, took on a new challenge this Lent, one that mirrors the challenge faced by thousands of young girls around the world. With Lent over, he reflects on some of the difficulties he expected to face, and others that surprised him.

CAFOD Lent Appeal Damian at the river for his Lent challenge
Damian at the river he ran to every week in Lent

I’ve (just about) been keeping up with my Lent challenge of running to water once a week.

For the most part, the experience has been what I expected. That is, I knew I’d find it difficult. I’ve always enjoyed sports and still do exercise, but running has never really been my thing. 5km is not a particularly long way, but my body has always made it pretty clear it considers itself to have been built for running distances of 50-60 metres tops.

There is still time to donate to CAFOD’s Lent appeal and help change lives

So there’s been lots of wheezing and knee creaking. Observers would be forgiven for thinking my Lent challenge has been to perfect my impression of a man running backwards. But there have also been a couple of things I did not expect.

Getting ill – an odd luxury

The first was to fall ill in the middle of Lent. Proper man-flu. I did what any normal man would do in the circumstances. I took to my bed and agreed with myself that I didn’t need to do my run. I could do an extra one when I got better. How very convenient for me I was able to do that. No such luxury for those who aren’t playing at this kind of thing. Those whose need for water means they just need to get on with it, whatever the circumstances. Just because you feel a bit under the weather (or a lot under the weather in my case, obviously) doesn’t remove your need to drink, cook and wash.

Hear how your gift of water is giving girls the chance to follow their dreams

An unexpected feeling

The other thing that really gave me pause for thought was on the morning of my first run. Back on Ash Wednesday it was still pretty dark when I set off at 6am. I’d borrowed a light from my wife that I thought was as good as a torch, but I soon found out was little more than a reflector. Thankfully the streetlights and the occasional car headlight meant things were ok for most of the journey as I plodded along the pavements.

CAFOD Damian at the river in the dark on his first run
Damian took this picture in the early morning darkness on his first run

But once I left the roadside I realised how dark it really was. I had to walk through a deserted cark park and then down a narrow tree-lined path to approach the river. My light was useless and I could barely see more than a couple of feet in front of me. There were two consequences to this. The first was almost comic – I heard the river before I saw it and, because I had walked unawares along a kind of jetty, I very nearly fell in! The other consequence was far from comic. On that dark and secluded approach to the river I felt vulnerable. Not scared exactly, I’m a grown man and I’m not publicly admitting to that. But definitely aware that I was vulnerable. I’d anticipated being short of breath and long on aching limbs, but I hadn’t expected this. And it struck me that if a middle aged man feels a bit nervous of the dark in a relatively safe area, how would a young teenage girl feel when she has to walk alone for miles and miles to collect water? Doing a journey that someone might know she has to make again and again.

If families not having access to the water they need were not bad enough.

If children missing school to collect the water they need were not bad enough.

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