Trail running for a cause – Run d’Haiti

Story by IV Whitman – originally published in ATRA’s Trail Times Newsletter– Volume 18, Number 63 – Spring 2013
We run to get fit, to win, to help, to remember and to say we’ve done “it.” But most of us run each day for the simple pleasure of getting outside and breathing to the determined rhythm of our footsteps. To run and to breathe is to feel alive. And for thirty people this past January 19, the Run d’Haiti was a 20-kilometer experiment in everything we all love about the sport. 

The Run d’Haiti has become an annual trail run held each January, about fifteen miles east of Port-au-Prince in the countryside of Croix des Bouquets (pronounced “kwa-dayboo-kay”). Hosted by GO Adventures, a supporting branch of the Global Orphan Project, the Run d’Haiti raises awareness about the needs of orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti. As you can imagine, there are many. Bookended by a day trip on Friday to a children’s village in Leogane, the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, and church with a local pastor in Croix des Bouquets on Sunday, the Run d’Haiti allowed participants to experience something few “outsiders” ever get to see—the real people and countryside of Haiti.

The course was positioned several miles off the main road that leads traffic from Port-au-Prince to the sketchy border of the Dominican Republic. Under the guidance of Ben Holmes, founder of the Trail Nerds Association, and Joe Fox, owner of Cycle City and Running Company, both out of Kansas City, Missouri, the Run d’Haiti was scouted and marked carefully to ensure each runner stayed safely on course. Spray paint, ribbons, mobile aid stations and spotters all made the experience seem effortless to the runners. As one might imagine, the course ran through the middle of everything we tend to interpret as wrong in the world. Mango trees and palms with beautiful 4,000-foot-high mountains in the distance juxtaposed to scores of children sitting on community watering holes that produce bacteria-tainted water. Rural voodoo priests doing more harm than good by prescribing dangerous “medicines” that harm and maim their innocent patients. Running in the countryside is to experience Haiti’s profound poverty.

For any visitor, it is a struggle to imagine how anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less somewhere just a 90-minute flight from Miami, could become this impoverished. But reading about the history of Haiti, from the Spanish, French and U.S. occupations to the slave trade and subsequent slave rebellion that established Haiti as an “independent state” in 1804, it’s easy to connect the dots.

Running through this history created a contradiction in each stride. It made each us think and feel and wonder what, if anything, should or could we do. And for many of us, the solution, if there is one, is not a laptop for every child or solar paneled roof tops. We realized the first order of business is friendship. It starts with something as simple as a handshake, a hug, a smile or just asking “kouman ou rélé?” (“what’s your name?). As they say, the best things in life are free. And it works for both sides.

If you want to experience running in Haiti with GO Adventures, join us May 2-6, 2013, for the Fort Jacques 70K. This is a challenging, three-day scouting run in the countryside of Croix des Bouquets and up to the mountains above Port-au-Prince. We are also hosting the second annual Run d’Haiti January 9-13, 2014. This is a 20K trail run 15 miles east of Port-au-Prince in the foothills of Croix des Bouquets. 

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