Run for a Finish

Signing up to run my first marathon was a big deal for me.  At that point I had run a half-marathon and several 10K’s, but the thought of 26.2 miles seemed like a huge mountain that was impossible for someone like me.  I did not grow up athletic, nor participated in organized sports.  The reason I started running was because my gym membership had run out and I was looking for a more economical way to keep fit.  What could be easier when you’re on a budget than running? I already had the shoes and it cost nothing to run outdoors.

I joined a running group that met year-round, regardless of whether there was a race to train for or not.  Knowing people are going to be waiting for you at 5 AM is a sure way to get you out of bed especially when it is dark, cold or pouring rain.

Since this was my first marathon, I did not want to focus on a goal time, I just wanted to finish! I found a pace group I was comfortable with and kept with them and much to my surprise, I crossed the finish line.  Aside from some leg cramps at mile 22, it was not the insurmountable task that I was worried about.  After walking out my tired legs and getting my finisher’s medal I knew for sure this would not be my last one.

Run for a Reason

When registration opened for the 2017 Houston Marathon, I thought to myself I’ve done it before there should be no reason you can’t do it again.  I looked for ways to make this an even better experience – a second marathon to mean something more beyond my individual goal.

When one of my running friends mentioned Living Water International, I went to the Run for a Reason Kickoff Party with the intention of finding out more about the organization. Team Living Water participates in endurance events in order to bring clean water to those who were in need of it around the world.  With the saying “We Endure So They Won’t Have To“, I decided this would be the cause I would run for in 2017.

The weekly training runs with the group helped to keep me on track.  Long runs can be both physically and mentally exhausting, and having a group of people to run with and cheer you on helped to make training easier. I posted regularly on social media about the cause I was running for. I was even asked to be a guest on a local Filipino TV station and given the opportunity to talk about the Houston Marathon and Living Water International.

Race day came, and it was warm and humid. Officials advised runners to slow down to reduce the risk of overheating.  As difficult as this race was due to the weather, there was so much support both among my fellow Living Water runners and with the crowd lined up along the course that encouraged me. But, the biggest reason I kept going was the pictures in my mind of those whose lives would be changed – the little girl that could stay in school instead of walking miles to fetch water, the mother that could cook food for her family without the fear of making them sick.  And when I finally reached the finish line eight minutes slower than my first marathon, instead of feeling disappointed with my performance, I could celebrate all the good that would come from what we had accomplished as a team.

Run for a Life

A month after finishing the 2017 marathon, my six-year old son was diagnosed with leukemia. From the emergency room he was transferred to the Texas Children’s pediatric ICU for 24 hours and was inpatient on the oncology floor for a week. Running and racing was far from my mind, and when my husband brought me running clothes and shoes they remained untouched as I didn’t want to leave my son’s side even to take a quick run around the medical center.

Then I got a text message from my marathon training partner.  She had signed us both up for the Houston Striders half-marathon that we run together to celebrate our birthdays each year. Ladies in my running group also started a meal train sign-up to help in the months of treatment ahead. And another mother, whose child was also going through treatment, encouraged me to keep running telling me it would benefit greatly in the long term.

I realized that running and training were in many ways just like the journey I was on with my son.  With a three-year treatment plan, this would be a long and difficult road.  There would be days of anxiety and pain but also ones of triumph and celebration.  In honor of my son and his continuing fight, I wanted to do as much as I could to encourage other families affected by a cancer diagnosis, as well as dedicate my running to raising awareness for childhood cancer and the incredible need for more research. This year I have once again signed up for the Run for a Reason program, running with Snowdrop Foundation which provides funding for continued pediatric cancer research at Texas Children’s Cancer Center and scholarships for college bound pediatric cancer patients and childhood cancer survivors.

I encourage everyone to find a cause you are passionate about and bring something more to your running goals.  With 58 official charity partners in varying categories – from animal protection to medical research, meeting the needs of the homeless to organ donor awareness – there are many that could greatly benefit from the positive nature of our running community.  As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Yes, the medal you will wear at the finish line will be about finishing 13.1 or 26.2 miles, a feat in itself, but it will also be about the lives you’ve touched and changed for the better along the way.


Carissa Helms is a #houmarathon ambassador and active member of the Houston running community. For Carissa, running is personal, emotional and spiritual. A month after finishing the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon with Team Living Water, her son was diagnosed with leukemia. 2018 will be Carissa’s third Houston Marathon and each time she runs the race, she runs with a purpose. In her first marathon, she ran for a finish, in her second marathon she ran for a reason and in her third marathon she is running for a life. Carissa runs to remember those who bravely fought and to celebrate all who continue to fight for life.