For five years we’ve spent the winter solstice running through the night. In our community, the calendar has become marked by the Longest Night Run overnight relay, each of the 16 hours of darkness a reminder of past hours and miles spent together in the cold dark. We’ve remembered the joys as well as the sorrows attached to this time of year.
In 2022, the event again was uniquely memorable. It was the coldest year we’ve had (so far… cue the ominous music), we had new people participating both virtually and in-person, and in the absence of pandemic restrictions we had the opportunity of meeting together in a way we never had before.
Main Street and The Public
The Public and the lights of Main Street became the cozy context for the Longest Night Run. On Wednesday evening The Public was abuzz with patrons and participants, with 7:00-10:00 being the busiest hours. Many gladly accepting hot chocolate or ordered a beer as they thawed out after an hour or more in the cold.
All the smiles, frosty faces, lively conversations, it all felt so right.
Into the wee hours of Thursday morning the crowds waned, till we saw participants in ones and twos heading out into the night. Many used the routes we’d recommended, either heading out on Main Street and looping town, or taking the shorter in-town loop.
In all we had 113 participants register to be part of the event, with about two dozen of those receiving their event packets in the mail.
Longest nights are personal and universal
The Longest Night Run’s origins are deeply personal, is it started as a way of supporting a friend and her family through the thick of her cancer journey (listen to the origin story from my 2021 conversation on the Inspired Soles podcast). We will always remember our friends and those early years. But even as we ran for Ashleigh, we found each participant had their own story of a “longest night”, either personally or of a friend or family member.
The personal was the universal.
So for the past two years, and in the wake of Ashleigh’s passing, we’ve worked to expand the conversation. Could we run, not only as a memorial for our friend, but as a way of grieving, healing, and supporting others experiencing “longest nights” in our community?
This year we gave participants stickers reading, “Who are you running for?” It was encouraging to see some use these to write down a name, or a group of people who were on their hearts as they ran.
In the dark it’s often hard to find words to say, but if we can express ourselves by moving our feet, maybe nothing else needs to be said.
Art and poetry
When we do speak, or need to find words for feelings of grief, pain, or loneliness, we often turn to stories, songs, poems, and art. In the weeks leading up to the event, we read some poems to give some vocabulary to this special night.
We were also fortunate to have Amber of the Little Free Art Gallery in Steinbach curate a unique Longest Night Exhibit, which gave a personal look at grief and pain through miniature art pieces (check out the exhibit in person or on IG here).
After supporting our friends for three years, in 2021 we looked for a new benefactor to support through the event. Eden Health was a great support of the event, and we were happy to be able to support mental health services in our community.
This year we decided to support a group of people who are in the middle of struggle, and are becoming part of our community. I was encouraged to learn about the groups supporting displaced Ukrainians in the Steinbach area, even as Ukrainian children are joining our kids’ schools weekly, and hopefully finding a place of refuge in our community.
Through registration fees, merch sales, and additional donations from individuals and generous local businesses, we will be able to give $2000-3000 to support displaced Ukrainians this year (learn more about the organizations we’re supporting here).
See you next year
Organizing the Longest Night Run has been an adventure each year. The event has and continues to evolve and adapt to internal and external changes. But we know, as a friend recently texted, we’ll always have “longest nights”, and the need to somehow grapple with this, supporting those who are going through a tough time, whether that be ourselves or others. So we hope the event will long continue as a tradition in our community. Mark Dec 21-22 in your calendar. 🙂
Till the sun rises.