The Weekend to End Breast Cancer: What’s it all about?

Walking 60 km in two days to raise money for breast cancer research may sound daunting, but it’s become a winning combination for thousands of Canadians. And this year, the research dollars are going wider

The Weekend to End Breast Cancer: What's it all about?

Source: Web exclusive: May 2009

Now, I’m no exercise slouch. I run regularly’up to 10 km so far, and I’m training for a half-marathon‘and since I depend on public transit to get around, I do my fair share of walking. But 60 km in one weekend? How long does that take? Even though it’s for a great cause, the first time I heard of it, it sounded like something only the truly devoted (or crazy) would do.

Thousands of Canadians, however, disagree with me, and are proving it with their increasing participation in annual fundraiser The Weekend to End Breast Cancer, now in its 7th year and broadening its approach to include all cancers that affect women. The Toronto event (the largest in Canada and the longest-running event) has raised $60 million over six years for The Campbell Family Institute at The Princess Margaret, and participants in six Canadian cities are looking to make the biggest contribution yet in 2009.

If everyone else is doing it, it can’t be that bad, right? To find out, I spoke with Linda Mickelson, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation and a veteran walker.

Best Health: How long have you been participating in The Weekend to End Breast Cancer? How did you get involved?

Linda Mickelson: This will be the sixth year in a row that I’m walking. The year before that I heard about the event when it started in Ontario and was intrigued. All my family lives in southern Ontario and one of my sisters was at that time a survivor. I persuaded my three sisters to walk with me in Toronto in 2004 and we walked to celebrate my sister’s survival. It was an incredible experience for all of us, and I could hardly wait to bring it to Alberta. In 2005 we introduced the event in Calgary.

BH: Walking 60 km isn’t your typical walk in the park. What does it take to participate?

LM: It’s not an event where you get up on Saturday morning and say, "let’s walk 60 km." This is an event that’s a huge commitment right from the beginning. Participants are encouraged to register very early. Many people register in January and start their training programs because for a lot of people that are doing the event for the first time, this is something they’ve never done before. There are two huge commitments: first, they’re committing to walking 60 km in two days; and second, they’re committing to raising a minimum of $2,000.

When I started we were terrified of walking that far. It’s not something that we ever thought we would be able to do. We started our training gradually on our treadmills and eventually worked up to walking in our neighbourhood for 5 km after dinner at night, with longer walks on the weekend. Eventually, about a month before the event, we were doing two walks back to back, 10 km one day, 15 km the next.

BH: What kind of support is available during the event?

LM: You’re so well looked after on the weekend, everything you need is there. Every 3 to 5 km there’s a pit stop so you can refill your water bottle or get sports drinks. There’s more porta-potties than I’ve ever seen. A medical crew at every pit stop. Volunteers everywhere to help you out. Sweep vehicles on the route at all times. We felt tremendously supported, and words can’t describe the feeling when we crossed the finish line that year. I really felt I had made a major accomplishment. I think a lot of people feel that way.

Saturday morning everyone comes early and has a bite to eat. We have fruit and yogurt and muffins and coffee. Everyone gets organized and puts sunscreen and hats on. We have a terrific opening ceremony. It gets everyone pumped up to set out on the route itself. All along the way there’s great support. There’s a bagged lunch at the lunch stop. Eventually you make your way into camp, which is an experience in itself. You walk into this sea of blue two-man tents with addresses so you know which is yours. When you get into camp you have a shower and change into your comfy clothes. It’s like a big sleepover. There’s a huge dining tent, hot dinner for everyone. There’s massage tents, first aid if you need it, there’s a store at camp in case you forgot something that you might need. Great music and entertainment’it’s a lot of fun, great camaraderie.

BH: What’s it like to walk that far?

LM: It varies. People are encouraged to walk at their own pace. Some people may do the walk several hours faster than others. The important thing is that everyone finishes the event, everyone crosses the finish line together, which is the best part. The first year I took a lot longer than I do now. I know how to train now, I know how to pace myself a little better. I feel extremely proud of myself when I cross the finish line, even after six years.

BH: How can people who are participating for the first time prepare?

LM: I would encourage them to check out all the information that’s on the website. I really encourage them to come out to an orientation session and see the video of previous events so they can get a visual of what it looks like. Talk to people who come back year after year. There’s chat rooms on the website, and the event coaches are wonderful.

My personal tip is to find a walking buddy, someone that you can train with, because it’s a whole lot easier to go for a walk when you’ve got a friend to chat with, and that’s what the walk is all about. If you sign up with a friend or get a team together, it can be a really enjoyable bonding experience for everybody involved. And get started now. The more time you have to train, the easier it’s going to be for you. Work up to it, make sure you’ve got a good pair of shoes.

BH: Do you have any tips on fundraising?

LM: Get started early, set up your personal page, tell your story, what it means to you, get that out to all your friends and family. The great thing about the website is you can send it to anyone in the world and they can support you online. But the biggest tip for fundraising is: just ask. You’d be surprised at how many people have been touched by this disease and how willing they are to support you.

BH: How do you keep motivated to walk year after year?

LM: I lost my sister to breast cancer this past year, so it’s very personal for me as well as in my role as CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Last year I walked in the event just after she passed away. This year my sisters are coming here to walk with me in Edmonton in her memory. You’ll find people in these events for all the same reasons. Many are survivors, or currently going through the disease. We want to make sure that our daughters and granddaughters never have to deal with breast cancer.

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.