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Sole Sisters keep on pushing

Largest women’s 5K in Canada set for Saturday

By Andrew Wagstaff
Maritime Runner
June 6, 2017

DARTMOUTH, N.S. – Fifteen years ago, Stacy Chesnutt would not have been impressed by a slow 5K.
A runner for 30 years, Chesnutt has run 55 marathons and taken part in numerous Ironman triathlons. But it’s been her eight years as a race director, six of those as the pioneer of the Sole Sisters Women’s Race Series, that has given her a new outlook.
Photos courtesy of Stacy Chesnutt
The sixth annual Sole Sisters 5K will take place in Dartmouth, N.S., on Saturday, June 10, with about 3,000 women expected to take part.
“I’ve always wanted to volunteer and help people, and I’ve always been big on running and trying to get people to run,” she said. “But where I’ve changed in the last decade… I’m really sincere when I say it’s about finish lines, and not finish times.”
She realizes how intimidating it is for someone who does not consider themselves an athlete, to even consider running a 5K, and that someone finishing a 5K race for the first time at any speed is much more impressive than someone who has been running for years, putting in another fast time.
That has been the spirit behind the Dartmouth women’s race, which has grown to include 3,000 runners every year, and will take place this year on Saturday, June 10.
It all started with a bet made in a bar. Chesnutt, who had been preparing for an appearance at the Boston Marathon, was gathered there with some work colleagues, who happened to be all male. One of them challenged her to beat the time of a male runner they knew.
“The bet was, if I could beat it, somebody would give me $500, and we decided we would donate it to Shelter Nova Scotia,” said Chesnutt. “Before we knew it, it turned into a great big thing, where the other person fundraised against me. But it was all good spirited.”
It turned out Chesnutt did not beat his time in that particular race (she has beaten it handily since), but $5,000 was raised.
The following year, she wanted to make a similar fundraising effort, and realized she could do it by putting on a race. The first race she started was the Benny Bulldog 5K trail run, and within two years, Sole Sisters was born.
Having coached girls and boys in running, she had noticed the girls were more inclined to stay back and let the boys run up front and grab all the attention. Even at the young age of eight or nine, they were more self-conscious, thinking about how they looked or trying to act a certain way around boys.
She made the leap that adult women might feel the same way, and that maybe there was a place for an all-women’s race in the area.
“I moved here from New York City, and my two favourite races were women-only races in New York,” said Chesnutt. “Did I think there was a need? I thought there was an opportunity.”
Thousands of women now take part in Sole Sisters every year, enjoying everything from the chocolate stations and the hug stations, to the creatively custom-designed shirts, medals and tutus.
They also seem to like that the event is not timed. A second Sole Sisters event is held in October, and it is timed, although participants in that event also have the option of not being timed.
There is also a designated last place finisher for every race, alleviating the fear that so many have of being last across the line.
For all, none or any of those reasons, Sole Sisters has been a huge success, and is now the largest women’s 5K race in Canada, a status that Chesnutt can only marvel at.
“It’s surprising because we’re in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia,” she said. “I don’t know. We have great energy here, we have great gals, and we’ve tapped into something.”
The 5K route is in a flat area of Burnside Industrial Park, and was slightly changed recently. With the extension of Wilkinson Avenue, what was previously more of a “three-leaf clover” route has become more of a straight out-and-back. Although it is only a kilometer from the Dartmouth Crossing shopping district, it is not a busy traffic time because it is in the evening when all the local businesses are closed.
In fact, the parking for participants is at Dartmouth Crossing, and one of the most popular features of the event is the group walk to the start line.
“They say it’s the only time they’re all together,” said Chesnutt. “They walk and it’s just a sea of purple. Until you’ve seen it, numbers are just numbers. You would think it’s 10,000 women and not 3,000.”
Proceeds from the event go to various charities, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Terry Fox Foundation, and Team in Training, but its primary beneficiary is Girls Gone Gazelle, a free running/confidence club Chesnutt coaches for girls aged 8-13.
For more on Sole Sisters, visit here .