06/29/2012 11:04 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

In Kenya, Running for Nature

I am writing this from the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. In just a few days, I will be joining a group of Nature Conservancy supporters, including endurance running champion Scott Jurek, to run a race on a nature reserve located within Kenya's northern rangelands.
It's a great thing, at least for me, when work overlaps with opportunities to enjoy nature and get some exercise in too. What's most important, though, is that this race and the funds it brings in support of important and ground-breaking conservation and community development projects on and around the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Lewa is a special place. It's a 62,000-acre nature reserve that is home to many iconic Africa wildlife species, including zebras, lions, giraffe and 10 percent of Kenya's rhino populations. Perhaps more importantly, however, Lewa also is a proving ground for community-based conservation strategies that have brought tangible, real benefits to local people and influenced conservation activities on a 1.2 million-acre swath of communal lands that surround the reserve.

The race Scott, the other members of Team Nature and I plan to run is the Safaricom Marathon and Half Marathon (I'll be running the half. Scott is doing the full marathon.) The race, which is in its 13th year, is run on the dirt roads of Lewa. In 2000, about 180 runners ran the race. This year race organizer Tusk Trust is expecting more than 1,000. What makes this event so special, though, is the money it raises.

Since its inception, the race has brought in about $3.2 million, including $500,000 in 2011, for a range of important education, community development, health and wildlife conservation projects across Kenya.

I realize a lot of races are set up to raise funds for important causes. The thing about the races at Lewa, though, is how immediate and visible are the benefits that race proceeds bring to the area.

For example, the game scouts that patrol the area to keep out poachers is one effort that has benefited from funds generated by the race. Not only do the patrols protect wildlife, but also they are helping enhance security for local people.

One local woman from the Sereolipi Village talks about how patrols have allowed her and her family to sleep without shoes on. Previously, they wore shoes to bed so they could make a quick get-away if bandits attacked at night.

That's just one example of the life-changing differences that stem from the conservation and community development programs the race helps fund.

The Nature Conservancy team running the race is working hard along with our partners at the Tusk Trust, the Northern Rangelands Trust and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to raise funds through the race effort. Grants made from race proceeds are targeted toward alleviating poverty, reducing conflict and improving education and livelihoods in the region.

We could use your help.

Please visit our Team Nature -- Kenya site on to learn more about supporting the people and wildlife of northern Kenya. You can also learn about how to win a pair of Brooks running shoes of your choice.

Speaking of running shoes, I'm a bit anxious about not having laced mine up often enough to prepare for this race. I have a million excuses, most beginning with complaints about my right knee. Still, I do have a race goal (beyond raising funds): I better finish my half marathon's 13.1 miles in a faster time than Scott Jurek finishes his 26.2-mile marathon run.