Running for the Wells

October 21, 2020

“Runners always try to find ways of connecting passions.” - Jonathan Gunderson.

It’s true. Runners don’t stop after a run. They continue to engage, motivate, inspire, and give back. This is exactly what Jonathan Gunderson has done with his annual charity run, that supports the building of wells to aid the local communities with clean water in Uganda. With unclean water being the number one cause of preventable death worldwide, this became a secondary passion of Jonathan’s to make an impact on. The well building program not only provides easy access to water wells that are fed from the Nile River, but it also uses local contractors and materials that boosts the economy in small Ugandan villages.

Jonathan Gunderson filling the water bottle from the well in UgandaJonathan Gunderson filling the water bottle from the well in Uganda

Jonathan is one of our longtime Team Injinij athletes and he met the founders at his first Badwater race in 2006. In 15 short months Jonathan ran a marathon distance, the Merced 50, the Angeles Crest 100, and then headed straight to Badwater in Death Valley for the first time. He completed the Badwater 135 a total of seven times now, with a goal of a podium finish in 2021. For the past 14 years he watched Injinji progress and grow and is happy to report that the culture and company has never changed.

Jonathan Gunderson standing near the "Badwater basin" sign with his five team membersJonathan Gunderson standing near the "Badwater basin" sign with his five team members

The Uganda connection started with Jonathan’s mentor, a Ugandan minister in California, who sadly passed away at the age of 35, but not before teaching Jonathan that you just don’t talk about things; you need to act on them. After a visit to some of the villages, he saw firsthand that these people had basic needs such as food, clean water and schools. It was then that Jonathan realized his passion was to impact the country and people that he had fallen in love with.

Jonathan partnered with the World Harvest Mission, whose founder was close friends with his mentor, and decided to organize a race to spread awareness and raise funds to build water wells in Uganda. Now, being a new Race Director is no walk in the park. “I look at it like I look at running. Look at the problem and take the steps one by one to solve it. When planning these races, I go through highs and lows to solve the issues, just like running a race.” Jonathan used a simple Evite for his first event, which was an 11k held just north of San Francisco in 2009. He had a total of 30 participants, where every runner received a full breakfast and a pair of socks from their one and only sponsor, Injinji. In 2010, 40 people showed up, and in 2011, due to a marketing campaign that brought in a Giants professional baseball player, there were approximately 175 runners. His race grew by adding a website for information and registrations and offered two distances of 5k and 10k. In 2014 Jonathan brough in a race company to run the event due to the amount of much needed equipment and logistics to handle the larger crowd.

Jonathan Gunderson standing near a man and a woman involved in water wells projectJonathan Gunderson standing near a man and a woman involved in water wells project

Between 2009 - 2018 Jonathan’s events helped to build almost 60 water wells, serving approximately 60k - 70k people with clean water. Each well costs about $4k - $5k, which gives an average of over 1,000 people access to clean water indefinitely. Due to COVID-19, the race this year was cancelled, but is hoping to be brought back in the Spring of 2021. Jonathan continues to stay connected to the Ugandans and has dedicated two water wells to Injinji. “Whatever the prize is, my eye is always on it. Whether it is Badwater, life or building wells. Keeping focused on the prize, I don’t have to wonder. Too many people don’t keep their eye on the prize, and they end up lost.”