Most races support a charity of some sort. You can usually decide to fundraise or, more likely, to not fundraise. No matter what, the charity is being supported in some way through your participation and in your advertising them every time you wear that race shirt around town.
But what happens when you want to run beyond? To actually make a bigger difference?
Let me tell you my story...
I was never a runner. Didn't want to be. Running was hard work. It required you to step outside of your comfort zone. To get sweaty. To turn red. To die after a few minutes. Runners were skinny people. They were fast people. They were the exact opposite of who I was.
But my friend, Anna, was a runner. She ran marathons. She wasn't fast but she was dedicated. I admired it, but I didn't aspire to BE it.
Until the day she told me she had cancer. And the first thought that went through my head was the burning need to find a run for Lymphoma so I could fundraise and run in support of her.
I couldn't even run yet and I was already running beyond myself.
Since that day, three and a half years ago, I have run two events for Team in Training (TNT) and raised over $12,000 toward research and patient support for blood cancers. I have also put together a family team for the local Mother's Day run that supports the NICUs where my twins spent their first 8 days. Both are charities that mean a great deal to me and my connection to them drives me to make a difference. My dad was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and I am already making plans to run my next full for Team Diabetes.
Knowing that I can make a difference by doing something I have grown to love is HUGE for me. It feels great to give back and help others. Running beyond myself has become a huge part of who I am.
So, sure, that's my story and now you are wondering how you can make a difference...right?
I figured it might be helpful to have a quick TOP TEN of things to consider when choosing a charity race.
10) Is it a race that is incredibly difficult to get into unless you have guaranteed entry through a charity?
A couple that spring to mind for me are Nike Women's Marathon and the New York City Marathon. Many charities will offer guaranteed entry if you pledge to fundraise in return. Some will even pay your travel expenses to get you there.
9) Do you have time for it?
Be honest. Training takes up a great deal of time in itself...but fundraising takes WAY MORE! Especially if you want to surpass the minimum expected of you. Make sure you have the time to give it your all to both things. My first race was done while I was on maternity leave with infant twins and was extrememly time consuming. My second race - those twins were 3 and I was working full time again. I definitely felt a greater pinch the second time around.
8) Are you connected to the cause?
The greater the connection you feel to the cause, the stronger you will feel about following through with the commitment. If you don't have a natural connection to the cause - are you prepared to foster one? Chances are, you'll find connections you didn't know existed.
7) If you can't raise the funds by the cut-off date, are you prepared to have your credit card charged for the rest?
As long as you start early, that fundraising minimum, that felt so daunting at the beginning, will be met before you know it.
6) Do you think you will need a coach?
Most of the charity endurance running programs offer coaching assistance of some type. With TNT, I had a dedicated in-person coach for my first race. The second one, through TNT Flex, I had a coach that was remotely located. Some offer online training programs. Some offer none at all. Figure out what you need before you choose your charity.
5) Is there a local chapter?
Being able to actually interact with the people in the office make it much easier to build relationships, have a drop-off/pick up point for materials, and a place to drop off cash and cheque donations so they are processed faster. I found this to be much easier for me than the race I did where the office was located across the country from me.
4) Do you have a good support system?
While training for a marathon is hard and time-consuming...adding dedicated fundraising into the mix is like training for two marathons - one of distance and one of money. Your support crew needs to understand the time demands you will have on you. They will also need to support you through the stress of both. Make sure in advance that they are ready to do so. I was so lucky to have a supportive hubby who not only handled all of the child care duties on my long back-to-back runs while training for Goofy...he also stepped up to make sure i could always be present for the large fundraising events my little local team put on. This will not only take YOUR dedication...in large part it takes THEIRS as well.
3) Assess your ability to actually raise the money
I truly believe that as long as you start early and get creative, anyone can succeed in raising the many thousands of dollars needed for the programs. Only you can decide if you have what it takes to commit to creatively raising the money...and this becomes even more important if you do not have a personal connection. I will give one tip, though...don’t look at it as $4500...look at it in chunks of $200. Every time you knock off a $200 chunk you are winning. - you have made more than you had $200 earlier! Find ways to get people to unexpectedly donate more than once by spacing out your awesome fundraisers. And don’t be afraid to run with an idea - you might be surprised how many people will donate to a $5 Friday!
If you have done it before - you need to be even more creative the second time because some of your go-to people will have donor fatigue. You can identify this by seeing how many people seem to not “hear” you when you talk or write. Don’t take it personally - just look for different ways to engage them.
2) Do you have a group of friends who would want to do it together?
I put this one in here with caution. Fundraising with friends can be a touchy subject - take it from me. I went solo the first time around and then did my second event with a team. On the team, one of the people definitely didn’t pull her weight and the rest of us felt so stressed trying to have 5 of us fundraise for 6 people. It put irreparable strain on friendships that didn’t need to be there. Discuss this with your friends beforehand and make sure everyone has a plan to get to their fundraising minimums so that it becomes a real team effort.
1) Are you prepared to be obsessed for six months?
Seriously. It WILL consume you. People will get sick of hearing you talk about it. You will even get sick of it...trust me. I had to quit Facebook after my first TNT event because I was so burnt out from talking about it. But it was worth it. Boy, was it ever worth it.
Running for a charity in a big way can be the most rewarding experience you ever have. With that in mind - I have hopefully prepared you for some of the realities of running beyond yourself. I still say every bit of it is worth it - and you never know...the money you raise, might just fund the research that finds the cure!