Do a long bike ride, a 24 hour race, run a marathon or even a half-marathon and the first thing people ask you about it is: “Are you doing it for charity?”. This is how we view endurance sport in society today – endurance sport is something we do to inflict pain on ourselves in return for money for worthy causes.
I can see how it must have started, after a couple of beers in the pub:
‘I bet you couldn’t run a marathon.’
‘A marathon, how far is that?’
‘It’s like, ooh, twenty miles, I reckon.’
‘You’d have to be an idiot to run that far. I wouldn’t even drive that far.’
‘Go on, I dare you. It would be so funny to see you try. A fat git like you, running!’
‘I’m not daft, I’m not running anywhere.’
‘I’ll give you a hundred pounds if you run a marathon.’
‘I don’t need the money. Keep your money. Better still, buy me another pint.’
‘Okay, I’ll give the children’s hospital a hundred pounds if you run the marathon. You have to do it now, you wouldn’t want those poor sick kids to miss out now would you?’
And so a marathon runner is born. Of course the next year when he demands another hundred pounds for the children’s hospital they decide it would be too easy for him to just run another marathon so this time they make him do it dressed as a toilet.
That’s not how I got into endurance sport. I do it because I enjoy it and I like to challenge myself and I love the way my body reacts when I demand unreasonable things from it. It makes it hard for me to understand how charity can be so caught up in the link to sport. Why don’t we want to give money to charity just because the cause is deserving? Why should I be asking people to give money because I’m doing something that, essentially, I do for fun?
The worst part of all this is that unscrupulous “sports event” companies have decided to tap into the charity link: a marathon place for free if you raise £1500 for our charity, a cycle expedition in Vietnam if you raise £3000 for our good cause. The snag is that most of that money never makes it to the charity, it pays for the holiday, buys the marathon entry, and lines the pockets of the organisers. I’m not saying that all charity sports events work like that, but there are enough that do to leave a bad taste.
I have entered a half-marathon, a marathon, and stupid 24 hour ultra-marathon event this year and I won’t be trying to raise money for any of them. I shall pay my own entry fees, my own travel expenses, and I will delight in the fact that I am healthy and fit enough to be able to even consider entering them. When I’m struggling at the end I won’t be driven on by the knowledge of the good causes I’m running for, I’ll be driven on by the dumb bloody-minded determination that knows that the satisfaction in finishing is worth all the temporary discomfort.
And if, after all that, you still think that my efforts deserve some charitable reward, you’ll have to make a donation all by yourself to the charity of your choice. If you can’t think of one, can I suggest this one:
The 3 year old daughter of a friend who needs help to buy equipment that would genuinely change her life.