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Running is not a dirty word

April 27, 2010

On Sunday, 37,000 people queued up to run the London Marathon. A tiny minority came within minutes of breaking world records. 3 per cent of  all runners crept in under 3 hours. A comparatively small, but well-prepared contingent of serious club runners chased their personal goals. A significant number of first-time marathon runners set themselves the goal of just getting round. A couple of people ran in rhino costumes. One man ran the distance dressed as the Angel of the North. Millions of pounds were raised for countless charities.

Peter Andre and Katie Price (Jordan) running i...
Peter Andre and Jordan (for crying out loud) taking part in the London Marathon. Image via Wikipedia

Running is not sitting in a bathtub of beans

Don’t get me wrong: every single runner who crossed the finish line can be proud of an achievement that few people can really lay claim to: having finished a marathon. Some will be disappointed with their time, others will obsess about what they could have done better. But they’ll be in the minority. I don’t have anything against running for charity – quite the opposite, having run the Paris Marathon and in so doing raised £1600 for The Stroke Association – but sometimes events like the London Marathon blur the line between running and charity.

Running is not abseiling from the top of the OXO Tower

So, when I sign up for a 10k race aiming for a fast time, it’s not unusual to be asked which charity you’re raising money for. It’s with a mixed feelings that I reply that I’m running for myself, or my club, or to beat my PB. Sure, I feel shame, because there’s a weight of expectation that I’ll be doing this for charity. Running suddenly becomes selfish – how dare I waste this opportunity to raise much-needed funds? But then I feel irritated, because why should this weight of expectation be placed on a serious runner?

Running is not a bring-and-buy sale

Running has become shorthand for charity fundraising. Perhaps because charities can generate so much money from races such as Run 10k, Race for Life, or The Stroke Association’s own Resolution series. And it’s a great thing that these charities can raise this money so effectively. But so few races – real timed, measured, certified, grass-root races – have this weight of publicity and branding behind them, there are precious few opportunities for people to understand serious running.

Running is not a swear box

‘Did you make it round?’ is a question heard all too often in the context of a 10km race. In the world of charity running, a goal of ‘making it around’ is perhaps more conducive to fundraising than setting a time-based goal. The further out of character and out of someone’s comfort zone, the more money people are willing to donate. And so, inevitably, the belief that no one runs for pleasure is reinforced, time and time again. ‘Did you do much training?’ ‘Hah, nowhere near as much as I should have! But I made it round, and that’s what counts. Now, was that a fiver you pledged?’

Running is not a man waxing his legs or chest

But for a nation of ‘make it rounds’ we have our opinions. Paula Radcliff, eh? When she’s not pissing in the street, she’s pulling out of races. Tsk. Our nation’s sporting talent’s gone to pot, mate, that’s what it is. Can’t beat these Kenyans, y’know. But what’s stopping us? We’ve got promising runners who can make serious inroads into the elite field (two male British athletes finished in the top 10, for one – Andrew Limoncello – it was his first marathon), but the supply of promising young runners ready to fill the shoes of the great runners hanging in there until 2012 is limited.

A typical youth soccer game.
‘Mummy, when I’m older I’d like to be paid a disproportionately high wage for a comparatively short career, which I’ll probably piss away by experimenting with casual drugs, marrying a hanger-on WAG, losing my fortune in a divorce case after I have an affair with a stripper and facing relentless media intrusion and speculation into my private life.’ Image via Wikipedia

Running is not cross-dressing

There are thousands of promising young amateur footballers who want to join the ranks of the professionals. Some might argue that it’s because of funding. Others because it’s a good spectator sport or team activity. Maybe. But running clubs make running a team sport – and young runners are more likely to be exposed to relay races, which are even more of a team effort. Personally, I find running a thrilling and tense sport to watch. Yes, the nuances of racing technique are subtle, but a strong lead can become a tailing second position in a matter of seconds. And as for funding, it’s undeniable that athletes don’t benefit from the bloated salaries of football, but is the prospect of a multi-million pound lifestyle what keeps youngsters out in the sun in the evenings, or dads kicking balls around as part of their pub league?

Running is not a dirty word

It’s a Friday afternoon in the summer, outside it’s hot and bright and dry with barely a breeze and the hum of lawn mowers filling the air with the smell of fresh-cut grass. Inside the office, it’s cool. Two colleagues are standing at the water cooler, chatting as they fill their respective glasses with ice-cold water.

‘Up to much this weekend?’

‘Yeah, I’m running.’ Takes a sip. ‘There’s a club championship race, and I fancy my chances at getting a position this time round.’

‘Great weather for it.’

‘Thanks, yeah. What about you?’

‘Oh, I’m playing in the local footie league with some boys from the pub. Should be good.’

‘Oh, wow,’ hastily puts glass down and starts patting down pockets, ‘that’s great. Who you doing it for? I mean, that’s amazing, I’d really like to sponsor you.’

‘Um…’ looks a little shifty, a bit uncomfortable, slightly confused.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2010 2:22 pm

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from, especially after running London Marathon on Sunday. Though I don’t see it as anything more than requiring me to do a bit of explaining, this week I have found myself being asked on quite a few occasions if I ran for charity, and why I chose not to. On a practical level I don’t run for charity as I know asking all my friends and relatives for sponsorship before running last years’ Reading Half Marathon was a bit awkward and in their position wouldn’t want to be hassled for money each year.

    Correct me if I am generalising but I think we both fall into a category of runners which is hard to define, making it difficult for others to make a decision regarding us running for a charity. (As far as I know) we do not compete at a ‘professional’ level, however we are also not fun-runners or just looking to get round a course as you said, just trying to beat our best times as well as in your case, being a member of a club.

    • April 27, 2010 9:21 pm

      You’re quite right. Behind the semi-pros (or at least, the really really fast people at the front of the pack) there is a mid-category runner. Trying to beat their own times, running for pleasure and competition, but not a fun runner or a charity runner. I was thinking about this on my run this evening: you can’t time-band these runners either, because they tend to speckle through the whole field and each category of runners.

      Perhaps we need a nomenclature for the different category of runner, something that can help non-runners understand where the self-competitive spirit comes from?!

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