Reflections on the run

I've now crossed the finishing line of this huge 1000km challenge, and have completed the equivalent of 27 marathons in 26 days. The significance of what I've achieved is taking some time to settle in, and at the moment I'm feeling a little unsure as to how to feel to be honest. I mostly just feel tired and am still finding it difficult to concentrate on anything! But I want to record a few thoughts fresh from the final day to put a mark in the sand. 

The idea for the run came about from me wanting to raise money and awareness for Raise Your Hands (RYH). RYH is a funding community that supports small charities that work with children across the UK. These charities are doing amazing work, but on the whole are unheard of because they don't have big marketing budgets or a wide support network. Raise Your Hands does due diligence on them, carefully selects them, and then brings them to a wider (on the whole younger) audience of supporters in a fun, fresh, easy and rewarding way. We're trying to change the way that people think about charity. 

I realised that one way that I could raise money and awareness for Raise Your Hands was to visit the head offices of our supported charities on foot. This would create a huge physical challenge for me - starting in London and then visiting Plymouth, Newquay, Bristol and Birmingham - as well as create good news for local and regional press and some good photo opportunities. I also hoped to bring runners with me so that they could see first hand the work of our supported charities. 

The run took months to prepare. We didn’t really have a budget, so I spent a long time phoning around hotels and B&B’s to try to get free accommodation. I also knew that I would need a support car to take all of my kit and medical supplies, and so had to find a car and people to drive it for a month around the UK. This was on top of planning the route, finding sponsors, promoting the run to the press and trying to recruit people to come and run with me. Eventually I made it to the start line in Victoria Park on the 30th August.

On the run I experienced so many things. I climbed cliffs and waded through streams. I crawled under bushes and climbed over barbed wire fences. I ran across fields, through woods, on roads and lanes and motorways. I was chased by cows and dogs and farmers and farmers' wives. I cried when a stranger waved to me in the morning and told me to keep going. I laughed when the receptionist at the hotel welcomed me and asked if I'd had a good day.

I suffered considerably and felt a lot of pain. Most of the muscles in my lower legs were in pain at some point, my shins were not in a good way for the last third and my left quad broke down 5 days from the end. I'd wake in the morning and feel like my joints had been rusted over, with the prospect of a 30+ mile day ahead of me. The mental strength that I needed to force myself to get out on the road when I was feeling that way was considerable. As each day went by, the injuries and the pain got worse, so the likelihood in my mind of completing the whole thing became less and less – probably only until the last day. 

It took even more mental strength to try to control the way that I was thinking about this. I had to not only believe that I could physically complete the day ahead, but I had to also stop myself from thinking about how far I had to go.

But in the midst of all this I realised that I didn't want the run to be about the pain and the suffering that I was enduring, I wanted it to be about what I was achieving. I wanted people to support me for the positives of the challenge rather than the natural consequences that I was having to deal with to get there.

In this I saw a reflection of what we’re trying to do at Raise Your Hands.

When people think of ‘charity’, they can sometimes think of negative stories, of suffering or dejection that is designed in some way to draw an emotive response that eventually leads to a transference of funds. Charity also conjures images of people on the corner of streets with clipboards, of memories of press stories about high administration costs and of leaflets, pestering and an endless cycle of giving and taking, where the direction is seemingly only one way between the donor and the charity.

But this isn’t - and shouldn’t be – what charity is about. In the same way that the run shouldn’t be about how many blisters I had or how painful my ankles were, charity shouldn’t be about how many people are suffering and need support. What it should be about is the amazing work that’s being done by charities across the UK, the solutions they’re providing and the lives that they’re changing.

I saw other comparisons between the run and Raise Your Hands as the days went on.

I was completing small amounts of running every day, that individually were insignificant, but that collectively came together to form something that was much greater. In the same way, we ask people to donate a small (and hopefully manageable) amount of money individually, which collectively will make a huge difference to small charities in the UK. We’re harnessing the power of community.

I wanted the run to be fun – so I took a Beatbringer with me so that people could listen to music whilst running some amazing trails, and was sponsored by the London Beer Factory so that runners could enjoy a free beer at the end of the day. At Raise Your Hands, we make it fun for people to support charities by organising parties and events that mean that people can do what they’d normally want to do, have a good time and do good at the same time.

I recognised that I was a random guy that no one knew, but that that didn’t mean that what I was doing wasn’t worthwhile. Just because I didn’t have a big marketing budget and a huge PR team didn’t mean that my cause wasn’t worthy of support. In the same way, the small charities that Raise Your Hands supports aren’t that well known, but that doesn’t mean that the work that they do isn’t amazing and worth getting behind.

When I was thinking about doing the run, I sort of started with what I was good at. It would be easier for me to take on a big challenge if I centred it around gifts or talents that I’d been given, in this case running. In the same way, we encourage members of Raise Your Hands to offer their experience and skills to small charities through our Got Skills programme – so that people can be support charities without it necessarily involving a financial transaction.

I also felt incredibly rewarded by completing the run. I met so many kind and generous people on the way, people that put me up for free or sponsored me. I felt fit and healthy, the legs in my muscles became stronger and I spent so much time in beautiful rolling English countryside, running along some fantastic trails and doing something that I genuinely love. In a similar way, we aim to reward people for being involved in charity – we have a Coffee Connections programme, where we match our members based on their career objectives in order to help them develop their professional networks and we also give members discounts on carefully selected products.

When I look back on the run, my memories will be framed within this positive focus. And I think that what I have done will pale into insignificance in comparison to the work that our supported charities carry out every day, day in day out, some of which I saw first hand as I visited their head offices. At Storybook Dad’s I went inside Channings Wood prison where I met inmates that were being taught to record and edit bedtime stories for their children on the outside. In Newquay I met with a mother whose son had been completely cured of alopecia through surfing with the Wave Project. And in Bristol I met a 16 year old girl with HIV who had just returned from South Africa where she had given a talk alongside Prince Harry on the perception of young people with HIV in the UK – made possible by CHIVA.

These are the types of things that charity should be about. And it’s these sorts of positive stories that we are going to continue to bring to a wider audience through Raise Your Hands.