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You’re running the marathon? Meh.

A wonderful supporter has just got in touch with me as she wants to do 14 challenges in 2014. Big ones! When I asked her what motivated her to do so many, she said ‘Because I didn’t think I’d raise as much money if I just did one’.

This got me thinking about a friend who ran the London marathon last year. She had her own place but wanted to raise money for a tiny charity she supports. She raised £125. As always, every little helps but to put that into perspective, most charities only offer a place in the London marathon if you can raise over £1500. The amount is at this level not only because places are expensive, but because running the marathon is considered an incredible feat of human ability and so it makes sense that runners should be able to inspire lots of people to give money to the cause of their choice by taking part.

Or so used to be the case. Clearly with the case of my friend, not many people cared enough either about her doing the marathon or the cause she was doing it for and so felt inclined to make a donation. It used to be that running 26.2 miles would be enough to raise thousands. Now, it’s not that easy. Now it’s a bit blasé.

The marathon has been going for a long time…meaning a lot of people have done it. When you tell someone you’re doing it, they will often reply with a list of at least three other people they know also taking part. You’re competing for income at a time when 36,000 other people are too and of course there’ll be crossover in the people you’re asking. A charity would never (?) organise a campaign that asked the same set of people for money, for the same appeal, repeatedly, in a period of just a few weeks. So you often have to work for it. Plan additional, smaller fundraising activities. Cake sales. Discos. Bucket collections. Anything to reach your target. And all while also trying to fit in training for the blooming thing.

Entry fees and enjoyment factor also play a part in making challenge events hard to fundraise for. I did a 370km cycle challenge in India and had to raise £3200. That included the cost of doing the trip. Some people were happy to contribute to the fee, understanding that costs are involved in challenges of that nature. Other people told me to come back once I’d passed the fee value as they only wanted their contribution to go to the charity. Other people point blank refused to donate, questioning why they should fund my holiday. Some challenges involve travel which is both fun and (at times) expensive. People can be wary of funding something like my trip because it sounds (and was) amazing. Why should I get to have all the fun while they have to stay at home?

What seems to have been forgotten in a world where everyone seems to be doing a charity challenge though, is that these things are just that – they’re challenges. Mental, physical, spiritual challenges that test the person taking part to the limits. I did the London marathon and it took me 7.5 hours. They were literally clearing up around me I was so slow. I cycled across India and barely saw any of the country as my head was down, making sure I avoided pot holes and coming off the bike for the 70 odd km we did each day. Last year I walked over hot coals burning at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and went against everything my mum told me from the age of 3 (Stay away from fire!!!!) to reach the end. The year before I got in a boxing ring in front of 600 people having only put the gloves on for the first time 8 weeks previously. The first punch floored me (as did the second) but I got back up and finished three rounds.

All of these things were ridiculously hard but I wouldn’t change a thing. One clearly wasn’t enough either and do you know why? Because challenges give you something that stays with you long after they’re over. Confidence. Confidence you can use every day or whenever you need to call on it.

It is only you that will make you complete a charity challenge. YOU alone. Of course friends and family offer support and encouragement which is a huge help but when you’re running, on the bike, about to step onto the coals or have punches raining down on you, it is only YOU that has the power to make yourself keep going. And the confidence this gives you, is one of the best feelings in the world.

But why should people make a donation just because you’re doing something that you’ll be more confident because of? Why should they give money when you’ll get the benefit? I’d like here, to highlight the recent achievement of Ex-MS Society trustee Stuart Nixon. Stuart has MS and struggles to walk more than a few steps unaided. Last year he completed a 60km walk through London in 9 days to celebrate the charities 60th anniversary year using a walking frame he had built especially. With a support team, he walked for 6 hours a day. Just think about that. A man who couldn’t walk more than a few metres unaided has just walked 60km to raise money for a charity and raised over £60,000 in the process. If that’s not the true definition of a challenge, I don’t know what is.

I assume (and hope) that Stuart feels more confident as a result of completing his challenge but again, why should this have inspired people to donate to him? Of course, a challenge means something different to everybody. For some people, some of the challenges I’ve discussed above would be a breeze. But they were a challenge for me. For Stuart, walking day to day was difficult. But he wanted to do more. It is easy to coast through life doing nothing but the day to day (even when that in itself may be tough enough) or you can push yourself until you nearly break and in doing so hope that you inspire people to make a sacrifice for something you believe in – a donation to the cause you love.

A challenge is called a challenge for a reason. Put it into context the next time someone asks you to contribute to their event, give them a couple of quid and wish them good luck. And if you’re doing the marathon this year or any other type of challenge, tell your supporters what it means to you. Why you wanted to do it, the highs and lows of training, the mental preparation. And if they still don’t want to donate? Ask them what they’re doing to challenge themselves and make a difference. Then get back to your training.

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