By far the biggest physical achievement of my life is running a single mile... I have of course since built upon that mile, but it was tough. One mile became three miles. Three miles became 10K, which in turn became a half-marathon, and I am glowing with pride to say that the half-marathon than became the 2011 Virgin London Marathon. On one of the hottest days of the year I set out with the aim of running a sub-5 hour marathon and 26.2 miles later I crossed the line in 4:59:12 - a whole 48 seconds to spare! But despite the heat, the calf muscles and the cramp that littered London, that first mile through Hartwell village was still the hardest.
In the winter of 2009 I lost three things. My uncle, my granddad and my beer belly. Both my uncle and my granddad died of heart-related illnesses within a month of each other. The beer belly died as a result of being determined not to add my name to that list anytime soon. I changed my diet, my lifestyle and I ran. At first I ran carrying not only the weight of my gut but also the weight of my grief, and for the time it took me to run 805 metres, turn around and run back home. Every step was a stab in my heart, metaphorically and physically - I was out of shape! Looking back it seems impossible that my body would hurt, whine and fail over such a short distance. I can't fathom how it was so hard. But than I also can't fathom how an elite runner can cross the Marathon finish line at the same time as I crossed Tower Bridge. I suppose we are all on the same curve, just massively different parts of it!
Since than, every step I have taken and every stride that I've ran has been a dedication to the family I lost and a journey towards the finish line of the marathon - and a bloody good cry! The important thing to remember is that my journey was not only 26.2 miles long, but was also worth over £1,800. The emotional closure I gained from collecting my medal was incredible but switching on my phone and seeing that my fund-raising had tipped over £1,800 was incredible. I alone would benefit from the emotional journey I had taken but thanks to HEART UK and the people who donated to my fund-raising, people will be helped and the dangers of cholesterol and the importance of healthy living will be promoted, ensuring that grief like mine can be avoided.
The best piece of advice I can give for fund-raising is that "it’s for charity" doesn't cut it any more. People want to feel like they are getting something out of it personally, even if it’s just in the way you sell it. That sounds selfish, but it’s not really. People's incomes are stretched these days so you are more likely to raise more funds if you tailor your efforts to your audience. Associating the money to the end result is a good way of giving the donation value. You are not just making people into armchair athletes but also into nurses, doctors, researchers or PRs.
The other option is to appeal to people’s sense of humour. People love to see you make a fool of yourself, or love to inflict embarrassment upon you! Detailed below are some of the things that I have done, some foolish, some novel and some practical. I may not have raised as much as some people, who put in astounding efforts to raise so much, but with fairly limited resources and a bit of determination, I am really proud of the effort I have made on behalf of HEART UK and hopefully this will inspire you and help raise money for your own chosen charity.
If you are confident dressing up for the actual marathon, do it. The biggest thing I learnt is that making a fool of yourself will loosen purse strings. I didn't feel comfortable tackling 26.2 miles in fancy dress so instead I picked the Silverstone Half-Marathon as my warm up event and I ran it dressed in a granny dress! Yes you feel a little foolish, but it will increase your chances of people sponsoring you, and actually it gives the crowd something to cheer about, added fuel for your run - "Nice Legs", "Go Go Granny Man"! It all helps. Word of warning though, Vaseline is a necessity - major chafing a few weeks before the big day can be a nightmare on those last long training runs (without the dress).
Simple but effective. I baked, I sold, I earned.
Any old iron!
Flog your useless stuff. One man's trash is another man's treasure. I made over £125 selling books, old CDs and stuff that I really had no need for at a car boot sale.
Utilise social media. You will be surprised how many people come out of the woodwork if they connect with your charity or your reason for running. £10 from someone you went school with and haven't seen in ten years is £10 you never would have seen without Facebook. Twitter is also great to use, not just for raising funds but motivationally. There are so many like-minded runners out there brimming with tips and encouragement.
This went down really well! I allowed people to hijack my facebook profile picture for several days if they made a donation. People loved this... I was Forrest Gump, a fat naked man, Cliff Richard, the Chelsea cup-winning squad (grrrr) and Father Christmas to name but a few. People will literally pay to see you squirm, so why not make them!
Literally and metaphorically. Offer your services running errands or odd jobs.
I ran a competition to win a limited edition Ron Burgundy Doll, each day for a month my facebook and twitter accounts were hijacked by characters from the movie and tweeted/blogged with quotes from the movie and a link to the competition.
Give someone a warm fuzzy feeling. Literally...
My sister is a dab-hand with a sewing machine. For less than £5 worth of scrap materials she created a dozen little characters which I branded "Warm Fuzzy Feelings" because that’s what you get when you donate! These were sold/given away with donations/sales over £5.
Use your place of employment
Many employers will match a degree of your fundraising or all of it, so it can’t hurt to ask!
Make sure you utilise online or actual notice boards. I created a version of the famous "I Need You" war poster, with my face on it. This caught people’s eyes better than a sponsor form on its own - get creative!
Be shameless, just ask!
You are proud of the training you are doing, and the marathon task ahead of you. It’s likely that it will come up in every other conversation! Tell everyone all about it. It’s likely the answer to "What did you do at the weekend?" is going to be "A long run" anyway so why not shout about it.
And my final advice would be to make sure you have a sponsorship form in your pocket at all times! Most people will be willing to volunteer a few quid once they hear about your efforts and your charity.
I will keep my experiences of the emotions and amazement that comes with completing the London Marathon for a charity close to your heart (excuse the pun) to myself for now, because the highs, lows, elation and exhaustion are different for every single person. The important thing is that if you are reading this, you are already on a journey only 1% of our nation takes. Raise those funds, get to the starting line un-injured and show the world that you are that tough!
Good luck to everyone raising money and running races across the UK and fingers crossed for the ballot responses in October for all those hoping to run VLM 2012!