The Extreme Charity Runner

The number of ‘charity’ style runs is something that probably fills your news and Facebook feeds as it does mine. These are nothing new of course. For example, many people actually begin their running because they wanted to do something for a cause i.e. a marathon for a sick friend or to raise some much-needed funds for a local hospital too. It’s what gets us into the sport for a lot of people too – that’s a positive. People feel as though they have a connection to the cause.

I personally started running because of a close friend of mine that died at the stupidly young age of 27 from cancer. I felt the need to simply do something – so I did the MDS. I paid up my cash for the run, then set about raising money to go to Cancer research. It was something extreme and challenging – it was almost a jolt, a kick-start into life. Was I seeking something on a personal level? In hindsight probably, but that wasn’t consciously what I was seeking to do in the first instance. This was more about wanting to find a positive amongst the sadness that had enveloped a circle of my friends. And that can be the case for many ‘charity style runners’ – a desire to raise awareness of something and do good.

Ks 4 Kids Australia – Episode 5 from Ks4KidsAustralia on Vimeo.

Some people question this of course. At a very base level, why do people feel the need to run to raise awareness? Should they not simply pour their time and energy into working for, or helping the charity in other ways? The flip side of this is that these people can use their ‘standing’ or status within certain social circles to actually do more good by bringing the said cause to the forefront of people’s minds. There’s no right or wrong here, and we’re not going to try to dissect the rationale as to why people do this type of thing too deeply. What we do know is (and I speak from personal experience) is that a.) people do want to do some good through a personal or emotion connection and b.) there is a personal challenge or goal involved too. That’s enough isn’t it?

So while many people will look towards the challenge of say a marathon, a trend I’ve noticed occurring is the ‘extremeness’ of some of the runs – people going for longer, harder and faster. Is this in a bid to get noticed above all the other ‘charity noise’ out there? Is it ego or furthering one’s self? Is it to stick heads above the clouds and make sure that the chosen charity gets the airtime it so desperately needs, or is it deeper than that and more about the personal challenge that sometimes we don’t consciously realise?

Two runs that have come to our attention recently deserve every bit of recognition they get, not only because of the charity element, but because of their ferocity and sheer endeavour too. Sydney nurse and marathon centurion, Jane Trumper recently completed a solo, unsupported run along trails from Canterbury (UK) to Rome (Italy). A distance of some 2,200kms in just 6 weeks which is more commonly known as the Via Francigina, the historic Pilgrim route on trails and small roads.

Then there’s Matthew Eckford a Queensland-based property consultant is currently running his way into the record books in Australia by attempting to become the first (and fastest) person to run 100kms each day for eight days in all eight of the States/Territories in this country – and this is where we’ll start.

Charity at the forefront

Matthew is doing this challenge entitled ‘Ks for Kids’ Australia to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital Foundations Australia which is the national fundraising partnership of five of Australia’s most well-known children’s hospitals. He’s doing this to help Australians in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves and to contribute in a way that serves as many sick kids and their parents as possible.

Matthew has come from relative running obscurity to finishing third at the National 24hr track championships, running 241kms in 24hrs and a qualifier for the Aussie team - importantly, it's set him up for success for his huge run
Matthew has come from relative running obscurity to finishing third at the National 24hr track championships, running 241kms in 24hrs and a qualifier for the Aussie team – importantly, it’s set him up for success for his huge run (Credit – Matthew Eckford)

Matthew, father to one daughter says “There are few people in Australia whose lives have not been, or will not be, touched by our children’s hospitals. Kids today will lead us into a future tomorrow, where anything and everything is possible. But in order for this to happen, Aussie kids need to be fit and healthy, so that is why I’m running.”

Aside from the physical element of this challenge, what makes this ‘run’ standout even more so is the tightly packed schedule that Matthew is running to in traveling around each of Australia’s capital cities to complete this challenge. He doesn’t have a personal jet to ferry him around, he’s doing it all on commercial flights. The schedule is punishing:

Matthew started his run in Darwin, Northern Territory Sunday just gone and will complete each of his runs at a local school, circling a 400m track to complete each of his eight 100km runs. He’ll begin each day at around 3-4am, allowing himself 12-13 hours to complete each 100kms – that’s 250 laps of the track each day. After each completed 100kms, he’ll do a few media interviews, speak with local school children, before heading off to the airport to catch an early evening flight to his next destination. From there he’ll shoot of to a hotel, grab 3-4hours sleep before getting up again and doing another 100kms around a track at a local school.

Needless to say, he needs to make each flight as short as possible, so his route around Australia will be Darwin (Sunday), Perth (Monday), Adelaide (Tuesday), Canberra (Wednesday), Hobart (today), Melbourne (Friday), Sydney (Saturday) and then finally Brisbane, his home town on Sunday. Aside from the physical challenge, the sheer mental and emotional capacity to carry out this challenge is something I respect and admire deeply from Matthew. If you’re in one of the cities he’s visiting and want to lend some support, have a look at his schedule here for more information.

The Understated Pilgrim – A Personal Journey

Next up is ‘Superwoman’, Jane Trumper, a Sydney based nurse who will be known to many of our Australian readers given the sheer volume of runs she’s completed over the years. Jane is known for her no nonsense approach to running and on a personal level, I’ve enjoyed much banter with her over the years, but above all I respect her and what she’s achieved in her life through running.

What people like about Jane is that she simply gets on with it with no fanfare or clamour for appreciation. She does in the main do this for herself, and makes no bones about the fact that raising money is secondary as to why she does what she does. Her attitude is ‘why not have a reason behind running as long as it’s not about self promotion?

She also wants people to realise that life doesn’t stop or slow down just because you get old. One of the main drivers for her is to help other women realise their potential. If I can get some women (especially my age) up out of their rocking chairs and realise what is possible, or at least to start moving, I’d be happy. Life definitely doesn’t have to slow down when you’re 50″, she says.

I think there are two astounding aspects of Jane’s run is the sheer can do attitude towards this undertaking. Yes it’s hard and complicated,

Jane is high understated and ran from the UK to Italy in a shoestring. Her philosophy is about a personal challenge (self-funded) that helps raise money for charity too.
Jane is high understated and ran from the UK to Italy in a shoestring. Her philosophy is about a personal challenge (self-funded) that helps raise money for charity too.

but only as hard and complicated as you want to make it. Jane took with her a 5 kg backpack, carrying everything she needed for 6 weeks, involved running through four countries… and no support. She took with her a “Pilgrim Passport” to have stamped in different villages to identify her as a pilgrim, giving her access to some accommodation when pitching the tent became a little cumbersome 🙂

The second is the fact that she did the entire trip on $2,000 (of her own money), then raised the $25k to go directly to the charity. More on that below.

Jane is brutally honest about why she’s doing this, “I want to know I’ve checked off some beautiful trails, lived life and never settled for boredom. At 53, my fitness is good… but nothing lasts forever.”

While the charity element is secondary, it’s certainly not secondary in terms of prominence and significance. To date, Jane’s raised nearly $25,000 for Bear Cottage. Click on the link if you’d like to support in anyway.

What’s right or wrong?

Indeed, each of the runs described is being done for different reasons, be it to directly benefit the charity or simply a personal mission with a charity element attached. The one common goal is that both are using their talents to raise awareness, which ultimately can only be a good thing is people benefit.

Charity running can be a slightly touchy subject for a number of reasons. People seemingly have to justify more and more why it is they’re doing a certain run and why running is a vehicle to do it. In search of this justification, it does seem as though the challenges are becoming increasingly more difficult, harder, longer and more challenging. Is this because we feel the need to take things to the extreme to get the necessary attention? Or does making the challenge harder and harder negate the need for any form of justification?

There’s also the question of the funds raised too. Should all the money being raised by the charity runner go to the charity? Or if they don’t, is there a moral obligation to make people aware of this fact? Ultimately it’s a decision that should be made by the runner. My own personal view is that runners/organisations should be 100% transparent about where their funds are going.

Speaking from experience and the work I did with Samantha Gash for the Ultra Spirit race (raising money for the Kimberly ultramarathon burn victims), the one overriding goal we wanted was that 100% of the race entry fee would go straight to charity i.e. runners could be 100% sure that all of their money made a difference. There was a small admin fee runners had to pay for their registration for the race (beyond our control), but all we simply did was add that on to the original price we’d set for the race, and then made that very clear to people.

We wanted to ensure no money raised from the runners would be used to help pay for the fixed costs of running that event, so getting a corporate sponsor on board was critical for that, with that sponsor 100% in the knowledge that their funds were being used to help pay for the race set-up. As it happened, we only used half of our corporate sponsorship, so a significant sum of money was donated that was unexpected. Those are my own personal moral rules, other people have different standards they set themselves by, the important thing is for you as a potential donor or runner in an event to understand where you sit morally as well as where the runner/organisation/event sit with regards to how they use funds too. For me it comes down to one word – transparency.

However, I will finish with one final thought. The bottom line is that money, change and awareness is being directed at a cause that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, helping to boost the lives of others not so fortunate. There are not enough Jane’s and Matthew’s around in the world as it is.


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