A recent survey has given an interesting insight into why some many of us are signing up for challenge events in the UK

Britain’s growing passion for outdoor sports and events is proving a bonanza for good causes and charities around the world. New research reveals that 3.6 million UK adults have taken part in a fun run, half marathon or marathon during the past year.

This running community clocked up 226 million miles in training and competition, the equivalent of running around the world 9,000 times or to the moon and back 473 times, according to the polling by Populus, carried out on behalf of the Charities Aid Foundation CAF).

Moreover their efforts have raised about £680 million for charities in the past 12 months, with the average runner raising £190. “For many runners, raising money for a good cause can be one of the crucial motivating factors,” said Susan Pinkney, head of research at CAF. Fun runs are the most popular events for fundraising runners, and women are more likely to have participated in an event to raise money for charity in the past year (19% vs 16%), according to the survey.

Just Giving

The biggest British run of them all, the London Marathon, holds the record for the largest amount raised by a single-day charity fundraising event, at £54.1 million, set in 2015.

But other outdoor events are now competing with running as fundraising opportunities, according to JustGiving, the online social platform for charity donations, which has seen 22 million people raise $2.6 billion for over 13,000 charities since it launched in 2001. In particular, obstacle races are pushing participants out of their comfort zones and encouraging their family and friends to dig deep into their pockets to support them.

“Muddy obstacle racing and experiential events are on the rise on JustGiving with both categories of event increasing by over 200% in the past two years – and it doesn’t look like they will be slowing down any time soon,” said JustGiving’s Nikki Kinloch.

The rapid rise of social media has helped competitors raise money and rope in supporters. Rather than pass around a sponsorship sheet at work and among neighbours at home, fundraisers can now seek support from their online network of friends. A fundraiser will share their page on social media on average twice per month and 49% of JustGiving donations came from Facebook referrals, said the organisation.

Indeed, research by JustGiving found that one-third of fundraisers inspire their friends and family to start raising money, while 62% of family and friends take part in the same event as the original fundraiser.

This is no doubt boosted by the powerful feelings of supporting a common cause. Research by The Active Network and JustGiving found that 27% undertake a challenge to support a specific charity and a further 21% do it to support a specific person, such as a relative who has had treatment for cancer.

“A marathon is never a solo endeavor,” said Louise Nolder, head of communications at JustGiving. “Charity runners often take on extreme challenges in response to a highly personal experience. Many have experienced suffering, or seen someone dear to them struck down by illness or misfortune. The desire to fight back inspires many people to do somethin extraordinary in memory or support of a loved one. Runners are also encouraged on their long training journey by those who have sponsored them. These people are proud to be part of the marathon community and of the change that the fundraising will bring about.”

This was certainly the case for Shannon Foudy, a 39-year old policewoman from Hemel Hempstead, who this year became the onemillionth finisher to cross the finish line in the Virgin Money London Marathon. She was running her first marathon to raise money for the Luton & Dunstable Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that saved the life of her daughter.

“It is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done,” said Foudy. “Being surrounded by so many people running for great causes was amazing.” For some fundraisers, though, facing up to the challenges of a tough outdoor event is a metaphor for life itself.

“I personally have brain cancer, but I keep signing up for Spartan Races because I believe that if you sign up for the messy things in life, it helps you deal with the messy things you didn’t sign up for,” said Iram Leon, Spartan Race Elite runner. “The race lets you have unlimited teammates because let’s be honest, it’s not like anyone can have too many friends and support.

“My teammates and I have provided inspiration for cancer sufferers and I hope, inspiration for everyone else in life too.”