Part Three of the five-part fortnightly series ahead of The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2013 offers an introduction on running for charity

Raising funds for charity through running can be traced back to as early as 1978 when the then Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray ran across the U.S. in 45 days and raised $ 150,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This simple but original gesture of support soon found emotional resonance in 1980 in neighbouring Canada, where Terry Fox who had bone cancer and a leg amputated, embarked upon the ‘Marathon of Hope’ with an artificial leg from coast to coast across Canada, to raise money and awareness on cancer. The spread of the cancer, unfortunately, led him to end his quest mid-way and eventually claimed his life. However, his effort lives on to this day in the form of the annual Terry Fox Run held across 60 countries and is now a name the residents of Chennai readily recognise, thanks to the local edition being held in IIT-Madras for the last five years.

Over the last three decades, running and charity have become unlikely symbiotic partners, relentlessly fuelling each other’s growth. In 2012 alone, Running USA’s research says that close to 5,00,000 runners completed the 42.2-km marathon distance in the U.S., including large swathes of ‘Charity Runners’.

Compare this with the fact that the Top 30 road race events in the U.S. raised $ 1.68 billion the same year for various charitable causes, and the scale of this movement abroad sinks in.

Distance running itself has a far more recent history in our country, as does the concept of running for charity. Thanks to the efforts of the organising teams of marquee running events in the country, both are catching on.

So, why would one put oneself through the travails of a wholly demanding and frequently punishing 16-week training programme for a full marathon (42.2 km), all to solicit contributions towards a social cause? As a race, we have an innate desire to do good and to inspire others to do good as well. Running gives us one way of doing this. Through long-distance running, several millions of people over the years have served as inspiration, as beacons of hope to a society in constant need of role models.

Research has shown that when a person is willing to challenge his own boundaries and push himself over and beyond a perceived physical capability threshold, all for a cause he believes in, society at large opens both its wallet and heart. Every one of us can find a way to run and support a worthy cause. Crossing the finish line knowing that you have done something to benefit someone in need, while at the same time achieving a personal milestone, makes distance running a uniquely gratifying experience.

You might have lost a dear friend prematurely to a medical condition, you might have been aghast at hearing of the statistics on the number of children being denied basic education or perhaps, you could be bemoaning the cruelty meted out by society to stray dogs. What are you waiting for? Pick a cause you believe in and a pair of sturdy running shoes, and go make the world a better place to live in.

(The writer is a Chennai Runner for life and is grateful for having had the opportunity to raise funds for ‘Asha For Education’ by running the Chicago Marathon in 2011)

Registrations are open till November 6 for those willing to run for charity at The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2013 to be held on December 1. Visit The Wipro Chennai Marathon to register.

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