On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Charity running and me

As some of you might know, I'm kind of a volunteer junkie. Primarily I help rape crisis and domestic violence victims with the Crime Victims Treatment Center, but I also volunteer through the Doula Project at Planned Parenthood and occasionally for the Red Cross. These things are time-intensive endeavors where I work directly with people in need of help. I'm lucky I have a flexible schedule that allows me to leave my house to assist a rape victim in the middle of the night. I know that not everybody does, though. I know that for some people, it's easier to give money than time. That's awesome - charities need money.

I've always had kind of a vague discomfort with charity running programs because of how they're changing the face of races (you've probably read Chuck Engle's thoughts on Boston, for instance). Some charity programs take a paternalistic attitude that bothers me (I seem to be the only one who's had a bad experience with Girls on the Run, and don't get me started on my feelings about Back on My Feet). Also, running is a selfish pursuit for me. And then there's the fiscally minded me, who'd rather donate directly to a charity I support and see 90%+ of my money go to the cause, rather than ~70%. But mostly I take a "you do you" approach to running - if charity running's your thing, power to you. When I get to the point where races are not worth running anymore, I'll stop doing races. I'll never stop running until I physically can't.

A few months ago, I agreed to coach a charity running group. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were many problems with this from the get go: my lack of any coaching certification (I never presented myself as a trained coach but was hired based on experience); the fact that I was doing it in large part as a favor to a friend/my co-coach; and my ambivalence toward charity running. The position was paid, although the money that I would get was a pittance compared to the work needed, and I was doing it more as a charitable endeavor than a job.

For a few days in early February, things were great. I was excited. I felt like I could help people learn to love running while helping the charity get much-needed income. Then things went wrong. Terribly wrong.

I'm not going to name the charity. It's a fine organization that does great work. Unfortunately, one of the things they do not do well is manage this particular branch of their charity running program. Every single thing I did was wrong, from the photo I sent for their website to the fact that I prefer email over phone calls. Damningly, the beginner training plan my co-coach and I designed was watered down beyond efficacy. After I realized that our disagreements weren't going to resolve themselves, and after I realized that I was spending hours each week trying to work these disagreements out, I knew I had to get out. I resigned yesterday. I felt terrible about quitting, but this thing I was doing to be nice was turning me into a very, very not nice person. Their response to my resignation confirmed that I had made the right decision.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of writing this is. I'm still ambivalent on charity running programs - I have too many dear friends who've run for charity, for reasons both noble (raising money for causes that are personal to them) and not-as-noble (getting into races that are otherwise closed) to condemn charity running entirely. But... but... it's not for me. I know that now for certain.

So do me a favor: don't hit me up for money the next time you're fundraising. Or if you do ask, please don't be offended if I'm reluctant to donate.

9 comments:

  1. I've never been a huge fan of charity runners...and I know it's annoying as hell to get 5-6 people running the same race asking you to donate money. I think I like the idea of a lot of these charities, but practice is very far from theory.

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  2. It sounds like your energy is better used elsewhere, toward endeavors that at the very least give you personal satisfaction and that will be appreciated by others (I know that sentence structure makes no sense. Bear with me.)

    Endeavor #1? Competitive ice cream / 5k running. You can do it!

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    1. In all seriousness, having weekends free from now on means that I am DOWN for that VT trip. I haven't been camping in years and would LOVE to go. I bring my own tent, even.

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  3. Good to hear a followup on this sitch. Your intentions were really honorable and it's a shame that.. certain person.. yeah. Hm. I agree with Katie, your energy will be put to good use at a better place!

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  4. I give you huge props for leaving what sounds like a bad situation. Sometimes you just have to know when to say this is not for me, and for a lot us, identifying that is hard. I vote for competitive ice cream / 5k running too! :)

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  5. So I'm clear on where you stand on charity races, but how do you feel about charity hop-a-thons?

    Not familiar with them? I wasn't either, until Carly came home from school and asked me for a quarter for each hop. It turns out her school is going to ask the kids to hop for 2 minutes with bunny ears on their heads and collect dough for the effort. (It's *kind* of like running a marathon, right?) Funds will go to our local muscular dystrophy chapter. That charity was chosen because it benefits those who cannot hop for themselves (as per Carly's dinner time report).

    Are you wondering why I'm telling you all of this? Me too...brain is sleep deprived, so what I think is funny may not be funny to others. Apologies in advance.

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  6. I've got a lot of problems with Back on My Feet too. It drives me crazy when people just think it's the greatest thing, let's make homeless people run!!! It will surely inspire them because it has made my well off white self love my body and want to do better. Here, let me give you these running shoes with some bootstraps on them... Why not just, you know, give to a charity that provides from the homeless instead of making them run for it?

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    1. THANK YOU. That's exactly it. "Running helped me, so I can take it and make other less fortunate (read: minority) people like it, too, because I know what's good for them!" And when you look at their program, the homeless people have to "earn" the things that will actually help them (job training, assistance) through running - running almost becomes the punishment that they have to endure in order to get help.

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  7. Thanks for all you do Tracy. I will have to look into Back on my Feet. Sounds like a quirky organization, to say the least.

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