When I realized about a month ago that, between ultra training, a promotion and unexpected upheaval at work, my sister’s engagement, and holiday travel, I would not have the time to devote myself to my Camp Interactive marathon project, thereby likely missing my $3,000 minimum goal, I emailed the race organizer at Camp Interactive for help. Could I donate less than the minimum, I asked, or have an extended period of time to meet my goal?
The answer for both questions was a flat no. I started to sweat. Through CrowdRise, Camp Interactive will automatically charge my credit card for the difference between goal and monies raised on November 2. That amount is currently $1,500. That isn’t pocket change; that’s more than a month’s rent! Thus for the past several weeks, I have lain awake at night racking my brain for ways to raise money for a charity I frankly no longer care about. I have emailed every ex-boyfriend, top-level executives at my company, family members, Facebook friends, FrED fans. I have shouted into the void.
If you read Mary Pilon’s article "Hitting the Wall" about marathons and charities, published Friday in the New York Times (or if you are running the ING New York City Marathon for a charity or were asked to run for a charity but declined or have been hit up repeatedly by runners looking for donations), then you know that the run-race-to-do-good bubble has officially popped. My roommate sent me the article today after a heated discussion about how sick and tired we are of fundraising—and feeling guilty and resentful for not raising enough—even though months ago, we (perhaps stupidly) pledged thousands of dollars in exchange for a race bib.
Here’s what I know about the act of charity: Give what what you want. Tithe if you wish to tithe. If you pledge $3,000 dollars to an organization and can’t meet that goal but raise, say, $1,500, you’re still giving $1,500 that the organization didn’t have. And maybe you’ll give more later or you’ll work to earn money for another organization. And everyone gives now and then, and now and then, they cannot, or it’s not their top priority, and this is how people remain generous without going bananas.
Reading Pilon’s article yesterday, I realized that I’m not alone in my pre-race fundraising frustration. And that the very friends and family who I hit up for cash have already given and are still inundated with requests. CrowdRise’s motto is: “If you don’t give back, no one will like you.” But why should anyone feel obligated to give over and over again? And do organizations like Camp Interactive truly believe that locking voluntary supporters into set fundraising goals—with the threat that they will be held accountable for any money not raised from outside sources—is sustainable? That it will breed goodwill toward the organization? When is enough enough?
That answer, for me, is now. I’ll never again support another charity that raises funds through CrowdRise. I’ll probably never want to work with Camp Interactive again. And I’ll definitely never again marry fundraising to my long-distance running hobby. In this past month, all the joy and anticipation of training for and potentially finishing the ING New York City Marathon has been sapped and turned to blood-boiling resentment. I’m pissed off at CrowdRise, at Camp Interactive, at the system in general which allows runners to buy their way into a race by asking friends to help chip in, using charity as an excuse. But most of all, I’m furious at myself for signing up for this goddamned race in the first place.
Five days ago, I ran 50 miles. In two weeks, I will run another 26.2 for Camp Interactive at the ING New York City Marathon. If everyone who sees this donates just $10, I will get so much closer to reaching my $3,000 goal. Please click here to help me cross the finish line!
Fresh fuel, every day.
- Stuff I ate along the way at the CanLake 50 ultramarathon:
- 8 Gu gummy blocks
- 3 Health Warrior coconut chia bars
- 3 mini Reese's peanut butter cups
- 3 Gu gel packs
- 1 peanut butter and jam sandwich
- 1/2 banana
FINISHED! On Saturday, October 12, 2013, at six o’clock in the morning, I set off with a group of 27 runners, cutting a path around Canandaigua Lake 50 miles long. The first hour was pitch dark, the first thirty miles, a piece of cake. By 35, I wished I was somewhere else, and by 46, I became convinced that my vital organs were shutting down. Still, I ran. I ran the bulk of the race, walking only up hills and stopping for a couple minutes at each of the eight aid stations. Mom, Dad, and Boyfriend met me at four of those; seeing their faces and their arms waving as I crested each hill was like a magic elixir to my fortitude.
There came a point in each marathon I have run when I seriously considered dropping out at the halfway mark or a little bit after. That never happened at Canandaigua. I never once feared that I would not finish or tried to convince myself to quit. Every climb (and there were many) just promised another gorgeous view. Every ache in my legs, my hips, my back just urged me on. Move faster, finish sooner, I told myself, and it worked. I crossed the finish line in 9 hours and 41 minutes—9th place out of 27 women, and 46th in a field of 100.
Thanks to everyone who supported me in this crazy endeavor. It was painful and ugly and hard, but those nine hours (and change) were some of the best of my life. And runners, if you can run a marathon, you can run an ultra. Trust me.
Photos, from left: mile 23, mile 38, finish line.
- Mom: Do you feel ready?
- Me: Do YOU feel ready?
- Mom: I don't know.
- Me: Yeah, I don't know either.
- Mom: You'd better get ready.
- Me: I don't know. I'm hungry.
Opening scene from Chariots of Fire.
T-minus 42 hours till the ultramarathon gun goes off!
This is Canandigua Lake in upstate New York. This is where, in less than two weeks, I will become an ultramarathoner. Whatever reserves I had last week (or was it two weeks ago) about even beginning have flown the coop, and now I’m just nervous and excited. I’m thinking about dinner the night before and all the peanut butter-and-jam sandwiches I’ll eat on the road. I’m thinking about shoes and water bottles and hair ties. Sunglasses. Music. A six o’clock pre-dawn start. My man and my mom and my dad at the finish line. Massages and ice baths. I have never felt so ready and so clueless at the same time. I know I can finish this race, but I have no idea what will happen between miles one and fifty. But! A personal motto: When fear creeps in, let curiosity kill it (like a cat). What does mile 15 feel like? Mile 37? Mile 49.5? Only one way to find out.
The ultramarathon is exactly one month away, and I am thinking of dropping out. No good excuses (although will have two if my boyfriend and parents must cancel their travel plans for work-related endeavors that they are trying hard to avoid, but anyway); 50 miles is just a long way to run. I’m getting scared. Ran 20 miles last month and felt great; I ended the run wanting to go further. But on Tuesday, set out for 30 and could only finish 16. I couldn’t breathe; the heat felt oppressive. My energy gels made me sick. I couldn’t drink enough water—until I drank too much. And I kept thinking, What’s the point of all this?! So, runners, tell me: When you lose sight of the goal, how do you get it back? Or do you get it back? When do you know that you really ought to throw in the towel? And what do you regret most—the agony of finishing when you feel like you’re going to die or the agony of quitting before you even begin?
Ultramarathon training has led me to practice sprints even in four-inch heels, which may very well cause the end of my running career, if past injuries predict future pain.
- Ultramarathon training is ticking along, in case you were wondering. I’m about a week behind schedule with a 20-miler planned for this Saturday and 17 miles behind me (completed two Saturdays ago from East Hampton to Bridge and back again; Stephen Hands Path is an awesome running road, by the way).
- I had no gel on that last long run but needed more than water to survive it. Thank God for Starbucks’ Refreshers! Filled a water bottle with the hibiscus tea, and the combo of sugar and caffeine got me through the last 9 miles with energy to spare.
- It is not easy to train my body to run slower than normal. Right now, I’m finishing mid-distance runs at about 7:45 minutes per mile, but on race day, must tone it down to at least 10 minutes per. To ease the transition, I take 2-minute walk breaks every 13. Not only does this practice break the run into easily-manageable quarter-hour chunks, but it forces me to slow down, breathe, and reset my pace.
- Yoga is saving my life. Whether it follows a short run or precedes a longer one, a 60-minute Vinyasa class does wonders for my strength, stamina, breathing, everything. I know the practice isn’t for everyone, but if like me, you need another activity to augment your training plan, go with the flow.
- Kate convinced me to run the New York City Marathon with her to raise money for CampInteractive so now, three weeks after 50, I get to go for another 26.2. Insanity!!
I can run fast, forever, et cetera, but when it comes to any other kind of physical activity (except golf, tennis, beer pong, shuffleboard, skiing, spinning, driving a jet-ski, doing donuts in a golf cart, and shoe-shopping), I pretty much suck. Thus, ever since signing up for the Can Lake 50, I have struggled to find a cross-training method that will challenge my body but not my bank account. (Sayonara, Physique 57.) The spinning classes at my gym pale in comparison to Flywheel; I can’t even walk into the studio without feeling depressed. Weight training is boring. 30-60-90? I’d rather do a 180 in the opposite direction. And while I love to swim, chlorine turns my hair green.
This brings me to yesterday’s yoga class. I signed up for Vinyasa at Equinox, thinking it would be like the only other yoga session I have ever taken, which was packed with patchouli and feel-good Mother Earth worship and not much physical stress. I needed that after a six-mile run. But this class was nothing like that. Fifteen minutes in, I wanted to die and cry (not in that order). I was sweating; I ached. I could not perform a proper downward-facing dog. I could not hop from child’s pose to plank in one swift kick, unlike everyone else in the studio. Following a half bow (a.k.a. backbend) , my back hurt so badly that I couldn’t breathe without shuddering and gasping. (That was probably a major red flag.)
But afterward! So light and long and lean! So relaxed! I grabbed a latte at the new Coffee Bean on 14th Street and practically skipped home. I felt like a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and Sloan on Entourage (which I am watching religiously lately, having never seen it before, and oh my God, Jeremy Piven, please marry me.) And today, all the muscle aches are good, like I did something right (except maybe that backbend). I’m going back tonight. I will master the downward dog.
"Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everyhing else we ove—everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’ it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run."
Chris MacDougall, Born to Run