Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do you need to do good to feel good?

marathon paula radcliffe running womenThousands of Irish women will run this summer to raise money for charity. Many of them will have never run before but the motivation of raising money will get them out on the streets. 

I asked a friend on Sunday which charity she was supporting in her first marathon-relay, she looked at me askance and said "Nothing, I'm running for myself."

I should have hugged her, but I was so surprised to hear someone being this honest and respectful of themselves, I just smiled and carried on talking about carbs. Why do so many women need a charity to justify giving time to running? And to being healthy. 

It's something charity fundraisers like Australian Annie Crawford of Can-Too have used; a lot of women   (yes, I am generalising here) are not comfortable saying I want to run, I want to be strong, I want to have time to be with my friends which does not involve shopping or alcohol. 

In Dublin 40, 057 women ran in the women's mini-marathon this week, the headline in one of the papers was "Sprains and blisters but all for a good cause."

Why couldn't the good cause be just wanting to run? And before you say it, I know lots of men run for charity too but it seems to me that watching women's events, there is a far higher percentage of charity Tees and banners than there would be if it were all men.

I don't think it's a bad thing to raise money, it would just be great if women were able to stand proud and say I did this for me.

What do you think - do women really need that extra Do-Good factor to Feel Good?


Emmet Ryan said...

Well you knew I'd take the bait but not quite in the way you think.

1. This is harsh on women
As a regular road racer I find plenty of female runners who are just that, not charity participants and not a disproportionately smaller number than of their male counterparts. Think about it this way, keep your post the same way but change the writer name to mine. It would be deemed unfair (at a minimum) and most probably offensive as it's based on simply what it appears from looking rather than actually checking the numbers. That's why I take issue with generalising as it is unfair on all parties.

Roughly equal numbers of both genders participate in organised road races in Ireland* and the vast majority from both genders do these for charities. The question of course is why.

2. Answering that question
Only a small number of participants are regular runners, or at least have a history in an organised sense (through clubs etc). Before my 500 mile walk I spoke with psychiatrists about the mental aspect doing it for a charity had. Unfortunately the Irish Times has a paywall but if you're willing to shell out €3.50 the piece can be seen here

The fundamentals are that having a charity, for anyone irrespective of gender (as I didn't ask that question), puts the burden of responsibility onto the runner. Mentally they will be less likely to let themselves off easily and drop out, which is crucial as there are so many factors in training for something like this where it's just the runner/walker and their mind with no-one to kick them up the arse and get them moving. Having that burden helps to make you get out there and get it done.

Elite athletes tend not to have this issue to the same extent but regular Joans and Joes are regular Joes and Joans out of habit. They need that something more to break the habit. This incidentally is one of the reasons I always recommend runners have a training partner as you feel more of a shit if you let someone down for not turning up.

On a simple level that answers the "I did this for me" thing as frankly getting people to go out and do it without the extra stick or carrot is hard going. One could probably go into the whole way all of this things are increased in potency in an historically catholic post-famine minded society but that would be too verbose and wanky.

*Just for where that number came from, it wasn't my arse. I had a look at the participant numbers for the Adidas 5 mile last summer and the Great Ireland run earlier this year, both had comparable numbers of both genders. Incidentally the combined numbers of both races were still only a quarter of the mini-marathon's numbers, which tells you plenty about the power of branding.

niamh said...

@ Emmet - thanks for thinking about this so much. And yes, I know you raise a lot of money for charity with your marathons, I'm just putting the question out there as a thought for the day. Hee hee to the cathartic post-famine thing - a thesis topic maybe? And I did say I was generalising, blogging as opposed to being scientific, it's more of a musing-post than what I'd usually write to be fair though. Mostly inspired by the sense that some women who're not raising money feel they have to defend this? Suppose all that matters really is that you get out there and try!