As racing season gets into full swing, runners, cyclists, and walkers are filling out registration forms and eagerly looking forward to their next big event. But for thousands of athletes, participating in a race means more than just building their athletic resumes: it’s also a chance to help contribute to a worthwhile cause. From neighborhood schools to national health campaigns, there’s a walk, run, or ride for just about any big or small nonprofit organization you can imagine.
Want to make your next race day about more than just a faster time? Check out these tips for finding an event near you, preparing for the big day, or even launching your own fundraising event.
For some would-be marathoners, triathletes, or extreme hikers, the choice is clear: They may know someone who’s experienced a particular illness, or they may be survivors themselves. For others, the benefits may go beyond the good feeling of helping to raise money for a worthy organization.
Many races sponsored by nonprofits are especially friendly to newcomers. (And some nonprofits even offer race-specific training; check with organizers for details.) They tend to offer a more communal, less cut-throat competitive experience. These events are also often team-friendly, encouraging groups of friends, family members, or co-workers to enter together.
Committing to a nonprofit-sponsored race can also boost your training motivation. Whether you’re training with other racers for the same event or just adding more miles to your own workout schedule, knowing that an organization is counting on you (and your dollars) can help you keep going even when you’re tired and sore.
Many nonprofit organizations sponsor annual athletic events as part of their fundraising efforts. But the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training goes a step beyond. TNT offers intensive, year-round coaching designed to help athletes prepare for some of the biggest races around. And, for participants who meet training and fundraising requirements, TNT picks up the tab to send them to races in locales as far-flung as San Francisco, Paris, and Dublin.
“Team in Training is the world’s first and largest nonprofit training program,” says campaign manager Stacie Kulp. “We focus on building confidence and setting doable goals, as well as making our participants feel like part of a team. Most participants are first-time endurance athletes, and we help them discover what their bodies are capable of doing.”
Over a span of four to five months, TNT participants work with certified coaches to get ready for their chosen events. Training includes specific weekly and monthly goals, as well as group practices to build confidence and skill. Special clinics throughout the season offer information on nutrition, gear, injury prevention, and strategies for successful fundraising.
Honored Patients—athletes who have undergone treatment for blood cancers—are a vital part of the program, providing inspiration and motivation to their teammates. “One of our participants is a woman who received a bone marrow transplant,” Kulp says. “She’d never been a runner before, but during her recovery she was inspired to train for a marathon. In just two months, she’s raised over $7,000 on her own for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”
In TNT’s 24 years, more than 500,000 athletes have participated in its training programs, and they’ve collectively raised more than $1.2 billion for blood cancer research and services. Though the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a nationwide nonprofit, TNT’s fundraising has a local impact as well. LLS currently supports the work of four researchers at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Center. “This research is making a measurable difference,” Kulp says. “Survival rates for all kinds of blood cancers are up substantially from where they were even 15 years ago—especially among children.”
Marking its second year in 2012, the Urban Challenge pits pairs of competitors against each other in an “Amazing Race”-inspired event. Teams solve puzzles, match wits, and test their strength, speed, and endurance in a series of physical and mental contests. Starting at downtown Salt Lake City’s Gallivan Center, a series of scavenger hunt clues sends racers through Salt Lake’s streets, restaurants, and public spaces in search of the next challenge.
“Instead of a traditional race, teams are scored on a combination of three different factors,” says Jessica Linville, special events coordinator at Make-A-Wish. “They earn Strength Points by completing different challenges, Hope Points for their fundraising efforts, and Joy Points for helping us spread the word about Urban Challenge through social media—and by wearing uniforms or costumes on race day.”
At the end of the day, competitors are exhausted, dirty, and happy: 100% of last year’s teams plan to return for this year’s event. And one lucky pair goes home with tickets for a vacation for four in gorgeous Akumel, Mexico.
Whether you’re the parent of a child in elementary school or the president of your local literary association, you probably have a deserving cause that’s near and dear to your heart. To help your organization raise the funds it needs, consider going beyond the bake sale and setting up your own race or other athletic event. Local mom and fitness professional Jenny Grothe did just that for her son Dakota’s elementary school in 2011. “Our school’s moms and dads were so tired of forking out money for cookies, chocolates, wrapping paper, and magazines all year long. We wanted an event that would bring families out for a fun afternoon, get them exercising, build excitement, and raise money for a very worthwhile cause: our kids.”
Together with a committee of nine other parents, Grothe coordinated the Manila Mini Marathon. This 2.62-mile run/walk provided a perfect challenge for kids (and parents) of varying fitness levels.
Individual racers and families collected donations, and race organizers also reached out to local businesses for support. Sponsors received promotional benefits ranging from their names on logos on the back of the race T-shirt to their banners displayed along the race course. “We had 30 to 50 sponsors at different levels, which helped a lot,” Grothe says. Families and local businesses also donated snacks and water for participants, cones and other race equipment, and even a huge clock to display racers’ finish times.
In total, the Manila Mini Marathon raised over $10,000 for the school—double what its organizers had forecast. “Though it wasn’t a serious ‘race’ for me, it was one of my favorite runs to date,” Grothe says. “A lot of work went into planning it, and I was able to run it with Dakota. Those are memories I’ll never forget.”
Molly Newman lives in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, walks, and runs whenever it isn’t raining—and often when it is. A contributor to Outdoor Sports Guide since 2009, she also hosts regular trivia nights and homeschools her two sons.