Cardio is an important part of any fitness program; my philosophy is why not give a little back to a good cause while you're at it?
I've been running in charity race events since 1999, and they have been always been a great experience for me. There are a number nationwide charity races that anyone can participate in for a small cost (usually $10 - $20), and you usually get at least a free t-shirt on top of helping out a good cause.
Chances are if you're reading this article you actually enjoy running, and see the cardio as more than "that annoying thing you do once a week." You may like to give to charity any way you can, or maybe you just like getting free t-shirts. Whatever the reason, I've found that running for charity is a great way to stay motivated and focused when it comes to cardio. Of course there's also the sense of accomplishment and a warm feeling that you get from giving to a charity, but I think that much goes without saying.
Now I'm not saying that I'm some kind of super-runner that runs seven days a week. Far from it actually I rarely run if it's not above 50 degrees outside, and I live in Michigan so that pretty much eliminates half of the year.
The good news is that these events are usually designed for people of all ages and fitness levels, so you don't have to be a marathon champion, but fair warning chances are extremely good runners will be at these events so don't go in expecting a trophy unless you can run a 4 minute mile.
However regardless of the distance training before the event is a must. In my first charity race I over trained and ended up with an pulled leg muscle, oddly enough, this injury also brought me back the next year, read on to find out why.
Where I Got Started
My first race for charity was an event held yearly in Detroit called the "Turkey Trot." This is a 10 K race down the Thanks Giving parade route that benefits Multiple Sclerosis. This race is a lot of fun for many reasons, first of all you run in front of the Parade Crowd, and second people tend to dress up, as turkeys.
Santa Claus, Elf's, any number of fun and interesting things. Well as I had mentioned at mile three of 6.2 I felt a sharp pain in my right thigh, I had pulled a leg muscle, which I had strained running hard up a hill three weeks before the event. You may be wondering why I would decide to come back after such an injury.
... I was not going to be passed or beaten by an Elf ever again!
Well at mile six of 6.2, I was passed by a runner dressed as a Christmas Elf high stepping backwards. This of course became my motivation for the next year, I was not going to be passed or beaten by an Elf ever again.
The next year I ran my best 10 K to date, although I was passed mid race by a woman dressed as Supergirl oh well. My point is that these races can be a lot of fun, and can provide good motivation, sometimes for the oddest reasons.
A Good Race To Start With
Of course many of you don't live in Michigan, so I'll be focusing the majority of the rest of this article on national races that give money to charity. A good place to start would be the Komen Race for the Cure; this is a national event which raises money for Breast Cancer Research.
This event focuses two main 5K races, the first is a competitive event, and the second is a run/walk. I recommend running in the competitive event if you plan on running for fitness. Thousands of people show up for the walk and chances are you'll end up walking for the first mile or so. This can be very annoying when you were looking to get your heart rate up.
I recommend running at least 3 days a week, for 30 minutes, a month prior to the race to prepare for this one. For more information on this race try the following link.
For Those Who Want More of A Challenge
A good intermediate level race for charity is the March of Dimes Walk America. The money from the Walk America goes to further research on premature birth. The distance of this walk varies depending on the city, my last Walk America was about 8 miles long.
Now I know what you're thinking this is a walk, and I thought we were trying to get some cardio in here? Well there aren't any rules that say you can't run the Walk America, walk, and dodging slow moving people can actually be a lot of fun.
This is a longer race so you'll probably want to run at least 5 miles 3 days a week, starting around 2 months prior to the event. For more information on the March of Dimes Walk America try the following link:
For The Serious Runner
An example of an advanced race would be a marathon, since most marathons give a certain amount of proceeds to charity, just pick the one closest to where you live. Now I've never run a marathon personally, but for those of you who live in or near Michigan I have another alternative.
There is a yearly cross country relay race in Michigan called The Great Lakes Relay. I ran this race for the first time in 2003 and it is by far the most challenging sports event I have ever been a part of. For the relay you join a team, usually a mixed team of 10 people, and you trade off running duties to cover 270 miles in a single weekend in July. Each member of the team has to cover at least 24 miles over the course of the weekend so this race is not for the faint of heart.
Now running 24 miles over 3 days may not seem too bad to some, but the catch here is that all of the running is cross country, through the hiking trails of the upper part of the Lower Peninsula. To train for this race I would recommend running every other day for at least 5 miles, 4-6 months prior to the event.
I also recommend running cross country at least once a week. Anything less than that and this race will leave you in a world of pain. The good news is that if you've hit a plateau when it comes to you cardiovascular fitness, this race is pretty much guaranteed to help you break right through it.
For example my average mile time dropped a full minute the first time I ran after the event (which was after a weeks rest). It's also a fun weekend, since you spend it in camping with a group of like minded people, in a beautiful part of Michigan. All proceeds going to benefit Michigan Special Olympics, for more information on the Great Lakes Relay go to:
There you have it, a very brief overview of running for charity. There are events such as these in every part of the United States, and all over the world. They benefit all types of charities and for me at least provide motivation for my cardio.
There is a lot more information out there about these events; it's as simple as typing "charity run" into Google. Hopefully you have as much fun doing this as I do, best of luck finding a charity running event that suits you.
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