Fit For the Cause

No matter how old you are, or what your situation is, chances are you know someone who has been affected by a disease. Such is the nature of modern life. Despite the horror diseases cause on victims and their friends/families - the suffering of a loved on can also bring people together, causing them to take on challenges or rally round a  "cause." Such causes/challenges often are often undertaken to spread awareness or raise money for research toward medical treatment or hope for a cure. They normally entail pushing limits - whether dumping ice water on ourselves, walking for a whole day, or running long distances - we push ourselves in order to encourage other people to sponsor us or share our stories. 

I have recently started preparing for my own challenge: I'm taking on the London2Brighton challenge to raise funds and awareness for a rare disease called EDS. Fortunately for me, Last Adventurer here was kind enough to give me a platform to talk about what I am doing, how I am doing it, and to allow me to provide both some fitness training and fundraising tips for anyone attempting something similar. 

I first started reading The Last Adventurer when I was working as a social media marketing consultant for a running, skiing and outdoor brand. The Last Adventurer and I met at an event in Chamonix, where he was one of a team who ended up with the responsibility of trying to teach me – a city trailer/gym trainer – how to use crampons and rope climb…I’ll say no more about my embarrassing Alpine performance, but I will say this:  from my first experience of the blog I was won over by his seemingly endless feed of wilderness landscapes and beautiful views. It’s hard not to find yourself inspired by the overall message: #PreserveTheGood.

As a London-boy, I can sometimes feel a world apart from these rolling green hills or rocky red deserts…. but growing accustomed to air pollution and urban decay, hasn’t totally killed my appreciation for the good: as well as beautiful places it’s also full of good people – and this piece is about how physical endurance and a love for the outdoors can help us preserve and protect them too.

I’ve been spending a lot more time outdoors recently, and it’s not just because work has caused me to swap London’s grime for Geneva’s rivers, lakes and mountains: it’s because I’m training for my first ever endurance charity event:  100km London to Brighton Ultra Challenge. I’m training from the heart, determined both to finish and to raise as much money and awareness for as I’m physically capable of for Ehlers-Danlos Support UK in the process, because the cause is very close to home.

In 2014 I stumbled across a rare diamond in London’s rough: my ex-girlfriend Darcey. At the time she had recently been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: EDS is caused by a defect in a protein called collagen that is the main building block of the body, providing strength and support to joints, skin and vital organs.  Different types of EDS can drastically shorten life expectancy, and people with EDS often live in daily pain, barely able to move, with little to no hope of a cure.

 This rare and incurable condition that rapidly began to attack almost every area of her life. Her fight is relentless, crushing and often heartbreakingly hopeless, and our relationship was unfortunately one of its many casualties. My love, support and admiration - however - only strengthen watching her face new challenge after new challenge as her body puts her through a living hell. It’s not something I can fix, but every time I hear she’s back in hospital I’ll lace up some shoes and go for a run, or email another potential donor with a link to my JustGiving page and at least know that I’m at least doing something to help.

As a community of adventurers, hikers, climbers, walkers, trail runners and athletes, what better way to #preservethegood than using our able bodies to fight for the things and causes we care about? If you’re thinking of harnessing the miles you travel and getting fit for a cause, here's the plan I've been following:

Train Smart

No matter the event you’re preparing for, your training plan needs to be well thought out, varied, achievable and above all - safe. Whether you’re climbing a mountain, walking 100km or running a marathon a few training tricks will help you reach the finish line in one piece.

Protect your joints: if you’re lucky enough to have joints that work, don’t take them for granted. If you’re training for a high impact sport (like running) try to mix low impact exercise (swimming, rowing, elliptical) into your regime too, this will allow you to keep up the cardio training, minimize stress and build muscle strength across the joints to stabilize and protect them. Alternating resistance training and cardio is also a good way to build protective muscle.

·Build up to it: particularly with running, too much too often can do more harm than good. Unless you’re a seasoned marathon/ultra-runner the only time you actually need to run the full distance may be the event itself. So if your event is 100km, and your main aim is just to finish, doing 30km twice on consecutive days, a couple weeks before the event, is probably the most you’ll need to do in training to ensure you can complete the course.

Leave enough time: if you don’t have enough time to train properly and safely, pick an event a little further down the line. Of course only you (and possibly your coach/trainer) know your body, so you’ll have to judge based on the event and whether your goal is a personal record or simply to finish, but a general estimate would be to leave at the very least 8 weeks training for a half marathon and 16 weeks for a full marathon (assuming you’re healthy and active already.)

Stay fueled

Balancing a career, training and diet is going to be exhausting to say the least. Sometimes finding the time to eat 6+ times per day, meet deadlines and still get enough sleep seems nearly impossible, but it isn’t.

Log your diet: it might sound like a pain but it’s worth it. Most people who don’t keep food journals will overestimate or underestimate how many calories they’re eating and have little to know idea how the macros actually break down.

Find Quick Fixes: if, like me, you need to eat 6-8 times a day and get 20-30g of protein every two hours - then you’re either going to spend your life in the kitchen and your salary at the butchers’ or you need to find a work-around. If I’m in the office, even mixing up that many protein shakes a day can be a struggle, so I’ve been fueled by Protein cookies for the last 6 years. With a solid 38g of protein per cookie and pretty much a 4:2:1 Protein:Carb:Fat ratio, they’re a solid staple to keep on the desk – and at 319 kcal per cookie they’ll tend to keep you full without unwanted weight gain.

Find a booster that works for you: I’d never advocate the overuse of caffeine or pre-workouts, but there are some days (like event day) when you’re just going to need a boost: these are the days when I reach for a little extra. I like a strong flavor in a pre-workout/coffee - the psychological effect of the aftertaste and knowing its coursing through my system reminds me it’s a no-excuses day.

Believe in the cause

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s Not.
— Dr. Seuss

Sorting out your training and diet is important if you’re going to make it to the finish line safely, but if there’s one thing that’s really going to keep you going, whether it’s pushing through the wall or smashing your JustGiving  target, it’s remembering why you’re doing it…

Train from the heart: I can’t stress enough how training changes when you’re know why you’re doing it, so pick a cause that’s personal.

Pick the right charity: don’t just pick a charity for the sake of it, or because it’s a big name. There are so many small charities struggling for support and making big differences to unsung causes. The little guys often need your help even more!

Spread the word

Setting up a JustGiving page for donations and sharing it with your Facebook friends is a good start…but even meeting the minimum pledge for a charity event can be a struggle, and the last thing you want to do is be paying £400 out of pocket, on top of your registration fee. If you’re working for a less known cause, raising awareness can be just as valuable as raising funds, so shout loud and clear.

Start personal, be sincere: yes, people will see your Facebook post, but they’ll also see 20 other friends in 6 different countries doing similar things. Take the time to message or email people directly, catch up with old acquaintances, and then explain why your cause is important to you personally. If they can’t afford to donate right now, ask them if they’ll share or RT your plea instead. Also, call in favors: if you really care about your cause it’s time to call in every favor you’re owed, or start promising favors to people. You know that blogger you met two years ago? Or the artist who followed you when you talked at their gig? Time to slide into their DMs. Follow the people who follow your charity: if you’re a Twitter  user you can follow up to 1,000 people a day, and the chances are 100 or so of those will follow you back. There are plenty of tools that allow you to identify the right people to follow, unfollow those who don’t follow back, then hit those who do directly with an automated message asking for an RT or donation. If you target people who already support your charity, they’ll be more than happy to give you a boost, or at least follow you back and wish you the best.

·Reach out to blogs, local news or brands you love: there are a lot of content creators out there who are hungry for guest pieces. If you’ve got a good cause, there are a lot of good people out there who will give you a chance to tell your story. I’d like to thank The Last Adventurer for giving me the chance to tell mine! #PreserveTheGood


Samuel March is a qualified fitness instructor and social media communications consultant currently training for a 100km Ultra Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Ehlers-Danlos Support UK, to show support for a loved: