It is the Marathon season in the UK this April so this week I am posting three extracts from my book ‘Running away from the Race’. The book examines why we have all become marathon runners.
Today, I will look at why people run such long distances and what drives them to do it.
John’s family say they are proud of his achievements. His friends claim they admire him for what he is doing. Publicly, his efforts thus far have given him several column inches in the local newspaper and there have been three articles in his adopted charity newsletter about his work. The finance company has honoured John at the company’s annual awards and he has been given 10 days holiday in Antigua and a weekend in Reykjavik. Several of John’s friends and one or two work associates say that it is John’s example that has inspired them to take up running and two of them have completed the London marathon. Ultimately, it is the feeling of personal achievement that gives John a sense of deep satisfaction. Combine this with the physical benefits of being very fit, it means his lifestyle has improved dramatically. At the present time, John is largely injury-free and is giving very serious consideration to entering his first full triathlon in 2013.
If one considers the amount of time and effort put into what the non-competitive runner is doing and combines it with the social and selfless act of raising not inconsiderable sums of money for charity, it is surprising how little attention they receive publicly. This is partially explained by the fact that the number of people raising money for charity through running is considerable and expanding. If you take into account that there are 140,000 runners in the London Marathon and 80% are running for charity, there is something approaching the size of an army that is fundraising off its own back. Local newspapers are already saturated with pieces concerning all manner of charity and fundraising. There simply are not the column inches available for all the individual instances of heroism and self-sacrifice that are generated by the running phenomenon.
To achieve any kind of notoriety, the stakes have to be raised to almost absurd levels. The distances run are increased and the sums raised for charity and good causes also escalate on par with them. Comedian David Walliams is a good illustration of this trend. Having swum the English Channel and almost (accidently) breaking the record for this feat, he went on to swim the length of the Thames. At its completion, the total raised for Sport Relief stood at £1.1million. Walliams swam an estimated 110,000 strokes over 140 miles in eight days. The celebrity adopting the role of the noble amateur stepping into the shoes of a professional is now an established feature of popular culture. Celebrities had long been running the London Marathon but in the noughties a new type of celebrity activity emerged. It was Eddie Izzard and his running feats in 2009 that illustrate the trend of the non-competitive runner. With his astonishing 43 consecutive marathons, Izzard demonstrates en extremis the accumulative trend of non-competitive running.
Aside from its novelty and Izzard being totally new to running, his feat was interesting on a number of levels. The first of these was his motivation to execute this punishing schedule in the first place.
“To say he did it for Sports Relief is true up to a point. The real reason is harder to fathom. He had to run 1,000 miles – 43 consecutive marathons – followed by a motorised rickshaw (with the camera crew) and an ice-cream van (with Flake 99s). To see him stumbling along in blinding rain, no cheers, no crowds, no pavements, carrying the sodden flag of the appropriate country, made you want to shout: “Excelsior!”
(4) Nancy Banks-Smith ‘The Guardian’ – Friday March 5th 2010
In order to avoid anonymity Izzard was forced into this extreme feat. Simultaneously, only a celebrity of Izzard’s stature could have obtained the necessary media coverage to justify such an undertaking. However, the fact that it had to be 43 marathons in a row shows how far the bar had been raised in terms of media attention. A single marathon once a year would fall well short. The stakes have been raised continually for nearly 30 years. Only an individual of Izzard’s standing could avoid anonymity for his efforts but he had to pay the price. As competition for public and media attention becomes fiercer, it seems to encourage the more extreme and ever more bizarre.
Although by no means anonymous, Izzard’s marathons did not obtain the level of media attention envisaged at its outset. A three-part documentary of the run across Britain was quietly tucked away on a late-night slot on BBC Three. Initial media attention was high but, even during the event, Izzard was running alone to ‘no cheering crowds’.
With no-one to race against and no times to beat, another meaning for Izzard’s odyssey needed to be found. Initial estimates of the amount raised for Sport Relief were £200,000. Although not inconsiderable, it was not enough to justify the run as a money-making venture for the needy. Izzard claimed that the journey was one of personal discovery and reflection. One of the legs of the run was designed so that it went past the house where Izzard had lived until the age of six and where his mother had died. He also took to running with the flags of the four British nations, highlighting the multinational dimension to his tour. The vacuum left by the absence of competition, the incidental nature of the drive to raise money and the indifference to beating personal times had to be filled by an individual and personal mission or journey.
This is the lot of the non-competitive runner and is an irresolvable contradiction where acts of heroism and perpetual anonymity go hand-in-hand. Lacking the financial and social capital of Izzard, amateur runners face an interesting dilemma. They can continue to run and hope that the higher levels of fitness, self-esteem and sociability a running programme brings will be enough to keep them going. Many simply stop running with no fuss or ceremony, hoping that one day in the near future they will take to the roads once more.
The Eddie Izzard running phenomena crystallizes several key aspects of the experience of the non-competitive runner. It illustrates the extreme nature of his running that has been undertaken not only because he could, but also because he had to. Ultimately, he was left with no alternative; his only option was to go for the megalith of the triathlon. As Izzard said on completing his marathons: “It would be a shame to waste all that training.” Our non-competitive runner, John Phillips, is faced with a similar dilemma. The quantitative tendency will start to impose itself on John’s running activities. Whether he is aware of it or not, John will have to make a choice or have a choice made for him. He can increase the amount of training that he is doing and go for four marathons a year. To justify this escalation he will have to step up his fundraising activity and reach higher targets for his chosen charity. A larger slice of John’s life will have to be given over to running. It is more than possible that John will be able to meet this challenge and it is also more than likely that he will undertake it.
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‘Running Away from the Race’ is available on Amazon Kindle
The response to this post has been passionate, curious and extensive. Two very important questions have arisen that you will need to consider when opting for the Accelerated Blogging programme.
“Does Accelerated Blogging help develop a local client base?”
Yes it does. Your local connections will often be the first port of call in the optimisation process. I like to extend the definition of local. I break ‘local’ down into 3 distinct groups: Geographic, Existing clients and professional. Each of these groups have a direct role to play in your Accelerated Blogging process.
I think that developing a reputation online, in addition to your location, can only have a positive effect on your business. Going global helps your local reputation.
“My demographic may not be on LinkedIn?”
True, maybe not your whole demographic. But many of them will be. There will be thousands of your ‘demographic’ who you are not yet connected to yet. Take this example:
Hawaii has 297,495 people on LinkedIn, who live and work in Hawaii. That is 1 in 4 of the total population. The most active LinkedIn users have 600 connections. This means that locally there are another 297,000 people to connect with. You can rapidly accelerate your relationship building process by connecting with your locals and writing interesting things for them to read.
In case you didn’t have the chance to read the full article, here it is again.
The approach seems to be, all content and no optimisation or all optimisation and no content
The problem with creating content for the internet is twofold. First it has to be interesting and second it has to be seen. If you have invested money in SEO then it is more than likely that you have gone for visibility over content. I hear time and time again that business owners have invested a lot of money in SEO and nothing happened. There is a reason for this. A higher google ranking on search does not guarantee you an audience that is going to engage with you. At best, it will give you an edge over your competitors locally. Most businesses have a go with SEO and appear in the local search results. Competing at a local level may give you a more prominent listing and may mean it is more likely that you will be clicked on and contacted by a searcher. The problem is, it is really hard to stand out and be interesting and start relationships by using SEO because everyone else is doing it.
The problem with SEO companies is that what they are charging for is producing an increasingly smaller return (not necessarily becoming more expensive). In many cases, what they claim to be doing for your business (ie making your website more prominent for certain keyword searches) would have happened anyway, had the SEO company done nothing and not been employed.
Ask yourself “Would you rather appear as interesting or near the top of a list?
The opposite problem to just focusing on SEO instead of content is having interesting content that no-one sees. You may have written a great blog piece yet no-one saw it, commented on it or shared it with their network. Over 80% of LinkedIn blog posts that are produced have views of less than 100 views. All that work, knowledge and experience and nobody saw it. That would seem to be more of a waste than spending money on SEO.
You need an approach that combines optimisation and the production of relevant, interesting and engaging material.
I’ve tried all of the strategies from SEO, Google and Facebook ads, email campaigns and blogging with varying degrees of success. If you want to build a new audience, be it new clients or a reputation within your industry ‘Accelerated blogging’ is by far the best way of achieving this (by quite some margin). ‘Accelerated blogging’ combines optimisation with high quality, engaging content. The challenge is to produce interesting work quickly, frequently and publicly. You need to do this using the LinkedIn post system (the one you are reading now). Incorporated into my approach is the use of Amazon Kindle with LinkedIn. This is far more powerful than old style SEO.
X2 questions that I am frequently asked about accelerated blogging
“Isn’t LinkedIn just a business platform and not the best place to get new clients?”
With the introduction of the LinkedIn post system in January 2014, you now have the opportunity to present your work in front of your professional clients and potential new clients. Both of these groups are on LinkedIn. We have used the Accelerated Blogging programme to bring in enquiries to client’s business directly from LinkedIn. Please see the examples below of two posts that led directly to new client enquiries from LinkedIn.
“Won’t everybody start blogging in this way?”
Yes but 90% will not be able to optimise properly and give up. You need to start very soon (within the next month) and establish yourself on LinkedIn. Once you have a couple of posts behind you it is much easier to maintain your position as a leading voice in your position (most give up after the first post when it does not perform very well).
If you want to become part of the ‘Accelerated Blogging Programme’ please reply to me on LinkedIn or look at one of the following options:
There are two Amazon Kindle Publications
Here are two examples from my own camp that have produced high engagement and directly created new business:
Another piece by Elizabeth Rimmer