Marathon running can be financially out of bounds for many, writes Helen Shires

This is the third in a series of five articles written by junior writers as part of a competition offering budding young journalists the chance to get their work in print. From the submitted articles we have selected our favourite five, with the overall winner also receiving a 12-month subscription to Athletics Weekly magazine.

July 2013. I’m panicking. Perhaps alarmingly, however, my panic isn’t due to the fact that I’m sat in A&E with a potential stress fracture to my foot and the small matter of the Bupa Great North Run to run in seven weeks’ time. My panic is the fundraising.

My boyfriend and I were running for a charity that wanted £400 from each of us. Easy, I had thought. We have generous families, lovely friends and are embarrassingly keen. Au contraire. Why is it that when you want to fundraise, everyone else is fundraising for something?

Unfortunately, there are only so many times you can send out emails to great aunt Mary and cousin Tim and awkwardly self promote your JustGiving page on Facebook, without bordering on harassment. With the money being increasingly hard to find (and Gift Aid not being allowed to count towards our overall total), we began to think of other ways of raising the money. So that is, fundraising to help our fundraising to give money to a charity we are contracted to give to. How were we in this mess?

The marathon or half-marathon is fast becoming an increasingly popular target for people. Gym fees are on the up and running is seen as a cheap alternative – grab trainers and off you go. As a 21-year-old student, I am aware that plenty of my peers are undertaking this mammoth task as a way of motivation for getting fit and active. Hence, ballot places are becoming as precious as gold and more and more people are having to find alternative routes into the big marathons such as London, Paris and Berlin. The obvious way is to enter via a charity, pledging to fundraise the amount they ask for. But with charities often demanding minimum fundraising efforts of at least £2000 for a marathon, is the marathon becoming inadvertently an event for “the elite”?

Fortunately for us, our saving grace was my grandma, who tootled around the 54 flats in her retirement home and forced everyone to hand over £3 or she’d bring them no more of her famously popular chicken soup. With this significant contribution, we did eventually meet our target and complete the run (albeit with me hobbling and muttering various profanities).

It seems clear to me, that the people who can pledge to – and successfully fundraise – £2000 without selling an organ, represent a very small elite. It is something that I don’t believe I could ever commit to. At present, for most people, those who can are already giving to charity in other ways. Those who don’t give often genuinely cannot afford to. If you can afford to sponsor someone even £20 to run a marathon, I believe you are lucky. For many people in Britain, that’s food money for a week.

I suppose my point here is, that if someone wants to run for charity, it should be because they enjoy running, they want to feel like they have achieved something great and they want to help others. Is it right then that only “rich” people should be allowed to help others in this way? To me, it seems a huge shame that an event like the London Marathon, arguably the most iconic athletics event in Britain, if not the world, is closed off to so many people.

» Helen Shires, 21, is a German and Spanish student at Durham University. Currently based in Germany, she plans to run another half-marathon in Barcelona in 2015

» Look out for further articles in this young writers’ competition series in future editions of AW