Lois Fallon is ECPAT UK’s fundraising officer. Here, she blogs about taking part in our summer sportathon and raising more than money in the process, and shares her top tips for fundraising success.

At the end of July 2020, ECPAT UK launched a summer sportathon. As a result of Covid-19,events like marathons, which raise millions of pounds for the UK’s charities each year, have been cancelled. This has significantly impacted charities’ income and put many at risk of folding. As the fundraiser at ECPAT UK, it is sobering to know the impact that this will have on charities like ours in the long term.

ECPAT UK’s summer sportathon encourages anyone, no matter their age or sporting ability, to set themselves a challenge around their preferred sport. Whether this is running a marathon, organising a tennis competition, doing laps of the garden or climbing the stairs over and over until you’ve climbed the equivalent of the Eiffel tower (674 steps to be exact!) - by taking part you can raise money for ECPAT UK by asking your friends and family to donate.

Moved by my firsthand experience of the impact that the pandemic has had on the young people we work with, our supporters and this kind of fundraising – as well as my dwindling fitness during lockdown - I decided to put my money where my mouth is and give this challenge a go.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, gyms, arenas, and sporting grounds were closed to the public for four long months. Like many others I’m sure, I took this as a welcome break from my usual high intensity gym classes. With my daily step count reduced to measuring the distance between the fridge, my desk and the couch, needless to say this was going to be a challenge.

When trying to decide what challenge I’d take on, a friend suggested walking 100km in 10 days. Put off by the extent of this commitment (I am a millennial after all), I decided to make it a little easier for myself and run 50km in 5 days. Piece of cake. Running is just fast walking anyway!

(At this point, it is important to mention that I am an avid fan of high intensity interval training, not a long distance runner, which definitely contributed to my false self belief.)

On day 1 I downloaded a couple of “Couch to 10K” apps, like the professional athlete that I am, and off I went. About half way through my first 10k run I realised it wasn’t my best idea to start this challenge during a 36 degree heatwave. I drank 5 litres of water and probably sweated more.

On day 2 I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of muscle pain and felt like I had mastered the art of running for 90 seconds and walking for 60 second intervals. I did finish this run 3 seconds quicker than the day before after all.

On day 3 my hopes of landing a spot on the Olympic track team were swept out from under me. One word: DOMS (consider yourself lucky if you don’t know that this stands for ‘delayed-onset muscle soreness’).

On day 4 I had run further than my combined distance over every day for the last four months. This stirred up enough motivation to sustain me through to day 5.

The final day of the challenge saw me pass the 50k mark and was solely fuelled by the knowledge that there was a Toblerone waiting for me at the end of it.

All in all the challenge was exhausting and taught me not to underestimate the runners in the park who never seem to be out of breath and have a healthy glow about them.

Raising money and awareness

Along the way, I posted updates on social media about my experience of the summer sportathon and encouraged friends and family to support ECPAT UK. Naively, I had only expected this challenge to have an impact on myself and misjudged the engagement that I’d receive from the people in my life.

I had friends and family who had never realised how big of an issue child trafficking is in the UK, contacting me to know more about ECPAT UK. People I hadn’t spoken to in months donated to my fundraising page and were seemingly moved by the reason behind the challenge.

Despite the heatwave, the thunderstorm, the numerous stitches and that one moment when I thought I might never feel my feet again, this challenge became more than just a fundraiser or a way to regain my pre-lockdown fitness levels. I was given the opportunity to open up a conversation about trafficking in the UK and ECPAT UK’s work, and that was more than I ever could have hoped for.

My top tips for sporting and fundraising success

As the fundraiser for a small charity, I am constantly in awe of the amazing feats undertaken by ordinary people committed to making a difference for others in need. Having put my feet in their shoes, I learned some new lessons along the way about what makes a successful fundraising challenge.

1) Pick a challenge that is realistic and safe for you. I definitely couldn't have run 100km in 10 days - safe to say I'm no Paula Radcliffe, could have ended up in need of medical help and no one wants to put additional strain on our NHS heroes! 

2) Maintain social distancing while taking part. Whether you wear a mask while you run, cycle well away from pedestrians or stick firmly to your side of the tennis court, we all have a responsibility to keep each other safe.

3) Set up a JustGiving webpage - it takes 2 minutes to create and you'll have a link to share making it easy for your supporters to donate. Who wants the bother of sponsorship forms and counting out pound coins? Plus this way your loved ones can support your efforts from a safe distance. Everyone wins.

4) Share your journey - the highs and the lows - on social media. Don't forget to tag ECPAT UK so we can see your impressive achievements! At first my friends and family were amused by my efforts but they quickly got on board when they saw me stick with it for more than a day and learned about ECPAT UK's work. Which leads nicely onto...

5) Talk to people in your life about child trafficking, ECPAT UK and why our work is so desperately needed. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with so many people who had no idea that child trafficking happens in the UK, but are now equipped with information and motivated to make a difference in their communities.

6) Have fun and enjoy rediscovering the world beyond your couch-desk-fridge circuit!

Donate to ECPAT UK or set up your own sportathon fundraiser!

Please always consult your doctor before starting any new physical fitness regime and continue to look out for others by maintaining social distancing while exercising.