Running into trouble: challenges face the annual Terry Fox Run

This Sunday is the annual Terry Fox run – except, shockingly, a number of communities this year won’t be holding one.

Why?

Too much competition, run organizers say.

Several municipalities in Nova Scotia and Ontario are foregoing the run, an annual event since 1981 and first held just two months after Fox’s death from cancer.

Sherri Malov, the woman who’s organized Truro’s Terry Fox run for five years, told CBC News that she was unable to find volunteers to assist with the event. More troubling still is the run faced steep competition: three other runs were scheduled on the same day last year.

It’s appalling that the Fox event is running into trouble. Fox was the original crusader against cancer, out on the roads raising money and awareness with his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope long before other charities recognized the power of running.

fox run

In 1980, Fox set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland, with the goal of raising one dollar from each of Canada’s 24-million citizens. Bobbing from side to side on his artificial leg through often horrendous weather, Fox transfixed Canadians as he ground out the miles.

By the time the spread of his cancer forced him off the roads, Fox had become a national hero, running for 143 days, covering 5,373 kilometres.

According to the Wikipedia entry on Fox, the annual Terry Fox Run has since become the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, with over $500-million raised.

Since Fox first set out in 1980, our attitude towards running has dramatically changed. As a recreational activity, running has boomed and with it the rise in events catering to runners. On any given weekend in, say, Nova Scotia, runners can choose from two, three, even four races.

Factor in triathlons and other events, and suddenly event organizers are facing a lot of pressure.

How sustainable this is, time will tell. But it’s unlikely that every race will be able to find the volunteers it needs or sustain the critical mass of runners to survive.

I would suggest the first races to vanish off the schedule will be those that smaller charities naively organize in the belief that they will raise a lot of money. Often put together by volunteer race directors with little experience, these races soon discover that hosting a race is much more involved than inviting people on Facebook and letting them run a course.

Poor planning, little promotion and weak execution has led some of these races to attract fewer than 20 runners.

At the same time, the entrance of large franchises into the market, such as Spartan Races, Muddy Buddys and so forth have grabbed a massive amount of the market share. People, of course, only have so much money and time to spend on races, which means some are bound to suffer.

Along with that comes the huge rise in charity runners. All of them advocate for admirable causes, but also compete for the same fixed pot of money. It’s bound to lead to donor fatigue. And where the Terry Fox Run only rolls around for one day once a year, it’s not as continually pushed as some of the others.

For the price of one dollar – although you can contribute more if you wish – the Terry Fox Run is a bargain. More than that, it’s a tradition and a tribute to a Canadian icon. ¬†It’s a chance for you to run with your neighbors, free of race bibs and with no tangible rewards such as T-shirts and medals – except for the feeling that comes with knowing you’ve done a good thing.

We can let the Terry Fox Runs fade away, but everyone would be that much poorer.

Keep the legacy alive.

Show up. Lend a hand. Run. Give. These are all things that we are good at as Canadians.

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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10 Responses to Running into trouble: challenges face the annual Terry Fox Run

  1. So disappointing that the man and idea behind the inspiration seems to be getting lost in the masses.

  2. After all that money being collected, the system still hasn’t beaten cancer. Maybe they are on the wrong path or maybe “looking for the cure” has just become another racket. See these two links about how to starve cancer tumors using the ketogenic diet.
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/30/dagostino-cancer-research.aspx
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/03/10/ketogenic-diet.aspx

    • subthree says:

      I think a look of the money goes into executive salaries, running fund-raising programs, etc. It would be interesting to know what percentage of each dollar actually makes it into research.

  3. I ran for the Leukemia Society -85% when to research – blood research which benefits all research. But I do understand the reluctance to support “cures” that don’t always work. And I do like the idea of healthy lifestyles and stopping diseases before they start. Terry Fox was an inspiration and we could learn so much from his strength of will. I don’t want to forget him.

  4. Al DiMicco says:

    Well written Sam. Like the comment above, I coached Team-in-Training runners for 15 years and we were told 75% went directly to research. Here in the States, relatively little is allotted to research, so progress has to depend mainly on donations. TNT money was directly responsible for the development of the drug Gleevac which has dramatically improved the life expectancy of leukemia patients. Terry Fox was an icon who should never be forgotten and his legacy should be an organized event, like Run For The Cure where several runs are part of a much larger organization to guarantee it’s success.

  5. Mick says:

    A little perspective is needed on this apparent “story”. There will be over 800 Terry Fox Runs across the country on Sunday. It is a natural and annual tradition with such a large number of events to have organizer turnover from year to year and to lose an event from time to time only to see it return stronger then ever the following year. There are also over 8,000 schools that host Terry Fox fundraisers every year. How much was raised by the cancelled events in the previous year? How does that compare to the $20 million raised last year? Just a little research and I think you will find the legacy is very much alive. The fact that it was the CBC who first broke the “story” should have been the first clue.

  6. Ian Cordner says:

    I’m wondering if a co-sponsored race might somehow be possible, where you merge with another race and share volunteers and at the same time have the race at one of the larger city centers that could draw more attention/money.

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