When Niall Carroll and his wife Cara decided to organise a 100k in 30 Days challenge for Breast Cancer Ireland for the month of June, they had considerably lower expectations compared with the fantastic results we can now see.
Cara, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2019, and Niall have two small children and organised the challenge to raise much-needed funds and also to thank those who have helped them along Cara's road of recovery.
They could never have imagined over 15,000 people signing up for the challenge and raising over €1m.
"We are just delighted at how big a success it’s been," Niall says. "Our goal was for 1,000 people to sign up and our monetary goal was €100,000 - now, we’re well on our way to €1.2m.
"Traditionally, around 20% comes in after the event [finishes]. But we can’t believe it and we’re delighted with how much the country has taken it on board."
The timing was right for a fitness challenge. With lockdown restrictions just starting to ease, many were ready to get some fresh air and exercise after weeks of staying put.
With the added encouragement of being part of a team (or league) and raising money for a cause that has touched many of our lives, taking part in the #100kin30days challenge was a great way to exercise while making a difference.
"The funds raised are going towards research into cures for early-stage diagnoses and a new unit in Beaumont Hospital, which is to open in 2021," Niall says.
"We're purchasing a new 3D mammogram machine and are going to (put funds towards) fitting out the unit."
Five years ago it was a 75% survival rate and today it’s an 85% survival rate
While a breast cancer diagnosis is extremely scary, Niall says that survival rates are steadily increasing and the funds raised through the 100k in 30 Days Challenge will, hopefully, help guide the trend further upwards.
"In the last five years so much has changed," he says. "Five years ago it was a 75% survival rate and today it’s an 85% survival rate. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could help bring that up to 95%?"
"[Throughout the month] We’ve had sufferers and survivors taking part - even through their treatments," Niall continues.
"Having the leagues was great, because really, inside, everyone is a competitive person. We wanted to make it achievable for mass participation – there was a five-year-old who completed it, while one guy walked 100km in one day and another ran 100km in one day! There have been brilliant stories coming out of this."
Organised by editor Amii McKeever, Irish Country Living took on the challenge as a team. As a group of 11, we completed a total of 2,101.31km over the month. Here are a few of our personal experiences:
I now have a contact in my phone 'Wedge'. I have this courtesy of my friend James, who asked me could we cover “something” in Irish Country Living that his friend was organising.
This “something” turned out to be the #100kin30days challenge for Breast Cancer Ireland. And, well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so I duly called him 'Wedge' (real name - Niall Carroll).
I was inspired by this regular guy, who with his own company to run, young kids and a wife, Cara (real name - legend) in treatment for breast cancer, who, when asked to do something for charity, just said yes.
Team Irish Country Living has been working from home across the country now since March, from Dublin to Limerick, Kerry, Wexford, Tipperary and Kilkenny.
No coffees in the kitchen, no planning meetings in the board room, no one popping their head in for the usual “have you a minute?”
So aside from the charitable aspect, I thought of it as a chance to get our little team up and moving, too. It was great to do something together while we were apart. Emily, of course, ruined us with her mega mileage, but that didn’t surprise anyone.
When lockdown began, I found it very hard to motivate myself to exercise. Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of long-distance running, but the main attraction for me was always the time spent with friends, encouraging each other along and the excitement of the various events. Shuffling solo around a 2km loop did not exactly appeal!
I’ve also found I’ve spent a lot more time on screens, both with work and socialising with Zoom calls, family quizzes, etc. So this was a very welcome challenge to get moving each day.
Unlike most of my colleagues, I did not achieve huge mileage. I only hit the 100km mark on 28 June. However, I found it was a great incentive to get out at lunch time for a walk around the block or in the evening time after work, and the kilometres slowly clocked up. I’d recommend this challenge to anybody.
A couple of weeks into lockdown, I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided to start training for a half marathon. When our editor Amii mentioned the challenge to me, I thought it would be a great idea to marry the two of them so I asked her to include me in the Irish Country Living team.
My running took a backseat for the first two weeks of the challenge on doctor’s orders, so for that period I walked most of it.
Once I was allowed to return to running, knowing that I was doing it for the #100kin30days challenge made it more worthwhile and gave me an extra little kick of motivation to get out of bed in the morning and clock up the miles.
With three small kids and a full-time job (not to mention the farm!), I'm seriously busy. Usually, the only time I have to exercise is in the evening when the kids are in bed and my husband's home from milking.
By that time, I'm generally exhausted and have a million and one reasons for staying in. This challenge got me up off my butt and, even on the days I felt most tired, my 6.5km route left me feeling happy and energised afterwards.
Knowing the challenge was supporting a fantastic cause made it even better. I didn't achieve very much over the 100km, but I'm going to keep at my special route because I've really enjoyed this time with my Spotify playlist.
Life can get in the way of getting fit, but it's important to remember that cancer also gets in the way of life - and we've all been touched by the disease in one way or another.
I didn't think 100km would be as big a challenge as it was. If you don't keep on top of your walking, you'd be surprised how quickly you would fall behind.
Rather than doing 3km a day, you end up trying to get in a 15km walk at the weekend to make up for a lack of activity during the week.
But between grass walks, moving strip wires on the dairy farm at home and a few walks around the block, I clocked up the miles.
It was good to have a goal to focus on. Thank you to the friends who joined me along the way.
I was very happy to clock up 140km in this 100k challenge for breast cancer research. It seems like a shocking long distance, but, like everything else in life, if you take it in little bites, the job gets done.
In the early weeks, I ended up meeting neighbours every evening. We had the chats and observed social distancing. It was so much nicer than saluting them from the car.
Given that it was the month of June, you’d think the weather would be somewhat consistent. But no way.
Some evenings I was wearing a summer dress, while on others it was a fleece, raincoat, hat pulled tight around my ears and gloves. I kid you not.
Thanks to this fundraising initiative, I was motivated to hit the road most evenings. I even went down a jeans size in the process, so not so bad at all.
Fundraisers and appeals are funny things, aren't they? They're all in aid of super causes, but sometimes to catch the imagination among the rest you need to think outside the box a bit.
The #100kin30days is an idea befitting of Breast Cancer Ireland. We all know there isn't a person that breast cancer hasn't touched, whether it be themselves, their family or their friends.
And challenge is always a great way to focus the mind, and the pockets! I have never moved so much in a month, that's for sure. And even if I never reach such mileage on foot again, I can always say I was spurred on by a great cause.