Everybody knows the iconic opening scene from Hugh Hudson’s 1981 “film for the ages”, Chariots of Fire. It goes something like this: bare feet pound cold North Sea surf in slow-motion as a spacey synth bass beats their strides. The camera pans out, focusing on individuals from a group of men all in classic running whites, some grimacing with the effort, others gleeful to feel the wind and the spray and the sand on their faces. Now the melody line of Vangelis’ famous score rises as if from the waves, and the watcher tingles in the knowledge that they are witnessing the noble pursuit of greatness.
More than three decades later, and that same beach we know as our very own West Sands bore witness to an altogether different but nonetheless noble pursuit of raising money for charity.
Inaugurated in 2013, this year’s recently completed event marks the sixth consecutive annual St Andrews Charity Beach Run.
The charity in question is Anthony Nolan, which has been the beneficiary of the run since its conception. Anthony Nolan is a UK based charity that matches individuals willing to donate their bone marrow or blood stem cells to people who desperately need lifesaving transplants, saving the lives of people with blood cancer. The statistics on their website reveal the importance of their work. “Over 2,000 people in the UK are in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant every year”, of which “75% won’t find a matching donor in their families.” This is where Anthony Nolan comes in – their life-saving register helps find a match. To date, this register numbers a stunning 759,394 people.
When asked why that particular charity in question was chosen, head of the St Andrews chapter of AEPi’s Philanthropy Committee Joshua Bernard-Cooper told me he wasn’t sure, after all, the original run organisers have long since graduated. He quickly continued, however, explaining that the charity “holds particular importance for a few brothers due to their families’ experiences with blood cancer”.
Mr Bernard-Cooper was also effusive in his praise for the charity, informing me that Anthony Nolan were “an amazing charity to work with” as their “representatives go above and beyond” in their provision of information and fundraising resources.
With the importance of the charity in mind, the chapter’s executive board retained last year’s ambitious target of £5000. Despite not reaching that target last year (a more than respectable amount of nearly £4000 was raised regardless), Mr Bernard-Cooper explained that two factors contributed to their decision to uphold the amount. Firstly, that the run lasted an extra twenty more hours than previous years, but more importantly that AEPi were supported by far more partner organisations.
AEPi were indeed supported by numerous partner organisations, twenty in fact, all coming from diverse walks of St Andrews life.
Those clubs and societies were: Venture Capitalist, Polo, Jewish Society, Parkour, Sustainable Style, Women for Women, Foreign Affairs Society, Dance Club, Athletics and Cross-Country Club, Beekeeping Society, The Stand, Mountaineering Club, Capture Collective, Russian Society, Swimming Club, Model United Nations, Concrete Catwalk, Brexit Society, Boxing Club, Surf Club.
AEPi allowed these clubs and societies first choice for running slots. Mr Bernard-Cooper declared that seeing “so many people from various partner organisations coming together” was “amazing”, and implied that it was the least the chapter could do to allow these participants the opportunity to run with them “for such an amazing cause”.
With the growing number of participants involved in the run, Mr Bernard-Cooper acknowledged a certain difficulty on the organisational front, namely in terms of communication. He said that the 55 brothers of the chapter all had roles in organising the run, from acting on the safety team, to running the social media campaign; from running for their allotted hour to fundraising outside the Vic. Then there was the issue of making sure those running not in the chapter knew their running slots.
Despite these difficulties, Mr Bernard-Cooper reported that the run went “very smoothly”, with only a few instances where the safety team had to cover a slot. He also expressed his relief that he wasn’t called up in the middle of the night to cover an hour’s run on West Sands. The run itself took place over 5 days of 120 hour runs made consecutively, each runner passing on to the next at the end of their slot. The mathematicians out there will realise this meant running through the night.
I spoke to runner Nicholas Adams, who ran one of these night shifts. He told me that the night slot was “rather lonely”. He continued, saying: “West Sands beach is massive and being out there all alone emphasizes that feeling of isolation, not to mention the lovely combination of rain and heavy wind. Though, whilst the temperatures were less than ideal and I was soaked to the bone, I did enjoy my time running up and down the beach. It gave me time to reflect on what I really care about.”
Running on West Sands in the dark is indeed a humbling experience. A headtorch beam picks out the ground only two or three metres ahead of you, just in time for your feet to find their next hold. The surging roar of the waves beside you and the racing wind behind you and the pounding rain above you makes you fearfully aware of the large unseen expanse that you run in. You exist in that wide void, but are always longing to find the light of your headtorch. Your emotions flit between frightened determination and excited freedom. Either way, the experience leaves you with a feeling of smallness.
I asked Mr Adams why he felt it was so important to be out there in the cold, alone, running along the beach. His story was personal; “One of my closest friends survived leukaemia as a young child, unfortunately not all of those afflicted are so lucky”, he said.
My final question for Mr Bernard-Cooper was whether it was more important to raise money, or awareness. His response was unequivocal. “Ultimately both raising money and awareness are of equal importance,” he stated, adding, “Without awareness, nobody will sign up for the donor register – the money can’t save lives without them. However, without the money those who sign up can’t be processed, transported or accommodated when the time comes to donate.”
Those wishing to support the Annual St Andrews Beach Run and donate to Anthony Nolan can do so here.