The New Mid-Life Crisis For 2014: Extreme Challenges

Why the rise in male fitness challenges is running out of control

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Every week there's a new request. Some friend, colleague, or bloke you once met in the pub, has decided to ‘challenge’ himself (and yes, in my experience it’s mainly men who seem compelled to do this).

Their heartfelt message will outline their plan to run, row or cycle across deserts and mountains and will include lines like “push myself to the very limit”, “search for adventure” and ”personal odyssey". In other words, they’re bored, out of shape and want to get one up on a friend who just ran an ultra-marathon.

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Fine, but why am I involved? And why are they making me feel bad for thinking a run round the park once a week is enough of a personal odyssey for me.

Because they also want a donation, that's why, partly to raise money for a no doubt worthy cause but also to validate their own desires to travel the world, get fit and delay their mid-life crisis for another year or two. What happened to the private pain of a mis-judged office affair and a bad leather jacket?

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It used to be just the mildly deranged and naturally fit that undertook these challenges. Now they're awash with British white-collar workers wanting to risk a heart attack in the name of self-improvement. Take the Marathon Des Sables, a grueling 250km 6 day desert race involving daily marathons in 120 degree heat, including one day in which entrants run a double marathon as a bonus. Madness.

Except, this year I had three separate sponsorship requests for this one race alone. One of them from a Home Counties accountant called Ian. 45% of entrants are over 40, and over a quarter are from the UK.

As part of being on the email list for Team Ian came a daily diary of his progress in the race itself. Written in barely legible English, presumably because Ian was unconscious or convulsing in whatever downtime he actually had, most of it was an update on how much body fluid he had lost, how little sleep he had had and how much he loved his family because he probably thought he was about to die.

I used to feel that a little guilt-tripping to nudge people to contribute to charity was a good thing. This is different. When someone you know is willing to kill themselves in the name of personal development, you’re trapped. You can’t just give a tenner. Not when extreme dehydration, sunstroke and shitting yourself are on the table.

Throw in all the people you know currently training for the monumentally popular Tough Mudder, the continued growth in triathlons, ironmans and charity treks, and this particular craze is staring to become rather expensive for those not actually doing them.

Everyone has a limit on how much they can give to charity. Now people who have no intention of swimming across the Dead Sea in a tin bath have no choice but to give their available money to whatever charity their friends have chosen. The new charity chuggers are much harder to ignore. They're your friends.

The irony now is that there’s only one logical way you can afford to give money to a charity of your choosing. Start training for The Marathon Des Sables.


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