Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Desiree Clarke-Noble made a bold promise. She pledged to shave her head if she managed to raise the required $10,000 to run the Boston Marathon as part of a charity team. The event was to have been in April in Boston. "I've been running for 15 years or so and I used to do a lot of marathons," the native New Zealander says.

Unfortunately for her and many others, the viral outbreak has impacted events across the globe. Both the Boston Marathon and London Marathon in the UK, where Clarke-Noble lives, were postponed.

For would-be participants, the cancellation of such events may have been just an inconvenience or an annoyance. But one broader, and more concerning impact, was on charities, which often rely heavily on donations raised at such events. In 2019 the London Marathon raised a record £66.4 million for a variety of charities. But with the 2020 event postponed, many of those organisations will likely face severe financial hardship. "Some of the charities won't survive because they aren't getting the income," says Clarke-Noble, RBC Capital Markets' head of brand and marketing for Europe and Asia.

family doing fundraising workout in backyard gym

The 2.6 challenge comes to the rescue

That could have been the end of the story, but it wasn't. People couldn't race together in large groups, but they could make a difference by doing things independently. On April 26, the date the London Marathon was due to take place, a different event got organised – the 2.6 challenge.

The new challenge was organised as a national event for individuals to participate solo – either outdoors or indoors. It wouldn't be restricted to the route of the official marathon and could take place across the UK. But perhaps most important, the event didn't have to involve all participants running 26 miles, the distance of a true marathon. Such a distance is a stretch, even for those who've trained rigorously. It could be 2.6 miles or 2.6 km or a physical workout. "It was about getting the nation active, and getting them to raise money for charities," says Clarke-Noble.

RBC decided to participate in the 2.6 challenge to help raise money for their long-standing partner SportsAid, a UK charity which supports young athletes. RBC's contributions have helped support such sportspeople since 2013. This year it wasn't just about financial support but also about participation by employees.

jay yadav in RBC jersey with bike

Fundraising promise fulfilled

Even though her haircut promise was for another event, Clarke-Noble decided she'd shave her head for the 2.6 challenge. "Besides the run, the most fun part of this was probably having my head shaved," she says. She ran a whole marathon by running within two miles of her home while keeping a social distance from other people. While the participants were technically alone or with their families, they could see friends and colleagues participating through virtual media such as Strava. "The virtual side of the campaign was really impactful," Clarke-Noble says. "I thought it was a great idea."

Others at RBC who signed up included one man who ran an entire virtual marathon on a treadmill, which was his birthday present. Other employees did their own versions. One man and his family completed a 26-mile rowing relay. Another completed a 260 km ride on an indoor bike, while one woman ran 26 laps of her garden with her family. These and other employee efforts helped RBC raise almost £8,000 for SportsAid.

"SportsAid is very proud to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with RBC to help young athletes and their families navigate their next steps through sport and life," says Tim Lawler, CEO of SportsAid. "They're committed, loyal, curious and creative; they recognise the importance of the impact the partnership is having on the athletes involved."