Q&A: How Run For Heroes Came About According to Its Founders
Run For Heroes started on a whim when Olivia Strong was out on one of her favourite running routes, around Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat. During her run, she thought of an Instagram challenge – #Run5Donate5Nominate5 – to help raise money for NHS charities who were battling with the impact of Covid-19.
What started out as a fundraiser on Instagram for friends and family quickly went viral and, by April 2020, the challenge had raised £1 million. Now, almost a year on, Run for Heroes has raised over £7 million for NHS charities that’s gone toward mental health support, food delivery, overnight wash-bags, sleep pods, travel costs, and much more.
I spoke to founder Olivia Strong and co-founder India Pappalardo-Strachan, to find out a bit more about themselves, the values which lie at the heart of Run for Heroes. Excitingly, Run for Heroes have no launched their next big challenge – 5k May – which you can sign up for on the Run for Heroes website.
Olivia, in the span of about a month, you started one of the most successful viral campaigns the UK’s ever seen, all from just being out on a run… have you always been an active person?
Olivia: For sure, I’ve always had a passion for running and this definitely stemmed just from running around in the playground at a young age. I think it first started out as a competitive thing. I remember winning races against friends when I was younger and my school decided to put me forward for competitive racing. After that, I started to compete on a weekly basis and really loved the 100m and 200m events.
So you started out with athletics and competitive running… When did that stop?
Olivia : It was mainly when I left school and started at University. The school environment kind of naturally lends itself to competitive racing and organised sports, but at uni running quickly became my main form of exercise and I started to build up my distances.
Agreed, long distance running in particular seems to be something people turn to after school or later in life. What does running mean to you now?
Olivia: Running is my number one tool for clearing my mind and structuring my days. I also love other activities for much the same reason and being back up in Edinburgh has allowed me to really explore again. On the weekends you’ll often find me swimming in the Scottish seas, despite the freezing temperatures. I find it sets me up for the weekend (or, admittedly, cures any hangover).
And it was while you were out running that you had the idea of Run For Heroes?
Olivia: Yeah, that’s right I think it was about a week into lockdown and I’d dragged myself out of bed for a run – it’s also Scotland so it was raining I think. I went for one of my favourite running routes in Edinburgh, up and around Arthur’s Seat, and noticed how many others were out running. That’s where I had the first Run for Heroes idea: Run 5, Donate 5, Nominate 5. I called my Mum and told her about it then and there and I suppose after that, although it’s cliche, “the rest is history”.
Absolutely, and I think pretty much everyone I know took part. Okay, taking a break from Run for Heroes, what do you listen to when you run? We’re big on podcasts at Let’s Do This!
Olivia: Ah I love podcasts too, ‘How I built This’ is my all-time favourite. But I actually don’t listen to podcasts when I run. Generally I keep podcasts for evening walks or something ….We’re actually creating a Run for Heroes podcasts, so keep your eyes (or ears), peeled for that!
I’ll definitely give it a listen and perhaps we can add it to our recommended list. Another random one given we’re still in lockdown – what’s your current go-to TV series?
Olivia: I just finished watching The Queen’s Gambit, very much recommend it, but I appreciate I’m a bit late to the game!
I’m actually yet to watch, I’ll give it a go. Right, one thing I have to ask, have you ever entered a running event?
Olivia: 100%! Pre-covid I was getting involved in a running event pretty much every month. My first long distance race was The Royal Parks half in London. It was absolutely epic – I remember running up the Mall listening to Move On Up and there was genuinely no feeling quite like it.
There really is no feeling like it. I suppose that leads onto another important topic – exercise and mental health. How important is running for your own mental health and the work you do?
Olivia: It’s huge and it’s just so clear how powerful a tool running is for mental wellbeing. Personally, I use running to clear my head and start off the day – I’m a big advocate that going on a run, or a brisk walk is incredibly beneficial. This is even more true when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed or just a bit down and that’s when I really force myself to put my trainers on. The hardest bit is finding the motivation to get yourself out the house, but once you’re out you instantly feel better for it.
Agreed – it’s been a saviour during lockdown. So taking it back to Run for Heroes – one of our core values at LDT is The Team Triumphs. How important were the rest of the Run for Heroes team in its success?
Olivia: Simply put, huge. I’ve been fortunate to work closely with India and have a team of trustees around me who have all helped shape Run For Heroes and get it to where it is today. India and I have known each other for over 20 years and went to school with one another so working together has all been a very natural progression. We also both have different skill sets to bring to the table which has made the whole experience so much easier (and enjoyable!). And because of our relationship – I’ve rarely had to map out my thoughts to her as she will already be on the same page.
As for the rest of the team, we feel incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful board of trustees who keep us right when it comes to finance, legalities, PR, media support and more (the slightly less exciting stuff of starting a company, but probably the most important!).
I love the look and feel of the Run for Heroes brand. What are the values that lie at the base of this?
India: Hey Aidan! Well, at the time of the first campaign there was a real sense of unknown as lockdown had just been introduced and the news was extremely heavy. We saw how much it was really affecting people and their mental health and I just thought it was important for us to create a space on the internet where, although still tied to the pandemic, didn’t carry the same weight surrounding it.
So the brand identity was mainly born from trying to bring some positivity to what was a very worrying time?
India: Yeah definitely, creating a brand was never really our intention, it just happened organically. We were using lighthearted designs as an opportunity for storytelling and showcasing the amazing things that so many people were doing. I was spending all of my downtime around work drawing for the campaign and I was definitely using this as my own distraction!
How did you manage to keep up as the brand began to grow?
India: Because the campaign grew with such pace, Run For Heroes started to become a really defined brand in itself. We made sure all our graphics and animations had a really colourful and playful nature because they were going out and being shared further on social media. That was when we began thinking of it as more of a brand and discussing how we could adapt it to be used beyond our social channels.
In general we try to use imagery that showcases the diversity and movement of our community, and also celebrate their individual wins, instead of only focussing on the cause they are running for. The community that grew from the first campaign are still such cheerleaders for us and we want to include them in any way that we can. Making it exciting to engage with our content by creating positive and upbeat visuals seems to be working so far!
Okay, last one, what’s next for Run for Heroes?
Olivia: Well, we’ve just been granted charitable status, which is super exciting! To kickstart it all off we’re launching our next social media led virtual campaign which will run throughout the whole month of May, and opening this up for all charities to get behind. Through 5kMay we want to turn the fifth month of the year into a celebration of running and fundraising.
After that Run For Heroes will really just continue with its mission to get as many people active as possible while raising vital funds for health & wellbeing initiatives. Our goal is to make fundraisers more accessible, more inclusive and more sustainable – shaping a brighter future!
Sign up for the Run for Heroes 5k May as an individual, or a team.