E4 – Walking Route 66 with Helen Grantham

In this episode I speak with Helen Grantham about her charity og choise and how she walked and biked the distance of Route 66 with her husband.

Helen is a supporter and ambassador for Anticoagulation UK, a charity which promotes awareness of blood clotting issues and supports those affected by blood clots. Being very keen to support the charity, Helen has been raising money through a virtual challenge, and together with her husband she has been walking and cycling the entire Route 66 in the USA, a total of 2,280 miles.

Apart from taking part in virtual challenges, Helen works part time as a PA, is studying for a BSc in Psychology and is a qualified coach and founder of Positive Health & Wellness Coaching, specialising in coaching people with chronic illness.

The transcribed version of the interview is available further down.

Helen Grantham

Helen Grantham

If you want to learn more about Helen, the app she used for the virtual challenge and Anticoagulation UK, you can find information here:


Anticoagulation UK

Positive Health Coaching


Episode Transcript

Before you get the whole interview. I’m just going to jump in with a small note that we recorded this interview on the 14th of August. That’s just in relation to the days we’re talking about in the episode. So, enjoy.

Diana: Today, I am joined by Helen, who has an amazing story that she wants to share. Helen, please tell us a bit about you and what it is that you’re fundraising for and why.

Helen: Hi, Diana. Thanks for having me on your podcast today. My name is Helen Grantham and I basically just finished a very big fundraising journey. So, I’d like to share with you how I did it and what I did, if that’s okay.

Diana: That’s amazing.

Helen: I’ll begin with the charity that I chose to support. The charity that I choose to support is Anticoagulation UK and it’s very close to my heart. It’s a charity that raises awareness and provides education to help people with blood clotting disorders and also raise awareness so that blood clots are prevented. The charity works very closely with healthcare professionals, doctors, pharma industries, the government, and hospitals to raise awareness and make things better for patients.

So, they look at the procedures that are in place and work with hospitals to improve things. I have a blood clotting disorder myself and I met this charity a few years ago and it’s helped me enormously. I don’t think they quite realize how much they’ve helped me, but they’ve actually helped me out on the other side of my journey. So, I’m really grateful for them and that’s why I like to give back.

Diana: That’s also what amazing charities do, right. They don’t necessarily always know how much they are helping but they help people get through something that’s really bad.

Helen: That’s right. Because a lot of its mental it’s getting through the journey from a mental health perspective and that was particularly something that I had to do. It also helps to get the facts straight because Anticoagulation UK has an awful lot of resources that are on their websites and you can just download them. So, if you need a question answering about anything to do with blood clotting they’ve got it on their websites. I found that really, really useful getting the facts together because then I knew what I was dealing with.

Diana: Okay, so you did something amazing. What is it that you guys or you, you, and your husband did? I know that you guys had a journey planned.

Helen: Yes. Late last year we decided that in 2020, we would go on holiday to America and drive Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles and that’s a total of 2,280 miles.

Diana: And you were going to drive it by car?

Helen: By car, yes.

Diana: Okay. Was this meant to be a charity thing at that time?

Helen: It wasn’t. It was just a holiday idea. But it’s quite a journey and we thought, actually we could do something else to do with this. I looked on the internet and there are lots of virtual challenges out there at the moment. We saw one in January and it was the Virtual Route 66 Challenge. So, you basically get an app on your phone and you can do any exercise, but we chose to cycle and walk. We chose to basically cycle and walk the entire Route 66. So, 2,280 miles.

Diana: The reason this became a virtual thing is because with the world today and everything, you couldn’t travel and do the trip that you originally planned.

Helen: Well, yes, actually we were going to do the virtual challenge anyway because we started in January. We started on the 18th of January. Our intention was to do the virtual trip and we had worked it out that we were going to finish the virtual trip the day before we flew to Chicago.

Diana: Really cool.

Helen: Yeah because you can work out the mileage that you do each week so that’s how we worked out. But unfortunately, this year we won’t be physically driving Route 66, but I’m really pleased to say that we finished the virtual Route 66.

Diana: Yeah. You were supposed to go in, did you say October?

Helen: At the end of this month, actually. So, we were due to finish the virtual challenge on the 30th of August, and actually, we managed to do it a little bit quicker and we finished on Wednesday this week.

Diana: This is so amazing. I think that’s really cool that you guys did this. It’s a long way to bike and walk.

Helen: It is, yes and there were some challenges for us along the way in terms of time management at the beginning especially and I had a particularly heavy cold at the beginning of February as well. So, I lost a week. But I think actually the Coronavirus situation when we were locked down, it gave us more time. So, we were able to get into a real routine of getting up a little bit earlier in the morning and getting on the exercise bike. Then after we’ve logged off work the latter part of the day we used to walk.

Diana: Okay, so two times a day you would have an activity that would lead you to your goal?

Helen: Yes, at least four days out of the week, we were doing that routine.

Diana: This challenge when you found that online, was that in relation to the charity or was that just, not just because it’s a huge challenge. Was it just a challenge and then you guys put it up towards the charity on your own or was this connected already?

Helen: No, it wasn’t connected. I was actually wanting to get some motivation to get a bit fitter and do something that would keep me on track with my exercise. At the same time, I already had in the back of my head that I wanted to do something for the charity this year. So, when I found the virtual challenge, and there are lots on there that you can do. You can do the English Channel and you can do the Appalachian Trail. There’s so many, but when I found Route 66, it just struck me that that would be brilliant to do that over several months and raise money over several months. That would give us chance to talk about charity to people as well and get it a bit more known amongst friends, family contacts, that sort of thing.

Diana: That’s a really good idea. So, how did you implement it? How did you do the charity part of it?

Helen: I checked with the charity first and made sure that they were happy with the challenge and how it was going to work. We set up a page on the internet where people could just go in and donate from there. So, it made things easier. We didn’t have to handle any money, but it was nice for us to see the donations coming in. So, that was really actually very easy to set up. Then once we started my husband and I sent emails to our respective colleagues and family and friends and said, hey, look, this is what we’re doing, and this is why we’re doing it.

I used my story and said, this charity has helped me enormously and we have to get awareness out of blood clotting issues because it affects everybody. It’s not just people like me who have a blood disorder, blood clotting can affect anybody at any time. There were two things that we wanted to do. We wanted to, of course, raise money but we wanted to raise awareness as well.

Diana: That’s also half the battle often, to create awareness about the issue. So, I think that’s really cool. You send out emails and what would you write in an email? What was this set up for those emails and how did it work to get people to actually donate?

Helen: Okay. So, we kind of made the emails quite personal in the way that we showed people what we were doing. We told them about the journey and a lot of people were fascinated about actually we were going to drive this and how we were going to do it and the stops along the way. Lots of people said, well, you must stop in here on Route 66 because we’ve done that.

So, the first thing was getting people interested in the actual challenge that we were doing. We set out a bit like that, and then we put a bit about their charity, why we support it, what it does, and put a link in there and then invited them to donate.

Diana: Would you have donations for every email you send?

Helen: Not quite, but we got some very generous donations. So, we managed to raise over £1,000.

Diana: That’s amazing.

Helen: Yes. We’re really pleased with that.

Diana: As you should be. I like the part about people relating to your story and I tell you, oh, you should go there, you should go there. When the pandemic hit did that change anything?

Helen: It did slightly. There was no way that we were going to stop the challenge even though that holiday was going to be canceled. But it changed our, the emails slightly that we sent to say, look, we can’t fly to Chicago do the route this year, but we’re still going to do the challenge. You know, why not? Please support us in doing the challenge.

So, that’s how we did that. We got over that hump and we did, unfortunately, find that things got quieter in terms of donations at the beginning of the pandemic, I think that was obviously going to happen but we kept in touch with people and we sent emails every so often to say, hey, you know we’re in St. Louis now on our trip and, hey, we’re in Arizona now. It was quite exciting keeping people aware of what we were doing, and it kept that connection going with people. We found that the donation started to come in again because people were connecting with us and getting really interested in what we were doing.

Diana: What kept you guys going? Because I know from when I’ve been doing stuff myself, that when you do something that’s longer-term it gives us other opportunities like you’re saying. Sending multiple emails and telling people about the journey and stuff like that. I tend to experience it. There’s also this dip in, my energy around the project and my enthusiasm about it. So, I know that when I do a project like that, I need to have a backup team or I need to have someone helping me, supporting me. My husband is really sweet doing this, like saying, but remember why you do it and stuff like that. But did you guys experience this and if so, what kept you going? I’m thinking you could also just have said, well, there’s not really and interest anymore and we’re not going anyways. So…

Helen: I think, there were two things that really kept us going. The fact that we were doing this together really helped because we were talking about it all the time. Looking at the app and say, oh, look, we’re here because on the app that we had you can actually see on Street View where you are. So, you can really almost virtually be there. That really helped that we were doing the challenge together and just didn’t feel alone. At no point did we think, you know what we’re going to give up because why would we?

The other thing that kept us really going was actually logging the mileage because it was such a long way. You had to log every mile, every little bit of a mile that you did. So, for instance, one of the walks that we did regularly after work was 2.4 miles. Instead of putting 2.5 miles, which a lot of people might’ve done, we religiously put 2.4 miles because we wanted to properly and honestly do the challenge. I think that gave us motivation, the fact that we were logging it so diligently. You could see at what, space, and time you were.

Diana: I think it’s a really good idea to have someone to do a challenge with when you do it, because of the support, the motivation that is huge.

Helen: Yes.

Diana: Did you guys set a monetary goal or were it just like we set the goal of getting on the, was it 2200 miles, within this time and then we just collect whatever we can along the way, or did you have like a goal of £1,000?

Helen: Yes, on our fundraising page on the internet we put a target of £1,000 and we said, look, we’re just going to see how much we can raise and just go for it. But we were so delighted when we hit that target. I’m afraid with the pandemic lots of people have been quite cautious about spending money and, with that, I’m afraid charity donations are not top of their list. So, to get our target, we felt that was a real achievement.

Diana: I think you’re right. My experience is that people are kind of divided. There are the people who they think I’m going to do a lot more and then there are the people that are going to say I can’t afford this. So, that’s kind of an interesting development due to the whole pandemic thing.

Helen: Yes. I think it’s changed a lot about how we do things and especially fundraising.

Diana: Also depends on where you are in the world because some people are still on lockdown. Do by any chance, remember what the challenge app or site was called? I would think that there might be someone listening, thinking, oh, wow I would like to set up a challenge like this and then just pair it with the charity of my choice to do something similar to what you guys did.

Helen: Yes. It’s called conquerorevents.com. There, there are lots of challenges that you can do. So, I’ve mentioned, they’ve got the Appalachian Trail, they’ve got the English Channel, the Inca Trail, Hadrian’s Wall. They’re worldwide. When you join one of these, there’s a Facebook group, which is great for motivation as well.

Diana: Can you join them at any time or is it like this one starts at this time and then another one starts at this time?

Helen: It’s totally flexible. So, you start when you want, and you set your time limit. There’s a calculation that you can do on their site to say, right. I want to take five weeks to do this, or however long, whichever challenge you do, and it will work out how much mileage you need to do in a week.

Helen: We worked out that my husband and I each had to do five miles a day every day to the 2,280 miles, which actually when you think about it is quite a lot when you’ve got other things going on in your life.

Diana: Yeah. So, it’s five miles in total, either biking or walking.

Helen: Yes.

Diana: I think it’s amazing that you guys did it and even faster than you planned to.

Helen: Yes. I think that was due to lockdown, actually.

Diana: Well, you need to find the silver lining, right?

Helen: Yes, there’s a positive and everything.

Diana: Yeah, exactly. You talked about when we were speaking the other day about you’ve done some other things to fundraise for your charity. Would you share a bit about that? I also think there were some good ideas

Helen: Yes, of course. I’ve done smaller charity things before for Anticoagulation UK. I did a sponsored walk at work. I asked people to donate and then I took them on a walk every lunchtime. Our office is based in Central London, so I took them on a walk around Tt. James’s Park and it lasted about 30/40 minutes. So, it was fine for people to get out of the office, have some fresh air, move, and then they had 20 minutes to get a sandwich and have their lunch before they have to start work again.

That was one of the things that I did that had its challenges I’m afraid because I’ve found that a lot of people in the office were quite busy. So, it was actually persuading people to take a break and actually move. Then I realized that here is the problem, the fact that they are at risk from blood clotting if they are just sitting there for hours on end. Again, I was trying to raise awareness about you must move. You must take a break and don’t sit at your desk for hours on end.

Diana: I fall into that myself because it’s just habit. But knowing what we know about sitting people should be standing more and walking more. Would people still donate? As I understand that you said that if people went for the walk, they would have to donate. So, say that they said, yeah, I want to go for a walk with you then you would have to donate £5 to go on the walk. But if they didn’t go on the walk, would they still donate?

Helen: Most people would still donate. Yes, and they’d say, I’m really sorry. I’ve got to prepare for a meeting, but they still wanted to support me and the challenge and the charity. So, they still donated, which is very kind of them.

Diana: How long was that challenge?

Helen: I did probably about three weeks of sponsored walks.

Diana: Why three weeks? Was there a thought behind three weeks?

Helen: I found actually that when you’re in an office environment, that people actually get quite used to something and a bit tired of it quite easily, so you’ve got to mix it up. The next thing that I did was I sold biscuits at coffee time. At about 11 o’clock I got a little box out with lots of biscuits and I sold them for 50p a pound. That was another way. So, I had to kind of do things that kept it a bit more fresh so that people didn’t say, oh, it’s another walk, I don’t want to do that. You’ve got to keep people interested, really.

Diana: Yeah. Do you already have your next office challenge planned?

Helen: Well, I’m, very, very likely to work remotely much more. So, I have to think about other things. I’ve got a couple of ideas in the pipeline and because my friends actually were very interested in the Route 66 challenge that we did, they wanted to take part with us and go for a walk, but because of the lockdown. We never actually managed to do that.

So, one of the things that I’m thinking about next year is to do a charity day that I organize and basically say, right, we’re going to do quite a lengthy walk around Central London so that everybody can easily get together. If they would like to donate I will provide a picnic in the park at the end. So, that’s kind of an idea that I’m mulling over in my head at the moment.

Diana: That’s really a good idea. I think it’s also a good idea based on the thing that now we’ve been locked in, a lot of us for quite a while. So, getting the social aspect of it, I think that could be a huge idea to have people maybe contribute more if I’m taking the fundraising hat on here. To do something that would say that not only am I contributing to a cause, I’m also getting out and being social and talking to friends and meeting new people in a respectful way, of course. The whole thing about giving people an experience they’ve been maybe hungering for a bit and then they would be willing to donate even more because it’s something that they really want to do.

Helen: Yes, that’s right. It’s a more sociable thing because the challenge that we’ve done is obviously on our own. So, we just want to get people a bit more involved.

Diana: That’s a really good idea. Do you have any other like small tips, tricks, or anything you want to share with the listeners?

Helen: I think if people would like to fundraise, I would first get as much information about the charity as possible so that you can share it with people. I found it much more interesting and actually easier to fundraise once I had a bit more information and I shared it with people to say, look, this is what the charity does, and this is who it can benefit. Actually, it can benefit you as well and your relatives. I would say get as much information about the charity so that you know what you’re talking about because people want to know what they’re giving money to. Also, set yourself a challenge that you’re going to really enjoy.

Diana: Important point.

Helen: Yeah.

Diana: I would also say due to the whole thing about, knowing your charity, I think it’s really important, but also to be okay with not being able to answer every question so that if people ask something and you don’t know it, then say, ah, I’m not quite sure but I can look into it for you and get back to you instead of just saying something that’s not true or something that you think is the right answer.

Helen: That’s right. Yes. Especially in the situation with a charity like Anticoagulation UK which is about medical things. There are some questions that I can’t answer. So, that’s why I always give the link to the charity and let people go in and have a look at the resources themselves.

Diana: I think that’s a really good idea as well. Thank you so much, Helen. It’s been really interesting to hear your story. I think it will be an inspiration to a lot of people the thing about combining something interesting with the charity, which is interesting in itself, hopefully. With fundraising figure out, instead of just taking whatever the charity is providing, if they do provide some things you can do, then say, okay, contact them and say, Hey, I have this idea. I want to be walking Route 66, or I want to be walking the coastline of Denmark or whatever it is. Then if they would support that you are supporting them in that way. I think it’s an amazing idea. I really hope that it inspires people to do that.

Helen: I do. If people are interested in the Route 66 trip, they want to connect with me. I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook. So, feel free to connect.

Diana: Great. I will for sure share your links, both for the app and for you and for the charity in the show notes.

Helen: That’s brilliant. Thank you, Diana.

Diana: Thank you very much for helping me out with this episode. It’s been amazing.

Helen: Thanks for having me.

Diana: You’re welcome.

I just love Helen’s way of looking at exercise and charity as a thing that can be used together. Also, maybe because it’s some of the things that I am doing for my 2021 goal. I also liked that she took this idea and then you went to the charity and ask them if they were okay with her doing it like that. I think that’s always a good idea because when you do something for charity, they have a brand, they have a way of thinking about it. So, be sure to say, does this make sense in relation to what you’re doing and not stepping on anyone’s toes in any relationship? I think that’s a really good idea.

In the spirit of Helen’s having people walk with her on the next challenge, she’s making. I’m going to be asking you guys if you want to walk with me on my 2021 challenge. So, I have made a small route. I put in some cities that I would love to visit on the map. They’re all in Europe because surprise I’m based in Europe, but that means that I have these base points.

I’m walking from Copenhagen then to Berlin and then to I think it’s Amsterdam and like some major cities in Europe. If you guys want to join me, it could be so cool. You can look at the list on smartbusinessplanning.com. There’s a menu that’s called Fun with Fundraising and I will put it up there and then I think I’m going to make a Facebook group, but I will come back to that all in the process of what I’m doing.

Along with the podcast. I am starting a fundraising networking group for only $5 a month you can get in on these monthly calls. Just go to ko-fi.com/funwithfundraising. Here you can get more details and see how you get in on the monthly networking calls.