Assistant Professor of Anthropology J. Montgomery Roper’s career as a runner started over a Thanksgiving dinner boast with some friends.
“I said something like ‘Even my grandmother could run a six-minute mile,’ and my friends who were runners said ‘Let’s see it then,’” Roper said.
Roper turned this friendly bet into a fundraiser for Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG), of which he is a board member. He created the Mile Challenge in 2010, where people pledged to donate money to SEG if he could run a mile in under six minutes.

“I think I finished in exactly six minutes,” Roper said. “I collapsed on the ground and was just about unconscious.”

Now, Roper is upping the distance and the stakes of his running. He plans to compete in the Chicago Marathon on October 7th.

“Prior to this year, I can’t think of a time that I ever ran more than a 5 kilometer race,” Roper said. “So I’m not exactly a runner.”

The upcoming race is another opportunity to raise money for SEG. A private sponsor has pledged to donate $500 if Roper finishes in fewer than five hours, an additional $1,500 if he finishes in fewer than four and a half and $3,000 if he finishes under four hours. However, Roper has extra incentive to break the four hour mark.

“This is the exciting thing,” Roper said. “Rather than just giving the money flat-out, we decided that it would be a good idea to have the sponsor match dollar-for-dollar up to $3,000 on any pledge that is made.”

SEG, meanwhile, has been encouraging students to donate by offering Roper-related prizes, including autographed photos of Roper from the directory and the opportunity to write one sentence of up to 15 words, which Roper will say nonchalantly during a class lecture.

All donations are going to SEG, which has two growing programs in need of support.

“Right now, the Local Entrepreneurs Program has a lot of potential,” Roper said. “There’s a lot of demand for the emergency loans. I’m hoping we can also get more into the international loans.”

With the hopes of earning as much money as possible for SEG, Roper has been training hard since February. In the past two months he has been running 50-60 miles a week.

“[Most weeks] I’m able to get in the full training regimen,” Roper said. “But not others … it’s time consuming.”

The longest run he’s been on has been 18 miles, but Roper has run three half-marathons since the summer, when he ran in Grinnell.

“The half-marathon here was horrible,” Roper said. “It was really hot, [but] I think I did okay. I was hoping to finish in 1:50 and finished in 1:56. I realized that I had a while to go in training.”

He also ran half-marathons in Portland, Maine and in Waterloo, Iowa, where he cut six minutes off his time from the race in Grinnell.
Roper is optimistic about his chances to break four hours in Chicago.

“This is not a phenomenal feat,” Roper said. “There are a good number of people on this campus who can do this, [but] it will be my very first marathon. … All the race equivalent calculators say that as long as I put in the mileage and don’t wimp out during the race, I should be okay to break four.”

Running for a cause has inspired Roper to train hard, and he has learned to enjoy the activity as time’s gone by.

“Getting out the door is hard, but when I’m actually out running I enjoy it,” Roper said. “It’s somewhat cathartic.”

Students interested in pledging a donation can email [socentre] or [roperjm].

“If the temp[erature]’s right, I feel really good [about breaking four hours],” Roper said. “I hope we can get enough people to give a couple bucks here and there so we can claim the whole challenge.”