The Boston Marathon and Charity Runners

imagesYesterday was the Boston Marathon.  If you’re a runner, you might have been stalking the results, not just for the winners, but for your friends running.  A number of my friends and teammates were out yesterday and I had tracking setup for each and every one of them.  I couldn’t watch the live stream this year, but I was following the race through Twitter and other updates.

An interesting debate came out in the afternoon over charity runners.  I’ve talked a bit about what it takes to get into Boston, and how some people think it’s okay to cheat to get a Boston entry, but I really didn’t dwell on the charity entries too much.

Boston is the holy grail for marathon runners.  People will work an entire season to get a BQ time.  But that’s not the only way to get into the race.  You can also get a charity entry.  And according to some things I’ve read, the number of charity entries has been growing.  I’m not sure how accurate that is, but according to a post on Runners World, 80% of the entries into Boston are time qualifiers, meaning that 20% of the runners get in some other way.  But that entire 20% isn’t charity runners.

In 2016, there were 30,000 entries available.  That makes 24,000 qualified runners.  I’m not sure of the numbers for 2016, but in 2015, there were 2,585 charity entries.

(Who are the other 3415 runners?  This is a good question.  I’m guessing the pros fall into this field, since I don’t see them having to submit qualifiers.  I also know that sponsors get some entries to do with what they wish.  And I’m sure the race itself gives out entries to deserving people, like those injured in the bombing in 2013.)

It seems people have differing opinions of the charity runners.  Some people think that they’ve done the work and raised a good chunk of money for charity, so they deserve to be there.  Others think that Boston should be only for those who qualify, because it is such a high bar.

How do I feel about it?  My opinion is sort of mixed.  I’m also coming at this as a person who will never qualify for Boston but who is also a retired marathoner, so I’m pretty confident in saying that I will never run Boston.

I don’t take issue with the charity runners.  Raising $5000+ is no easy feat for a lot of people, and this is a really important way for a lot of great charities to raise money.  With 2585 charity runners, that’s almost 13 million dollars, and that’s assuming each person only raises $5000 and doesn’t go over that amount.  That’s pretty awesome.

But I do think that there should be some limits.  I think that maybe running Boston as a charity runner should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or at least a rare experience.  I see posts from people who are charity entrants every year for Boston, and I think that does take something away from how special it is.  In many ways, that is taking a spot from another person who could have raced.

Second, the attitude of some charity runners bothers me.  Yes, you did an awesome thing fundraising.  But you shouldn’t just be fundraising, you should be talking about that charity.  On race morning, you should be saying how proud you are to race for the cause, not just brag about how you are running Boston.  Because when you’re out there for a charity, you’re out there for something more than yourself.  Yes, you get the privilege of running an awesome race, but I’d like to think that you’re also there to benefit the charity, that you chose your charity because it’s something you’re passionate about and not because “This charity is letting me run Boston.”

So that’s where I stand.  How do you feel about Boston charity runners?

8 thoughts on “The Boston Marathon and Charity Runners

  1. As someone who had to work REALLY hard to qualify for (in late 2008) and run the Boston Marathon (in 2010), I have mixed emotions about the charity runners. I understand the hard work it takes to raise money for a charity, but Boston is a prestigious race. I do see both sides of this coin and wish I could take a more concrete stance, but I just can’t pick a side on this one. 😉
    Kecia recently posted…21 weeks ’til #IMWI: Thank you Mother NatureMy Profile

  2. I totally get where you’re coming from, Kecia. I’ve seen so many friends work their tails off to get a BQ time. I think it’s fair to be conflicted, and I definitely am in many ways. It wasn’t until I really focused on the money coming into the charities (especially some of the smaller ones) that I really had to say “Okay, this might not be so bad.” The free entries going to sponsors though… those rub me the wrong way (possibly because a coworker ran on one of those entries a few years back and STILL brags about how she ran Boston).

  3. I think charity runners, if they really cared about the charity, would just raise the money. It’s almost always really about ME ME ME which is why you rarely see people raising money for charity to enter a 200 person marathon in their hometown that doesn’t require travel.

  4. You make a good point. I fundraise for the Ulman Cancer Fund and have a “goal race,” but the race is not in anyway funded by them. (I think I can “earn” credit back on the race, but plan to refuse it all.) I do get a ton of support though.

    It’s nice to see people when they’re actually just out there for a cause. Really only common with smaller charity organizations though – people with a real connection to the group.

  5. What’s telling to me is if a charity runner raises money to get into Boston, but doesn’t feature the charity on race day. If the runner highlights being in Boston without connecting it to the charity, it almost seems like the person bought their way into Boston. Personally, if I didn’t qualify for Boston, I don’t think I’d run it. Because otherwise I’d wear the jacket and feel like it needed an asterisk on it.
    Tai Fung recently posted…2016 Cherry Blossom 10-miler Race ReportMy Profile

  6. I could definitely see and understand why people might see charity runners as being “less deserving” because it is an iconic race and hard to qualify for… however it is the fact that it is so desirable for people to run, that makes charity fundraising so successful. If it wasn’t a hard to get into race, there wouldn’t be people knocking down doors to get in anyway they could- and often the way is to fundraise for a charity. So while in a perfect world, everyone would sincerely be racing for their charity, the exclusivity of the race helped the charity partners to reach some important goals. At the end of the day, the money is going to a good cause.
    Meagan recently posted…Special AnniversariesMy Profile

  7. For me, it depends on both the charity and the runner in question. I don’t think all charitable causes are equal, and I don’t like that some people have taken the charity route as essentially an extra-large race fee option. On the flip side, I have a friend who ran Boston this year as a charity runner for Amputee Blade Runners; he’s a double amputee and an amazing athlete, but without the charity option, he’d probably never get to run a race like Boston, and that would make me sad.

  8. That’s a really good point, Meredith, and I agree with you on all points. I think I like the lesser known charities that get involved with Boston, because that money is a much bigger part of their annual fund. And I love the idea of charities “giving” their Boston bibs to runners who embody the spirit of what they do. People like your friend, for example.

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