Saturday, February 5, 2011

Charity Spots - Yay or Nay

I'm planning to run the Colorado Marathon on May 1st, 2011. It's a small, but popular race in a state packed with runners. It's also attractive because it's a downhill Boston Qualifier (However, those who come from sea level quickly realize that this is no giveaway race.) The 2011 race sold out in early December 2010, but charity spots remained available. This is a common story in the marathoning world. Boston fills in several hours. New York resorts to a lottery. Many many others sell out in days. Usually you must commit to running a marathon six or more months before the race. Given the hefty price tag for all but the most bare-bones races, that is a serious consideration for those of us who have to work for a living and pay our own way.

The charity option is always tempting for difficult-to-get-into races like New York - and if you wait for the lottery in April, you will most likely miss out on the charity spots, as most will already be filled. It does not seem that marathon participation is going to decline significantly any time soon - so the question is: Are reserved charity spots fair?

Now, I have run many races to raise money for different charities. In 2009 I ran the Boulder Marathon to raise money for Camfed (Campaign for Female Education - an organization that works to provide an education for sub-Saharan African girls and women). However, this was not an organized charity event, sanctioned by the race organizers. Rather, I raised money on my own because this is an organization and a cause I believe in and want to support. Given my own experience, I know how difficult it is to raise money - I managed to raise about $700.00 - it wasn't easy!

I understand and appreciate that marathon charity programs raise much needed money for very worthwhile causes. Moreover, I believe that most of us should be giving more then we are to organizations doing important work. But I'm wondering whether this is the best means for raising these funds.

Most marathon charity spots require a substantial pledge. I did a quick survey of different marathon charity programs (NYC, Boston, Marine Corp, Chicago) and most require the applicant to donate $2,500 (all of the Boston Charity spots require a donation of at least $3,250). So here's the rub: If I have lots of money I can just donate that money and run Boston (or NYC, or any other high profile/popular event). The fact that many other runners have raced and qualified and have been unable to secure a spot shouldn't concern me because I've got the cash. It's the American way after all! Who says life is fair? What requires the playing field to be even? While the aims of these charity programs are laudable, I believe that the question of fairness should motivate us to reevaluate these programs.

The situation for Boston is unique - it seems that even if there are charity spots, those spots should only be available (or available first) to those with qualifying times. That is not currently the case. Anyone who can pay the price can sign up to run Boston through its charity program. Here's what the 2011 Boston Marathon Charity site says:
"If you didn’t qualify or didn’t get a chance to register for the 2011 Boston Marathon, don’t hang up those new running shoes just yet. Boston Marathon charity teams are still accepting applications for runners."
This just doesn't make sense to me. Plenty of those who qualify for Boston are not able to register before the race is full. So, to run Boston you must be either: a) fairly fast, or b) fairly rich.

Granted, many will argue that anyone can go out and raise $2,500 (or more). But, remember, you are required to pay up (sometimes when you register!) regardless of your fundraising success. That makes me a little nervous. I'm sure many will say that when it comes to other charity programs (other than Boston, perhaps), it's all good - if you really want to run NY then just do what you have to do. But the question really is: Why should some be allowed to bypass the whole system and pay their way into any race just because they have the financial means? It just seems to be an matter of fairness.

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