There’s no question that the Boston Marathon is one of the most coveted bibs in U.S. road racing. There are really only two ways to get in: run a qualifying time (and these days, even that doesn’t guarantee you entry) or raise thousands of dollars for charity. The former is the ultimate running goal for many everyday runners and a crowning achievement, while the latter is a hot-button issue.
The race to raise money
In 2013 I ran my first marathon. It was in Boston. I had raised more than $5,000 for the American Liver Foundation. I’d grown up watching the storied race, and when I started running again after college, I knew I had to toe the line in Hopkinton. The hitch? I believed there was no way I’d ever qualify. I could never run a 3:35. I didn’t even entertain the idea. I applied for a charity spot in the fall of 2012.
On April 15, 2013, I ran a 3:56. I told myself that if I were to run Boston again it would be through the qualifying standard. But then the bombs went off, and I knew I had to return in 2014. I just didn’t think I could get there without a charity spot. So for a second year, I raised $5,000. And I ran a 3:42.
The fundraising, I think, is more grueling than the training. For both races, I was paired with two pediatric liver patients. We were pen pals, and I kept the 9 and 11 year olds apprised of my training. They sent me cards, and the 11 year old made me a sign and cheered for me in 2013 at mile 17. We stayed in touch for years. They’re just two faces of those who benefit from the Boston Marathon charity runners.
Did “charity runners” earn their Boston bibs?
I know people who are vehemently against charity runners. They say the charity runners didn’t earn their spot in Hopkinton. Or that the qualified runners who didn’t gain entry because of the time cutoff should get those charity bibs (I know I’d be pissed if I qualified but didn’t make the time cutoff).
But charity runners did earn their spot. They poured their heart and soul into fundraising and training. They supported causes that are near and dear to them. Last year, charity runners raised $34.2 million in Boston. And they’re just as deserving of a Boston Marathon medal when they cross that finish line on Boylston as a qualified runner is.
In the fall of 2014 I ran a 3:31 marathon and qualified for the 2016 race (in which I ran a disappointing 3:38, thanks to the heat). Raising $10,000 in less than two years for liver disease research was an accomplishment I am so proud of. But crossing that line more than three minutes under the qualifying standard felt like winning the lottery.
As a qualified runner, I find race weekend more exciting. You’re one of the few who ran fast enough to be there. Even bib pickup with a charity number feels different than with a qualifying number. Both are earned. Both were not easy to come by. But a qualifying bib gets you into a special club. And there’s something magical about that.
I am grateful I’ve had the opportunity to experience both bibs. Both taught me the importance of hard work and dedication. Both brought me through the famed course on tired, screaming legs. Both made me a Boston Marathoner.