Readers Roundtable: Boston Marathon Charity Runners

We almost asked you whether you find this year's jacket hideous or not. Feel free to discuss that as well! Image vis
We almost asked you whether you find this year’s jacket hideous or not. Feel free to discuss that as well! Image via

Happy Marathon Monday! First, we send speedy vibes to all our Boston-running readers and bloggers Basil and Chamomile as they toe the line today!ย May the forecasts of rain be wrong and may the easterly wind change its mine and blow you in all the way to Boyleston street. GO ALL YOU WICKED FAST RUNNAHS!

In honor of our most favoritist Monday of the year, we bring you this Boston flavored Readers Roundtable, the feature where we ask YOU to share your opinionย on an important subject. Today’s topic, naturally, is the Boston Marathon. Specifically, we’re wondering what you think about runners who do not meet the qualifying standards but are allowed to run if they raise enough money for a charity. Does this diminish from the prestige of the race or is this a necessary expression of good will? What say you?!

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Diminishes.
    Buy your way into the race (and claim a finisher’s medal even without finishing).
    Buy the jacket with or without racing.
    The people who do this are buying the prestige they couldn’t otherwise earn – why else would they do it? This clearly diminishes the value of the “prestige” remaining to be claimed by the qualifiers who choose to step up to the line.

    Now, whether and how this matters to qualifiers and those striving to qualify is another question …

  2. I have to admit that when I did not get in this year (even though I qualified), I was initially irritated because I knew those extra spots were being saved for charity runners. Then I learned that charity runners raised $38.4 million last year. There is definitely a place for that. So I say let them run – and thank you to each of them for raising so much money and making an impact in our communities.

    1. What if they split the difference and offered runners who qualified but did not get in the alternative of charity racing, but did not offer that option to people who don’t qualify? I think that would be a great way to satisfy both issues.

      And how much of that $38.4 million went to the actual charities and how much went to training plans and coaching, I wonder? Which isn’t meant to be a judgement, rather it’s a curiosity.

      1. I’m rather anti-charity running program, and that question is a large part of why. It’s been years, but I read a pretty good takedown of Team in Training that showed the majority of the money donated actually went to runner benefits. No thank you!

        That said, I feel like the charity running program has it’s place and I don’t totally begrudge those runners their bibs at Boston. However, I do have a bone to pick with companies that get comped bibs and give them to people that have not only not qualified for Boston but in some cases haven’t even run a marathon before! Stoneyfield Yogurt (and Another Mother Runner) come to mind here. I ran my BQ 2.5 weeks too late to register for 2015 and it has chapped me a little this weekend to see people posting pictures (before the race even) in their Boston jackets when their marathon PR is well over 4 hours.

      2. I think the number of qualifiers who did not make the cut-off that were interested in getting in by doing charitable fundraising would be very low.

  3. After the tragic events two years ago, the charity groups had so many applications that they raised their standards. Some charities only have one bib and thousands of applications for that bib. This allowed the charities to require runners to raise more money (think $10K or more instead of $5K per bib). While I don’t like the idea of people who didn’t qualify running, especially since there aren’t always enough spots for those who do, it is a great opportunity to raise money for much needed causes.

  4. While I wouldn’t want to run under a charity bib, because earning my entry means a lot to me, I think the charity runners serve a purpose and should be allowed. Hats off to them for running for a good cause! I do think it would be interesting concept to offer a different medal and/or jacket to charity bibs though.

  5. This may not be a popular viewpoint, but I have concerns about running a marathon for charity, in general. Marathon training and running is so demanding, and many folks enter into it with the best of intentions but not realizing what a toll the training can take on their body if they haven’t spend years building up to the point where they can tolerate it. Then, when the inevitable injuries do pop up, they feel they need to continue to train and run no matter what because they’ve collected a lot of money from family, friends, work colleagues, etc. I think running for charity is a great way to raise much needed funds for worthwhile causesโ€ฆ’s just too bad it has become so closely associated with one of the most demanding race distances you can run.

  6. I’m a fan of running (obviously) and a fan of charities but I’m not really into running for charity. I feel like it’s leftover from a time when running, especially running far, was seen as so crazy, so insane that asking people to donate for every mile you run seen as this selfless noble endeavor- I will punish myself to raise money for charity! But now running is for the betterment of the self. Pairing running and charity is like pairing the taking of a multivitamin with charity or asking for a dollar for every vegetable you eat. I’m all for raising for charity but I don’t see pairing it with running or marathoning as extraordinarily noble. In fact I wonder if it’s to the point that there’s an over saturation of pleas for donations that it’s not particularly effective to pair fundraising with racing. As for Boston I wonder how much of it is wealthy people just pay the minimum to run? I’m not that offended by the charity runners, but then again I haven’t been denied entry when I wanted it (and ostensibly earned it) either.

    1. I’m a little late to the game, but just wanted to say this is my favorite comment! (and I love a lot of these comments!) I’m not really against it per se, and I’m glad they’re raising that money, but I agree that the whole concept of running a race for charity doesn’t really make sense to me in this day and age. To me it’s kinda like the fact that we still give wedding gifts to help couples set up their homes… made sense in the past, still makes sense for some people, but mostly not.

  7. I’m ambivalent on this one. Earning a BQ through hours and hours (sometimes years) of training is great in and of itself. But, at least around here in Canada, it’s no small feat to raise 10K dollars for ANY charity. These bibs are earned through different means. Now for the wealthy who pay the minimum, that’s another story…

  8. I used to be against it, until this weekend. I got back to my hotel freezing cold with teeth chattering. I took a shower, I took a nap and then I went out to dinner at legal seafoods. I went to the bathroom and there was a girl still in her running clothes shivering and wet, waiting for her friend to bring her clothes. I asked if she was ok and how her race was. She said “oh I’m just a charity runner… But I did it in 4 hrs, so that’s good, no?” I looked at her and said yes, yes it. The weather on Monday only got worse as the day went on. Those charity runners had to wait the longest and run for the longest amount of time in freezing cold rain and 20 mph. They were out there running while I was in a warm shower. They were out there for the charities they were supporting. So maybe some people use this as a way to buy their way in… But I don’t think that lady in the bathroom was. I hate that she thought she shouldn’t be asked about her race because she was “only a charity runner.” The people of Boston are so proud and so supportive of this race. Why shouldn’t the race give back to such an amazing community?

  9. I’ve done Boston as a qualified runner and as a charity runner. This year, I did it as a qualified charity runner. In my opinion, raising the $7500 I had to raise was harder than qualifying for Boston. (Most charities have a minimum of $5000, and no one actually has a minimum of $10k, other than maybe the One Fund last year.) Charity runners earn their spots in the field, they just do it a different way. I ran as a charity runner this year partially to prove a point–you can do both (be qualified and run for a good cause). I hate the charity runner vs. qualified runner debate in Boston. There’s a way to make room for everyone. I think Boston needs to figure out a way to make space for all of the interested qualified runners to run, but then fill out the field with charity runners. Despite the traffic and heat, I loved starting with wave four last year, because they were a fun crowd. If you’re going to remove anyone from the Boston field, get rid of the people who fall into neither category–didn’t qualify, aren’t running for charity. There are more of them than you would imagine.

    1. Great points! We like to frame this as charity runners vs qualified runners but what about this other category?! Who are they, how do they get their spots?

      1. A lot of the Massachusetts running clubs seem to have a few numbers to dole out to non-qualified runners each year. I’m not sure how many bibs of this type there are, but I know someone who ran on a club number this year, and a club in the place where I used to live used to have a lottery for their bibs. I think sponsors get a fair number of bibs–I know a guy who must have run on one this year, and when Chris Laudani (the finish line shoveler) was offered a bib, it was from adidas, not the B.A.A. Bibs were part of John Hancock’s original sponsorship deal, that’s how their “non-profit program” (which is essentially charity running) came aboutโ€ฆbut I imagine they also set aside bibs for friends of John Hancock. Some sponsors are more public than others in how they give their out. Celebrities and VIPs get in without qualifying times (and though they usually wind up fundraising, they aren’t usually required to hit the same minimums as others). Look at Doug Flutie, who decided to run the race just days before. Last year, on the way out to Hopkinton, I sat next to a guy who was running on a media number–so apparently some go to members of the media, too. I think this wasn’t a big issue for years, because there was a place for everyone who qualified, but it’s become a much bigger issue now that qualified runners are being shut out. I read somewhere that 50 people from my town were running the race, but only 11 of us actually qualified. I know that the B.A.A. wants to fix this, I’m just not sure if or when it will happen.

  10. what Bridget said. Exactly. I’m proud of qualifying for Boston, and I know at the end of any marathon that I’ve given it my all in training and racing, but I’m sure those speedy elites aren’t too impressed by my race times. Still, my running the course with them helps make the marathon the collective experience it is. This year I watched the runners in Boston tough it out in awful conditions, and as beautiful as the lead pack always is, I was most inspired by those who ran, walked, or rolled overcoming physical limitations (see Venezuelan native Maickel Melamed’s 20-hour effort) or for a purpose larger than their own PR. Those running in the jerseys of team MR8 in memory of Martin Richard (just to name one example) honored the spirit of the marathon and harnessed both grief and healing to cover those 26.2 miles as best they could (raising a ton of money by the way), and Tatyanna McFadden’s celebration of her victory in the wheelchair race with Martin’s father was beautiful. The marathon is a collective celebration of achievement; we push ourselves to the limit, and each of us has different limits.

  11. Every year the debate gets more and more heated. Last year, I was honored to be part of the DFMC team. I am not a fast runner, I would never qualify for anything other than an AARP card (in a few years) so I am THANKFUL beyond words to have been able to participate in the greatest marathon ever. I find JOY in running…when I am running for a purpose. The fact that the B.A.A. allows charity runners, ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things…running the Boston Marathon is a tremendous commitment physically, mentally and financially. My experience of being a “charity runner” in The Boston Marathon is one that I will cherish for ever. I did it for myself, and for those who were listed on the back of my singlet and those who will begin a fight known as cancer, until a cure is found. So many stories of HOPE come out of The Boston Marathon by not only the elites and qualifiers but the men and women who dare to dream, overcome incomprehensible obstacles, and the person you pass on the running path every Saturday morning. Running Boston is a special event that is not limited to Bostonians on Patriots Day; the country watches, the world watches…. peoples lives will change because of funds being raised! I pray that next, I will return to the DFMC team, train, raise money and give people hope! All thanks to the B.A.A. To the qualifiers, I have so much respect for you and your accomplishments and I feel privileged to run the same marathon as you. Keep on Running

  12. If you are going to raise money for a charity – raise money for a charity. If you are going to run a marathon, run a marathon. Don’t cheapen Boston for those who earned it. Go run one of the other hundreds of marathons in this country that you are qualified to run. A few options:
    Different jackets and medals for charity runners or sponsored runners who did not qualify – but do give them out if a non-qualified runner comes in under the standards for time.
    I’ve spent years dodging fundraising requests from friends running boston because I don’t want to fund their marathon attempt. I hate it and I explain to them that if they want to raise $$ for a charity, I will be happy to donate. But not to reach their athletic goals where they don’t belong.
    My favorite line is to ask marathoners (around Boston), that’s great that you are running – where did you qualify? Met with stammers and looking at their feet.
    the funny part, I’m slow as molasses. My marathon PR is around 4 hours. I cannot nor will I ever be able to qualify for Boston as a 42 year old female. But know what? I would never diminish the accomplishments of the amazing runners who can qualify for this race by going into the race when I know I don’t belong there. So know what I do? I pick other marathons and don’t bug my family and friends to fund my spot at a race I don’t belong. If in the future I miraculously able to chop 20+ minutes off my marathon time, I will run Boston proudly. In the meantime – I know my place. It’s as a middle to back of the pack marathoner. and I’m damn proud of it. For all of you who have wanted the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing a marathon, do what the rest of us do. Get up early. Give up drinking. Eat well, train hard, stop watching TV and run. Don’t do it to put it on facebook and wear a damn jacket around Boston for a week. Do it because it’s important to YOU. Do it when others aren’t looking and then it will mean something.