As I write this, registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon has been underway for almost two hours. Last year, the race sold out by 5 PM, blowing the previous sellout record out of the water and disappointing hundreds of runners who were either denied by the overloaded BAA servers or hoping to qualify in a later fall race. Recognizing their qualification/registration system as unsustainable for future events, the BAA implemented a rolling registration system for 2011 (for the 2012 race) and stricter qualifying times for 2012 (for the 2013 race).
There are times I envy fast runners - notably when I'm still slogging away and they're already at the finish line, enjoying their post-run indulgence of choice - but this was not one of those times. My best chances of ever qualifying for Boston have more to do with adding years onto my age than subtracting minutes (or, in my case, HOURS) off my marathon time. At the time, the only person I knew fast enough to care one way or the other was sidelining himself for an imaginary stress fracture (that magically disappeared within a day or two of Boston closing) so my interest in the debacle was purely academic, like watching a college basketball game between two schools I care nothing about.
What DID interest me, however, was the backlash against charity runners. The Boston Marathon, like most races, allocates a certain number of non-qualifying guaranteed entry spots for charity runners. But since most races don't have a qualifying standard for entry, Boston charity spots are particularly contentious. Over and over, I read the story of "Here I am, working myself to death only to miss my qualifying time by a mere 5 seconds, and then I hear Big Butt Bob in my office, who's never run a mile in his life, bought his way in through a charity entry." I asked Brian if this was the way most qualifiers felt about charity entrants into Boston, and he was noticeably noncommittal.
"All these people who criticize charity runners and say they 'bought their way in,' do they realize the fundraising standards are upwards of $5000? To run with the Alzheimer's Association, I'd have to raise $7500!"
"Mmm," he said. He didn't look at me.
It was then that I ruled out the idea of running Boston for the Alzheimer's Association and focused solely on the idea of the much more charity-friendly-sounding NYC.* I'm no Big Butt Bob, but I didn't like the idea of having my first charity marathon looked down on by anyone, either. NYC's qualifying times are actually more stringent than those of Boston, but the field is composed of far more non-qualifiers than speed demons. The most popular route to the starting line, from what I've heard, seems to be applying for the lottery and being rejected three years in a row. But with over 200 charities participating in 2011, there didn't seem to be anything either extraordinary or controversial about being a charity entrant.
And then last Tuesday at my speed session, I was running up a hill with two of the guys in my pace group, and one asked what races we were training for. When I said NYC, he asked if I qualified - a stupid question given the pace group we were assigned - and I said no.
Him: "How did you get in, then?"
Him: "Oh. Cheater!"
Brian contends he was only joking, but that's not how most people respond when I tell them I'm running for charity. Are people just being nice about the charity thing because they know about Mom and Grandma, and about how personal this is for me? Is this the common perception of charity runners in a not-everyone's-invited kind of event? Is he just jealous, or just an asshole? Either way, even if I'd had the breath to debate it, I didn't feel like sharing any of the details of my life with this guy, but I felt like crying the rest of the way up the hill and I'm not sure how I feel about going to speed sessions tomorrow. But even if I couldn't say it, here's what I was thinking:
For anyone out there who considers a charity entry "buying your way in," I have news for you - this is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. I kept my thoughts and feelings about Mom's condition and Grandma's death very much to myself until I decided to register for this race, so it's been a bit of an emotional minefield, figuring out how to go public and in what ways. I've spent a TON of time and money (and sweat and tears) trying to sort out my fundraising. And after reaping all the rewards from raising money for a cause that means so much to me, and clearly so much to everyone who loves Mom and loves Grandma, I would have been cheating us all out of an opportunity to squeeze as much good as possible out of an often seemingly horrible and hopeless situation. The difference between running passively and running actively has made ALL the difference for me, and I hope everyone finds something in their life they're passionate enough about to raise money for.
If not, perhaps you're the one who's cheating yourself. Ass.