On Monday, the Boston Marathon ran for the 120th time. By all accounts, it was a huge success, both as a triumph of human spirit and for charity.
The race was expected to raise more than $16 million through the Boston Athletic Association's official charity program—up from $15.93 million last year—and even more in total funding. This year's final tally isn't yet available, but last year's race raised a combined $28.3 million through the official charity program, the John Hancock Nonprofit Marathon program and contributions from individual runners' campaigns.
If it were included in Peer to Peer Professional Forum's "P2P Fundraising 30," last year's Boston Marathon would have ranked 17th among all P2P programs in 2015 gross total and second among single events. In other words, the race raises an enormous amount of money.
That should be cause for universal celebration. But not everyone is thrilled with the idea of Boston Marathon as charity run.
Via Runner's World:
Lisa Miele, 45, of Lincroft, N.J., will run her second Boston Marathon on Monday to raise money for One Mission, an organization that helps children with cancer. While almost everyone she has encountered has been positive about her decision to run for charity in Boston, one former coworker took issue with it.
“I got a message through Facebook Messenger and she let me have it,” Miele told Runner’s World by phone. “She told me that I was misrepresenting myself as a qualified runner and I had no right to say that, that I hadn’t qualified for anything, I was running for a charity.”
Miele said she was always very clear in her communication with others that she was a charity runner, and she was taken aback by the venomous message.
“She actually made a comment that she hoped I never made it up Heartbreak Hill,” Miele said.
According to Runner's World, this attitude is the exception, not the rule. But the race's popularity—spurred by its position as America's premier marathon—and strict qualifying requirements have made it increasingly difficult for serious runners to get in. To earn a spot in the race this year, participants had to beat their qualifying times by at least 2:28, Runner's World reported. More than 4,000 qualified runners failed to make the cut.
By itself, this is hardly an issue. Plenty of races have difficult qualification rules to keep things competitive and ensure only the best runners get in. But the Boston Marathon has a second entry option. It allows about 6,000 participants to bypass qualification and run for charity. While their fundraising totals should more than justify their presence, these runners have a far easier path to entry, causing frustration among some diehard marathoners who fail to qualify.
The above exchange, between Miele and her coworker, is an extreme example, but other runners have voiced similar concerns.
"I think that the people that actually work for their qualifying times deserve preferential treatment," one runner, a four-time qualifier, told Runner's World.
"I think they should be allowed, but I think the 6,000 charity [and invitational] runners is excessive. I think there’s some place for charity, but not at the expense of qualifiers," another runner, who missed the cut by 35 seconds, told the site.
Other former and current Boston Marathon participants said they had overheard comments like these, or experienced them firsthand.
In a race with more than 34,000 entrants, 30,741 of whom qualified, there are bound to be some dissenters, especially among those who didn't make the cut. The negative opinions are comparatively few. And, indeed, Runner's World noted that attitudes toward charity runners generally have softened over the years.
But if it's a big enough issue to appear in Runner's World at all—with charity runners recounting verbal attacks from coworkers and marathoners lining up to share their frustrations—it's an issue the Boston Marathon might want to address. Any additional barrier to entry could discourage future charity runners. And with fundraising minimums for the marathon at $5,000 and higher, charities could end up missing out on thousands of dollars they may otherwise have received. Many of the nonprofits that benefit from the race are smaller organizations; those thousands matter.
At the very least, it's a situation worth monitoring, or possibly tweaking in the future.
"My goal would be to one day have something on the Boston Marathon [registration page] that says, 'As a registered runner, you can also run for charity, which charity would you like to run for?'" Susan Hurley, who founded an organization that helps race participants train and fundraise, told Runner's World. "I would love to see that."