The Charity Runner

The Boston Marathon is only a few days away. The most prestigious marathon in America, the goal of thousands of runners worldwide. Preceding it is the widespread pursuit of that qualifying race, that proud moment when you rejoice with another runner about your first Boston qualifier.

I have yet to experience this. But I know some who have, and what they describe sounds incredible. But among all this qualifying business, there is that ambiguous case of the charity runner.

The other day, my brother (a Boston veteran already), my sister (also a runner), and I, were talking, naturally, about running. (I notice that conversation inevitably turns to running when speaking with runners, while non-runners in the group will look on miserably.)

Talk turned to the upcoming Boston Marathon. My brother was saying that he hated the idea of the charity runner- that it lessens the allure of Boston, that a qualifying race should be just that- a qualifying race, and no-one should be allowed to buy there way in. He said that if he was shut out of the Boston Marathon by charity runners, he would be extremely upset, and my sister agreed with him. I took the noble stand, arguing that the charity outweighs any personal running goals, and if people want to give a shitload of money to buy bragging rights that they ran Boston, well, let them go ahead.

I’m not sure what I really believe. I know that if I were that unlucky runner who was shut out of Boston by a stupid charity runner (maybe even Oprah Winfrey!), I wouldn’t exactly be happy. Hell, I’d be downright furious. But I don’t believe charity running really influences Boston’s reputation. It’s still the goal of many serious marathoners, it draws a great group of elite runners (I cheered on Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher at last year’s- and my brother, too, a bit later), and I read somewhere that 80% of the runners are true-Boston-qualified, which seems like a high enough percentage.

It’s a fuzzy line. When does charity outweigh running or vice versa? Does it really matter if some people finish in 5 hours at Boston? Does it make the Boston Marathon any less The Boston Marathon? I don’t know. But I do know one thing: If I do qualify one day, God help that miserable charity runner who takes my spot at Boston.