Running, whether in marathons or shorter races, seems to be becoming inextricably linked with raising money for charity.
Big-city marathons like London and Boston have designated charities and guarantee them a number of entries; Boston has ringfenced 3,000 of its 36,000 much-sought-after entries for designated associations, Runner’s World reports. On top of this, many other runners may be fundraising on their own initiative.
Charities themselves now organise shorter races as fundraising events. For example, last December in Dublin saw the Aware Christmas Run in aid of an Irish organisation providing services for coping with depression. (I ran in the 5K event that day.)
Also, I saw a local race this year where the host athletics club committed the entry profits to a cause – perhaps hoping that the charitable angle would boost participation and bring long-term interest in the club.
But I’m curious – and even a bit concerned – at how running is turning into a charity pursuit.
I run because I enjoy it. I don’t think of a marathon as an ordeal or sufferance, or as the means to an end. But that seems to be the logic behind running a marathon for charity: “I’ll suffer through 26.2 miles and that will inspire my family, friends and colleagues to give me money for the cause of my choice.”
This logic is a first cousin of that recent wrong-headed UK government proposal to make running a disciplinary measure for misbehaving schoolchildren: running as suffering. (As I write this today, the education minister who suggested this measure has been relieved of his post.)
What kind of future does running have as a sport if its public image is that of self-flagellation? What about enjoying running as an activity in itself?
If marathons and other races keep being portrayed as a daunting crucible of selfless suffering that a brave soul endures to raise money for a cause, with smiles and fancy dress through the tears, how is that going to encourage people to run for pleasure? Perhaps the next step is that we’ll have people running marathons to raise money to help the plight of those running marathons to raise money.
Also, call me cynical but surely a good number of charity entrants are fundraising simply to secure that elusive Boston or London entry, no matter the cost or even the charity. The dynamics of supply and demand are clear: while the Boston Marathon require a minimum of $4,000 per charity entrant, the Boston Globe reports that some organisations are asking runners to commit to raising sums like $7,500 or even $10,000 – and on the demand side, runners are sending pleading letters to several charities in the hope of getting a Boston place.
Since I started running, I’ve entered races that were fundraising events for charity – in the last year I did the Irish Cancer Society’s Colour Dash as well as the Aware Christmas Run. However, I entered those races simply for the races themselves. Both races were in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where I love running. Those are two fine organisations that are welcome to my entry fee, but I was running for my own enjoyment and not from any impulse to support these causes.
Fundraising for charity is well and good for some, but when I run I’m looking after number one.