On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feeling flush?

A few days ago, I learned that you can (literally, with no pretense of fundraising) buy your way into the New York City Marathon.  You can either run 9 qualifying races and then donate $1k in lieu of volunteering, or you can just straight up donate $2500 with no races.  The NYRR is a 501(c)(3) charity, although it's unclear what the money will go toward.  They have a vague mission statement on their donation page whose wording says a lot without saying anything at all:

I'm against this, sort of, but for complicated reasons.  What I'm against is that when it comes to large races like the NYCM, there is no longer any pretense of running being something that's open to everyone.  I know that.  It's no longer the "lace up your shoes and go" sport that many of us love.  But at the same time, I get that running is a business and I get that it's hugely expensive to put on a race like New York.

When I started running, I started running for me.  I didn't wear a fancy watch, I didn't run any races, I just went out running most days of the week.  I tried new running routes because I wanted to explore.  If I was tired, I didn't go running.  If I wasn't tired, I ran longer.  I didn't keep track of how far I ran and I never knew how fast it was, but just how it felt (usually "good" or "sucky").  I ran because I could and because I wanted to and because it made me feel good about myself, most of the time.  When I ran my first marathon, a couple of years after I started running, it wasn't a metaphor for life or proof that I was a superhuman who could do anything I set my mind to.  It was just something that shook up my running routine for a few months and gave me a goal and my running some focus.  And yeah, I was proud of myself after, but I didn't dwell too much on the marathon's place in my life... it was just an extension of the fact that running had a prominent place in my life.

But it's not like that for everyone.  Especially in New York, running is all about your times and your training schedules and your races.  People here are competitive, and many runners here have the means to be competitive.  In New York, more than anywhere else that I've lived and run, you can buy the right running clothes and buy the right coaching and (through charities) buy entry into the marathon and therefore effectively buy a prepackaged life experience.

Photo credit: Amanda Musacchio
Again, it's personal and I am not intending to denigrate anyone's running/marathon experience.  I just know what running means to me (cue "sentimental music") and I want it to mean that to everyone.  I want running to be a part of everyone's life.  I want it to be a constant: their solace in bad times, their celebration in good times, something that's so hard you want to give up some days and so gloriously effortless that you never want to stop other days but overall is just uniquely personal, a part of who you are, and available to everyone.

I get caught up in it as much as the next person, but running is not about medals or racing or finish times - it's about you.  I'm way more impressed with someone who's been running regularly for years than I am with someone who ran a marathon, once, and then promptly lost interest in running.

That said...  Whatever.  This isn't all that different from charity entries that I (by-and-large) don't have a problem with.  If you have the money, power to you.  I'd love to see you donate it to a cause that I like, but your money is your money to do with as you please.  And, if you go with the NYRR's "Champion Circle" option, you and your spectators will enjoy the VIP tent - I speak from experience, having enjoyed a VIP tent at the Chicago Marathon myself a time or two...

(If you've read all the way to the bottom of this rant, you get a caption for my gratuitous photo: that's me with my beloved training partner Tamara, freezing at the start of the Disney Marathon.  It was really, really cold.)


  1. I'm with you on this one. I like the big races - a lot -, but things like this make you appreciate the small ones, because in these races it's actually just about the running.

  2. I'm glad to see that someone else shares my feelings!
    I do love a big race - there's something so awesome about the crowds cheering you on for the whole route! But, at the heart, I love running for me the most.

  3. Just found your blog and what an amazing pos!! I love running, I'm so passionate about it that frequently I choose not to race because I then get all caught up in numbers instead of just it being about the movement.

  4. My friend and I were just contemplating what we would do if we had a ton of money (we didn't get to the part of how we would go about obtaining it.. just dreaming) and we decided we would spend some of it on running... not in the sense you talked about (buying top of the line clothing, coaches and entries) but in the time is money sense, like quitting our jobs, volunteering instead and devoting a lot more of our time to running, eating very well, resting a lot and daily massages :)

    BTW didn't I take that photo? Where is the photo credit???? :)

  5. I didn't recognize myself in this photo. I love that it was so cold I couldn't even look up at the camera...just sat there shivering, waiting for death to take me.

  6. I just came across your blog, and I love it. I just put on my Google Reader list, and look forward to reading more.

    Sean @ NYRR
    Social Media Guy


  7. Thanks, everyone! Especially Amanda and Sean for checking out my blog. And ha, Mandy, I added a photo credit for you.