Friday, October 22, 2010

Boston Marathon closes out in eight hours. A tribute to its greatness or a total scam?

Note: The following post is the opinion of the author and not the opinion of New England Track & Trail as a group.

Eight hours. That's all it took for the Boston Marathon entries to fill up this year. It's been shorter and shorter the past few years and for some reason, the BAA chose to delay the entry date this year, perhaps in an attempt to achieve what it has--a ton of publicity and an even more "elite" feel to the race.

The event brings to mind a few questions, the most prominent being what are the BAA's priorities in selecting entries, was this year's process fair, and if not, is there a better process?

I did a bit of poking around this week to get some background before developing my opinion. One area I've just never been able to decide where I fall on is the massive number of charities being given bib numbers to the marathon every year. Obviously, on the one hand, this is a great thing and raises tons of money for very worth causes, but that comes at the expense of many runners' goals and dreams. It begs the question: is this a race or a fundraiser. I think this year shows it can no longer continue as "both." According to the BAA site, there are currently 23 charities receiving numbers. SEE THE LIST HERE.

People who know me know I'm a big supporter of charities. I co-direct a race with 100% of entry fees go to charity. And I've worked at BAA charity events for years. But does giving race numbers to these charities really help them raise money or does it just make the BAA look charitable while clogging up the entry process? The Museum of Science CEO made $400K in 2008. How many runners does it take to cover that? Every time I'm there it's packed. I'm just saying....

The Boston Debate League is given numbers. Its mission "is to extend the social and academic benefits of debate to as many Boston Public Schools students as possible." The Boston Arts Academy is a public school that gets numbers.

I'm not saying these aren't worthy charities. But the race seems to only focus on the front end and back end of the race field and has forgotten us in the middle. Take a look at John Hancock's Boston Marathon web page here. It emphasizes the elite runners, the number of charity runners and the amount of money it spends--on elite runnners. There's not a word about the "rest of us".

So that's the answer? As I see it, there's a couple approaches: One, have a second marathon, perhaps the same day as the Jimmy Fund Walk, for charity runners. The problem here? Shutting down the roads for this event. And it likely robs them of the "glory" they get running down Boylston St on race day, which is really what motivates many of these runners (and almost anyone running Boston).

Another option: Eliminate the charity bib programs and have the BAA donate a percentage of each entry to the charities. They get the money, we get to run. (Heck, John Hancock spends $1M on prize money alone).

Got a thought? Post a comment here. If you're an NETT member, you can respond to our poll on the Meetup page.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Boston Marathon has qualifying times for all age groups and all categories.
1)I'd be interest to know the # of individuals who earn their place into the race. Let's assume 50% actually qualify (and that's being generous).
2) 20,000+ were entered into the 2010 BAA. So if 24 charities received (assuming)100 bibs each, that's another 12%.
3) Who are these remaining 38%, how do they get numbers? Do they actual deserve to be in this race not supporting a charity?
4)Me thinks the author's opinion is anti establishment and certainly shows it does not support a well rounded view of running or running events.

Frank said...

I am all with you on the charities point - very American. I don't recall any races in Europe have charity runners.

Also, back in 1996 Boston Marathon had about 40,000 runners so we know the city and BAA can handle it. New York and Chicago and many other major cities do it every year.

Time to give back the marathons to the runners.

On a side note, this is starting become very similar to Ironman races where you now to volunteer in order to have a chance at a slot for next year's race. And pay $600. They also have a CEO category where they never run out of Bib #s.

Ali said...

(1) I think your dismay at the charity entrants is misguided. Charities typically have 15 bibs. 24 charities accounts for only 360 entries. The crisis is simply because we had a couple years of increased popularity resulting in a registration rush.

Anonymous...why do you think 50% do not qualify? The half-way point in the field are 7:30/mi runners which is qualifying for every age group except Male under 35. What is your evidence?

(2) I discussed this with a well-connected friend and you should know that the BAA understands the implications and is trying to figure out what to do. They are considering making the qualifying standard harder. They are considering expanding the field.

(3) I think the BAA will handle this better than the WTC has for Ironman (granted, that's not a very high bar!!). If they don't handle it, it screws every qualifying marathon that is not between mid-Sept and mid-Oct. And screws the athletes, like WTC.

Anonymous said...

In response to Ali:

From www.baa.org, 2010 results for Males aged 31-45 shows the following at 3:31:00:
7411/22672 overall
5982/13120 gender

The qualifying time for 40-44 is 3:20:00 and less for younger male entrants.

On average this says that greater than 54% of male participants did not meet the qualifying time. Let's assume some participants had 'off' days. You still have a large basis of participants that fall into the origianlly mentioned 38%, qualifier finishers and charities. (Note: original stats based on assumption of 100 bibs per charity. You imput only improves this theory and reduces the 12% to a mere 2%)

Does the BAA only accept qualified entrants or is there another way to join the "middle/back of the pack" crowd.

I could never qualify but would jump at an opportunity to enter THE Marathon.

New England Track and Trail said...

Well, fair points all around. Like I said--I see both sides of it. I really DO like that our sport raises more money for charity than any other that I know of. But there NEEDs to be a discussion about this. It's nuts. Glad to hear from Ali that the BAA is really looking into it. Ali, any indication why they chose to hold entry until late October this year? I think silly little blogs like this starting discussion might help.

New England Track and Trail said...

PS--Frank points out that according to an article in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, last year "Of the 26,700 participants in the tomorrow's race, about 21,000, nearly 80 percent, actually qualified for the race. The rest of the field is made up of entries from charity programs (1,350), sponsors (mostly through John Hancock), and the cities and towns along the course." That's actually the LOWEST amount of non-qualifiers since 200.

Karyn said...

My turn to weigh in.
To be honest, I think the real problem this year was that qualified runners with inflexible schedules were unfairly (and accidentally) penalized by the BAA. Only people who both had access to a computer during working hours, and time to spend upwards of an hour glued to the screen, were able to register for the marathon. That's not a tenable situation since many people (including our friend Big Ben) were unable to do this (and the same was true for literally thousands of people around the world). I think the BAA realized pretty quickly that the system they put into place did not give every runner an equal opportunity to register. And that needs to be addressed.
BUT....I think mixing the issue of charity runners with the issue of accessibility to slots for qualified runners does a disservice to both. More than 20,000 numbers were distributed online on Monday. Several thousand more will be given to charity runners. The availability of charity numbers is not what prevented qualified runners from getting their numbers. Keep in mind that the charity runners start in a second wave and that the number of qualified runners has not been reduced over the years as charity runners have increased.
Keep in mind too that while some charities (like Children's Hospital and the Jimmy Fund) have several hundred numbers each, others, like Family Reach, have only two or three. Most of the charities (if not all) are very clear about what percentage of their money raised goes right to the charity, and it's usually about 97 percent (with another 2 or 3 percent used for administrative efforts). That's a fantastic percentage (way higher than the telemarketing charities like the Special Olympics which often take up to 20 percent for administrative fees and paid fundraisers).
For me, the bottom line is that the unqualified runners go at the end of the pack where they disrupt no one. And so far they have not caused the BAA to decrease the number of qualified runners in the field. So it's a win-win.
The real issue is devising a system that is more equitable when it comes to sign up, and that's what needs to be "rethunk". Potentially it's increasing the field? Maybe creating a third wave?. Maybe guaranteeing entry to anyone who enters over a 24 or 36-hour period?

Frank said...

If a race wants to support charity I still prefer the way the Chamberas race, FIRM and other race do it. By donating an amount of the entry fee from the runners to one or more charities. At FIRM many of the volunteers actually come the charity organization that specific race raise money from.

I still think BAA should increase the total number of runners to accommodate more runners. I am sure more Bostonians would support it than oppose to it.

Another perspective (from an article I read) is to raise the qualifying times. Supposedly the qualifying times for M40-44 used to be 2:50. Just need to set the qualifying times that match up with the number of bibs available. And afterall if you don't qualify then you don't have to sit ready by computer to register. Not saying I agree with this but as the article says - Boston used to be the prestigous race because of the the tough qualifying standards

Ali said...

I don't know why they held registration until late this year, but I assume it was an attempt to avoid what ended up happening, which is a sellout before a number of major qualifying marathons even took place.

I agree that we have to separate the issues of early closing with that of charity and sponsor runners. Having a few thousand bibs for supporters is not a bad overhead to put on a premier event.

I don't think it works to tack on charity donations to entrance fees. First, participation in the challenge is what spurs fundraising and giving. Second, many of those who receive bibs, particularly the sponsors and cities and towns, are necessary to put this race on; they are important partners and have to be taken care of.

If I hear anything more concrete about the BAA's plans to remedy this, I'll let you know.

Chris said...

Frank, Hopkinton not Boston can not handle the big crowds. The town does not have 20,000 residents and it is choked on a day that most people still have to get to work.

Dave said...

Just by way of an update: I have received several emails from charities that are not on the BAA’s approved list, saying they have more bib numbers than they can find runners for (the latest being Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program. A worthy cause no doubt, but not on the BAA’s list).