Tomorrow morning thousands of runners will be taking part in the 32nd London marathon. As usual there will be the elite runners and thousands of others many of whom will be taking part to raise money for charity. For most people getting a place in the London marathon means applying to go into the ballot, if your name is chosen you're in, if not it means either waiting till next year, entering a different marathon or approaching a charity. Charities can 'buy' places in the London marathon, in 2010 each place cost a charity £300, the marathon place is then given to a runner on condition that they raise a certain amount of money for the charity. Often the amount the amount charities ask for is £1500-£2000.(It was reported in The Guardian in 2007 that charities are allocated 15,000 places and a 2010 article suggests the numbers were the same for the 2010 marathon).
I have applied for the London marathon eight times over the years but have only got a place twice in 2003 & 2005 the other six times my application was rejected. I have made enquiries about getting a charity place but I decided not too for two reasons. Firstly I don't want the hassle of raising £1500+ and having to ask friends and work colleagues for their cash. Secondly, I don't think I should have to raise money to get a place in the London marathon. I am a member of a running club and don't think that I or any other club runners should have to rely on a charity deciding that we are worthy of one of their places.
I would have no complaint losing out on a marathon place to another club runner or to the many people who make a far greater contribution to their clubs and to athletics then I do. I don't want to run the race every year but it is frustrating when I watch places in the marathon being taken by people, who are no doubt well intentioned but who may never have done any running before and go straight into a marathon - no mucking around with 10km races or half marathons for them - raise money for charity and may never run again. All of this is thought of as normal with no thought being given to those who are missing out. Apart from possibly triathlons mass running events such as the, London Marathon or Great North Run, are the only sports events where raising money for charity is considered normal or even a condition of entry. The marathon organisers might argue that in the 32 year history of the race hundreds of millions of pounds have been raised for good causes, but is this what the London marathon is about? Is it a race or a giant charity event?
While athletes such as Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah are full time professional runners,club runners are the amateurs who go running because they enjoy keeping fit & training, being outdoors and like the challenge of competing against other runners or setting a personal best time. I know that many club runners would love the chance to take part in the London marathon but don't get a place sometimes year after year.
Charity runners are often described as fun runners but nobody ever talks of fun footballers or fun cricketers or fun boxers and nobody expects footballers, cricketers or boxers to raise money for charity when they are taking part in their sports.This year I am running the Manchester marathon, when I tell people I am running a marathon the first question I am often asked is 'what charity are you running for?' I think for many people the London marathon is a race for the elite runners and giant charity fund raising event for everybody else, club runners who run the race (often in very quick times) are ignored. The BBC have to take some of the blame for this; they cover the elite mens & women races but when the fastest runners have finished their coverage focuses on the charity runners. When talking about the Great North Run on BBC presenter Jonathan Edwards once said that there are elite runners and the fun runners and the BBCs coverage of the London marathon reflects this, to the BBC club runners don't exist and inane interviews with B-list celebrities telling us how little training they've done are the norm.
All this might sound a bit harsh, charity runners raise million of pounds for good causes but isn't it time that places in the London marathon are reserved for members of running clubs? Or at least for those who promote and organise running clubs and athletics events. I know that there are other marathons but why should club runners (particularly those who actually live in London) have to rely on a charity place or have to enter a different marathon or miss out on a marathon altogether? The london marathon is one of the few events where club runners can race on closed roads in front of spectators lining the whole route; most races are small events organised by local clubs attracting few supporters and runners have to share the roads with cars, buses & cyclists many of whom are unsympathetic to the race competitors.
Charity runners do have a place in the London marathon and I can understand that people will have a good reason to support a particularly charity but maybe we should be asking the question as to why we need charities raising money. If we had a properly funded NHS and welfare system with the money going to the right people there would be no need for charities to collect money for hospitals, sick children or ex soldiers.
In all the coverage given to the London marathon and other mass running events it has been forgotten that they are races, but because selling places to charities is the way race organisers make their money they have become not much more then a giant sponsored run - and a run where some runners don't put the training in and after a few miles it turns into nothing more then a giant sponsored walk.