The secret is out. Anyone can run a marathon. Yes, it’s true America. You heard it here. Running a marathon is no longer the superhuman feat it once was. Everyone knows someone who has run a marathon.
After listening to Asma Khalid’s “Marathons, Once Special, Are Now Crowded” on National Public Radio, I found myself contemplating her claim that “there are just too many marathon runners.” Really? Are there really too many people running marathons? Who gets to answer that question?
The focus of Khalid’s report was the Boston Marathon, which sold out this year in record time: eight hours and three minutes. According to Khalid, the organizers of the Boston Marathon worry that “as mainstream America joins the race, amateurs will dilute Boston’s prestige.” It sounds like they think there are too many marathon runners.
What about the runners who qualified for this elite race but didn’t get in due to the increasing popularity of marathon running and consequent flood of registrations? They, too, would probably tell you that yes, there are just too many marathon runners.
As an event fundraiser who has run 14 marathons (which equates to 366.8 miles of on-event marathon experience) I think I am qualified to answer this question as well. However, my answer will depend on when you ask me.
• If you ask me that question while I am tripping over mainstream America at mile 18 in an effort to grab a cup of water at the aid station I will say, “Yes, there are too many marathon runners. I’m tired and thirsty and wish they would all get out of my way.”
• If you ask me that question while I am planning for my next marathon and find that I have plenty of races to choose from I will say, “No, there are not too many marathon runners. Runners create demand for new events which provides me the opportunity to meet my goal of running a marathon in all 50 states.”
• If you ask me that question as an event fundraiser I will say, “No, there are not too many marathon runners. There are simply not enough marathons to keep up with demand. Just ask Mike Tammaro.”
Tammaro qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2009 but waited too long to register. When he found himself shut out of the prestigious event he started his own. Officially called the Gansett Marathon, Tammaro’s race has been nicknamed “the anti-Boston.” It is held the same week as the Boston Marathon and runners need to qualify to participate in this one as well. In fact, the qualifying times are five minutes faster than Boston.
In the world of event fundraising we would really do ourselves a favor to take the Tammaro approach. Since participants are fundamental to driving the overall number of gifts to an event we don’t want to turn them away once we reach capacity, we want to redirect them. Create a new event. Sign them on as volunteers. Find another way to engage them. Once you have them don’t let them go. You can never have too many.
Pictured here is Suzanne with her Mom after completing the Los Angeles Marathon in June 2000. It was her very first race.