Why I will never take a charity marathon spot

I ran my first marathon for charity. My Mum, Dad and brother ran it with me. We bought our own entries and raised money for Macmillan, who helped my Gran at the end of her life, and who we wanted to thank in a small way.

Brighton Marathon 2014 Finish Line

My most emotional finish line.

That was what got me running, for the first time ever. And it was an extremely rewarding experience, both to complete a marathon and to support a charity that meant so much to us. So I completely understand why people would choose to run for charity – it’s an admirable thing to do, and can really offer a lot of motivation when the training gets tough, and you start to doubt yourself. Especially when it comes to the full 26.2!

I really, really wanted to run London this year. In fact, I’ve entered the ballot 4 years in a row, and received 4 rejections. This year, I was approached by a charity who had a place to offer, and who suggested a collaboration whereby I would blog about my experiences and promote the charity, in exchange for a place (as well as raise money). That seemed reasonable enough.

But then came the catch: they wanted me to commit to raising a minimum of £2,000. And looking around, it seems to be pretty normal for charities to jump on the marathon bandwagon and ask for extortionate amounts of money for a marathon spot. So I politely declined, and entered Barcelona, instead.

I think charities are great. I think marathons are great. And I think that if you want to run a marathon for charity, that’s awesome, and you should absolutely go for it. But what ISN’T great, is for charities to ask for a ridiculous amount as a commitment. For most of us, money is hard to raise, and when marathon season rolls around, people are inundated with justgiving links, collection pots, and emails promoting various (worthy) causes.

Inevitably, many will get lost in the noise; people that might have donated under different circumstances will roll their eyes at yet another runner asking for money for their marathon, and the significance of the charity, its cause, and the runner’s reason for supporting it is lost.

In my opinion, this completely defeats the purpose.

When it comes to marathons like London, for many the only way to get in is to use a charity place. And as far as I can tell, there are more ballot places going to charities every year (watching the London marathon in 2015, it seemed that every other runner was wearing a charity vest of some description).

But I feel like charities are taking advantage of this. I swear we didn’t have to raise quite so much a few years back? Did the extended London ballot make a difference this year, does anyone know?

For lots of people, raising money for charity is a very personal, emotional thing. And to then be asked for such a steep minimum commitment  – which most of us could never reach – for the right to a charity place? That to me is almost hurtful.

If a cause is close to your heart, and you’re willing to put in 4 months of training and run 26.2 miles to contribute to that cause, I think that option should be accessible to you. Asking someone to raise thousands of pounds for the ‘privilege’ is, in my opinion, greedy and ridiculous.

I believe (and I’m sure there are those who will agree and disagree) that charities should be giving their valuable spots to those who care for their causes the most; for those who, with the best will in the world, may not be able to reach such extravagant fundraising targets.

Some might think ‘oh, well. If they care about the charity enough, they’ll do what they need to do to raise the money.’ But life doesn’t work like that. And sure, they could pick another event, and get a place through their own means; but it’s the principle of the matter.

Surely, the practice of charities ransoming places once all of the ballot spots are gone – and divvying them out to the highest bidders – is not what charity is about.

Am I wrong?

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[Edit] I appreciate that this is just one side of the story, and some events charge charities an extremely high fee for places. Do you work for a charity? Have you faced this problem? I’d love to hear thoughts from both sides!

Interesting article on the cost to charities: Falling at the first hurdle: marathon fundraising passes small charities by