Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Important Than Going Fast

My training for the Boston Marathon officially kicks off next weekend.

That’s right, I’m one of the lucky ones who got a spot for the April race. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t get it by running a qualifying time. I was selected for one of 140 spots on the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training team.

I got the call confirming my spot a few weeks ago. I had suspected that if I was chosen I’d feel excited and nervous. What I didn’t expect was to feel guilty.

On Oct. 18, registration day for the 2011 Boston Marathon, thousands and thousands of qualified runners flooded the Boston Athletic Association website to grab their spot in the 115th running of the race.

A race that took weeks and sometimes months to fill in previous years was full in eight short hours. The result was that many qualified runners were shut out.

My heart ached for those runners. I've watched and followed the training and progress of "virtual" and real friends' quest to finally achieve a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I smiled with them when they made it; I genuinely felt bad for them when they didn't.

On registration day, I felt nothing but pure confusion when I found out how many didn't get in before the race filled up. All of the training hours, the pain, the early morning runs, the sweat and focus - all done in hopes of being in the pack on April 18, 2011 - suddenly meant nothing.

At that time, my application for TNT’s Boston Marathon team had been submitted for almost a month. The day after the registration fiasco, I emailed my TNT contact to ask a simple question: If I gave up my spot, assuming I got one, could it go to a qualified runner?

The answer was quick and simple - and quite logical, if I actually let my head (instead of my heart) do the thinking. Any qualified runner who wanted to join the team would have to go through the same application process and take on the same fundraising challenge.

If I got chosen, they reminded me, it was because I earned that spot. I put in the volunteer hours, the training time and the fundraising help.

The application for TNT’s Boston team was several pages long and required me to explain my volunteering and fundraising experience in detail. It asked me questions about my running - how often I run, what pace I run, what other distance events I've done.

The application also brought the focus back to the mission - the reason TNT exists - asking for any personal connections I have to blood cancers and the cause. Where would I find my motivation to raise money for them?

With the Boston Marathon suddenly full, discussion and criticism flew out from all directions: tighten the qualifying standards, increase the size of the field, get rid of charity runners.

The near-instant backlash against charity runners, which was rampant through online forums and social media outlets, surprised and saddened me.

While I understood the frustration with the process and the quick fill-up time, I was disheartened to hear my fellow runners diminishing a charity runner’s ability, willingness and “right” to be in the race.

It was particularly surprising because I’ve always found the running community, no matter what an individual’s ability, to be incredibly supportive and friendly.

Sure, charity runners may not run as fast as the rest of the Boston Marathon entrants, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of more dedicated runners out on the road.

The number of applicants far exceeds the number of spots allotted to charities for the Boston Marathon. Imagine, a line of people not only willing to commit to the training and the running the 26.2 miles, but also jump on board to raise thousands of dollars.

Since its inception 22 years ago, the Boston Marathon charity program – which designates a certain number of race slots in return for fundraising efforts – has brought in more than $100 million.

That’s $100 million to local charities that they wouldn’t have had without Boston Marathon charity runners. That’s $100 million worth of medical research, programs and other efforts that wouldn’t be possible without the Boston Marathon charity program.

My relatively small TNT Boston Marathon team, at roughly 140 people, has pledged to raise $1 million. If we succeed, we’ll be the first TNT Boston Marathon team to do it. We’re off to a good start. Our training hasn’t officially started and we’ve already topped the $65,000 mark.

The money, of course, goes to support research for leukemia and other blood cancers. It will cover not only the research - the intangible goal of finding a cure or better treatments in the future - it will also provide services to affected families right now.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provides assistance to families trying to navigate insurance issues, helps with co-pays, offers a myriad of support options for patients and caregivers and provides a whole host of educational programs and materials.

I'm excited and proud to know my Boston team - and its $1 million - will be part of this. My $4,000 doesn't seem like much, but together our team will make a difference.

And that’s more important, to me anyway, than running fast.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

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