Sunday, March 20, 2016

Marathons - No Boston But.....

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I have harbored a fantasy of running the Boston Marathon for a charity for a while now. Boston is different than any other marathon except for the Olympics. There are only two ways to get to run the Boston Marathon. The first way is to qualify, which means that you have to run another marathon in the previous year and post a time that is as good as or better than the qualification time for your age group. This is no mean feat. For example in my age group, women 60-64 years old, the qualifying time for 2016 was 4 hours and 25 minutes. The fastest I have ever run a marathon is 5 hours and 32 minutes (and 15 seconds!). And, not only would I have to improve my marathon time by over an hour, I would probably have to best that 4:25 time by several minutes at least, because the fastest people in an age group are allowed to register first, and once their age group is filled up that’s it.

The other way to get to run the Boston Marathon is to run it for a charity, and raise money for their cause. I first seriously thought about trying to get a charity bib after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. Our family had two runners in the race that year, so there was a group of us there cheering them on. Although everyone finished and we all came through unscathed, the horror of that incident inspired me to want to get a charity bib. The problem was I had no idea how difficult getting a charity bib was going to be.

I decided that 2016 was the year that I would run Boston, so in September of this past year (2015) when the charity bib application process opened I chose several charities and began to apply. I applied to 6 different charities initially: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Heart Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training, MR8, Dana Farber, and Boston Children’s Hospital. Each charity had a fairly detailed application. They wanted information about my marathon experience, how much money I was willing to raise, my plan for raising that money, and a statement explaining why I wanted to run for that particular charity. The minimum amount for most charities was $5,000, but they rather broadly hinted that they really wanted people to raise $8,000 or more. I tried to make my applications as convincing as possible, but it started to seem a bit like the process of applying to college.  What are your grades? Where is your essay? Where did you go to school? And SHOW ME THE MONEY!

A few of the charities, Multiple Sclerosis, The American Heart Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma and Boston Children’s, rejected me outright. However MR8 and Dana Farber strung me along for months before rejecting me. And as time went on I ended up trying a couple of other options as well. One of my friends thought he could help me get a bib from one of the smaller charities that have just a few bibs allocated to them through the John Hancock Foundation, so I also applied to the McCourt Foundation, a charity that supports research for MS and Alzheimer’s. And there is another group of smaller charities under the umbrella of something called the Boston Marathon Charity Team. I looked through their charities and found one for Lazarus House, the homeless shelter in Lawerence, MA. The food pantry where I volunteer has a close association with Lazarus House so I thought that might be a possibility as well.

Well, nothing worked out. I was eventually rejected by every single charity I applied to. Much like college applications I don’t really know why. I did find out that there are only about 2,600 charity bibs for Boston, and thousands upon thousands applications, so maybe it really IS like applying to an elite school and in some ways I’ll probably never know.

To tell the truth I really appreciated the charities that just rejected me outright. I don’t know if Dana Farber and MR8 were seriously considering me, but it was hard to wait until the first week in December and then get rejected anyway. And I applied late to Lazarus House so maybe if I had applied to them right away I might have had a chance. The McCourt Foundation only has a few bibs and I got the feeling those bibs were already promised to other people. OH WELL!

For a little bit I was disappointed. But then I pulled up my big girl pants and started looking for another marathon to run this year. At first I tried to find an April marathon. I had started my marathon training for Boston just in case and didn’t really want to readjust it. I found three possibilities, Pittsburg, Cincinnati and Gettysburg North and South. I rejected Gettysburg pretty quickly. Although they have an interesting premise (You declare whether you are running for the north or the south and run a different course depending on your declaration!) its a very small marathon, and very rural. I rejected Pittsburg next. The course covers 5 bridges in downtown Pittsburg, which by definition makes it a very hilly course because every bridge is a hill. Plus they have a lot of construction going on which means the actual course was yet to be determined. Cincinnati’s Flying Pig is supposed to be a great marathon with a good reputation but I just couldn’t get that excited about it, plus although most of the course is not too bad there is a REALLY big hill around mile 22, late enough in the race to make it a significant barrier to a decent time.

So now what? I went back to my marathon bucket list. Big Sur? Too late, it had reached its maximum number of runners long ago. San Francisco? Its at the end of July, so not this year, we’ll be sailing then. I didn’t want to wait until the fall to run another marathon. What about Grandma’s in Duluth? Was it still open? Yes! I quickly filled out my application and got my bib for my next marathon.

So now I’m set. Grandma’s is run along the shores of Lake Superior. Its a medium sized marathon, about 8,000 runners. Its been in existence for a long time and has a good reputation. Its in mid June in northern Minnesota so the weather should be cool, and its a mostly flat course! Maybe this will be the year I finally break 5 and a half hours!

People have asked me if I will try again to get a bib for Boston and I say probably not. I have plenty of marathons still on my bucket list and I know I probably have a limited time to keeping running long distances. I did recently discover a group called the New England 65+ Runners. They support and encourage older runners and I can join them when I turn 64 and a half, a little under a year from now. They have some Boston Marathon bibs, and hold a lottery every year to distribute them. And if that doesn't work and I’m still running marathons when I turn 80 the qualifying time is 5 hours and 25 minutes. I might just have to go for it then!

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