Week 23: Run for the money

This past Saturday, as a hundred or so other marathoners-in-training and I were gearing up for a 20-mile sojurn, we got a quick motivational speech from Craig Thompson, director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

AIDS is the leading cause of death for all people ages 15 to 59 worldwide, he reminded us. In Los Angeles County, improved treatment means that some 60,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS, more than ever before, and APLA is a key care provider for those who are uninsured or otherwise unable to afford care. Over time those costs add up. There is no cure for AIDS, no vaccine, no magic pill. Only careful management day after day.

As my co-runners and I wound our way through LA, Burbank, Toluca Lake, Toluca Woods and Glendale (Coach Scott calls it the five-city tour) we had plenty of time to ponder the value of the work APLA does, and our role in making it possible. Each of us is required to raise a minimum of $1,600, about half of which goes to fundraising costs and half to the cause.

I also began wondering about the significant role fundraising plays in marathons. In 2006, marathons and other running and walking events brought in $714 million for charity, according to a USA Track & Field study dug up for me by Brian Lampaa, the media director for Running USA.

That figure was up nearly 9 percent over 2005 and showed a steady rise since the annual charity survey began in 2002. Unfortunately Track & Field does not seem to have kept up with the survey in 2007 and 2008, but Lampaa says that all indications show that running – and the accompanying fundraising – are holding up despite the economic meltdown.

In LA, about half the 20,000 runners who typically participate in the annual marathon are affiliated with one of the event’s 45 official fundraising groups.

The bigger causes, like AIDS and cancer, actually contract with separate, dedicated entities such as AIDS Marathon and Team in Training to conduct their marathon training and fundraising programs.

How did this marathon fundraising juggernaut begin? I put the question to Jeff Galloway, the run/walk guru upon whose method the AIDS Marathon training program is based.

Here’s his emailed response:

During the mid to late 70's a growing number of customers in my Phidippides store would talk about the charity they were "running for". This was the first running boom but the number of marathoners was still small compared with today. As I reflect, training for a marathon during this time period was a bit odd for a middle aged person, and was often questioned by spouses, co-workers and bosses as a mid-life crisis that wasn't necessarily good. By raising money for a cause, the judgement of others shifted to "Well at least that mid life crisis that Joe is having is helping ________ (Jerry's kids, or whatever).

Even as early as 1977, I was conducting marathon training groups in 20+ cities and would estimate that about 10% of the group members were fund raising. Only a few of our programs before 1985 singled out one charity. The London Marathon was the first to promote charity involvement in a big way--from the early days of their race. I remember a presentation at a race director's meeting in the mid 1980's that had many directors thinking that charity involvement was the way of the future. At that meeting many of the old school directors didn't want to deal with charities and felt that this would turn our sport into a circus.


But in the big cities, by the mid 80's, the shutting down of the streets was already bringing the circus to marathon events. Purist race directors kept trying, in vain, to bring the media focus back to the world class competitors at the front. But finishing the marathon was becoming one of those major accomplishments in life for CEO's, movie stars, and hundreds of thousands of average people. The growth created the need for more city services, more police, etc. and race directors were spending more time in meetings to secure the routes they wanted. Even the purists realized that listing the charities and total funds raised during their event, in a meeting with the mayor, would increase their chances of securing the best course for the skinny folks up front.


By the early 90's, most of the larger marathons were encouraging the charity groups (Joints in Motion, Team in Training), which increased the enrollment, forcing enrollment limits and lotteries for entry. A growing number of those in our Galloway training groups, starting in the early 90's would raise funds for charities because this was their only ticket to the race of their choice.


So it’s a symbiotic relationship.

I, for one, would not be running at all if it were not for the fundraising component.

That and the shiny red and yellow AIDS Marathon brochure that called to me when I took my kids to Baskin Robbins for ice cream last summer.

Run a marathon, it said, even if you’ve never run before. Off I ran and joined the circus.

4:16 PM Friday, March 6 2009 • Link •  
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