I was on Runners Round Table today. It was an open-mike session, with the topic “Who Do You Run For?” I felt compelled to jump in, and it got me thinking.

The thought arose from the following question: is it OK for a race to reserve certain spots (in a size-limited field) for entrants who commit to run for a charity? NY does that. I felt a bit niggardly when several participants spoke, eloquently, of their efforts to establish races in which a portion of entrants are what I’ll call Charity Runners, such as Team in Training or Fred’s Team, or of participating in such races. How could I begrudge those who bust their asses to raise money for worthy causes? Yet something sat uneasy with me, beyond discomfort for my own selfishness of not running for charities or causes but for me.

I posed the above question. Not “can” slots be allocated — NYRR can presumably decide to do, within reason, what it wishes — but “should” they.

On the show, I chimed in that the only person for whom I run is me. Simple basic motivation. It’s my passion. I don’t expect anyone else to care about it and I don’t expect anyone else to benefit from it. I run because it’s my sport. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

There’s the rub. Is that “sport,” my sport, cheapened if a race decides for the most altruistic of motives that something non-running related will affect who gets in and who stays out? It struck me that for all the good Charity Runners do, it is not cost-free. For 2009, there are apparently 6,000 charity spots in NY, about 1/6 of the field. NYRR hopes to raise $21 million. Minimum contribution: $2,500. But if those 6,000 spots go to Charity Runners, that’s 6,000 spots that do not go to others, 6,000 people who miss out in the lottery.

(If I recall correctly, for many years (this goes back a while) NYRR resisted affiliating with charities for its races on the ground that the purpose of the organization was to foster running, not to be a vehicle for fund-raising. That’s changed. Many races now have charitable relationships. Last Sunday’s was related to prostate cancer, the Healthy Kidney 10K was for the National Kidney Foundation, etc. You pay the normal entry fee, and presumably some portion goes to the designated charity; plus a major educational effort is undertaken in connection with the race.)

Someone said, “What about elites? Should they get automatic entry?” To this, I’m sensitive. Not because I’m elite but because I get into NY based on a qualifying time. But it seems to me that that automatic entry — which relates I think to NYRR’s attempt to foster the local (for lack of a better word) “serious” running community with little cost to the race (because sub-3 entrants do not add to the congestion on the race-course) — or the other automatic-ins NYRR are all decision based upon putting on a running race.

There’s no reason why someone who is entered in NY can’t run for a charity. No reason someone can’t run for a charity in a race that is not size-limited. And I have no problem with people getting in via the charity route; it’s allowed by the races. But I don’t think it should be.

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