Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Deed Is Done

I finally got round to signing up for Edinburgh this morning. Marathon number 2 (and the post race birthday party*) is on.

I was considering giving up on the whole idea though, because the way big races are organised is starting to wind me up, and I'm starting to prefer the smaller ones. I can understand why London and the Great North Run need to allocate entry via ballots, because they're hugely oversubscribed. But what I'm still not overly comfortable with is the allocation of places between ballots, clubs and charities and, even worse, the way the Edinburgh entry system was organised.

I was OK because I'm a club runner, and therefore have guaranteed entry. But for non club runners the position was more complicated. There was a ballot for early entries. The closing date of the ballot was before London ballot results came out, so if you wanted to wait for the London result before committing, you couldn't. And then even if you did enter through the ballot (and therefore presumably Edinburgh was your first choice), they set the system up so that it rejected roughly a third of applications (and this is the crucial bit) even though the race was nowhere near full. According to the organisers this was done to "create demand for charity places". Because you could still enter after the ballot closed, but you needed to do it via a premium priced charity place which brings with it the commitment to raise a certain amount of money.

Now I can see the merit of ballots where a race is full, and I can see the merit of closing guaranteed entries early and pushing people using Edinburgh as a second choice through a more complicated entry system, but to reject people who have applied months in advance, as their first choice, from a race which is nowhere near full seemed wrong to me. There were committed runners who had been posting for months on the RW forum about their plans for their race who were suddenly told that they could only run an undersubscried race if they raised money.

How many other major sports require you to raise huge amounts of sponsorship before taking part? Even the smaller races often select a charity, not to mention the races like the Abbey Dash which are organised by a charity in the first place. Indeed the clubs themselves tend to make a donation to charity out of the profits from the race. OK, at that level raising the money isn't compulsory, but for the bigger races it seems like you can walk into a place if you can raise the cash, but otherwise you're deemed not worthy to take part. Someone on the RW forum made the point that running clubs meet up on street corners and dingy leisure centres while a huge amount of money is raised from the sport, but is diverted towards charities. How many other sports would let that happen?

It doesn't seem to be the case in all countries, at Berlin and Amsterdam there seemed to be far fewer charity runners than at races in the UK. There were people wearing vests from English charities who were presumably on one of the travel packages, but there didn't seem to be huge numbers of local runners running for charity (or at least if there were they didn't feel the need to wear charity vests or fancy dress). Entry is first come first served, with no ballots or charity places or faffing about. But in England (and Scotland) it doesn't seem to work like that.

I've got nothing against giving to charity, I give money via the scheme that's set up at work, and make other donations from time to time. I'm not saying that the people who raise money for a charity they believe in aren't doing a hugely wonderful thing (and indeed I did raise a fair amount of money when I did Race for Life back in 2004). But what I'm saying is that I'm fed up of the mass of runners being sidelined from the big events to make room for people who just want to run for charity. I run because I want to run, not because I want to raise money. I don't expect my friends and colleagues to subsidise my hobby by making donations every couple of weeks to help me do an event I want to do. When I did Berlin people assumed that I would be raising money (because that's the only reason people run marathons, surely), but I didn't want to do that because I wanted to run Berlin for me, not because people had given me money to do it. One day I may raise money for charity in a race, but I want to wait for a charity that means something to me. For example I have four elderly grandparents. It is sadly possible that in the future one or more of them may get ill, and if that happens I may well feel inclined to raise money for a related charity. Or I may choose to raise some money for a charity my grandfather is involved in, which isn't big enough to buy guaranteed places at races. But until I can find enough enthusiasm to talk about a particular cause, I'm not going to just stick a pin in a page and choose a charity just to run a race I want to do.

Anyway, the way the Edinburgh race entry system had been set up really wound me up, and even though as a club runner I could still get guaranteed entry, I was thinking long and hard about whether I wanted to enter a race that treated runners as a vehicle for raising money rather than people who wanted to run. What changed my mind was that on the RW forum thread discussing the race (which got a bit heated for a while), the organisers came on and pretty much admitted that they'd misjudged it, and offered guaranteed entry via the club mechanism for people who post on the forum. That backtracking helped to persuade me that at least they'd seen a bit of reason, so I took the plunge.

The other reason I finally took the plunge is that I'm pretty sure I won't get a club place for London. At first I didn't think I would anyway, because I've only just joined and didn't apply through the main ballot as a club member. But then the bloke organising the club ballot asked whether I'd still like a place so I assumed that I must be eligible and got my hopes up again. Then last night he passed a piece of paper with names and rules on round which said that you had to have been a member for 12 months, which I haven't been. It actually doesn't look like much of a ballot, as there are three criteria and preference is given to people who meet all of them, then it works down through the categories. The good news is that next year I should actually be near the top of the list for getting a place (I think the categories are - member for 12 months, never run London on a club place, never run London at all - and I'll tick all the boxes next year. Actually, it puts me off trying for a charity place this year because then I'd knock myself down the list!).

*The provisional plan for this is that people from the RW forum will be meeting up in the evening for drinks, and I'll probably just post details of when and where and anyone else in the Edinburgh area who feels like turning up is free to pop in. It saves me the problem of trying to identify a suitable place to meet. Although it does mean that scary running types** might be in attendance.

**I wonder, does this description include people who do a marathon to celebrate their birthday?


Blogger Sushi Penguin said...

That would really tick me off too, grrr. In fact, there is an event here in April which I'd like to participate in (something along the lines of my own and personal challenge about which I have no intention or desire to brag to anyone).
However, it turns out that because it's a charity event, you're expected to raise money before they let you do it. I refuse to be tied to a fundraising campaign just because I want to do something - for me. Can't they use my sign up fee (or part of it) for charity? I hope that the minimum I'll have to pledge can be low enough to let me just pull it out of my wallet and not have to go around asking people to give me money just because I want to do this or that...

Rant over. :)

PS: I discoved that my blog was not linked through my profile; now it is, and you're very welcome to pay a visit to the zone of boredom known as Sushi Log.

2:59 PM  
Blogger YP said...

I still can't see the link???

8:53 PM  
Blogger Sushi Penguin said...

Ok, this is beyond me, lol... it's got to be out there somewhere because I got hits from Algeria and East Timor yesterday. You haven't moved to Algeria and not told us, hmmm? ;)
I'll PM you the link via 3FC.

2:16 AM  

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