Kenya’s Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia had already crossed the finish line as champions of the 114th Boston Marathon. But our WBZ-TV broadcast still had another forty minutes of airtime to fill. This is when we turn our coverage toward the masses of runners who make up the bulk and base of the old town race.
Our reporter on Heartbreak Hill was busy corralling whomever he could for a quick interview as the field trudged up toward 21 miles.
“Hi, you’re on live TV,” he began with one woman. “How do you feel?”
“Fine,” she replied.
“What are you running for?”
Without a second’s irony, she replied, “3:30,” and continued on her purposeful way.
The reporter came to a stop, seemingly caught off guard by her response. 3,30? Was that some charity he hadn’t hear of? What did “3,30″ refer to? Flummoxed, he let the woman go, and sought out another runner. Well, of course, the woman was telling the poor soul the time she was shooting for in this, the most prestigious foot race in the world.
Ever since the BAA instituted time qualifications in 1970 to retard the size of the fields, Boston’s qualifying times have become the holy grail of average marathon runners the world over. Qualifying for Boston is often referred to as the People’s Olympics, and if you’ve ever stood at the finish line of a marathon as the clock ticks toward the Boston cut-off time, the emotion on the faces of the runners who make it, testify to the glory attached to earning a Boston bib number over and above simply finishing a particular marathon.
Boston isn’t like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry marathon where $70 to God knows how much will garner you a bib number. No, at Boston you have to be a real runner. Or, at least, that’s how the policy’s unintended consequences have turned out.
Nowadays, however, the sport has so given itself over to charity fundraising that the very concept of running a race for a fast time no longer computes. And what if Macbook running slow? In fact, there were some runners who qualified for Boston who weren’t able to run this year, because the race had “sold out” by November 2009, many through charity entry.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am among those who believe that the charity connection to running has become a wonderful, and richly rewarding addition to the sport. But what was once a side dish threatens to become the main course. What do you think? Has the charity component gone too far in running? Does any reporter ever ask Kobe Bryant, “what are you shooting for?” Let us know how you see it.