To run or not to run for charity

Yesterday was the day – the lottery drawing for the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Runners like me without a (recent) qualifying time or legacy, either get in through the lottery or run for charity. When I wrote in my journal yesterday morning what I was looking forward to, this was it. “No matter what the outcome,” I told myself.

A few people posted their notifications on social media pretty early in the morning. I checked my email. Nothing. Had the credit card been charged? No. Not yet. As lunch time approached a few more people posted their good news and I obsessively checked my email one more time. I told myself to be patient.

Finally, at 12:34pm the email I had been waiting for arrived, but not with the news I wanted: “We regret to inform you…” Although I had prepared myself and had planned all along to run for charity as my Plan B, I was really, really disappointed.  It took me all afternoon and into the evening to process my grief over this (ridiculous) loss. Now I look back on the day and it seems so silly and trivial that should feel that way.


But here’s the deal. I already felt like I earned this spot. No, I didn’t have legacy. I hadn’t run the Chicago Marathon five times already and I haven’t run at least four Shamrock Shuffle 8ks, although I am signed up for the 2019 event. I JUST MOVED HERE! I have run two marathons in under the 4:15 qualifying time since I turned 50, just not since January. I have also already raised a sh*t ton of money for charity – when it wasn’t required.

I was accepted into the 1997 New York City Marathon (my first) through the lottery and raised over $3,000 for United Way anyway. In 2005, I was also a lottery winner for New York City and raised over $60,000 for Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey. When I ran Chicago three years ago, I made it in on my first attempt at the lottery, and still raised almost $6,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. All and all, in the last 22 years running, I have raised closed to $100,000, only about $5,000 of which was to gain entry for an otherwise sold out event.

This year, I really didn’t want the pressure of having to fundraise. My goal in running this race is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I wanted to focus on that – just that. I probably would have fundraised (it’s kind of in my DNA), although without the pressure of having a goal to meet. I was very reluctant to sign up and be responsible for the fundraising commitment. Typically, by the deadline, the balance of what you don’t raise either has to come out of your own pocket, or your forfeit your spot.

“Can I donate it all myself?” is a question I always advise athletes to ask themselves when making the decision to run on a charity team. If the answer is no, then you have to ask yourself if you’re up for the challenge?  I offer fundraising support as part of my coaching services to charity runners who train with me; being realistic about what it takes to do it successfully is part of the initial discussion. Twenty-years in fundraising wasn’t lost on me. I have lots of great ideas and knowledge of best practices that I’m happy to share. Although, like the marathon training itself, fundraising does require effort.

I really didn’t want to have to put in that extra effort this time around. Not running the 2019 Chicago Marathon simply wasn’t an option, although I toyed with that idea. I couldn’t do that though. I had already mapped out my entire race schedule and training plan for next year!  I was counting on this as my first attempt at the BQ in a new age group.

Understanding your network and their ability to support you in an effort like this is the root of designing your fundraising plan. I’m concerned right now that most of my network is in New Jersey. I have concerns that I have asked too many times. I have concerns about having to reciprocate. I have concerns about the limit to which I can give. With a daughter in college, this has been my most expensive year, and because of the transition to Illinois, even less income to off-set it.

I also have this awesome boyfriend who believes in me, keeps reminding me to believe in myself, and who also committed to helping me fundraise.  Before the day was out, Mary Sunshine had returned, and I was focused on making this happen. In addition to my marathon training, I will share my fundraising journey here too.

The charity I’ve chosen is Gilda’s Club Chicago. The organization’s CEO, LauraJane Hyde, was one of only a small handful of people I knew here before I moved. She was a peer in the Gilda’s Club Network when I was affiliated with them over 10 years ago. We always had enormous respect for one another. I have been doing some volunteer work for them for the last couple of months and was going to be working with Team Gilda anyway.

My inside knowledge of the organization as well as my family’s own struggles with social and emotional support when dealing with a cancer diagnosis should provide a compelling case for giving. The goal is $1,500. I’ve done that with my eyes.

A hot day in 2015. Cannon Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

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