So You Want to Run the Boston Marathon for Charity?

Boston MarathonSince signing up to run the Boston Marathon for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute last year, I’ve had some people express interest in doing the same. Now that it’s September, Dana-Farber and many of the other charities that have bibs available for marathon runners will be starting their application processes. So, now is the time to think about whether you want to run the 2016 Boston Marathon and raise funds for a cause close to your heart. (If you missed it, I do not plan to run–loved it, but once was enough.)

Here is some information I hope will help you decide whether to pursue a charity marathon bib (or not):

How do I apply?

Every organization has its own application process. For Dana-Farber, I completed a form asking me questions about my running history, my connection to DFCI, and my plans for raising the necessary funds. I also had to complete a sample fundraising plan showing where I thought I could get enough money to meet the minimums (more on that later). I found out about the application because I had put my name on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) mailing list, which you can do here.

If there’s another organization that’s captured your heart, look on their individual webpages for their marathon team entries. Boston’s Children’s Hospital accepts applications here. The BAA has a partial list of charities with bibs on their website.

Fundraising? What’s the requirement and how do I get it done?

The Boston Athletic Association, or BAA, sets minimum fundraising requirements for charities to participate in the marathon. Most charities require the individual runners to each meet their own minimum, and encourages them to raise more if they can. This year, the DFMC team members will need to raise a minimum of $5000 each.

As for how to get it done, that sample fundraising plan actually turned out to be very helpful because it got me thinking of ideas early. I raised most of my money by asking people, but I was also able to share stories and information about why I was running for Dana-Farber specifically. I think it’s very important if you’re going to do this to run for a charity that you truly support, because otherwise it is hard to ask people for money in a compelling way. I also tried to communicate ongoing with donors and potential donors so they could see the work that went into marathon training.

Me with my grandfather. His story was one of the reasons I was passionate to raise money for Dana-Farber.
Me with my grandfather. His story was one of the reasons I was passionate to raise money for Dana-Farber.

When you register for a charity team, they will ask you for your credit card. If you are unable to meet the minimum fundraising requirement, the balance will be billed to your card directly. I believe this usually happens a month or so after the marathon, giving you lots of time.

The 2015 DFMC team in front of our home base in Hopkinton.
The 2015 DFMC team in front of our home base in Hopkinton.

Are there other costs associated with running the marathon?

Hahahaha, YES. This is not an inexpensive endeavor. In addition to the money you have to raise, there is a $75 team entry fee for DFMC (totally worth it, by the way–you get a lot from the team) and a $600 marathon entry fee. Yes, $600. Ouch.

I also ended up spending a lot of money on warm training gear, and had to replace my sneakers several times just because of the mileage I was putting on them. Once the official Adidas marathon gear came out, I went a little crazy and spent some money there. Finally, I spent money supporting my friends’ fundraisers (which was certainly not mandatory but I wanted to do it).

If you are not from the Boston area, also consider that hotel costs might be substantial, since this is a very popular event for out-of-town visitors. I’d recommend trying to find lodging as soon as you know you’re coming to run.

I’m not even close to a marathon runner. What kind of shape do I need to be in to register?

I can only speak for DFMC, but they have a coach consultant, 1976 Boston Marathon winner Jack Fultz, who will guide you through a training plan at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level. He comes to weekend long runs and Tuesday night track workouts for in-person training, or if you don’t live in Boston, will email back and forth with you about your particular needs.

With Coach Jack the day after the marathon
With Coach Jack the day after the marathon

Our first long run, right before Christmas, was 10 miles. I’d say if you can bang out ten miles (slow is fine) by December, you can sign up to run the Boston Marathon in April. Caveat: You have to commit to training.

If you’re not even close to being able to run 10 miles now, you do have time to get up to that distance by December. So, basically, don’t feel limited by your current running ability IF you are willing to work hard and work consistently to get where you need to be.

Why would you recommend Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge over another team?

First, I want to repeat: If you’re going to run for charity, you should choose a charity that is meaningful for you. For me, that was Dana-Farber, but it may not be for you.

Assuming you have a special love for DFCI as I do, I think they are the most amazing charity team to run for. Here are some reasons why:

  • The staff is incredibly supportive of runners. They work full-time to keep the marathon program running smoothly and are always available to help with any questions or problems. For example, the matching gifts from my company weren’t reflecting correctly in my fundraising total for a while and the DFMC staff worked to get that fixed.
  • The weekly long runs are the secret ingredient to marathon success, and DFMC makes them as fun as possible. We had a team meeting prior to each run to hear updates and a synopsis of the week’s training plan from Jack. Depending on the run’s length, we had anywhere from two to five stops set up for our team with water, Gatorade, and fuel (not to mention amazing volunteers standing in the cold to support us and cheer us on). The long runs also help you meet other runners on the team and feel connected to DFMC.
DFMC runners at the furthest water stop. This week's theme: Red Sox. Look, I didn't have to wear a hat!
DFMC runners at the furthest water stop. This week’s theme: Red Sox. Look, I didn’t have to wear a hat!
  • Dana-Farber is well-recognized and beloved in the Boston area. This means that on Marathon Monday, in addition to people screaming your first name (which you will have printed on your shirt because that’s what you do), they will also be cheering for Dana-Farber. 26.2 miles go a lot faster when people are treating you like a rock star the whole way.
Singlet, front and back.
Singlet, front and back.
  • On Marathon Monday morning, Dana-Farber, as the largest charity team, has indoor space in the Athlete’s Village to wait for the start. Do not underestimate how fantastic this is. There is also an indoor meeting point at the finish line, which proved to be essential given the cold, rainy conditions in 2015.
  • Dana-Farber makes an effort to connect you to the programs and people you’re supporting. From their Patient Partner program, which pairs participating runners 1:1 with a Dana-Farber patient, to updates on DFMC-supported cancer research at every meeting, to testimonials from patients, survivors, and family members, you are always aware of how your fundraising and training is helping others. For me, this constant reminder of the good our work was doing was extremely motivating and helped me go outside of my comfort zone with fundraising.

Whatever team you decide to run for, doing the Boston Marathon as a charity runner is a great experience.

If you do sign up please let me know! I’d love to follow your training and fundraising adventures.

6 thoughts on “So You Want to Run the Boston Marathon for Charity?”

  1. I’m a Dana-Farber supporter too, but so far my distance has been WALKING the marathon route in the September Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.

    I was cheering like a crazy person for everyone with a Dana-Farber singlet at mile 14 of the marathon this year, so hopefully I cheered for you, even if you went by too quickly for me to see your name.

    If I ever ran on a marathon team, it would be for Dana-Farber or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

    Realistically though, I don’t think I like running enough to accomplish the required training.

    1. It’s definitely not for everyone, but fortunately there are lots of ways to support our favorite charities! The National MS Foundation is also a great one.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Amy. I’ve applied each of the past 2 years to run on behalf of DFCI (for a lot of the same reasons you mentioned). I’ve been turned down both years – I had pledged to raise more than $9500 this year. I had given a lot of thought and effort into raising that much so I am really disappointed – I just finished the Las Vegas marathon a few weeks ago as training for Boston. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story and for raising money on behalf of DFCI!

    1. Paul–sorry to hear it hasn’t worked out yet, but don’t give up! I know DFMC continues to admit runners for a while yet in its season, so it might be worth giving their office a call and asking if there’s anything you can do to strengthen your chances. Otherwise, maybe look into the Charity Teams group?

      Would love to hear how the Vegas full went. I ran the half, and was very grateful when I could continue straight while the full marathoners turned right!

  3. Hi Amy, this was a super informative post! I am applying to run on the team for Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association. I’m hoping to run in honor of my aunt, who was diagnosed with the disease about two years ago. Their minimum fundraising requirement is $7500, which is a hefty chunk of change and knowing that I am on the hook for anything I don’t raise is making me anxious . Were you able to just raise money by word of mouth? I’d love to hear more specifics about how you accomplished your fundraising goal for DFCI. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Hi Alyssa-

      Yep, I just did it through (aggressive) word of mouth. I did weekly blog post updates (which are all still on my site under the 2015 Boston Marathon heading) about my training for the past week. I also sent regular emails, two of them. One was to people who already donated letting them know I was grateful for their generosity and keeping them informed. The other was to people who had not yet donated but I was asking for donations to. I would include links to the blog posts.

      Another thing that helped was making it as easy as possible for my coworkers to apply for our company’s matching donations. I included the links to the program and step-by-step instructions.

      The only fundraiser I did was Superbowl Squares, which was easy to run and fun.

      I hope that helps. Hopefully the ALS Foundation will have support for the fundraising aspect to make it easier for you. Good luck!

      -Amy

Comments are closed.