How we choose our London Marathon runners

Event Fundraiser Rachel Simkin feels like she is the most loved and most hated person at Sue Ryder! She chooses who does – and (sob!) doesn’t – make it onto Sue Ryder's London Marathon team. Here, she explains how the process works and what you can do to be successful in securing a place with Team Incredible in the world's biggest one-day fundraiser.

Emma smiling brightly with her medal after finishing the London Marathon in 2019
Emma ran the London Marathon in 2019 in memory of her dad.

The week before the Virgin Money London Marathon, we open our marathon application form. We receive a flurry of applications around the event date as the world watch and follow the marathon excitement, many inspired by the 40,000+ runners who run 26.2 miles through the streets of London, our capital city.

Over three months, I watch the applications filter into our inbox and each gets filed in a special folder. At the end of June, our application form will close and I commence the process of reading each hopeful runner's application form.

What we look for

The key questions we consider are: ‘What motivates you to run the London Marathon for Sue Ryder?’ and ‘Please outline how you will fundraise for Sue Ryder to reach our minimum target of £2,000’.

With such an over-subscribed event, every charity receives applications from people who just want to run the race and don’t know much about the cause to which they’re applying. It’s great that they think of us, but we want to be sure that we create a team of amazing supporters who have their hearts set on giving something back and for whom running for Sue Ryder is as important as running the marathon itself.

It’s also important to us that our team members have lots of ideas and concrete plans in mind for their fundraising. Reaching a target is a commitment of time as well as effort, and we wouldn’t want anyone to get part-way through their journey only to fall behind and panic that they’ve taken on too much.

The selection process

I will print out all applications (this can be hundreds!), sit myself in a meeting room with a cup of tea, and read through each and every one.

First I created a ‘No’ pile of those applications that barely gave more than a name – and then many, many ‘Maybe’ piles.

The 'Maybe’s are those with:

  • not enough fundraising information - I look at those who’ve fundraised before, and how, what, and whether they’ve outlined some realistic fundraising plans to exceed our target (this section is really important!)
  • too vague evidence of their link to Sue Ryder (some change their mind and decide to run for another charity who they may have a stronger personal connection with)
  • few connections (I consider: Are their family, friends and colleagues behind them to support them along the way? Will they be champions for us amidst their social circles or via their social media?) 
  • a lack of training experience (those who’ve never run before with no suggestion of their commitment to training are a real maybe - I fear them falling injured, struggling or, even worse, dropping out; we don't want to miss out on a runner when someone else could have had that opportunity to support us instead).

The ‘Yes’ applications. Following the first read, with less than 40 places to allocate, it’s tricky; I often have too many 'Yes'-es for the number of charity places we have available.

Some stories bring a lump to my throat; some make me cry. Some are cheeky and make me laugh out loud. Others make me excited and think: 'Wow, there is no stopping you!'

Running the London Marathon is much more than a 26.2-mile stint; each successful application will represent a person who is desperate to run for Sue Ryder in honour of someone that was deeply loved. 

I re-read the applications every day, reluctantly removing one or two more from my ‘Yes’ pile as I go along. I also speak with my colleagues at our Sue Ryder care centres across the country to make sure they are a part of the decision.

Our Community Fundraisers will be the local point of contact for our runners in the months leading up to the big day. We work together to ensure each and every runner has the best support available to not only exceed their fundraising target of £2,000, but to celebrate the work of Sue Ryder and talk about what we do to their friends, families and colleagues.

It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it!

Choosing who is most deserving of a place based on a few paragraphs written on a form and a chat with our local fundraising team is incredibly difficult. I am sure that we will miss out on people who are amazing ambassadors of the work we do. The process isn’t flawless, but it is the fairest way we have to select the members of Team Incredible who will take on our favourite event of the year.

To the people I have to disappoint: don’t give up; we really value your support and hope you will join us at another #TeamIncredible event.

It’s worth noting that we have a waiting list. Should a runner withdraw their entry to the marathon, we will contact those on our waiting list up until the end of January.

To the lucky few who were chosen as Sue Ryder ambassadors: you are part of an incredible team ready to take on the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon. I know that you will do us proud and represent not only yourselves and your loved ones, but all those who we couldn’t put through to run alongside you.

The hard work starts now. Good luck – and don’t forget we want you to have the best possible experience with Team Incredible so that, together, we can be there when it matters for people at the most difficult time of their lives.

Inspired to run the London Marathon for us?

Author

National Senior Events Fundraiser Rachel Simkin

National Senior Events Fundraiser

Rachel Simkin

I’m here to provide #TeamIncredible with the best support you could possibly ask for, and get as many Sue Ryder challengers out and about as possible. I ran the London and New York Marathons a few years ago; it was fundraising for a good cause that helped make the training easier and everything worthwhile.

Follow me on Twitter @RachelSEvents or email rachel.simkin@sueryder.org.