Sounding a Horn for TAPS

05/17/2010 06:06 pm 18:06:43 | Updated May 25, 2011

We should hardly be surprised that the number of people participating in marathons and half marathons has contributed to record growth in the activities at a time when the global economy continues to struggle and jobs are still scarce.

Training and competing in those events allows people to establish some control of their lives while reaping varied levels of personal reward. Running USA, a group that monitors trends in running and which promotes the sport, offers those factors as reasons for the growth in its 2009 report on running released in late March.

The number of runners who took part in a marathon grew 10 percent in 2009, the largest annual increase in 25 years. Half marathon participation grew 20 percent in the same year.

For all but a few years in late 1980s and early 1990s, marathon running has shown steady growth since the early 1970s. The development of training groups, many benefiting charities, has provided a boost since the mid 1990s.

Some running purists claim charity runners clog the sport with phonies because they are recreational athletes who often walk during much of a marathon or half-marathon. Still, these runners have earned their place in the marathon running equation.

As a former college runner and a writer who has observed the growth of marathoning since the late 1970s, I for a long time did not consider people who claimed to "run" a marathon when they actually finished the distance while walking much, if not most, of it to be worthy of praise afforded those who ran the entire race.

Slowly I have accepted the generous impact this group has placed on the sport. Following my first experience last weekend running as part of a charity group, I now firmly appreciate all they do for their causes.

Personal tragedy prompted me to register for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, Va. The wife of a good friend old me about Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and its participation in the event. My friend, a former college roommate, track teammate and someone I considered a brother, died in late 2009 while serving as an intelligence officer for the Marine Corps.

TAPS supports those who have lost a loved one while serving in the military with emotional support and crisis intervention, among other services. The group includes a component to charity running that I found comforting.

In charities such as Team in Training, runners are required to raise a minimum amount of money in exchange for training and travel expenses to take part in an event.

I don't present this information as a knock against Team in Training, which has been a pioneer of charity running since it was formed in 1988, but rather as evidence of a more simplistic approach by TAPS.

TAPS, which was formed in 1994, in most cases asks that you solicit donations in the name of a fallen soldier. They require a $500 minimum for only two events, the Marine Corps Marathon and the Army 10-Miler, to prevent runners from registering with them simply to gain entry to the race without the intent of fund raising.

A veteran now of two marathons and a few half-marathons, I joined a group of about a dozen TAPS runners at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. Along with a group representing the local radio station WFLS, we raised about $10,000, a measly amount compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars larger charities raise during major marathons. More importantly, it allowed each of us to honor our fallen friend or spouse in a personal way.

TAPS will next take part in the San Diego Rock 'n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon on June 6. It's not too late to support a registered runner. I established my donation web site page one week before the Marine Corps half marathon and raised close to $800.

TAPS' marquee event is the Marine Corps Marathon on October 31. Those interested in raising money for TAPS have plenty of time to train properly for the race, which TAPS organizers hope will attract 300 runners supporting the group.

At a time when the United States is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and tries to quell the global impact of terrorism, groups such as TAPS play increasingly significant roles in the lives of those who have been emotionally challenged by the loss of a loved one in combat.

Running for TAPS helped me establish some personal closure in the loss of a great friend. Memories of Todd will linger, but now a new component to his legacy has been added. Others will benefit directly from his absence.

That's a component to charity running the sport's purists can certainly embrace.