Monday, February 21, 2011

Boston Qualifying for the Lay Person....and Me!

Even though I know everyone else is doing it, I can't NOT write a post about the new Boston Marathon Qualifying Standards.

For many distance runners, at some point, "qualifying for Boston" or a "BQ" race becomes a dream (if not currently realistic) or a goal (if actually within reach). Like many non-runners, I had no idea the significance of the Boston Marathon until I became a marathoner myself. (In short, it's considered the most elite marathon in the world because-with the exception of a few charity runners-most folks qualify by running super fast to earn a place at the starting line.) For the first couple years of running I never even considered that I could qualify for Boston. I viewed myself as a slow runner. And when you think you are a slow runner, guess what?, you are a slow runner! Which was fine, and a very comfortable way to start my running career.

Over the past year, however, I've started to wonder if maybe I could one day qualify for Boston. One day. I thought it would be really cool to qualify while I was still in the youngest age group (18-34). Until the new qualifying times were released this week, I needed a 3:40 marathon (8:23 pace). 8:23 is my current 5K pace so it'd be a huge stretch but potentially feasible for me to qualify for Boston in 2011. But now w/ the new times, there is truly no way I can qualify while I'm still in the youngest age group, because that would probably require a 3:30 or faster (8:00 pace). Not going to happen.

Why all the changes to the Boston Qualifying Rules?? Well last year, the race sold out in just a few hours. A few hours! Meaning thousands of folks who thought they had earned a spot at Boston, who experienced the ecstasy of crossing a marathon finish line w/ their BQ time on their Garmins, who celebrated achieving one of the biggest running goals of their lives were bitterly disappointed as they pushed refresh over and over on their computer screen trying and failing to register for the race that they spent blood, sweat and tears trying to qualify for. Not cool. So changes had to be made.

Many people expected the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) to make the women's qualifying times significantly more difficult. Back in the day, it was arbitrarily decided that the women's qualifying times would be exactly 30 minutes slower then the men's. This was not based on any data, they just figured women were slower so needed a slower time. Little did anyone realize that distance running is a sport in which the gender gap in physical achievement is relatively small. The longer the race, the smaller the gap b/t men's and women's finishing times. In fact, in ultras (races >26.2 miles), women sometimes make up the majority of the top 20 finishers. So a disproportionate number of women qualify compared to men.

So what did the BAA do? The new standards are super detailed and confusing but the gist of it is that all of the qualifying times across the board for men, women and all age groups will be decreased by 5 minutes. That's all fine and dandy but the part that I'm afraid will take a bit of the spark out of 'qualifying for Boston' is the rolling admissions policy.

The first 2 days of September registration will only be open to those who had a marathon finish time that was 20 minutes faster than their age/gender BQ time. I don't know exactly how many people typically qualify by a 20 minute margin, but I'll bet there will be a lot more runners who do this time around out of fear of missing the opportunity to enter in this 2 day window. Therefore, I think the only way to 'guarantee' a Boston entry is to finish 20 minutes faster than the official qualifying time, essentially making my new BQ time (once I graduate into the 35-39 age group) 3:20. Eek! A 7:27/min mile pace. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

For those interested, here are the rest of the details for the new rolling registration:

Honestly, a 3:20 marathon doesn't seen at all realistic for me anytime in the near future. That's a whole hour faster than I ran in Maui! An hour off a marathon time? What???

But rather than get discouraged, I think I'm going to put thoughts of Boston on the back burner for a while and just focus on my current training goal paces which would get me a sub-4 marathon on an absolutely perfect day and hopefully a sub-4:15 even if multiple things go terribly awry. I'll re-assess after my 'A' marathon on 5/15/11. Maybe I'll need to back off marathons for a while to focus on speed, by doing more 10Ks and 1/2 marathons (though that doesn't seem as fun as full marathons to me!). We'll see. For now, I'll just keep trucking along, happy with my recent improvements and hopeful that I am nowhere near my full running potential but will get there with hard work and smart training (and maybe the help of a coach?) in the next few years.

If anything, the new qualifying rules will force me to strive to be an even faster runner than I ever planned on becoming. That, I'll admit, must be a good thing! And I'll feel all the tougher when one day I do get my very own Boston Marathon jacket!!


  1. agreed - if we get there, it'll be even sweeter :)

  2. I know, I know. I might re-think my Master Plan for 2011, which culminates in running the Portland Marathon in early Oct because that race is 2 weeks AFTER the cut-off for Boston 2012. I'm going to continue training for my half marathon in May and see how that training goes but if I'm feeling good, I may switch over to a full marathon plan and find an earlier race to do because I figure, this year is my one shot. I need to get a 3:45 which would be super tough, but not outside the realm of possibility. It's definitely WORTH trying for...
    After this year though...fahgetabboutit.

  3. I htink I might have just commented completely out of order, cause I read your Rockford post BEFORE this one. Either way, If you BQ I'll chip in on your entry fee :)