Rethinking the Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon 2010 Amy (15)

Today marked the first day of registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon.  For the first day in history, it also marked the only day for registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon, as registration sold out in a matter of a mere eight hours.  Eight hours.  That’s nuts!  Last year, everyone was shocked when it filled in about two months, leaving runners with late November and December marathons out of luck for the coming year.  This year, anyone who was still weighing their decision to run Boston in April had their decision made for them.  This includes anyone who was hoping to qualify at any of the big marathons still to come, as we are in the midst of fall marathon season…NYC marathon, anyone?

But why did it sell out so quickly?  All the hype from last year’s early sell out?  Clearly runners who were shut out from last year’s Boston Marathon were quick to sign up at 9am this morning, as their qualifying time still holds them for 2011.  It seems so odd that two years ago, you could register for Boston in February, but now runners are lined up at their keyboards waiting for registration to open.

Is that how Boston is supposed to be?  Should it be harder to register for Boston than it is to qualify?  I’ll be interested to see what the Boston Athletic Association does as a result of today’s situation.  Rumors have always been flying about tightening up the qualifying times, especially for the women.  With more people running marathons and more people setting Boston as their goal marathon, logically less spaces exist for more runners.

Last week, an article in the Wall Street Journal, “It’s Time for Women to Run Faster,” discussed how many people believe the standards for qualifying for Boston should be tighter for women, as they are currently thirty minutes slower than the men’s times.  I agree that qualifying for Boston is a much more attainable goal for women than it is for men, but does that mean the times should be tighter?  It’s easy for me to say that they should be given my most recent marathon time of 3:22…after all, I probably wouldn’t be affected by higher standards.  I would probably come off as elitist (and I’m far from elite) if I were to say that the times were too soft, but here’s my opinion:

Why do people put the Boston Marathon at the top of their list?  Exclusivity.  Not everyone can run it.  While some people are gifted enough to qualify on their first try, others spend many years chasing their dreams.  (Third time was the charm for me, and I like to think I’m a pretty good runner.)  Would so many runners aspire to run Boston if it didn’t have qualifying times?  I’m going to say…no.  Plenty of other large, exciting urban marathons exist, but Boston has such history and culture partially due to the fact that not everyone can run it.  While I have not yet run the NYC Marathon, I imagine it to be fabulous with tons of spectators and running through all the different parts of the city.  Could New York become like Boston if it imposed qualifying times?  It’s already near impossible to get into without some work, and one of those ways is to qualify via time…with a time much faster than Boston.  (3:23 for women, to be exact.)  What would happen if they made this the only way to run NYC?  What do you think people would do?

In my opinion, if Boston were to impose faster qualifying times, people would simply…run faster.  While I have not researched where the numbers 3:10 or 3:40 came from, I imagine that it wasn’t a super technical standard.  If you had to run 3:35 to qualify for Boston, that would be the new goal.  Many people run a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston…I did in at the Wisconsin Marathon in 2009, specifically telling myself not to go out too fast because all I wanted to do was qualify for Boston.  Not see what I could.  Just hold back and get my qualifying time.  If that qualifying time was 3:35, I would have set different goals for myself.

Am I against the BAA tightening their standards?  Not really.  Like I said earlier, this is much easier for me to say than as someone who has run 3:42 and barely missed qualifying.  I do think it’s something to open up for discussion, and it will be interesting to see what the BAA does in the coming years.

I did not register for Boston this year, which was planned in that I’m qualified for 2012 if I want to run it then.  In the meantime, I’m entertaining the ideas of other spring marathons.

What are your thoughts on Boston filling up in one day?  Do you think the standards should be higher?  I’m interested in hearing opinions from both sides of the fence…both those who have qualified and those who are trying to!

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  1. ida says

    I haven’t qualified for Boston, but i’ve come close. I look to the BQ time as a ‘bench mark’ time to break, and mainly want the BQ to say that i could run boston if i wanted to. If the changed the time I’d start aiming for the faster pace. I agree that the women’s time is easier than the men’s, and that’s probably b/c so few women were marathoners when the times were set. Maybe boston could go to a lotto system so that all qualified runners would have an equal chance of getting in. I personally don’t have an issue with boston changing the women’s time, but think some people would since those numbers are so engrained in the running community.

  2. says

    It’s an interesting debate. I think there are a few factors in play that has caused the insanity.

    For one, there are simply more people running. Think about how fast races sell out in general (Pikes Peak Marathon sold out in an hour!). With that said, statistics would say that there would be a bigger pool of people.

    However, I think the BIG thing is the communication system these days: the Internet. People were scared about getting shut out so I think people signed up even if they weren’t sure they even want to run the race in April! These days with Internet forums, twitter, facebook, etc there was no getting around feeling like EVERYONE was qualified and signing up. For example, runnersworld forums were posting their submission ID #s as the day progressed.

    As someone that likes to push the envelope (got in to Boston by the skin of my teeth last year), I think it would push people further like you said. I would readjust my goals to get to that new time. It should be noted that the current times are a lot “looser”. My dad had to qualify with a sub 2:50 (women were 3:20).

    Do I think times need to be adjusted to that level? No. Boston will always be Boston. I think a lot of that “chatter” you hear are from people that feel like it diminishes their accomplishment by others running it. It’s silly. Running is a personal thing – I hope each runner gets the chance to run a marathon to get there.

  3. says

    Insane that it sold out in a day. I think its also sad in a way.

    To me, Boston represents (or rather represented now) the pinnacle of marathons. The championships, a special race that was invite only. Get to the top of your game, and you were in. Now, it seems like just another race.

    Something must be done. I read the article on WSJ too, but don’t want to point the finger at just female times. I think its a culmination of things,

    Faster Humans (in general) – so adjust times
    More runners – times again
    Too many Charity spots – less or no charity

    It’s both frustrating and puzzling to me because I have run 3 marathons in the last year and my times were between 3:13-3:15 on all of them. Respectable? Yes. But still not fast enough to qualify for Boston. I was gunning for NYCM as entry this year but that wont happen now. Look out 2012!

  4. says

    as someone who loves to run but can not even imagine qualifying for Boston, I think it’s quite spectacular and a bit sad that it sold out so quickly. There are so many runners waiting to qualify at New York in just two weeks and now they’ll have to wait till ’12 for their shot at Boston. I love seeing how much running continues to take off and develop. I really don’t know what the answer is here, except that perhaps runners looking to run Boston need to change their expectations a little. I do wonder how many spots are still open for charity runners.

    Thanks for mentioning the WSJ article. I hadn’t seen that and will definitely check it out.

  5. says

    I’m very curious to see how this all shakes out. Like you, I am much faster than when I first tried to qualify. If you asked me last fall, when I did a 3:38 marathon, I would have spit in BAA’s face if they had tried to adjust times. Now, I’m less concerned about it, but still very much remember what it felt like to chase that coveted 3:40. One article (maybe the WSJ piece?) speculated if they make the times 5 minutes faster, people will simply run 5 minutes faster. I think that’s absolutely true. If the time for my AG was lowered to 3:35 I would have trained for that and adjusted all of my goal training times to meet it.

  6. Dean says

    Qualifying times have changed over the years. During the height of the running boom, the qualifying times were 2:50 for men and, I believe, 3:20 for women. Qualifying times for men slowly crept up to 3:00 to 3:10, with the standard for women following by 30 minutes.

    Great run at Chicago Susan. Best wishes for the future.

  7. says

    I will never qualify for Boston. Unless my foot surgery involved an as-yet-unknown bionic implant (which would be cool). That being said, I agree, that if the qualifying times were faster, people would run a bit faster. I know a couple people, though, who chased that 3:40 over 6 marathons & finally got the 3:40:00 to qualify – and I do think that this would leave a few people behind.

    One thing that they could do, maybe, is look at all the runners over the past 5ish years & see what the average qualifying time was for each age bracket/gender group. Perhaps the average time for women qualifying is 3:32:00 or something, and then dropping the qualifying time down to 3:35 wouldn’t affect as many people.

    I do think, though, that because it is such a huge goal race and that there are so many more marathoners now than in previous years, it will always sell out quickly, unless they make the times something ridiculous. :)

  8. says

    I just found your blog from Skinny Runner – I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, too, and am now in NYC :)

    Anyway, I feel bad taking a stance on this issue, since it’s moot for me (given my slow speed), but I do think that standards should change. I know that there were complicating factors this year, like the volcano, but overall it seems like a larger number of people can currently qualify than was the intent of Boston. I did the numbers of how many people who ran Chicago this year and last qualified on my blog, if you’re curious:
    Personally, I think it would also be in order change the rules such that your BQ can only count toward one year’s race, rather than 2.

  9. says

    honestly, i’ll never qualify for boston, but i will run it, probably next year, with a charity. i live in boston, so it’s not such a big deal to me. i know it’s on the top of a lot of people’s lists. tightening up the times? eh, im not sure what that will really solve. i did hear that they may make it two days instead of one, which is just crazy to me too.

  10. says

    I was just as surprised as you to see Boston sell out in a day. I still don’t know where I stand on them making the times faster. Most people will never qualify for Boston, even with the current times, but I know as more people run marathons there are more people to potentially qualify.

  11. says

    i actually would be really sad if they made it harder (which they may end up doing, i would guess). for me, truly working hard has only gotten me to approach the 3:40 barrier and i’m still nearly 8 minutes away! the closest i have come to qualifying was probably a training cycle in 2007 (pfitz, up to 70 miles/week) that ended in a horrible bout of achilles tendonitis (i could barely walk during the time my race was held, let alone run).

    anyway. since most of the others either are on the superfast or not-really-considering-qualifying-an-option, i just wanted to comment as someone who realistically MAYYYYYBE could qualify someday but would really have to work hard (and have luck on my side!) to do it. it’s totally selfish, but i hope it stays where it is!


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