Boston Marathon Qualification: Be Close to Elite or Forget It

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, dating all the way back to 1897.  It’s also arguably the most prestigious, with its requirement of qualifying times for any non-charity runner or non-overseas travel partner entrant to enter the race.

Even qualifying for the race is a major accomplishment for any runner.  Now, it’s about to become even harder or downright impossible for the non-elite runner.  The Boston Athletic Association announced major changes to the entrance process for the 2012 Boston Marathon race and qualification times for the 2013 race and beyond.  While entrance was previously first come, first serve, the B.A.A. is now allowing the fastest qualifiers to register first.  Those who beat the qualifying standard by at least 20 minutes get the first crack, followed a couple of days later by those who beat it by at least 10 minutes, and then a few days later by those who beat it by at least 5 minutes.  Finally, seven days after registration started, everyone else who has a qualifying time can attempt to register.  Considering how this year’s race sold out in about eight hours last year, good luck with trying to get  a spot during open registration.

Even problematic are the qualifying time requirements starting with the 2013 race.  Currently, a 35-39 year old male  (like me) has to run 3 hours 15 minutes (and 59 seconds) or less to qualify, while a 35-39 year old female has a target time of 3:45.  Those are difficult times, but the female qualification time is at least somewhat doable.  Starting for the 2013 race, the qualification time drops by 5 minutes for most classes and for both sexes.  Now, an 18-34 year old male has to run 3 hours 5 minutes (with no 59 second grace period), a 35-39 year old male has to run 3:10, an 18-34 year old female needs 3:35 and so forth.  In other words, if you are a younger male, you have to pretty much be close to elite if you want to qualify.

A big issue is that while everyone is running faster (through better training, technique and perhaps shoe and apparel technology), women’s times are improving much more so than men’s times.  Making women’s qualification times stricter or at least closer to men’s times would make more sense than allowing a 30 minute differential between men and women of the same age.  Also, does it really make sense to have a 54 year old male have to run a 3:30, which is a faster qualification time than the youngest and fittest 18-34 year old women (3:35)?

Because registration takes place in September, the big fall marathons of Chicago, Marine Corps, New York City, Philadelphia and so forth are effectively precluded from 2012 qualification.  If you’re racing in any of them, you’re doing it for 2013 and the more difficult times.  You need a marathon time from before September 2011 to try to get into the 2012 race.

So to sum up, you have to run wicked fast in a spring marathon you’ve already registered and trained for to try to qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon.  Then, if you qualify but aren’t beating the standards by 5, 10 or 20 minutes, you may get shut out by the race selling out before you can register.  Finally, if you get shut out of 2012, you’ve got to run another marathon after September 2011 with a time faster by 5 minutes to try to qualify for 2013.  Of which, once again, there is no guarantee of entrance.

A better solution for the B.A.A.?  Do what New York City does and make it a lottery-based system, guaranteeing entrance after 3 years of trying.

A better solution for prospective runners?  Contact an official charity to fundraise and get one of the allotted spots.


One comment on “Boston Marathon Qualification: Be Close to Elite or Forget It

  1. Lynn says:

    I agree that the women’s standard should be as difficult for men as it is for women with one exception. Women who were 35 or over when the first women’s olympic marathon was run, 1983. Younger women have less excuse for not being able to perform at the same level as men. However, these women, and even women my age had very limited opportunities to take part in track and field. There were very few track teams for girls, no track scholarships . . . women could not run in the Boston marathon. My point, that somehow allowances should be made for the vacuum of opportunity and role models.

    I got shut out this year because of my plan to run a late fall race, but am happy to know I’ll get in for 2012 in the first wave of registration. Even if this system results in more men than women, I would like to see this newest wave of young female marathoners push themselves a little harder, as hard as the men that is.

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