Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who will get to run Boston?

Yesterday the 2011 Boston Marathon opened for registration at 9:00 am and was closed in just over eight hours when the limit of 21,000 applicants was reached. It has never filled up this quickly-- even last year, which was the fastest ever sell-out up to that point, took about two months to fill up.

Boston is the only marathon in North America other than Olympic qualifying marathons that requires runners in general registration to meet qualifying standards. (There are also spots open for charity fund-raising groups, corporate sponsors, and some community-based entries.) Historically the qualifying times were simply about limiting the field, but they have come to mean more than that to people. Qualifying for Boston has become the benchmark of amateur marathon excellence for many people, and many work hard in running and training for a chance to run in this historic marathon. And with the prestige attached to the qualifying times themselves, more and more people have wanted to run it and more and more have qualified. Over the past years as interest in the race increased, the Boston Athletic Association (or BAA, the organization that puts on the Marathon) has opened the race to more runners by starting the race earlier, introducing a two-tiered start, and increasing registration numbers to what some people say is near-limit capacity.

Last year was surprising enough when the 2010 Boston Marathon filled in November 2009, just seven weeks after registration opened. In previous years it had not filled till January or February before the April race. When it filled last year in November, many people who had qualified were surprised and had not had a chance to register. Still others were hoping to qualify in late 2009 or early 2010 races. People who ran qualifying races after September 2009 were eligible to register for 2011., Therefore, a lot of these people were ready early when registration opened yesterday, as were those anxious runners who qualified in races later in 2010 (up to this past Sunday).

The very fast fill-up means that many runners who had hoped for a 2011 spot were shut out, either because they had trouble registering on-line (a computer glitch caused many problems for people early in the day), because they didn't actually believe it would fill up that fast, or because they haven't even run their qualifying race yet.

Although I was not able to register for 2011 (I would have needed a 3:50 marathon time, and my best so far is 4:06), I was keenly interested in watching how the day unfolded yesterday. Most people did expect the race to fill up quickly, yet it is still somewhat shocking how quick it really was. In the months leading into the registration date, there was already a lot of talk about how Boston would have to change the registration process in order to make it more fair for qualified runners.

As quoted in an article in the Boston Globe, Guy Morse, the BAA's executive director said yesterday: "The challenge for the BAA is to find the right mix of field size and qualifying times to allow as many as possible to run. I’m not convinced tightening up the qualifying times alone is the answer. I would like to find a way to allow more qualifiers to enter. That would speak to the field size question, but we don't want to increase the field and reduce the quality of the event in the process. In the way we’ve approached it and the way we’ve set it up, this event remains about quality, not quantity."

I believe that an adjustment of the qualifying standards is inevitable, and we will likely see this happening within the next year. Some people have guessed that when the BAA does adjust the standards, they will set the changes for a future marathon such that those already training for the existing times would not be short-changed. We really don't know what they will do, although I am personally prepared for the possibility that the qualifying time for the F45-49 age group will be harder than the 4:00:59 time I thought I needed for a 2012 entry. We shall see. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop


  1. a race to qualify for the race to register for the race... i remember Arnold running Boston several years and all the years we stood out for hours calling names and numbers and cheering runners on. what a blast at mile 17.

    as to tightening qualifying times: i think that the qualifying times should tighten directly proportionally to the age categories that are filling the fastest. that way, as we get older, it wont get harder and harder for us to qualify. and, although i am not running today... i swear that one of these year i will qualify and run boston. especially now that i am 45 today and in a slightly slower category already!

    nice piece. got many memories flowing of the race and the 5 i did run/completed.

    your cousin Charl

  2. You can do it if you want, Charl. :)

  3. I did a quick look at the stats from the last big marathon here in TO (Scotia Waterfront) and the AG with the greatest percentage of BQ times was 45-49 (men & women). Clearly those extra 10 minutes makes a difference. All the other age groups are in the 15-20% range of qualifiers, but that one has 26% for men and 29% for women. Quite the outlier (even though that's just using one race as an example).

  4. Lesley-
    Results are pretty similar for Victoria it seems, although the F50-54 is also quite high (26%). The F45-49 group is at 26% and the M45-49 group is at 24%. The rest are all about 15-20%. This doesn't include those who age into the next age group before the Boston Marathon date, of course.

    It seems that whatever change they make it will likely make it harder for me. I do agree that they need to make the changes, and I will just have to work that much harder to get there.

  5. If you really want to run Boston, then just do it through charity. They have 4000 entries set aside for charity, corporate sponsors, etc.

  6. I might do that eventually. But I'm going try again to qualify first. I've only tried once.