Monday, April 18, 2011

Boston: More than a Feeling

Today was the day of the Boston Marathon. Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai won with a time of 2:03:02, which is the fastest marathon time ever recorded, although it will not count as a world record because the course is not eligible because of its net downhill elevation change. This is less than four minutes longer than it took me to run my best-ever half marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the US, and for many runners, it is the Holy Grail of racing. Most races allow entry on a first-come, first-serve basis. Every race I've ever run has been like this; I'm missing out on the Broad Street Run this year because it sold out much, much more quickly than it did last year, when I melted my way down Broad Street on an unusually hot May morning in Philly.

Some bigger races, such as the New York City Marathon, employ a lottery system to manage the overwhelming demand for entrance, which far exceeds available slots.

For Boston, though, you must be elite. A runner must post a qualifying time at at another officially-sanctioned marathon. Boston Qualifiers don't seem to be too hard to find. Baltimore, Philly, Shamrock, and Bob Potts here in York are all Boston Qualifiers.

It's not the only marathon that I know of that requires qualifying times. The National Marathon in DC, the race that most of the participants in my marathon training group were running, has qualifying requirements. However, you can qualify using a 10K or Half Marathon time, so National can still be your first marathon -- the organizers probably really just want to make sure that they have a rough idea of when they can open the streets back up. My 10K and half times would have gotten me in, and my Shamrock time is at the upper end of National's requirements, but still would have gotten me in by either 2 or 17 minutes depending on which part of the website is to be believed.

Boston qualifying is just a little bit trickier. To qualify for Boston, a runner has to meet higher standards for their age group. For example, my goal for Shamrock was 4:30. To qualify for Boston, I would have had to run a 3:05. Things will be a little easier next year when I'm 35, when I could get in with a 3:10.

Phew, that's a relief.

When I first learned about how Boston worked, I kind of thought this policy was really elitist and that the Boston Athletic Association was a bunch of jerks. Upon further thought, though, it makes sense. Of course I can go up to the park and shoot hoops, but I'm not going to make the NBA anytime soon. Boston is the Major Leagues -- if you can post a qualifying time, I think it's great that you can run it without having to worry about tripping over me. (My opinion, however, is that if Boston is going to allow charity spots, which they do, that those runners should still have to post qualifying times, which is not currently the pace, meaning someone can -- to put it most cynically -- buy their way in while qualifying runners are locked out when the race fills up)

One of my friends ran Boston today, and another friend who has encouraged both my wife and I a great deal in our running is going to qualify for it this year. I'm not sure if Boston is something I aspire to or not. One hand, it's the next "level' up. I went from 5Ks to 10Ks to half to full. I can -- and I think will -- run a better marathon, but I've finished one. To "level up", I can try an ultra and/or I can qualify for Boston.

To be honest, though, I don't think I really aspire to either. 26.2 miles is long enough, and I am almost two hours away from a Boston-qualifying time. I think with better training that a 3:05 is not outside the realm of possibilities, but that it might be outside the realm of how hard I want to work at this hobby. One on hand, Chris told me how she watched a few guys who finished Shamrock with a qualifying time just freak out in absolute joy, and on the other I recall a friend who ran his first marathon in summer 2009 telling me how much more enjoyable he thought his race was because he didn't have thoughts of qualifying pressuring him.

For me right now, the answer is no, and it will probably always be no. If I improve a lot with time and training, or run some perfect race and through the combination of luck, conditions, and conditioning, pull a Boston qualifying time out of thin air, you better believe I'd run Boston. In the meantime, congratulations to all the 2011 Boston Marathon fishers and good luck to all the runners working toward a future Boston.


  1. Awesome perspective! The BAA changed the rules for qualifying and I think it makes sense.

    The pressure to obtain a BQ is insane. Yet, I want one. However with the new rules I may not see a BQ until I hit 40 which is 2 years away. But I'm okay with that. In the meantime, I will continue to work on my 50 in 50 by 50 and building up to an ultramarathon.

  2. You'll get it and we'll be there (to watch)!

    The qualifier in York in May is supposed to be pretty flat and fast. :-)

    Or you could count Philly (also a Boston Qualifier...just not for me) toward 50 in 50.