Boston Marathon changes the game

Back in February the Boston Marathon changed its qualifying and registration guidelines making it more difficult for the average runner to make it to one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.

It seems the move came in response to the fact that the 2011 race sold out in a record 8 hours, 3 minutes and many qualifying runners weren’t able to register.

Since the announcement was made in the middle of February, for some runners who have their eyes on Boston this isn’t new information, but it does affect everyone who has aspirations to qualify for the Patriot’s Day classic, and from my view, that’s a lot of Utahns.

I’ve spent enough time on a second-grader-sized school bus listening to the conversations of my fellow runners to know that Boston is on the radar of many, many runners. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a race where I didn’t hear some reference to the Boston Marathon. Most of the time, I am unavoidably eavesdropping on numerous tales of runners hoping to break through their respective qualifying times.

I, too, have taken part in those conversations, but I am curious to know what effect these new guidelines are having on the local running community.

Essentially, race officials have devised a plan allowing the fastest runners to have preference over their slower counterparts in their respective age categories.

Here is the wording from the Boston Athletic Association website:

2012 rolling registration dates

Day 1 (Sept. 12) — Qualifiers who have met their age and gender qualifying standard (3 hours, 10 minutes for men aged 18-34 and 3 hours, 40 minutes for women 18-34) by a margin of 20 minutes or faster may apply for the marathon.

Day 3 (Sept. 14) — Qualifiers who have met the standard set for their age/gender by a margin of 10 minutes or faster may apply.

Day 5 (Sept. 16) — Qualifiers who have met their age/gender qualifying time by a margin of five minutes or faster may apply.

Day 8 (Sept. 19) — Open to all qualifiers to register.

Day 12 (Sept. 23) — Registration closes for qualified applicants. Registered qualifiers will be notified of their acceptance by Sept. 28.

To my knowledge, the number of non-qualifying runners who participate instead to raise money for one of the approved charities hasn’t been reduced.

The comment boards on the blog of the Boston Globe are all over the place. Some state the new standards make the qualifying times invalid, while others are saying the number of charity runners should be reduced. Others are praising the efforts of the race committee, stating that if someone wants to run an elite race, he or she should have to run faster.

Personally, I feel a little disheartened by the measure since I am trying to make it back to Beantown while my brother is still attending Boston College. From the looks of things, I’m going to have to pick up the pace a bit to assure a spot. And 2012 may be the best year to try since the 2013 qualifying times have been moved up about five minutes in each category with the same “rolling registration” dates in place.

Last time I qualified for the race, I only beat my qualifying time by three minutes. In this new scenario, I likely wouldn’t have made it. A lot has changed since I ran the race in 2008 when I casually signed up several months after registration was opened.

With that said, I’m curious to get your thoughts. In looking at the changes, do you feel good about the decision? Are you trying to qualify and are now reconsidering? Or are you one of those speed demons who have nothing to worry about?

Brian Nicholson has completed marathons from Boston to Beijing, a host of Ragnar relays, and has developed a keen taste for all things Gu.



  1. Lloyd

    I’m not surprised to see the changes, and I don’t really mind what they’re doing (and this is coming from one who has never hit the qualifying time in over 30 years of trying). The BAA was under a lot of pressure to do something, and honestly expanding the field is not a realistic option. And as for lowering the qualifying times, I’m only surprised that they didn’t lower them more than they did.

    Boston has been an “Elite” marathon for years now, and the qualifying standards were intended not only to limit the field, but to ensure that it remained “elite”. There have been so many people worldwide wanting to enter, that the field has been expanded many times over the years. The first year I tried to qualify, 1977, there were only 2,766 runners. Two years later, in 1979, there were 7,927 entrants. The numbers grew consistently, and hit an all time high in the race’s centennial, 1996, when there were 38,708 starters, making it the largest marathon field ever to that time. (Note, however, that all who entered that year were allowed to run, qualifying standards notwithstanding.) In 2002, there were 16,936, the race topped 20,000 in 2004, 23,000 in 2007, and over 27,000 in 2011.

    In 2003, the BAA changed the qualifying standards, mainly to accommodate the demand for slots, but also to make it somewhat easier for runners age 45 and older. (Sadly, I still missed the cut.)

    Also about that time, the BAA came under pressure from the communities along the course, and from the city of Boston, to limit the number of entrants. After extensive debate, the field was limited to 25,000 qualifiers, with some additional slots reserved for “Charity” runners for the 2007 race, and filed by February of that year. The 2010 race filled by early November of 2009, and this year’s race filled, as you indicted, in just over 8 hours.

    The problem is, the race simply can’t accommodate the demand, and something had to be done. There has been talk for some time that the qualifying standards for women were “soft”, but making a large adjustment in those seemed a bad idea, for any number of reasons. The new plan announced for 2012, while not perfect, seems a reasonable compromise.

    I do agree that the “charity” slots seem a bit out of proportion, but the number of Boston-area charities which rely on the funds generated by those is surprisingly large. And, continuing community support is at least in part contingent on those donations. The BAA walks a tightrope on that one for sure.

    As much as I’d love to qualify, and as frustrating as it has been to see the probability of ever doing so, or ever getting in even if I didn’t dip under the standard becoming more unlikely, I also recognize that this is THE BOSTON MARATHON, and participating is a privilege, and not a right. It’s popularity is in large part due to it’s exclusivity. Honestly, would we really want it any other way?

  2. Josh

    Its not as if 9/19 will be a first-to-sign-up-gets-in deal; the BAA will still sort those entries by time tbenaeh standard and take the best. Web site issues as seen last year may not even be in issue since so many will have already registered – which is the main reason for the phased dates – but even so, signing up right at 10am offers no advantage.Being at -5:00 vs. -4:52 gets you the advance date, which saves the hassle of dealing with the web traffic on 9/19. Apart from that the 8 second difference is still only worth the number of runners in that gap, no different than -5:00 to -5:08.All that complaining about exemptions for charity and some others will get you is frustrated, because those are long standing institutions with very high PR value in the community. Likewise with celebrities getting passes (Will Ferrell, magazine editors, etc) – the PR will always be worth it for the BAA.Runners with very slow times at Boston are almost entirely alone, the crowds are vastly diminished as they run through, and they come into a finish area being dismantled around them. That should as much impetus for them to stay away as perceived fairness.

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