Call for tightening of Boston Marathon qualifying standards

My Life as a Runner > races > Call for tightening of Boston Marathon qualifying standards
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Wait is over! Earlier today, I received an email from BAA about my acceptance into 2015 Boston Marathon. It has been a long week and a half for many of us who had run qualifying time in our gender/age group but not fast enough to register in the first week of registration. 8,000 slots were still available for us after the first week, but BAA received more than 8,000 registration requests in the following three days, which made it necessary to set a cut-off time beyond the qualifying standards. This happened to me last year, and last year’s cut-off was 1:38 faster than the qualifying standards in each gender/age group. I did not make the cut last year, so this time I was a little nervous with my 2:46 buffer, though I was being optimistic about getting accepted. So glad the wait is over now.

According to BAA’s announcement, 1,947 qualified registrants did not get accepted for next year’s race, despite the increased field size of 30,000, of which 24,000 was set aside for qualified runners. The cut-off was 1:02. For this year’s race, with the 1:38 cut-off, 22,679 qualified runners were accepted, while 2,976 qualified runners (including me) did not make it.

The fact that a cut-off was necessary two years in a row has ignited discussions as to whether BAA should tighten the qualifying standards again. Since standards was first established in 1970, it has changed 10 times, though the changes were not always to tighten but for some years, it was relaxed to open the race to more runners. Last time BAA changed the standards in 2011, it was tightened by five minutes across all gender/age groups.

This discussion cannot continue without knowing whether the field size will be maintained at the current level. Next year is set at 30,000, and this year was a special case at 36,000. Though less than 22,000 runners participated in 2012, more than 25,000 runners had participated between 2008 and 2011. So, 20% increase from 25,000 is fairly big, and I wonder if BAA and the communities along the course can and are willing to maintain the field size at this level. If so, it might be good idea to look at distribution of both qualified and accepted runners from the past, and tighten some gender/age groups, because it might not be necessary to tighten the standards across all the gender/age group by the same amount of time. If BAA can increase the field size by another 1,000 or change the ratio of qualified runners and individual entrants (i.e., charity runners) in favor of qualified runners by 1,000, the qualifying standards can remain the same. Finally, if the field size needs to get smaller to the 2008-2011 level, I am afraid tightening of the standards is necessary across the board. According to Runner’s World magazine, accepted runners who did not have time faster than 5:00 were 6,447 for next year. So, it does not need to cut standards by five minutes but somewhere between one and five minutes would make it close to the 2008-2011 level.

For many of us who train hard to qualify for Boston, it is even harder if one does not get accepted despite having run a qualifying time. Having been a victim of this once before, I recommend BAA review the current qualifying standard against the future field size and re-establish the qualifying standards that is fair to all gender/age groups.

Update on Sept 30, 2014:

Runner’s World Magazine reported BAA announced that they would review the registration system for the 2016 race, as “We annually review our registration process, our systems, trends in the industry, and we factor our qualifying times and field size”, per BAA’s Executive Director Tom Grilk. He also added he would expect the size of the field for the 2016 race to be similar to next year’s race.”

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