Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boston Athletic Assocation: New Qualifying Standards for Boston

If you are an obsessive runner like me, then you have probably heard about the changes the BAA is making to the Boston Marathon.  I must say, I am overjoyed with their changes.  I could see three possible routes they could have taken:

1. Leave everything as is or close to it and make Boston essentially a mass participation event with only slightly difficult to obtain qualifying standards.

2. Make a massive shift in the standard to make Boston a truly exclusive event

3. Compromise between 1 and 2, making front runners and mid pack runners happy.

They went with 3.  Faster runners will have the opportunity to register first.  For the open male division, a 2:50 (2:45 for 2013) gets you what is essentially guaranteed entry.  10 minutes slower gets you a pretty darn good chance, and if you just make it, it becomes a crapshoot.

#1 would have been a travesty and could have become the face of a paradigm shift in the running world.  We are already in the midst of the second running boom.  The first happened in the 70s and 80s.  Runners like me were a dime a dozen and average marathon finishing times were almost an hour faster than they are today.

In today's running world, there are tons more people running, but average times have slowed considerably.  Though part of that is due to the booming of the mid to back pack, the front of the pack has thinned considerably.  I direct you to the following article titled "The Decline of the American Marathoners" with data to prove it:  Though slightly dated, it still illustrates a disturbing trend, that faster runners seem to be disappearing, that the "amateur elite" is a dying breed, a relic from the past.

I love that there are more people out there running, and I have read so many inspiring stories about how running has turned peoples' lives around.  I cannot possibly stand here and say mid and back of the pack runners are bad for running.  However, I have wondered what has happened to the "sport" of running and more importantly, what has happened to the meaning of a "race."

To me, running is all about getting faster and running the best that my abilities will allow.  Races are tests of my training, all out efforts where nothing is left in the tank to see what I'm made of.  I'm not sure if all, or even the majority of present day runners approach the sport the same way.  Let me say again, there is NOTHING wrong with this!!  My friends frequently point out that I should probably spend more time on other things (and at least partially, they might be right!).

With that said, the dedicated few really seem to get screwed these days, especially at big races.  Lotteries, ridiculous race day logistics, excessive running traffic, etc really are not conducive to running fast races, particularly marathons.  Some races such as NYC and Chicago cater to runners faster than 2:35 and 2:31.  Other races like Gansett only allow people who qualify, (3:05 for open males).  Still others offer some perks for people in the low 2:30s.  I think that more races should be doing things like this, catering to those who aren't just out there to finish but who are out there to run themselves to the brink.  Either smaller exclusive races, or races that help faster people out are the answer.

Though it's hard to find those fast amateur elites (I don't consider myself one, yet), they are ultimately what the sport is all about, and it's a joke that they would get left behind.  I'm just glad that Boston has at least done its part to keep the sport of running at the forefront.  It remains a relatively exclusive race, and faster runners don't have to gamble with registration problems.  Giving incentive for people to run faster is how it should be, and this system certainly encourages it!

Bravo BAA.  To all race directors out there, don't forget about those dedicated few that train as hard as elites but just don't have the genes to knock off those extra minutes to be considered "elite."  They helped build the sport into what it is today, and if this running boom ever dies down, they will be the ones out there when the dust settles.


  1. I largely agree with what you said here and as a mid- to back-of-the-pack runner, I'm in no way offended. I think if you're going to spend all of your free time running and pushing yourself, you should get perks that more casual runners don't. You put in more time than I probably ever will as a runner and I have no problem with people who do that level of work getting rewarded.

    I do feel for the people who do have a qualifying time for Boston and might get shut out of the race though. To qualify and then not be able to run would suck, but hey races fill up all the time, even ones without qualifying standards. That's just life I guess.

  2. Those borderline runners have a way to get in though, they can push themselves harder and get faster! That's the beauty of the system, it encourages people to improve.

    I'm glad I got my point across without sounding like an ass! I support all runners, I just don't want to see racing fall by the wayside.

  3. I couldn't agree more with your opinion here. It's really disappointing to me to see so many people think that they deserve to be in a race just because they want to. That's what it seems like in cases like Boston has become. I'm glad that the BAA did something that is both fair and encourages runners of all abilities to do something they should be trying to do anyway -- get faster!