The buzz in the running world today was around the announcement made by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) over its registration and qualifying process. Last October, entry to the 115th Boston Marathon filled last October in just over 8 hours, leaving many qualified runners shocked and in the lurch. It was my opinion that the beantown 26.2 lost a little of its lustre with this stampede approach to registration...and apparently others shared this view. There were calls for drastic changes to qualifying times - the question was, how would BAA respond?
And now we know. Not only will the fastest runners receive preference in the registration process, but runners will also need to post faster qualifying times across the board (5:59 to be exact).
It has been interesting to read blog posts and message boards in response to the BAA's decision. A clear message has been sent - the BAA wants the Boston Marathon to retain its prestige and competitiveness, and it wants the entry procedure to reflect this mission.
I agree in principal with the changes being made. If you want to run the Boston Marathon, you need to run the fastest time possible. If the race fills with people who bettered their BQ by 20 minutes, then so be it (we know that is theoretical...it won't happen). But in my view, the race could conceivably fill with runners meeting their quals by 10 minutes or more. The faster time you post, the better chance you have of getting in - it is no longer strictly a case of meeting a qualifying standard and getting automatic entry.
Notably, the BAA has failed to address concerns of gender preference in its adjustment of the qualifying standards. The difference between male and female qualifying times at any given age remains 30 minutes, and I tend to agree with the view that this gap may be too wide.
If the new qualifying standards had been in place when I started running marathons, I would not have qualified for Boston on my second marathon. Indeed, it would have taken me several more attempts but in retrospect that would not have been a bad thing. Running marathons is complex and even after 17 marathons, I am still learning. I think the motivation to run faster, smarter and stronger drives us to train faster, smarter and stronger. Entry into the Boston Marathon should be a reward for success and not a rite of passage. (Nice way of saying it is supposed to be hard to qualify!!)
It also seems to me that the BQ is not necessarily the benchmark we should seek. Seeking continuous improvement and betterment is the goal (well, perhaps with some fun thrown in there!) and the new registration process aims to capture that. If you meet your BQ, you run the risk of not getting in. If you want to guarantee the BQ, you need to knock that PR outta the park. And after all, isn't that what we are supposed to do?
So, thanks to the BAA for listening to the runners and for introducing a systematic and performance based entry process that will enable the Boston Marathon to be competitive and retain its distinctive and legendary qualities. The new process, coupled with the more stringent qualifying standards, should once again make qualifying for entry into the Boston a goal and achievement in and of itself.
I am very proud to say that I am a four time finisher of the Boston Marathon, each year > six minutes faster than the last (3:44, 3:36, 3:30, 3:24). While I am a little disappointed to be miss the opportunity to be at the start line in Hopkinton this year, I look forward to the challenge presented by the new qualification and entry process....and I look forward to the opportunity to do a 3:18 in Boston to keep the tradition alive!