Boston Qualifying and the Elephant in the Room

When I first began running marathons, almost 11 years ago, a Boston Qualifying time meant an entry into the marathon. At that time, qualification standards were less stringent and deferrals were allowed as well, but that is another story. Nonetheless, at that time, I could not have imagined that one day, after YEARS of striving to Boston Qualify, I would beat my qualifying time by 2 minutes and 20 seconds, yet scarcely dare to hope that this would be good enough to earn a bib for Boston. My goal has always been simply: To Boston Qualify. I did that! Hooray! But here’s the thing:

Fast forward to the present and a Boston Qualifying time no longer guarantees an entry into the race. For those of you who may not know, the Boston marathon is capped at a certain number of participants. This is not new. However, with more individuals running marathons and with Boston’s increased popularity, more and more runners are seeking to enter the race. Of the total number of bibs available, a fraction are reserved for charity runners and sponsors. The remaining bibs are given out based on finish time in relation to qualifying time. To put it simply, the fastest runners are able to register first. When the marathon reaches its quota, that’s it. Registration is closed. For 2016, runners had to beat their qualifying time by an unprecedented 2 minutes and 28 seconds.

So, this begs the question: When do you actually BQ? When you meet the Boston Athletic Association Standards? Or when you receive entry into the race?

I think each runner will answer that question differently for himself or herself. But I have to tell you, as someone who met my ultimate goal of meeting BAA Standards, the thought that this may not be enough* to earn a Boston Bib almost breaks my heart. From the time I qualified in October of 2015 until registration closes in September 2016, I simply have to wait and see, trying not to get my hopes up too high. It is completely out of my control. The only thing I can do is obsessively check (and trust me, I do) to see statistically speaking whether BQs are up or down. Still, does anyone really know what the cut off time will be or what makes that number go up or down? The Boston Athletic Association can change their future qualifying standards whenever they choose. I have read far too many articles claiming that standards are too easy for women in my age group, even though the numbers clearly show otherwise. Makes me livid, but I digress (another post perhaps). And I’m over here going, “Will I EVER get to run Boston?”

I am part of a closed Facebook group for certified coaches. When the 2016 Boston cut-off time was announced, you can imagine the great deal of discussion it generated. Many coaches predicted the 2017 cut-off would be close to 5 minutes. Many of the same coaches advised coaching our athletes to strive for a marathon time that was 5 minutes faster than a BQ, “To be safe.”

I got to tell you, if you have yet to Boston Qualify, you are more than welcome to shoot for a BQ minus 5 minutes, but I personally think that’s a horrible idea. Here’s why: You can only train to your current fitness level. If you have been working ceaselessly (like I had) and smartly (like I learned to) to reach that BQ goal and fell short, you must be extremely careful that you don’t overtrain or run a poorly paced marathon effort and end up completely missing a BQ, let alone a BQ minus 5 minutes. Your first goal should be to meet the standards, and although I hate to say it, if that isn’t enough, keep trying to improve and keep your fingers crossed for your next race.

That, unfortunately is where I am. I feel like the stakes are even higher in my case, as my husband and I are expecting our second child. To come back to my personal best shape after pregnancy can take years of effort, and is not a given.

Am I an experienced marathoner? Yes.

Am I a certified running coach? Yes.

Am I Boston Qualified? Yes.

Have I EVER run Boston? No. And the truth is that I may never run Boston

But you know what? Although sometimes I feel like I’m still convincing myself of this: THAT’S OK! Why?!

1. Because earning a bib to Boston should be hard. It’s more valuable that way.

2. With smart training, I believe my best times could still be ahead of me. Reaching for this goal helps me find my personal best.

3. The journey has absolutely been worth it. I may not be a Boston Marathoner (yet) but running and marathoning has given me SO MUCH more than I ever could have imagined.

Thanks for reading. Thoughts? Please leave a comment or send me a message!

*Charity bibs are often available for those who can’t enter via traditional methods, but a $5000 fund raising amount can be a daunting commitment.

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