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Marathon qualifying standards – a rant

23 May, 2010

Having filled-up in record time this year, there are rumours circulating that the qualifying standards for the next Boston Marathon will be raised, and the times lowered. First of all, I have no ‘inside source’, and it remains little more than idle speculation at this stage. I should also say that at the moment I have no overwhelming interest in trying to qualify. The BQ time is actually quite a bit faster than my only effort at this distance, but I believe that I could qualify given my times at other distances.

I think implementing higher standards is, almost unreservedly, a good thing. (Some of you may hate me for saying this, but please bear with me).

If you run a marathon but fail to qualify for Boston (whether standards are raised or not), you are not alone. It’s well established that athletes, in successfully reaching their (challenging) goal, only do the minimum training necessary. If your goal is a 3:59 mile, you train for 3:59 not 3:50. Therefore, whatever the qualifying standard is, there will be literally thousands — or tens of thousands — of runners who also (only just) fail to qualify due to training errors, bad days, bad luck and so on.

It would take only ONE of the many other marathons that happen in the same month each year to adopt a qualifying standard to mop up all these runners with nowhere to go. Of course, at the moment most people will try again at a local event or one at a random vacation destination. But imagine if all these runners went to one race, or a limited number of regional events.  The competition at a certain level would be very deep, and there would be no need to scramble over legions of neophytes. All else being equal, conditions for a personal best or BQ could not be more ideal.

hint, hint

Of course we wouldn’t necessarily be able to say that we’ve run the Boston Marathon, but I am convinced that whichever event does this will itself become a legend, a must-do, and we’ll be there for history in the making. And who knows, if entry to the event is more transparent (vis-à-vis corporate allocations, for example) perhaps this race will surpass Boston in quality and depth of field. There is a place for local and charity runners and I’m not arguing against that, but the current running boom has outgrown existing provisions for the “weekend warriors” who want to aim for some kind of defining, common standard.

ancient print of a speaker in hyde park

/end rant

Yesterday, I subjected myself to one of those exhausting ‘unfueled’ long runs that makes you feel about 80 years old for the rest of the day. It wasn’t planned this way (I just forgot to bring food), nor was it that long — 88 minutes, about 19km, from Science World along the seawall to 2nd beach, most of the way up to Prospect Point (roadworks turned me around, and down the trail), and back the way I came, around False Creek, finishing at Save On Foods on Cambie St. But I haven’t run this far for more than a month, so I really felt it!

Friday:9.5km (Stanley Park Sandwich)
Yesterday: 19km.
This week: 46km.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 May, 2010 2:13 am

    I always thought the qualifying times in Boston were meant to limit the number of people going to the race. I’m not sure that just any race could put up a qualifying time and become successful. As I understand it, the draw is the race itself, not the qualifying time. I think most race directors are worried about putting runners behind every available bibs, not trying to find ways to refuse people entry.

    Races should focus on a nice course, spotless logistics and good crowd support before they should think about limiting the number of registrants. Once they scale to a certain size and start selling out earlier every year, they can start thinking about qualifying times.

    • 25 May, 2010 10:15 am

      You’re right of course — before doing this, any race organizer would first have to ensure those things you mention are in place (I suggest Vancouver in part because I think this city has a lot of potential, and it wouldn’t be a huge leap). It does still require a leap of faith, perhaps. But doesn’t the qualifying standard become an end in itself? Usually when I set a running goal for myself it’s based on some fairly arbitrary round number, but having an external standard to meet would be even more of a motivator — especially as there would be so many others trying to do the same thing.

      Both London and New York have guaranteed good-for-age entry standards, but the London standard applies only to UK residents, while New York is in the fall…

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