Should Marathons Be Dumbed Down for Women?

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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The Boston Marathon is one of the few marathons in the US that still requires a qualifying time, which is why it remains a goal for so many runners.

Slower runners can opt to run for charity and forgo the qualifying time, but for faster runners, earning a "BQ" (Boston Qualifying Time) is a life goal. Meanwhile, a lot of men are crying foul. After all, the standards are impossibly unfair. For a woman under 34, a 3:40:59 is still a BQ, while a man in the same age group must run a 3:10:59. A half hour is a lot of time in running.

When I ran my first marathon, I ran a 3:48. The winner of the entire event ran just a half hour faster than me. What a difference 30 minutes make.

In recent years, marathoning has become more and more popular and this is largely due to female participation in the sport. But if the standards are so much lower, how does this help women?

According to The Wall Street Journal:

The record demand for Boston slots has much to do with the exploding popularity of marathons in the U.S.: The 10 percent growth in participation last year was the largest spurt in 25 years. The number of runners who qualify for Boston now far exceeds the available places (excluding about 5,000 spots reserved for charity runners).

Running a 3:40 is not easy. My own goal was to qualify for Boston, but I missed it by eight minutes. The theory is that if qualifying standards were harder, then women would just run faster. That may or may not be true. Running fast is hard, much harder than running slow. But the goal is worthy. If everyone can do something, that doesn't make it very special, does it?

Running is a fantastic sport for so many reasons. And each person who runs, even those who post a five- or six-hour marathon time, is doing something amazing for their lives and for their health. But some run with a more competitive spirit than others, and for those who enjoy that competition, the general sense that women's qualifying times are so much easier to achieve than men's is unsettling.

Even though it pains me personally (I plan to try again for a BQ next fall), the qualifying times should be lowered and more races ought to have entry standards like Boston. After high school, there are few real places to "compete" athletically. Truly competitive runners should be able to have their day, too.

Do you think Boston's times should be lowered?


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