The Boston Athletic Association has announced new standards for its most elite race: the Boston Marathon. After decades of the same qualifying times, all the times are going to change in 2013. For next year, registration will be staggered so that those who ran the fastest get first dibs on the slots. And across the country, a collective sigh from frustrated runners can be heard.
Five minutes is a lot of time in running speak, and as someone who has been trying for the past two years to qualify for the Boston Marathon, this is a huge blow. I was confident I could run the 3:40 that was required for my age bracket (under 35), but I'm not confident I can run a 3:35. And even if I could run a 3:35, now it seems I still might not get a bib.
The new qualifying times and registration procedures came in after the 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in a record 8 hours and 3 minutes in October. With the race filling so quickly, thousands of qualifiers were unable to register.
I get it intellectually and, in my heart, I know the new standards are right, but damn it. It pisses me off. I have worked really, really hard for a long time and I was going to struggle to hit that 3:40. I ran my first marathon in 3:48 and it was no small task. The idea of dropping a full 13 minutes seems next to impossible.
I blame the popularity of running. In recent years, marathoning has shifted from something that only elite runners did to something that even Biggest Loser contestants do over the course of six long hours. More runners mean more competition, and as more people run marathons as a "life goal," others have started running it faster. This pushed the standards higher.
The more accessible marathoning has become, the more the races have started to fill up. The Boston Marathon is one of the few races that has qualifying standards. Now, because of the influx of charity runners and the popularity of marathon running in general, it's getting even harder to get into.
If more marathons set up qualifying times, Boston might be able to spread the wealth a bit and there would be less competition for the coveted Beantown bibs. There needs to be more race slots for more competitive runners. They may not have the same cache as Boston, but at least faster runners would have places to compete. It's painful to realize that all the work I have done to get into Boston may be spoiled by the fact that the race is just too damn popular. Five years ago, it took months to sell every bib. Now it takes hours.
I want to run Boston because it's the hometown race I grew up watching. I became a runner in Boston and I want to experience all the joy and pain of the race, but I don't want to do it without earning my spot. I will still get there. I'm nothing if not determined, but it's going to be a lot harder than I thought.
What do you think of the new times?