One of the running mags had an article* a while back about ‘squeakers’ – folks who qualify for Boston – but only barely. Having made my first qualifying time by 1:03 – just a minute and 3 seconds below the requirement – I put myself firmly in that category, and have spent a few idle moments considering what that means.
First, is the randomness of any finishing time. I once finished an event in 4 hours, 0 minutes and four seconds – after having dropped my water bottle along the way and run back two steps to pick it up and replace it in my belt – easily worth five seconds. A couple of years later, another runner I know started that same event well-conditioned and focused for an under-four-hour finish, and received an official time of 4:00:00 – I after having had to stop to re-tie a shoe.
Second, it helps to find the right event to qualify on: fairly straight route (turns slow you down, right angle intersections are the worst), trending downhill (but only enough to reduce fatigue, not so much as to pound the knees and create pain that slows you down). Also helps if it is closer to sea level than wherever you live and train – even a little extra oxygen makes a difference when you are pushing your limits. Personally, I’d pick a small- to modest-sized field as well – it’s easier to set and keep a goal pace with at least a few feet of open space around you, than in a massive pack like the photos I see of some big-city runs.
(Not every marathon will get you into Boston either; only those that meet certain requirements of measurement and course are accepted. Marathons that have met the standard generally make a big point of it on their websites and ads. For a list of the top contenders check out: http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/participant-information/qualifying/top-qualifying-races.aspx )
Third, is to know your training cycle – living in snow country, my fitness and speed are best toward the end of the summer – my successful qualifications have been in August and October. If you live in a hot humid climate though, you may be fastest in the spring, when weather is more forgiving.
Fourth; know the rules. While it varies a bit each year (and could always change in future) the recent Boston regimen has been registration in early September, based on times recorded in the previous twelve months. That means you can hit a qualifying time in October of one year, register and be accepted in September of the next, then run in April of the following; up to 17 months after your qualifying event!
(There’s no carry–over, so if you qualify in one twelve-month period but can’t make the trip the following April, you’ll need to re-qualify during the next twelve month period. Clearly, it helps to plan ahead.)
Finally, be aware that, since the tragedy of 2013 and resulting upswing of interest and support, qualifying has become more competitive than ever. If you beat your time by more than 20 minutes, you’re in the first group accepted. The next group is those who beat their time by 10 minutes or more, then 5, and at least up through 2015, if you were in any of those tiers you were assured of getting in. A few days after those applications are all sorted out, registration opens up to those who made it by less than five minutes – but even then it is not first-come-first served; the faster times still take the places until they are all filled. So, if you’ve made it by, say 1:03, you won’t get in until all the 1:04 qualifiers are seated. For 2014 the organizers increased the size of the field as much as they could accommodate, and still there were qualified runners (margin of 1:37 or less) who could not be accepted, despite having qualified and gotten their registration in on time.
For a summary of the 2015 qualifying process (a margin of 1:02 made it, 1:01 did not) check out http://www.baa.org/news-and-press/news-listing/2014/september/2015-boston-marathon-qualifier-acceptances.aspx
It’s a tough way to do things, but fair, and having seen what it takes to put on this event, there’s no question in my mind that they’ve got to limit it.
So, dream, imagine. Pick a qualifying event that suits your training rhythm and your running strengths, put a reminder on your calendar for September 1, and you too may find yourself stepping over the line in Hopkinton one year. I can’t imagine you will ever regret – or forget – it!
(* Life of a Squeaker, by Tish Hamilton in Runner’s World, May 2013)