May 16, 2013
Running the 118th Boston Marathon
If you want to run the 2014 Boston Marathon (a.k.a. the 118th), you have a tough road in front of you. I’ve had a few people ask for advice for getting in. Until we hear more from the BAA, it boils down to: first, get a BQ. Second, get the best BQ you can. Third, pay attention.
There is a lot of discussion about the B.A.A. making allowances for the 118th, relaxing the standards or raising the entry cap. I’ll address this later. Until an official announcement is made, we’re playing by the usual rules, except that there are several thousand runners—those who weren’t able to finish the 117th when the finish line shut down—who will be offered automatic entry, thus beginning to fill the field before registration even opens.
If you already have your BQ, that makes things easier. If you don’t have a BQ, you’ll need to chase one (and if you do have one, you may still want a better time; I’ll get to that later too).
Chances to chase standards are pretty sparse right now. The reason is pretty simple: in most of the country, it’s already too hot to run a fast marathon, and if it isn’t, it will be soon. Entry is scheduled to open in September, so there may be a chance to run a BQ in September (the actual opening date hasn’t been announced yet), but October is almost certainly too late.
It sounds like relatively few people are trying to jump in marathons right away, which is sound; it may be possible to finish a marathon on a month’s training, but running a BQ is not that easy for most.
If you can be ready within six or eight weeks and can travel anywhere, some options open up. There’s Grandma’s in Minnesota, if that hasn’t filled; that’s in mid-June. Likewise the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. There are plenty of races on the calendar but many of them are e.g. trail marathons, actually known for being challenging due to heat, or otherwie tough qualifiers. (There should be extra points for anyone who gets a BQ at the Johnny Miles Marathon.)
Even if you’ve got a BQ under your belt already, the increased demand for the 118th may pose a challenge. It’s been a few years since a BQ meant your entry was assured; more recently, faster is better. Essentially, the faster your BQ, the earlier you get to register, and the more likely your registration will be successful. Therefore, there are BQs, good BQs (5-10 minutes faster than cutoff) and really good BQs (10+ minutes faster than cutoff).
If you’ve got a really good BQ, you’re probably in. If you’ve got a good one, I wouldn’t make promises, but you’re probably OK. If you don’t have a good BQ, you might want to think about improving it. For that, you’ll want to look deep into the summer, even into early September, with the idea of getting into great shape in the summer and hitting one out of the park as close to the registration opening date as you can. You could do worse than to look at Clarence DeMar for this one. (Someone needs to come up with a circuit of races named for Boston champions.)
Finally, pay attention and be ready to change plans if things come up which help you. I’ve already heard of one pop-up marathon scheduled for late summer expressly to give people a shot at qualifying; odds are there will be more. Look for one with a speedy, certified course (I can’t emphasize this point enough), chip timing, and an early-morning start (or other accommodations for heat). It may even be a good idea to have a Plan A and a Plan B.
Now, about the BAA: One thing they understand is that while they own the Boston Marathon on paper, in practice it’s a sort of public trust. They are going to do whatever they can for the 118th, and I expect they are exploring the option of a one-time raising of the entry cap. (The idea of a lottery, the way they ran it in 1996, has been floated as well, but in my opinion that’s not going to go over well if they can’t first allow in all the BQs who wish to run, so if I wanted to run I would be looking for a BQ before I put my hopes in a lottery.)
The hangup is that the field limit is not set arbitrarily by the BAA; it’s a limit more or less imposed on them by the towns the course passes through, principally Hopkinton, which has to support the starting area. Hopkinton becomes the running community’s public urinal for a few hours every April and bears it with remarkable good grace, but they have much less open space now than they did in 1996. Staging 30,000 or 40,000 runners through that town, if it’s allowed to happen, will take a lot of time and patience.
If the cap is lifted for the 118th, we will all owe the towns, especially Hopkinton, a greater-than-usual debt of gratitude. So watch where you relieve yourself, please, and where you toss that empty gel packet. (I am still finding empty gel packets on the Natick roadsides a month after the race.)
The BAA is still clearing up the mess from the 117th, and they have a half-marathon to think about in October. I would not expect an announcement about the 118th until late June at the earliest, and July or August is more likely. Stay tuned, and if you want to run, start staking out that really good BQ.