A Wicked Pissah: Registering for Boston

It’s that most wonderful time of the year … maybe … and that is a BIG maybe.  There was a time when this time heading into the fall marathon season was one of the most exhilarating on the calendar, because it’s when Boston Marathon registration opens!!!  All the Beantown hopefuls setting alarms, realigning their budgets, and throwing their hats into the ring to see if “the odds be ever in your favor.”  But nowadays, is that really the case?  Is it full of excitement and anticipation?  Or, has it taken a turn and is filed with uncontrollable anxiety, tears, and, at times, desperation.  Phone calls, emails, messenger pigeons, smoke signals, candygrams, you friggin’ name it, I’ve received them all and with the same question posed in each, “Do you think I’ll get to run Boston?” 

Pre-2011, the answer to this question was quite simple and came with its own basic set of instructions:

  • Step 1 – Run a Boston qualifying standard time during the year.

  • Step 2 – Log on to the BAA marathon website on your designated date and time and register.  

  • Step 3 – If you ARE one of the lucky ones to make through the entirety of the process without your computer or the website inconveniently crashing, you submit your information and BOOM, registered, bring it on Heartbreak Hill!!!

If you didn’t happen to get through and register, it wasn’t that big a deal.  I say that knowing full well that it was still a big deal, but one that you accepted and moved on from.  Of course, it absolutely sucks to put the work in, run the time, and not get in, but you had the same chance as everyone else that was trying to enter at that time.  It, in my humble opinion, was a fair and just system, regardless of whether their qualifying time was one second or 20-minutes faster than the standard, everyone had the same first-come-first-serve chance of being accepted.

Today, in the post-2011 running era, I have a lot harder time saying that everyone gets a fair shot at being accepted.  The process is a lot messier for entrants and the level of anxiety so much higher.  It looks a lot more like:

  • Step 1 – Run a Boston qualifying standard time during the year.

  • Step 2 – Log on to the BAA marathon website at your designated date and time and register.  

  • Step 3 – Sit there hoping that it wasn’t an Olympic cycle year and that times weren’t super-fast, because even if your finishing time meets the standard, it may not be fast enough to get you to Hopkinton.  Wait, what?!

Athletes’ anxiety doesn’t wait for registration day to make its first appearance, it can show up the very day they think they may have qualified fast enough to guarantee their entry … or not.  I’ve met athletes of mine minutes after finishing their qualifying marathon and before I even have the chance to open my mouth to congratulate them they’re asking if I think it will be fast enough to ensure their spot for Boston next year.  I completely understand making the Boston Marathon as competitive as humanly possible, as it is the crown jewel of the marathoning world, but I also feel that it is something that every runner that has qualified should have a fair shot at having their Boston experience, because you never know what could happen the next year or beyond that could keep them from ever having the opportunity again. 

So, the question becomes: is the current system fair and just?  If not, how would you fix it?  Would you simply move the women’s qualifying standard time forward 5-minutes, like the BAA did with the men and return to the old system, which may be a little fairer and more equitable?  Would you keep the standards as is and simply go with a lottery system for qualifying athletes, which may level the field for everyone?