The Boston Sprint

For years, I’ve been fascinated by the Boston Marathon. A few facts for the uninitiated:

1. Boston is the oldest continually run marathon in the United States. The 2011 race will be the 115th running.
2. In 1970, the Boston Athletic Association began imposing qualifying time requirements for entrants in order to limit the field.
3. Boston is the only U.S. marathon (excluding Olympic and other championship races) that requires entrants to meet a qualifying time in a previous race.
4. Boston does provide spaces for runners who do not meet the qualifying standard but are running to benefit charities.
5. Qualifying for Boston (the much-sought “BQ”) is a goal for many, many, many runners.

I would love to run Boston one day. Like many runners, I want to qualify for it rather than take a charity slot. It’s a lofty goal for a slow runner like me, but a girl can dream.

For the runners who have trained and qualified this year, though, one more hurdle (if you’ll pardon bringing the track metaphor into road racing for a moment) came between them and Boston: it sold out.

Registration opened online for qualified racers at 9:00 AM EDT on October 18th. Eight hours and three minutes later, all 21,000 entries had been sold.

The popularity of the race certainly can’t be denied. Nor can the fact that the streets of Hopkinton (where the race begins) can only hold a finite number of runners. And, of course, technical difficulties with the registration didn’t help matters. (Those of you who have attempted to buy Wollmeise can empathize, I’m sure.)

There’s been quite a bit of mumbling in the last few years about tightening the qualifying standards. Last week, the Wall Street Journal turned the focus specifically on lowering the qualifying times for women, arguing that (1) women are fueling the current running boom, and (2) the finishing time gaps between elite men and women do not support the current gap in the BQ times.

Since I’m a long way from qualifying for Boston, I’m coming at this strictly as an observer. I’m wondering what folks who’ve run it or hope to run it, and especially those who are close to qualifying but not quite there, think about the possibility of tightening the standards.

Personally, I figure that by the time I’m about 70, my running speed and the BQ times might finally match up.