“April is the cruelest month,” wrote that famous marathoner T.S. Eliot.
Sure, the daffodils were popping, starlings flocking, the earth smelling like the earth again.
But T.S. Eliot was cranky because he hadn’t run a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.
I know what you’re thinking: Oh, c’mon, T.S. Eliot? He hailed from a fancy Boston Brahmin family and went to Harvard. If he had wanted to run the Boston Marathon, race director Dave McGillivray would’ve let him in without a qualifying time. Nope!
I am lucky (old) enough to have run the Boston Marathon back in the day when you could slap your forehead in February because you’d forgotten to sign up. You could then fill out a paper registration, stick a 29-cent stamp on an envelope, and mail in the entry for the Boston Marathon just two months away.
Back then there was even a Last Train to Boston Marathon in Maryland in March (!) to qualify. HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
Which seems crazy now that it’s gotten so hard to get into the Boston Marathon that Dave McGillivray had to lower (raise?) the time standards AGAIN. Making all of our qualifying times that much faster. Le sigh.
I am not running the Boston Marathon this year. For the record: My marathon times are nowhere near the qualifying standards. And I'm (mostly) okay with that. At least I pretend to be.
But I have run it more than any other marathon—12 times (!)—and worked at the expo/seminars at least twice, so I’ve been in Boston more times than any other place, save from childhood and current hometowns. Always in April. For die-hard old-school marathoners, April is the Boston Marathon. Or “the marathon,” as locals call it.
Because I typically qualify with the slimmest of margins—the OG squeaker—these recent standard adjustments have put qualifying sufficiently out of my reach that I can stop worrying about trying. I look at the new time standards and think, Okay, if I can hold onto my fitness, and train really hard, and maybe stop drinking wine and eating ice cream, I might be able to qualify when I’m 60. Yay! (And nah.)
“I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my GPS and wish I had 15 more minutes with which to qualify.” –T.S. Eliot
Truth be told, I don’t even love the Boston marathon (sorry, Dave McGillivray!). It’s hard, man! It goes downhill for 16 miles and then up for the last 10K. What sadist thought up that course? Back in the day, it started at high noon, or 12:30 for those of us in the back of the pack, meaning we got to spend 4 hours running on a hot April day through sunny shade-less streets. Whee!
But then April rolls around and of course a part of me wishes I were there. It is a huge honor to qualify. I might argue it’s an especially big deal for those of us who squeak in, because it’s not a gimme. As the only marathon that non-elites have to qualify for, it’s a privilege just to be there. The third weekend in April in Boston feels like a one big marathon-con.
And there’s a lot to get excited about this year in particular: Defending champ Des Linden, who won last year while battling an epic Nor’easter. Our favorite mom-of-four-daughters-from-Ethiopia Sara Hall. Recent U.S. citizen Sally Kipyego, a “monster talent,” according to the elite analysts at letsrun. Kenya’s always fierce Edna Kiplagat. Ethiopia’s Meskerem Assefa. NYC champion and local hero Shalane Flanagan doing race-day commentary (thank you, sweet running-TV gods). The OG BAMR Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the Boston Marathon in 1979 in an American record of 2:35:15, going back 40 years later hoping to run within 40 minutes of her first time.
Dang! Even if you never cared about qualifying, doesn’t this kinda make you wish you were going to Boston?
[Sidebar: Sources report there will also be some fast men who will run fast times.]
Which may be why—to avoid Boston FOMO—I flee to OTHER CONTINENTS to run races in April (schedule and budget permitting). Two years ago it was Two Oceans Marathon, in Cape Town, South Africa, and this year, daughter Nina, BF Rick and I are going to Paris for the marathon on April 14. (Big Sur is another fantastic April alternative.) Yay!
On Monday, April 15, I’ll “watch” the Boston Marathon from Paris (probably via Twitter). With mad respect for everyone who is running. Deep bows to qualifiers. Big hugs to the good folks who run to raise money for charities. It’s your turn. Enjoy the day for all of us!
Some fast facts about qualifying for the Boston marathon
(with thanks to Scott Douglas of Runner’s World)
During the first running boom, in the early 1970s, more than 1,000 runners were considered too many, so the BAA established the prior-race test: For the 1970 marathon, you had to prove you had finished 26.2 miles in 4:00 or better; 1,067 runners registered. (None were women, who weren’t allowed to register until 1972, and to do so, we had to post the same qualifying time as men.)
Since then, the standards have changed 12 times (or so; I need to fact-check that).
During the early 1980s, to control the growth of the marathon, men (ages 19 to 39) had to run 2:50 and women 3:20. It worked: Only 5,388 runners completed the 1983 race. Among them was Joan Benoit Samuelson, who finished in a then world-record time of 2:22:43.
Rolling registration—which allows the “fastest” qualifiers, those with 20+ minutes under their standards to register first—was instituted in 2011 after the one-size-fits-all 2010 Boston registration sold out in 8 hours.
Scott Douglas reports: For the last several years, some runners with a qualifying standard did not gain entry, because more than 24,000 (the rough number of qualifier spots) tried to register. For the 2019 marathon, more than 7,000 time qualifiers were not accepted. For the 2019 race, runners needed to better their age and gender standard by at least 4:52.
Because of the high number of runners left on the sidelines, the BAA changed the qualifying standards for the 2020 Boston Marathon. Across all age groups for both genders, runners must now be 5 minutes faster than the previous qualifying standards.
What does that mean for us?
Women age 18-34 need 3:30 (or faster)
Women age 34-39 need 3:35
Women age 40-44 need 3:40
Women age 45-49 need 3:50
Women age 50-54 need 3:55
Women age 55-59 need 4:05
Women age 60-64 need 4:20 <<< where I’m pinning my future hopes. Wish me luck with that!