Boston Marathon FOMO

“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!

Podcast flashback: Squeaking into the Boston Marathon. "How did they get the mouse to stand still?" asked Dimity, causing Sarah to burst into laughter that you can still hear today.


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.

In 2013, having just turned onto Boylston Street in the Boston Marathon. The finish line was in sight. But I didn't cross because of the bombings. My heart to everyone affected. #BostonStrong


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.)


Last April Des Linden famously withstood fierce headwinds in an epic Nor'easter to at last win the Boston Marathon. Hooray!

“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.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the OG BAMR, age 61, will run the Boston marathon with the goal of sub 3:15. Dang!

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!


Do you dream about running it—or not care at all?

16 responses to “Boston Marathon FOMO

  1. ‘HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME’ – ahahaha. (I’m pretty sure ‘fear in a handful of dust’ sums up all my pre-race nerves ever.) I’m 34, and I estimate that if I keep getting faster at my current rate, and standards get tighter at their current rate, I will toe the start line in Hopkinton in ~25 years. This year, I’m looking forward to spectating. Enjoy Paris in the springtime!

  2. I ran it in 2016 for the first time and qualified again this past fall crushing my PR (but the fact that they changed the times for 2020 were in the back of my mind). Right before Christmas I slipped on black ice while out for a run and broke my ankle severely. Thankfully, my qualification put me in the mix for Boston 2020. I’m sidelined from running, totally have FOMO about this year’s race, but next year at Boston will be my victory run — a comeback from injury, my first race back.

  3. Great article sent to me by my daughter who is running Boston this year. I have a better understanding of marathon runners…cheers to all you lady runners…I’ll be there cheering for all of you and your great accomplishments.

  4. So excited for all of you running Boston! And Big Sur too. Erica–that change from4:10 to 4:05 was a killer, right? Amazing what a difference those 5 minutes make (from might-be-possible to no-way-man). Hang on, we’ll be 60 soon enough! 🙂 <<< [what I tell myself]

  5. It took me 5 years, 9 marathons (3 of them solid qualifying attempts), and a whole lot of hard work, discipline, grit, and grace to qualify. Then it took some perseverence when my qualifying time wasn’t “good enough”, and it turns out that my dream was never meant to just be all about me – I get to be part of a charity team and make a difference – a big difference. I am giddy with gratitude and excitement this week – I can not wait to get to Boston and soak it in!!

  6. I get to go for the first (and probably only) time in a week!! I’m so excited.

    And that mouse story is probably my FAVORITE podcast story ever.

  7. I ran my first Boston last year and I’m going back again this year. It wasn’t until my 7th marathon that I finally qualified. It took a ton of work (and aging up, too!), and I’ll never forget the feeling of my first BQ. Determination and hard work can lead to great things … if you’re working at qualifying, keep at it! You can make the dream a reality!

  8. I admire all of you BQers! LoL! I’d rather raise $7000 than kid myself that I can qualify!! I ran it last year for Mass General pediatric oncology! That’s good enough for me!!

  9. I was one of those in the 80’s who ran and missed the 3:2o by just minutes and I didn’t run another marathon for almost decade. I was fortunate to qualify in 2005 and ran it in 2006. It was hard but memorable. I re-qualified a few times but never went back to run Boston… stuff and expense. My last BQ was in 2009 and missed qualifying my just 2 minutes the year of the bombing. Since the bombing I too have had the desire to return and maybe some day but also enjoying running for the pure joy of running. I do want to return some day but with the new standards, we’ll see. I am almost 57 so I am blessed to be healthy and at least try!

  10. I really want to BQ! I was 2 minutes and 30 seconds off my qualifying time in the fall with the new standard so now I’m trying again in May. Lucky for me I’m training with 3 friends and we’re all trying to qualify. We may be a little obsessed!

  11. I have dreamed, and ever since my 55-second “squeaker” at Chicago in 2013 left me edged out of it (by 7 seconds,) I have been trying some more. In 7 days, I finally get my shot at it, and I so can’t wait. It’s going to be my last* marathon, so it will be truly memorable, for countless reasons! (*I know, never say never…). Looking forward to my uglycry at the finishline — it’s going to be an epic Polaroid moment.

  12. I ran it last year for the first time and I have qualified and will be returning this weekend to run it on April 15th. 🙂 I am super excited to be running this Grand Race for the second time, but to qualify now will be tough… Even at 53, it will be tough at 3:55. Best of luck to everyone who is running. 🙂 Tish, Paris will be wonderful.

  13. I envy that you were able to run it Tish! I’m four years shy of 60 and can’t say I’ve not toyed with the idea but would have knock roughly 45 minutes off my last marathon time. Love that you listed other April marathons to dampen the FOMO. I’m running Big Sur this year. Enjoy Paris, that sounds amazing!

  14. I’m 54 and was trying to qualify last November for the 55-59 AG but a month before the race, the qualifying times changed from 4:10 to 4:05, I lost my momentum, and actually ended up with a DNF for that race. Big sigh! I have my redemption marathon coming up in 5 weeks with a goal of just finishing. So, I’m also looking down the road to the next AG qualifying time. We can do it!!

  15. Dreams… yes. As I’m an older runner, I may make it someday. I’m going to Chicago this year though, so if I never make it to Boston, at least I will have CHI 🙂

  16. Yes, I would love to run it one day, but it would be very hard for me to get my time down to qualify. I’m 47. This year I’m going to cheer on my 26 year old niece who qualified by 12 minutes! She’s going to kick some butt! I’m so excited to experience it from the sidelines!

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