The Boston Athletic Association released new registration procedures for the Boston Marathon this week (see this news article for details). Essentially it boils down to the fact that qualification standards are going to get tougher by 5 minutes (actually 6 minutes due to the revoking of the 59 second rule) and that registrants that exceed their qualification time by a greater margin will have priority registration. By doing this the B.A.A. hope to assemble a stronger field than any other marathon.
There seems to be a lot of debate in the running community over whether this decision is a good or bad thing. It was certainly clear that the registration process had to change; the race sold out this year in just a few hours, leaving many qualified runners unable to register due to work or home obligations. I felt especially bad for some runners of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Marathon this year who were attempting Boston qualifying times on a course that turned out to be longer than a marathon. Boston registration opened and closed the next day, and I’m sure more than a few runners were frustrated when their non-qualifying times were adjusted to qualifying times weeks later. Too little, too late for these athletes.
My opinion of the move is mixed. While I think the tightening of the qualification standards was inevitable, changing the registration process to favor faster runners is unfair. There are plenty of runners capable of running well under their qualification times, and with the current running boom the demand is certainly high enough to sell out the field through “advance registrations” only. This may mean that runners who run a qualifying time within 5 minutes of the standard are not even given the opportunity to register! If the B.A.A. wants to limit the field to faster runners, which is certainly their right, they should do it solely by tightening the standards and not by introducing strange new registration practices. From 1980-1986 the marathon qualifying time for men under age 40 was 2:50, and they had no problems filling the field then. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t introduce such strict standards again? Why not reduce the times by 10 minutes instead of 5 and leave the registration open? At least then runners will have a goal to shoot for instead of “you need to run 3:05, but probably 3:00 to be safe.”
It seems to me that the attempt here is to avoid facing too much negative press by using a wishy-washy registration process, but I think they should just come right out and say it: if you want to run Boston, you are going to have to run faster. For me nothing changes. In 2013 I will be 36 and my qualification time will be the same 3:10 that it is now, but that’s not going to stop me from training for a 3:00 marathon.