Thursday, May 6, 2010

Boston Qualifying Standards

Chuck had commented on my blog about the Boston qualifying standards and wanted to know what I thought about them, so I did a little research and number crunching and this is what I came up with.

My first thought is, well 3:10 is hard but not too hard so the qualifying standards for males under 35 is too easy. Then, I thought about age-grade and what that means. For those of you that don't know, age-grade is a percentage given to a finishing time with the runners age taken into account. It is then compared to the world record and given a percentage. This is helpful when comparing times over a running career. Say you ran 3:00 for the marathon when you were 30 years old. This would give you an age grade of 69.4%. If you ran 3:20 when you were 60 years old you would have an age grade of 76.6%, meaning that the later was a more impressive effort. You can then compare your times and efforts as you get older. Let's face it, unless you are Dale Lister, as you get older you will get slower.

So I plugged in all the age group qualifying times for the Boston Marathon and found that they were very close to age-grade percentages. All the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon were around 64-66% on age grade. So how good is 65% and what does this all mean. Runners World lists these different tiers for age grade scores:
60% is Local Class
70% is Regional Class
80% is National Class
90% is World Class
100% is equivalent to World Record

So the Boston Marathon qualifying times are somewhere between local class and regional class.

The history of the Boston Marathon is great. This year was the 114th running of the race. They have changed the qualifying standards many times over the years. In recent history the qualifying times have slowed. In 1980 the qualifying standard was 2 hours 50 minutes for men 19-39. In 1987 the qualifying time was set at 3 hours for the same age group, and in 1990 the standard was increase to 3 hours 10 minutes which also increased the field size to over 9,000 (it had never been over 7,000). The qualifying standards that are in place today, which increase every 5 years of age after the age of 35, started in 2003. When this happened the field size increased from 16,936 to 20,223. The standards have not been changed since then.

Chuck, the extra 59 seconds that you mentioned is nothing new. As far as I know the extra time has been in place since 2003. I know for a fact that it was in place when I qualified in 2006 and ran in 2008. What this means is that if your qualifying time is 3:10 then you can run 3:10:59 and still be qualified to run the Boston Marathon. I do think that is ridiculous, if you have to run under 3:10 then you should have be UNDER 3:10, but I think the reason they added 59 seconds is to cut back on all the letters begging to run Boston by people that ran 3:10:01.

The problem they are beginning to run into, which most race directors would say is a GOOD problem to have, is that they are selling out WAY too quickly. Last year for the first time they sold out for the April 2010 race in 2009! This is beginning to happen because as more "newbies" qualify, more people are deciding to run Boston every year because after running it for the first time they realize how AWESOME it really is and want to do it every year. Also, running a BQ or Boston Qualifier and then running the Boston Marathon, has become this huge motivational goal for many people who are fulfilling a life long dream because of the mystique and history of the race. It is truly amazing how hard and long people will train and run to reach this goal. "Running Boston" is now earning our degree in marathoning.

The race directors knew how much this accomplishment meant to runners and in 2003 changed the qualifying times and made it easier to increase thier field size to make the Boston Marathon one of the largest marathons in the world while maintaining its qualifying standards. Now the Boston Marathon has a field of over 22,000 participants every year. In 2008, when I ran, the race surpassed 25,000 runner for the first time. They are now filling the field quicker and quicker.

Some people now think that the qualifying standards for the race are too easy and that is why the race is selling out quicker and quicker. They are correct it is "easy" enough for many more people to run than they can accommodate, but is it too easy?

My personal opinion is that they are right on the verge of being too easy. If they go back to the standard of 2 hours and 50 minutes for runners under the age of 40 then they will not be able to make the Boston Marathon a 20,000+ runner race that they want (this is a business and huge economic money maker). So where do they draw the line? Well they already have drawn the line and created the standards that they do today. I don't think they can go back and take that away or runners on the bubble everywhere will be dissappointed and upset.

I do think they could still make a very competitive and large field if they changed their standards to match age grade at 70% which is concidered by runners world to be "Regional Class." If this were to happen then the qualifying standards would be as follows:
Men 18-39 (3:00)
Men 40-44 (3:03)
Men 45-49 (3:10)
Men 50-54 (3:19)
Men 55-59 (3:28)
Men 60-64 (3:38)
Men 65-69 (3:50)
Men 70-74 (4:02)
Men 75-79 (4:19)
Men 80+ (4:46)

Maybe this would be this would limit their field size too much, but I think runners everywhere would continue to strive to make those times and make it an even more elite group of "Regional Class" runners. I do think the extra 59 seconds is dumb, but I think I understand why they do it.

I always thought it would be cool to make the original 1980 qualifying time of 2:50 just to say I did it. I think I have a 2:50 in me but it would take a few years of consistent training and the right race on just the right day.

Like I said before, the current qualifying standards are still excellent marks to strive for and certainly guarantee that the Boston Marathon entrants will be full and exceed 25,000 every year, and that is a good thing. Maybe it is because I have run under 3 hours twice now, but I think they could be a little more tough on who qualifies for their awesome race.

There was an excellent article in Running Times in the May 2010 issue on how the qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon have motivated hundreds of thousands of runners to run faster and train harder, and get into shape so that they too can experience the Boston Marathon for themselves.

Don't forget to watch Thirsty Thursdays with Jack Daniels this week.

And good luck to Zac Patten, who is doubling in the 1600m and 3200m at the DML Finals this Friday.


Chuck said...

Wow! What a great post! You did an excellent job researching and number crunching. I totally agree with everything that you wrote. I really appreciate all of the information and effort it took. This post should be printed in Running Times magazine.

I never knew that the extra 59 seconds existed. I was surprised when I saw the BQ next to my results from the OC Marathon. I assumed that I had to run a sub 3:35. Looking at your regional class qualifyling standards, a sub 3:19 for Men 50-54 is a time that I would be happy with.

Daniel said...

I noticed you listed the age-graded numbers for males, which got me thinking about the female standards. I know they are trying to draw more women into marathoning, but do you think it is fair to have the standard for women always set 30 minutes slower than the men? I haven't crunched the numbers in terms of how many people qualify, but it seems like holding 8:20s for females sounds way easier than 7:15s for males in my age group. I read an article on Runners World that said if they go by the age-graded system, qualifying would get way harder for women.

ecarson said...

This is a great post. My own goal is to run sub 3 hour races; it will take a lot -- which I am willing to give. It is a tough mark. The reality is this, whatever the standard is set at, runners will work to meet it. I am thinking 5 minutes -- no more than 10 off the time.