Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shotgun start

Hello and welcome to my running blog. OK, enough with the small talk.

Registration for the Boston Marathon opened and closed today. Twenty-some-odd thousand folks got in the door before it slammed shut after just 8 hours and 3 minutes. Last year registration closed after 2 months, spurring much conversation in the running world about changes the Boston organizers would have to make to ensure that qualified runners had a fair shot to get in. Cut that open registration time down about 99 percent and you can be pretty sure there will be more than just talk this time around.

The BAA could do any number of things:
  • Tighten the qualifying standards for everyone, or women, or 18- to 29-year-olds.
  • Expand the field.
  • Keep the field the same size but reduce the allocation of charity runners.
  • Institute a lottery.
  • Sharply increase the entry fee.
  • Do away with reusable qualifiers. In other words, end the current practice of allowing a runner to use a qualifying time from, for example, Chicago '10 to run Boston '11 and '12.
  • Nothing.
Let's take these in reverse order. Doing nothing is out of the question. If nothing is done, next year (and every year after) it'll be like trying to buy tickets for the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden.

One-time qualifying makes the most sense. One qualifying time should not earn you a place in two Boston Marathons. Making a change, though, could be very confusing. If you just say "the qualifying time must be achieved within 12 months of the Boston Marathon" but leave the registration date the same, all you've done is make races between November and April irrelevant. The rule would have been to be "within 12 months of the opening of registration." I think the nuances of something like this make it unlikely to happen.

A lottery, on the other hand, seems plausible. New York does it, Houston does it, and I'm sure there are others. Y'all can have that because I am not interested. When I sign up for a race I assume I am running it and plan accordingly. New York and Houston (and others) are different in the sense that you don't need a qualifying time, you just need luck. A Boston lottery would probably keep the qualifying component, and thus most of its prestige. Still, it's not for me.

Increasing the entry fee might discourage about 10 people from entering. It's Boston, the most prestigious marathon in the world. They could get $500 a head, easily. Expanding the field also sounds like a non-starter from what I've read, unless they're planning to drastically widen the streets up there.

That leaves us with tightening the qualifying standards, which brings me the long way around to where I'm going. I am certain this will happen. There are more runners and they have been better trained, so it stands to reason there are a whole lot more folks at the faster end of the spectrum.

If it were up to me, the cuts would start and stop by splitting the 18-34 age group and forcing the 18- to 29-year-olds to go faster, especially on the men's side. Look at the top male finishers from Chicago this year, for instance: all 20-somethings. Make the young'uns go 3:00 or under. They can handle that.

I'd also like to see the women get a 20-minute cushion instead of 30. One of my thoughts after staggering through the final third of the Route 66 Marathon last year was that as disappointed as I was at limping the last 8 1/2 miles home, had I been female I still would have qualified for Boston. A woman of average ability might need that much of a head start compared to a comparable man, but when you're talking about BQ times you're talking about the fastest of the fast, and the women in that conversation don't need that much help.

Unfortunately, I've convinced myself that those cuts are far too controversial, and the BAA will simply opt to make everyone run 10 or 15 minutes faster. And if that's the case, I can forget about going to Boston. It's going to take all I've got to run a 3:15:59 in Tucson, so much so that I need to include the extra 59 seconds in my goal to convince myself I have a shot. Face it, I might have a couple 1:33 half marathons under my belt and the McMillan calculator might say I should make it, but the 3:38 in Tulsa shows you really can't project these things.

The stories that interest me are the ones like mine, of the folks who are right there, just good enough to be in the conversation but needing all they've got to get over the hump. Some people are much faster, and many are much slower, but I find their stories much less intriguing. The drama is not there, nor is the same sense of accomplishment. So today's events (and the imagined fallout I'm already taking to the bank) are frustrating. Maybe we'll talk again in 5 years, Boston.

(Oh yeah, this blog is totally under construction. I'm not a design expert, but I'm certainly not going to leave things looking like this -- I just wanted to get things going while the mood struck.)

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