What does ‘Qualifying’ mean?

I have run in two marathons. The first one, I ran ‘to finish’, the second one I ran to beat 4 hours, which I did in 3:57. I am extremely proud of both races.

Of course, most marathoners dream of running in Boston. THE Boston Marathon is the most prestigious marathon in the world. To add to its prestige, one must qualify to run in the Boston Marathon by running another marathon in a qualifying time. I don’t generally have a problem with rules like this, except when they are broken.

A few months ago, I read a Runner’s World story about how comedian Will Ferrell was running in the Boston Marathon. The only problem is that Will Ferrell seems to run slower than I do, which is far, far below the qualifying times for the Boston. Then I read other stories of how some people run the Boston Marathon in 8 hours. Huh? Isn’t this supposed to be an elite event with difficult and stringent qualifying criteria?

So how many people run in the Boston Marathon who could not qualify? Looking at the results from the 2003 Boston Marathon, it seems that 71.0% of men in ages 18-39 ran Boston slower than 3:15. In other words, 71% of the men could not use Boston to qualify for another Boston Marathon! Worse, 20.0% of men in the same age group ran above 4:06, or 25% slower than the qualifying time! Even with a difficult course and warm conditions, it seems to me that 1 in 5 men are not qualified to run in the Boston Marathon.

Sour grapes? Maybe. But maybe the BAA should be more honest about the qualifying criteria. Or maybe they are hiding something to protect the prestige of the event? (Maybe that’s why I had to hack the query to get these statistics from their website!)

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