Is qualifying for the Boston Marathon an attainable goal? Will I ever qualify for the Boston Marathon? Since I decided to run a marathon, these questions have always been on my mind, and the answer has always been the same… No way!
For most amateur runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is like winning a chance to participate in the Olympic Games—the pinnacle of their running careers. While on paper the Boston Marathon may seem like just another racing event, when you take into account its rich tradition and prestige, it becomes something much more, almost mythical and sacred in nature. Athletes from around the world dream of qualifying for and completing the 26.2-mile race between Hopkinton and downtown Boston, conquering the iconic Heartbreak Hill that steeply rises just before mile 21, and finally crossing the finish line.
But what sets Boston apart from other marathons? Why is it so popular? For starters, it’s the world’s oldest annual marathon, and except for the 2020 edition, has been held every year since 1897, even amid world wars. More importantly, the Boston Marathon, due to its strict qualifying times, represents a fabulous challenge for amateur runners , which is often the culmination of years of hard training and dedication to the sport of running.
Back in 2019, when I ran my first marathon in 3:56:45, the idea running the same distance in less than 3:10 (that’s a pace of 7:14 minutes per mile for 26.2 miles) seemed ridiculous. As I turned 40 that year, I told myself that I was too late to marathon running. I wasn’t fit enough, my body couldn’t endure the amount of training required to run a Boston Marathon qualifier.
I was wrong. Four years later, I still haven’t met the required time, but perseverance and determination through several marathon training cycles have made qualifying for the Boston Marathon an attainable goal, or at the very least, not an unreasonable wish. Last fall, I ran the Amsterdam Marathon in 3:13:30 a time that was enough to qualify for the Chicago Marathon and gave me the confidence to attempt to break the 3:10 barrier and achieve the coveted Boston-qualifier status.
WHAT ARE THE QUALIFYING TIMES FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON?
Besides the charity program (and expensive travel packages), the only way to enter the Boston Marathon is to meet the time standards which correspond to age and gender. Unlike other major marathons, there isn’t a lottery system to pick entrants. During a qualifying window that last roughly a year, athletes must run a certified marathon and achieve qualifying time.
As more and more people are better trained and run faster, the time standards have gotten even more challenging. Any man under 34 must run a sub-3 marathon before having the chance to compete in Boston. These are the current qualifying times for the Boston Marathon:
|18-34||3hrs 00min 00sec||3hrs 30min 00sec|
|35-39||3hrs 05min 00sec||3hrs 35min 00sec|
|40-44||3hrs 10min 00sec||3hrs 40min 00sec|
|45-49||3hrs 20min 00sec||3hrs 50min 00sec|
|50-54||3hrs 25min 00sec||3hrs 55min 00sec|
|55-59||3hrs 35min 00sec||4hrs 05min 00sec|
|60-64||3hrs 50min 00sec||4hrs 20min 00sec|
|65-69||4hrs 05min 00sec||4hrs 35min 00sec|
|70-74||4hrs 20min 00sec||4hrs 50min 00sec|
|75-79||4hrs 35min 00sec||5hrs 05min 00sec|
|80 and over||4hrs 50min 00sec||5hrs 20min 00sec|
There’s a catch, though. Historically, the number of applicants who qualify exceeds the marathon’s field size, which means that meeting the time standard doesn’t necessarily guarantee entry.
So how are eligible runners cut to keep within the field size limit? Simple: you have to be faster.
Once all registration applications have been received, an established ‘cut-off time’ is determined. The cut-off times vary each year and might make the qualifying time several minutes harder. For example, in 2019 the cut-off time was 4:52 and over 7,000 qualifiers were not accepted.
If I want to increase my chances of qualifying for the 2024 Boston Marathon and avoid being cut, I must aim to run well below the qualifying standard for my age group (40-45). For that, my running coach gradually increased my weekly mileage 60 miles this past winter and optimized my workouts so I can run faster and finish my next marathon in 3:05. This has meant weeks and weeks of grueling interval trainings sessions and longer Sunday long runs in the cold, plus lots and lots of low-intensity slow running.
Even if I achieve a Boston qualifier this spring, I won’t know what the cut-off time will be until long after I’ve submitted my application in September. This added challenge only makes qualifying for Boston an even more remarkable accomplishment.
BOSTON MARATHON: A RACE OF FIRSTS FOR EQUALITY
Earning a ticket to Boston isn’t easy, but the race’s long and storied history make this endeavor worthwhile. The Boston Marathon isn’t only the world’s oldest marathon, but it’s also been the scenario of major historic moments. The most significant of them happened in the mid 1960s when two brave women changed the course of running as a sport forever. Before 1966, women were told they were physically unable to run marathon and, of therefore, they were prohibited from participating in long-distance races.
Hiding in the bushes before the start and wearing a hoodie to disguise herself, Bobbi Gibb stepped onto the course of the 1966 Boston Marathon and joined the 540 official, male, participants.
Hiding in the bushes before the start and wearing a hoodie to disguise herself, Bobbi Gibb stepped onto the course of the 1966 Boston Marathon and joined the 540 official, male, participants. Running without a bib, as a bandit, the 23-year-old finished in 3:21:40, blazing a trail towards equality and becoming the first woman to run and complete the Boston Marathon.
A year later, Kathrine Switzer signed up for the race with her initials K.V. Switzer. Because her gender was not clear on the entry form, her official registration was approved, so she could stand on the starting line wearing bib number 261. Remember, despite Gibb’s run the previous, women weren’t allowed to run marathons yet, so just over two miles into the race an angry official chased, tackled, and tried to pull the young woman out of the race. Her boyfriend pushed the official away and Switzer finished the race in 4:20, becoming the first woman to register and complete the Boston Marathon.
Still, it took another five years, until 1972, before women were officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon. Fifty years later, 42% of the field consisted of women.
In another major milestone for inclusion, the 2023 Boston Marathon has joined Chicago, New York, and other majors, and added a division for nonbinary runners, allowing nonbinary athletes to compete without having to register in either the men’s or women’s categories.
YOU CAN RUN THE BOSTON MARATHON, TOO
Perhaps now you’re asking yourself the same question, will I ever run the Boston Marathon? Can I quality for Boston Marathon? Yes, you can.
While the race is challenging to get in, it doesn’t exclude amateur runners and anyone willing to put in the work for several years. Most of us have a shot at qualifying for the Boston Marathon sooner or later in our running careers. Just the pursuit is worthwhile as The Boston qualifying standard drives many people throughout years of running as a mark of achievement.
If you ever get to cross the finish line on Boylston Street, you can wear a Boston Marathon t-shirt or jacket, knowing that you’ve met a high standard to get there.
Photo: Sonia Bustos. See her work at: http://soniabustos.pixieset.com