16 January 2011

I Hate To Say I Told You So

If you’re in the running community, there’s a good chance you’ve heard by now that the 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in a record of something close to eight hours. Not weeks or days, but eight hours. Unprecedented, right?

Well, I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

I haven’t gotten around to telling my part of the story till now, but it’s worth telling. For those not attuned to this process, I’ll provide a little history first. Until two years ago, Boston registration was a leisurely pursuit. The problem was qualifying, not signing up for the race. Once you’d qualified, sometime over the course of the winter you strolled over to the Boston Athletic Association website and signed up. No big deal. But that changed in the fall of ’09. The 2010 race filled rapidly and registration closed by mid-November after only about nine weeks. Shock and sadness hit the procrastinator corners of the running world.

Happily, no shock or sadness hit my corner. I registered promptly, got into the 2010 race, and came out of it with a 2011 qualifying time by a comfortable margin. So while others were banking on good performances in their fall marathons last year to get a qualifier, I fretted not about my summer of injuries and just noted when registration would open, October 18th.

Reality always intervenes. We are beholden in many ways, to our families, to our communities, and in a large part to our employers. So when the folks who write the paychecks say you are condemned to go to Hell (Las Vegas) for the annual rah-rah conference, you really don’t have a choice. And the date of the conference? You guessed it: October 18th (or, to be more accurate, it started on Sunday the 17th, but that’s not the point).

Now, being in Vegas, I could hope to take advantage of the time zone, since registration opened at 9 AM Eastern, and pray that at 6 AM Pacific I’d have a computer in front of me and I’d be able to register. But I wasn’t willing to take that chance. I could have also hoped to just wait a few days and sign up on my return, but it’d be a solid week’s delay seeing as we’d planned a hiking trip to Zion National Park after the conference. And I knew, I just knew, that I wouldn’t have a week.

How did I know? Two simple factors. First, think out of the box, and second, think logically like a lemming.

Nobody conceived of Boston selling out instantaneously because it hadn’t happened. In fact, I can’t think of any race I’ve participated in doing that. I’d say it’s pretty rare in the running world, though I guarantee there are plenty of data points to prove I’m wrong. But a co-worker of mine who’s into ultra mountain bike racing has told me plenty of stories of races he’s tried to enter – races which, considering the support requirements and course limitations of off-road cycling races, are much more limited in size. He’s told me stories of five hour sellouts. So, think out of the Boston box and recognize that it certainly could happen here.

But why would it? That’s easy, because people were surprised by last year’s November sellout, and they won’t wait this year. In effect, last year’s closure re-wrote the rules, which now read, “Do it right away, or else.” And it’s Boston, so they’ll make it a priority to do so. Like lemmings. Smart lemmings, in this case.

And just to add an exclamation point to this perfect storm, let’s not forget that Icelandic volcano that kept a whole bunch of runners away last year. They’ll certainly be back with a vengeance.

I hate to say I told you so, but I knew it would happen.

So a few weeks before Registration Day and before my Journey to Hell, I wrote to the BAA and explained my predicament. Folks, I’m going to be out of town with no laptop, uncertain if I can even get on a computer and even if I can, I’ll be held captive in meetings all day, and I know in my bones that this race is going to fill up fast. What can I do?

There are few documents in your life that you feel are worthy of framing and hanging on the wall. In my office? The college diploma. The proudest of the awards given to my ancestors. The stock certificate good for thousands of shares in my bankrupt former employer. And I am tempted to add to this list the email I received from the BAA, who politely replied that it would be entirely unprecedented for the race to fill up in three days, and that in effect I had nothing to worry about.

They never saw it coming.

The good part of the story is that they’re good folks, and when I insisted on not waiting, they provided a paper application which I could have at their office by the 18th, which of course I did. And off I went to Hell, where that Monday night my wife told me the news of the eight-hour sellout. By that evening, the BAA site which would typically list about forty entrants between my town and its neighbor Hudson listed exactly one. Me. Shock and awe.

The picture has gotten a little brighter. It took them a few weeks to work through verifying the web entries, and that count has now risen from one to eight between our towns, but it’s still only eight, instead of fortyish. Sadness, because it won’t be quite the same without the big local contingent.

So in the end, I’m in. And I’m in because I refused to believe what the BAA believed about their own race. All in all, I know it sounds a bit arrogant, but I can’t help finding that a bit funny. I hate to say I told you so.

The irony here is that despite holding one of those prize entries, if things don’t heal up pretty soon my participation will be in jeopardy anyway. But I’ll still have a fun story to tell.

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