11 May 2012


I am reminded during this political season (though, when is it not political season?) of the old joke that goes something to the effect of, “How many times can you hit a liberal before he’ll hit back?” Conveniently skipping the morass of any political commentary, I’ll simply translate that to, “”How many times can you hit a marathoner before he’ll hit back?” The answer appears to be precisely one.

We’re in an unprecedented bounce-back season it appears. On the heels of the Boston Bake-Fest, many of my marathoning friends have found themselves in an unusual position: without a Boston Marathon Qualifier, and though months away, with the Boston registration season looming large. These people are not taking it sitting down. They’re taking it to the streets.

Used to be (ah, the good old days…) that you had plenty of time in the fall to nab a qualifier. Then came that famed eight-hour sellout of 2010, and the world changed rapidly. The Boston Athletic Association made changes, the world grumbled, and we moved on. Frankly, I thought the scheme to sign up on day one, day three, day five, based on where you stood vis-à-vis your qualifying time was a good idea. Of course, I wasn’t at any risk with that scheme, so why wouldn’t I think it was a good idea? But if Boston is to continue as a race primarily for qualified runners, it’s fair to give an edge up based on one’s level of qualification. Further tightening the qualifying times was right in line with that philosophy. Someday I too may find myself on the outs and grumble, but I cannot complain about the fairness of the system.

But the other major change puzzled me when it was announced, continues to puzzle me, and today is vexing a whole lot of runners who were baked and basted out of their expected requalification last month on the skillet from Hopkinton to Wellesley. That’s the odd fact that the BAA moved the qualifying deadline up from mid-October to mid-September. If your intent is to bring together the most qualified marathoners to maintain the elite nature of the event, it makes sense that those qualifying times be recorded relatively close to the event. By moving this date back, the BAA has eliminated the bulk of the fall marathon season – the optimal time weather-wise – from the pool of qualifying opportunities for the following year’s race. This forces runners to use much earlier races to qualify.

Fall marathons still count due to the roughly eighteen month window, but only for the following year. A lot can happen to a runner in that period of time. It seems to me that it would have made more sense to reduce the window length to winnow out the long-past races, but keep the immediately preceding fall season within the window. It seems to me this would have produced a field more likely to be in “Boston” condition. But I’m sure they had their reasons, so who am I to judge?

I’m sitting in a comfortable position, since my race at Bay State last fall, which didn’t count to get me into this year’s Boston but did count to improve my seeding once I was in, now counts to get me into next year’s race. Provided the registration process works well again as it did this year, I’m set, with a solid time for seeding. On top of that, I was fortunate to be one of the few who, despite the heat, would have requalified with my Boston time, with over twenty minutes to spare, a big advantage with the new registration system. I don’t need to scramble.

But a lot of other folks do. People who qualify year after year suddenly found themselves on the outs. For many, each Boston is the primary route to requalify for the following Boston, and if for some reason that race went poorly, they’d pop in a fall marathon, get their time, and be done with it. No longer. It’s now a case of doing it now, before the summer heat (one hopes, look what happened last month), or traveling northward and hoping for a cool day in early September, a pretty big gamble with that deadline looming.

Most people don’t stack marathons back-to-back. I’ve done it with the Boston-Buffalo combo a number of times, but typically to raised eyebrows. My compatriots are now exploring that world. Granted, the slower pace of this year’s Boston did reduce the pounding and wear-and-tear factor, so one could construe it to have been a full-scale training run, and see a follow-on race as not quite so absurd.

And so off they go, a few to Providence last weekend, where two of my friends did get their qualifiers, one blowing a huge personal best with and leaving himself room to spare, one uncomfortably close to his needed time, leaving him still at risk based o the new registration process. Another friend heads to Sugarloaf in Maine in a week for their famously downhill romp, and hopefully cool weather. And he found himself in the midst of a cattle herd heading north, over a dozen Boston Burned Boys all thinking the same thing. I’m quite certain that late spring marathons have seen an unusual uptick of late registrations, all owing to this strange confluence of events.

I’m set for Boston 2013, but while I’m pleased with my race considering the conditions, I’d sure like to see what the winter’s training can produce on a good day. And so I’ve tossed my hat into the ring to take on my favorite late-spring race in Buffalo again this year. I’m a little worried that the mild winter could mean a warmer-than-usual Lake Erie and the absence of cool breezes we rely on for that race. After all, last year did get hot by the end. But I’ll take my chances and see what Mother Nature deals up this time. Knock on wood, it can’t be as bad as last month.


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