Qualify for Boston or keep the hell out

Like most runners, I’ve always had mucho respect for the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious marathon in the world, which takes place today for the 113th time.

Part of the magic, of course, is that runners are required to qualify in another marathon, with finishing times that are challenging for the average hoofer.

I’ve tried a few times to qualify, but fell short. My best time, now five years old, is still five minutes shy of what I need to get into Boston. I will try again, perhaps this fall, after I get this 50K trail race behind me.

That’s not to say I haven’t seen Boston’s magic close up. I’ve seen several friends qualify for Boston, running alongside them in qualifying races, including Master Denny (Columbus 2003) and Happy Kayleah (Cleveland 2007), and Tough Barb (Indianapolis 2008).  Their accomplishment was a joy to watch, and an honor to play a small part in. Tough Barb will be running Boston today. So will several other friends. I wish them all the best.

However, there are many other runners  –up to 20 percent of each year’s field — who run the Boston Marathon without qualifying. I call them parasites.

They get in not by training hard and running fast, but by writing essays, knowing the right person, running for charity or shedding a few tears. They get no sympathBoston Marathony from me.

This morning, I read a story in the paper about an 80-year-old man from Indy running Boston today with his daughter. Then, deep into the  story, I saw they hadn’t qualified, but were given a mercy admission. I immediately stopped reading and thought the worst of them. They certainly didn’t merit attention with a front-page story. The irony is that the story was written by Barb, who ran like hell last fall and qualified the right way. She will be running Boston with honor today.

Over the weekend, I learned about another acquaintance who will run Boston today. He’s been running marathons for only a year or two. He’s a nice guy, but an average runner, with average times. He got into Boston by writing an essay sponsored by a local running store. Try as I might to remain charitable, I immediately thought badly of this guy. In my book, he obviously has no idea what running Boston is all about. He has stomped all over the marathoners’ honor code.

Real runners respect the tough entry qualifications. Just ask my buddy, Kevin. He has been pushing for several years to get fast enough to qualify, and  has been steadily improving. But it’s not easy. His blog provides a peek into the hard work required to qualify, week in and week out. He racks up the tough  50-mile weeks, trains smart and is watching his race times fall. Kevin is a credit to marathoning.

To accept a Boston race bib without earning it is a slap in the face of every runner who faithfully puts in the hard training. 

Boston is special. No question about it. So qualify for the race the right way. Or stay the hell away.

UPDATE: Kevin qualifed for Boston with a nice performance at the Cleveland Marathon in May 2009. See the update here.

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4 Responses to “Qualify for Boston or keep the hell out”

  1. ilovemorningfog Says:

    I intend to cheer for you next year while you run in Boston.

  2. run2boston Says:

    IMHO: This is your BEST.POSTING.EVER

    — R2B

  3. I see it a lot differently.

    First, I would never run Boston without qualifying fast enough to be seeded in the first wave at the start. That’s why I trained nearly 900 miles over the first five months of this year then on May 30, 2009 at age 54 qualified for Boston in 3:21:06 at the Newport, Oregon Marathon.

    Second, I do not approve of “bandit” runners. Though most “jump in” at the tail end of the second wave and do little actual harm, it says something cheap and fraudulent about the character of anyone who does it. Boston has the most savvy marathon spectators in the nation and they know the difference between official qualifiers (especially the first wave) and the fakers.

    Where we part company is when you put down anyone who gets an official entry without qualifying. Let’s see. What about elite runners making their marathon debut, should they be excluded? What about Bill Rodgers who’s now battling cancer and the other past winners, should they have to qualify, too? What about Dick Hoyt who’s completed Boston 26 times pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair? Would you turn them away? Hundreds of others raise thousands of dollars each for official charities to earn official “back of the pack” numbers. Anyone fighting cancer probably appreciates the research that Dana Farber does with their check from Boston each year.

    As long as the people given numbers without qualifying are seeded at the back of the second starting wave, more times than not a lot of good comes from letting them in.

  4. I can sympathize with your position while disagreeing with it (much as Road Dog seems to have)…

    My opinion is that a race director can invite whoever the hell he pleases to run his race. I have no problem with all the charity runners, comp entries or others that haven’t run a qualifying time. I just hope that if I ever decide to run it again that I get to start in front of them, heheh.

    Where I do get mad, though, is from bandits. I hate bandits. I remember when I was in college I was required to get a subscription to the Christian Science Monitor (a newspaper) for a political studies course I was in.

    They ran an article about the Boston Marathon that had exactly 1 paragraph about actual runners, and the rest of the page was about how great some people were that bandited every year and how “special” it was to run Boston even though they couldn’t qualify and didn’t want to raise money or find another legal way in.

    I canceled my subscription, wrote an unflattering letter to the editor that I assume they never printed (although I never looked since I’d canceled my subscription) and told my professor that he needed to find a better paper to use for current events.

    So if you replace everything you said about people that didn’t run a qualifying time with bandits, then I agree with you 100%.

    If you do want to run a race that only allows people who qualify (and that has slightly stricter standards than Boston, namely 5 minutes faster for each category) then you should check out this year’s Exeter Marathon.

    Maybe I’ll see you there.

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