Running a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time is about more than earning the right to sign-up for the Boston Marathon; it's a milestone; an accomplishment that a small percentage of marathoners can achieve (less than 10%?). Unless you're a world class athlete, there will always be people who finish races in front of you, but just being able to qualify for Boston sets one apart (and confers plenty of non-humble bragging rights). It's a goal that's not easy but it should be attainable by any serious runner that's willing to apply the right training regimen. For many, just completing a marathon (or a half marathon, or a 10k) is a significant accomplishment, but the determination and tenacity required to run a BQ is even more consequential to a runner that's looking to benchmark him or herself against a much broader cohort. As Frank Shorter famously said, "the marathon is a race against slowing down" and, for me, running a BQ shows that I am able to run at a consistently fast pace for 26.2 miles and win Shorter's race.
It’s an interesting question as to what makes Boston so appealing. I actually think it’s changed over the last 5 years. Prior to the bombings, Boston was special for so many reasons:
It’s the oldest marathon in the country.
It was held on a local holiday so the entire state got behind it and supported it. It thus has the largest crowds of any marathon in the world. It feels like you are running through a parade the entire way.
You had to qualify for it. There are few goals that runners have to stride for. Anyone can sign up for a race but at Boston you had to qualify. It became the dangling carrot for so many runners. Since most marathoners are type A to begin with, setting a time standards for entry made it the most sought after race.
The course and weather make it a challenge. It’s definitely not flat and you have no idea what the weather can be like which adds to the challenge and allure.
Interestingly, prior to the bombings, entry to the race was on a rolling basis and often wouldn’t fill up till January or February. You’d have to ask the BAA for numbers but after the bombings the number of entries went up dramatically. The Boston marathon became the event where all runners come together against fear and hatred. I’ve always loved Boston for its atmosphere and energy but now I also run it to show respect to all those who were affected by the bombings.
Boston really came together as a city after that attack and I feel like that sentiment of unity has carried over to the running community. Everyone wants to be a part of Boston as it now represents something so much bigger.
BQ? Ah yes, there is definitely an allure. I think a big, big part of that is the allure of the marathon distance alone COMBINED with the unique history of the Boston Marathon (one of the longest run races in the country). The two combined make people spellbound by the event! There is also something to be said for the exclusiveness of it. Boston is one of very few races that has qualifying times (NYC is another, of course) BUT that are attainable to the masses. The qualifying times are challenging, yet doable for those who train and dedicate themselves to it. NYC qualifying times are actually much, much harder, making it unrealistic to most. BQ times have it JUST right.
Boston is very much that event where, when you tell people you are a runner, they reply with “have you run the Boston Marathon?”. People know it even if they aren’t in the sport. And that’s simply because it’s THE Boston Marathon. :)
The illustrious Boston Qualifier is about more than running a certain time. It's about more than actually running the Boston Marathon one day. There's a reason that the unicorn is the emblem of the Boston Marathon; it's something of a legend, something believable but seemingly unattainable. Of course, the Boston Marathon is one of the world majors, but it has an extra-special kind of energy on top of that notoriety. It has the grit of Des Linden in pouring rain. It has the fame of Ellison Brown, charging up Heartbreak Hill. It has the right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston.
Personally, I wanted to BQ because it is a measurable goal. So much in running (and in life) is self-directed as an adult. Most running goals that I chase are ones that I set – to PR, to break 20 minutes in the 5k, to run a marathon without getting injured. Instead, a BQ is a set standard. Worldwide. It's one that is maybe attainable for a lot of everyday runners, but one has to prove oneself. One has to train for months. Perhaps it's because I'm an admitted perfectionist, that I'm still stuck in my masochistic, grade-driven mindset from college, but I loved the notion that this was a set standard I needed to achieve. Running a sub-3:30 would prove that I am an accomplished runner, that I got an A in running. It's an accomplishment that means something, if not to all of the outside world, at least to other runners. I can admit that this was the extrinsic motivation. It feels good to say that I'm in that A-bracket of everyday runners.
On a less egotistical note, I was chasing my BQ at a time that a lot of things in life felt tumultuous. I was trying to feel at home in a new city, to feel that I was part of a community. I was finding my new normal after a breakup from a long-term relationship. While everything else was a bit unknown, a bit unsteady, the BQ goal I sought was rock-solid. I could follow my training plan, run 5 days a week, grind through 800m repeats, and revel at the end of fast-finish long runs. Each one of those runs was a clear daily goal, a stepping stone to the unicorn. Running has always been my therapy, my self-prescribed mental health treatment. The timing lined up perfectly that I was increasing my mileage immediately post-breakup. I had something to focus on, but I also had a space where I could think, where I could challenge myself, and where I could be truly alone and realize I could be happy alone. Running has always grounded me. The BQ goal, and accomplishing something alone, for myself, was my intrinsic motivation.
While I hope that I get into the 2020 Boston Marathon, and can make my way through Wellsley, Newton, and Boston, I would not be heartbroken if I didn't. I got my qualifier, my personal unicorn. I proved to myself, and the running community that I am somewhere in that top tier of everyday runners. I proved to myself that I was strong, by my own two legs, and my determined mind And anyway, if I don't get in, then I have a new goal to work towards next year :)