Boston Marathon Registration: What Will Happen to Future Runners?Posted on Nov 30th 2010 3:00PM by Amber Greviskes
The 115th annual Boston Marathon will be held April 18, 2011. But for those hoping to run the longest-running annual race, the real competition took place more than a month ago. That's when marathon registration opened -- and closed in a record-setting eight hours.
For many marathon runners, racing in Boston is the pinnacle of their career. Unlike marathons that have resorted to lottery systems or registration on a first-come, first-served basis, Boston has only two ways to enter -- as a qualified runner or as a charity runner.
As a two-time runner there, I'll freely admit that it is an experience unlike any other. For one weekend, marathon runners are treated like queens and kings. Yes, other cities appreciate marathon runners, but there are no fans like the ones in Boston.
That's why when the race filled in an unprecedented eight hours, marathon runners were filled with either frustration and anger or elation. As long as certain runners can skirt injuries, they know they will be part of history. Others know that even though they ran their qualifying times within the 18-month window before registration, they will not be toeing the line in Boston.
So who is to blame for the disappointment? And how can event organizers stave off future disappointments?
The Boston Athletic Association, which hosts the marathon each year, took precautions this year to make sure that more runners could enter. Instead of using a September registration date, organizers pushed the date to mid-October after the prestigious Chicago Marathon, a world major and one of the fastest courses in the United States, guaranteeing that those who ran in Chicago would have the opportunity to register for the Boston race.
They also took more measures to make the public aware of the registration date. Runners who had previously registered for the race were sent e-mail blasts concerning the registration date. Various media outlets also picked up the information about the date. And Facebook and Twitter pages were used to reach as many people as possible.
"When we were about to open registration, it was anyone's guess as to when this was going to fill up," Guy Morse, the BAA executive director, said in a statement. "There are thousands and thousands of very happy people who made the entrance compete."
Those who are disgruntled can only wait and hope that there will be some resolution.
One major change that will affect at least several runners is the BAA's new rule that runners are not allowed to defer their race entry from one year to another. Last year, the Wall Street Journal estimated that up to 600 competitors withdrew from the race thanks to Eyjafjallajökull's eruption in Iceland. The volcano stranded many runners in airports throughout Europe. Those runners were automatically accepted into the 2011 race.
Other solutions involve making qualifying times faster for certain age groups, especially women under 34. Currently, women in that age group must run the race in three hours and 40 minutes, a time that is a half hour off the men's time. Many of those who qualify in that age group finish with much faster times. Others set their sights on "qualifying like a man" -- running the course in three hours and 10 minutes.
"It's too early to tell what that (registration) criteria should be going forward," Morse said. "We're looking at obvious things like qualifying times and whether those things should be tightened up to reduce the field size to the number of place that we have available."
Race officials have also considered making the field size bigger, but the course runs through smaller towns -- Hopkinton, Ashland, Natick and others -- en route to Boston. A larger field would also increase the need for public safety officials, medical personnel and other logistics. There would also be an increased likelihood of injuries at the start of the race, where runners are herded into corrals based on start time.
"Nothing is an easy solution; there is no cure-all," Morse said. "There is simply too much of a demand for the supply."
Currently, the BAA allows roughly 5,000 charity runners to enter the race. Those runners do not need to have run the official qualifying times. One solution that Morse has not mentioned is requiring charity runners to run qualifying times in order to participate. Unlike increasing the field size, this option would allow for the integrity of the event -- which is a key sticking point for the BAA. -- to be maintained.
"It is important that we do what we can to accommodate as many runners without diminishing the quality of the event," Morse said. "We are interested in maintaining the quality of the Boston Marathon as you know it. Boston is the standard event against which others are measured."
So what's a runner to do? Well, if you're in, cherish every single second because you may not make it back.
More on the Boston Marathon:
Last-Minute Advice for Boston Marathoners
Fit Philanthropy: Running for Cancer Awareness at the Boston Marathon
Boston Marathon: Closest Women's Finish Ever