The Mystery of the Boston Marathon

Several weeks ago, all 21,000 participants in next year’s Boston Marathon registered for the race in just eight hours — 65 times faster than last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Five years ago, “it took almost seven months to fill the same number of spots.” Interestingly, the development was not unexpected — race officials warned in advance that registration could fill up rapidly this year.

Mark Remy of Runners World Daily certainly?wasn’t surprised:

I wish I could say I was surprised when I heard this. I was not.

Instead, my first reaction upon hearing that Boston had filled up in RECORD TIME was this:

Well, duh.

I don’t know who started this “filled in one day” rumor, or even when, exactly. All I know is that I heard whispers as far back as Wednesday (“Boston might fill in one day”) which became murmurs by Thursday and Friday (“They say Boston will close in one day!”) and exploded into full-blown frenzy by Sunday (“OMG! BOSTON IS GOING TO CLOSE HOURS AFTER IT OPENS!”)

Which, of course, it did.

Various other explanations have been offered. One interesting thought: too many eligible participants because of?outdated qualifying times, particularly for women. As?Kevin Helliker and David Biderman point out:

By all accounts, the running boom is being fueled by women more than men. Women made up 42% of finishers in the 2010 Boston race-a proportion that is higher than the percentage of all U.S. marathoners who are women. But according to gender rules instituted in 1977, the marathon times women need to post to qualify for Boston are 30 minutes slower than the times the men in the same age group have to run. The problem: There’s no evidence that women really need that much extra time.

The typical gap in major 2009 marathons between the world’s elite male and female runners was closer to 20 minutes than 30-and has been shrinking over time. For less-than-elite runners, these gaps have created some questionable benchmarks. To qualify for Boston, for instance, a man aged 50 to 54 has to have posted a time of 3:35 or better. But that time is five minutes faster than the time required for women 34 and younger. In a nutshell, to make Boston, a 54-year old man has to run faster than the nation’s youngest and fastest women

Guy Morse, the executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, has promised to review the qualifying and registration process. “We’re pleased with the interest, but not pleased when qualified runners are shut out,” Morse said.

What say you, readers? Does anyone have any good information as to why the Boston Marathon filled up so quickly? Or what can be done to avoid the same situation next year?

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  1. Rebecca the Runner says:

    I suspect the chatter about how it would fill up in one day forced it to fill up in one day. The running world tends to be very well connected and when qualified runners learned if they were going to get in they needed to plan on registering on the first available day, they all did, fulfilling the expectation that it would fill quickly.

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  2. michael says:

    Doesn’t it stand to reason that if people think it will fill quickly they will be more motivated to register instantly. Thus filling the marathon near instantly? (self fulfilling prophecy)

    Why don’t they just break down the age ranges and genders separate and have times for each group. Then give each group a quota of how many people will race in each group (equal amounts or a percentage based on any number of factors) then only allow the top X number of athletes for each group regardless of the day they register only the top 100 (or whatever number) will compete.

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  3. Chris says:

    I don’t think number of qualifiers is the biggest factor (unless the number of qualifiers has increased exponentially in the last couple years).

    A big issue is how people respond to the knowledge that the race will fill up. Two years ago, roughly the same number of racers signed up after registration was open for 4 months. Unfortunately, some people didn’t get in on time, so they (and their friends) agreed to sign up a little earlier. Last year, registration filled up before the fall marathon season was even over, prompting more people to sign up even earlier. This snowballed into this years sign-up.

    Slightly more qualifiers + Jilted runners from previous years + People trying to be proactive = Instant registration issues.

    Some possible solutions:
    1. Stricter standards
    2. Stricter standards for some and a lottery for everyone else (like the NYC marathon)
    3. Going by place at qualifying races (like the Hawaii Ironman)

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  4. Laurent Hodges says:

    No, a 54-year-old man doesn’t have “to run faster than the nation’s youngest and fastest women.”

    It’s only that his maximum allowable time is greater than theirs.

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  5. Shannon says:

    I think the math here is wrong. The sign-up rate this year is about 630 times faster than last year. 7 months x 30 days x 24 hours / 8 hours = 630

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  6. Lewis says:

    The entry fee must not be high enough. They just need to charge more money.

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  7. Dave says:

    One of the things unfair was you had to register on a Monday. If you work for a living and can’t get to a computer for 2 or 3 hours to keep trying to log on you were shut out before you even started. I am OK with charity runners and the Qual times and all the other BS I have been hearing, but make the playing field level for the working class stiff.

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