In 2007, I ran my first marathon and qualified for Boston — the goal I had set for myself when I decided to run a full about six months earlier, with just a year of running experience and one half marathon under my belt at the time. (Don’t worry, people told me it was unrealistic.)
But that was my goal, and I achieved it, 8 minutes under my qualifying mark. Sorry, naysayers.
So Boston 2008 was my second marathon, and also home to the women’s Olympic Trials the day before.
It was freaking amazing. I high-fived Deena after she won; I saw women who looked like me running in what is REALLY the most prestigious marathon in America, and one that only happens every four years. (Only 124 women finished that year — 180 qualified — and the last finisher ran 3:07:40 and is actually one of my coach’s clients!)
Instantly, that became my next big running goal — to OTQ, as they say. That goal was probably less realistic than the BQ one, and I still haven’t reached it. I might never.
The day after the 2008 trials, I toed the line in Hopkington with a my rose-colored marathon racing glasses on (I mean this metaphorically, but it’s funny because I do now only run in red-tinted glasses).
My first marathon — Memphis, December 2007 — went well, no wall, no bonking, no horror stories whatsoever. I was slightly overdressed but survivable. (Never again have I worn capris for a full. Rookie move.)
So I trained hard for Boston, relatively speaking, and expected to set a big PR.
I ran about 1 minute faster and felt 26 times worse. I was sunburned, disappointed, heartbroken.
I came back in 2009 with vengeance on my mind. I had run Memphis again, and improved by 16 minutes. Now THAT’s a PR, and the type of time-slashing that is a) responsible for crazy goals and b) hard to replicate. I only took off another minute at Boston, but I felt vindicated.
I haven’t been back since, despite qualifying for 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Why? Why would I pass up the opportunity to run one of the most prestigious races for a sub-elite/non-elite runner?
A few reasons, some of which are altruistic and some of which are more ego-centric.
Primarily, I don’t like the idea of hogging a spot to keep running Boston over and over while someone else might only be able to qualify once in their life. That person probably really, really, really wants to go (my mother-in-law was one of those). This is the absolute dream come true for some runners. They work hard for months, even years, waiting for that perfect day for everything to come together. For years you had a cushion — 59 seconds over your qualifying time and you were still in. And if you qualified, there would be space for you. Qualifying was basically guaranteed entry. Not any more. First they adjusted the standards downward, then they added tiered entry by the amount of time under your standard you ran.
The first year I ran, I could’ve run 3:39:59 and I would’ve had my Boston bib just the same. For 2015, I would’ve needed 3:33:30. That’s not a big difference, but if you were, say, a 3:43 woman … suddenly you need to be 10 minutes faster, not just 3.
I suspect those cutoff times will keep getting faster, and I also suspect Boston will need to drop the qualifying times again if they do.
So it has definitely gotten tougher to get in. I’ve gone. I had my turn. I’d rather someone else have “my” spot.
And yes, Boston is amazing, but there are lots of other cool spring marathons too. I know people who will run them few weeks apart — a friend of mine went sub-3 at Boston and just over less than two weeks later at our hometown marathon — but I’ve never seen the point in that. After running Boston twice, I was ready to go somewhere else.
Plus … I like placing high. I might place relatively high at Boston, compared to the overall field, but not actually that high. At Carmel this spring, I was fourth. That’s fun. A lot of races (like Carmel) pay top three finishers cash (missed it by 2 minutes), which can offset the expense of racing and training. That’s a factor, too.
Last, there’s the cost. Even as I’ve gotten older and moved into better-paying jobs — both years I ran Boston I worked at a local running store — that’s still a consideration. Boston entry is expensive, although not as bad as say, New York. Plus airfare, hotel, and food. And gear — you can’t run Boston without buying some swag. Easily a $2,000 trip for a duo.
Meanwhile, Carmel cost … And I was only 2 minutes out of winning $250.
I love the Boston Marathon. I love Boston, having spent three semesters of college there. I love the pursuit of Boston qualifiers and seeing people reach it. And when you do, you can have my spot.*
* Except in 2018, because I’m probably going back to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my first Boston and fingers crossed that my best friend qualifies this fall too! (And my husband, but he says he wants to qualify again but has no interest in running. He’s weird.)