Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boston, Here I Come, Hope You're Ready For Me!

October 18th -- a day I have been looking forward to since the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon where I qualified for the Boston Marathon on my 16th attempt. October 18th was the day registration opened for Boston.

Right from the start, I must say that I was not about to let anything stop me from registering for Boston. Not lack of money, not injuries, not a website that wouldn't cooperate, not having to go to work, NOTHING! I was leaving nothing up to chance. I knew registration opened at 9 a.m. East Coast time, which is 6 a.m. Arizona time, and I was sitting on the BAA's webpage from 5:30 on, clicking Refresh every couple minutes, ATM card in hand, in case they opened early.

They opened right on time, but as soon as I filled out my form and hit "Submit", my information disappeared and I was left with a blank form again. Horrors! I envisioned 26,000 wanna-be Boston marathoners beating me to "Submit" by seconds, jamming the website and leaving me unregistered and in the position of having to qualify again for 2012. I filled out the form and hit "Submit" again, and the same thing happened. I thought briefly about what would happen if they were actually charging my card each time I did this, and decided I didn't care. I would deal with the bank later; right now only one thing mattered and that was getting registered.

After several more unsuccessful attempts, I had to go to work. I got there and tried again with the same result. I tried to look up the Boston Marathon website in hopes of finding a contact phone number but couldn't do it. Every search result for the Boston Marathon led only to the registration page that wasn't working. Finally it did work. I got my submission number and my email and printed them out and stashed them in a safe place. Registering for Boston still felt like a dream. It HAS been a dream for so long I almost can't believe it's real.

I got home after work to the news that Boston registration had closed only 8 hours after opening. This was truly shocking. It has been filling faster and faster each year, but even last year, it took 9 weeks to fill. I was simultaneously relieved that I had been on top of it and registered right away, and bummed for the huge numbers of disappointed people I knew were out there. Think about it -- those who were waiting for a Friday paycheck before registering, those who trained their asses off and are going to qualify in Marine Corps or NYC Marathons, even those who, like me, qualified when they never thought they possibly could and just thought they had plenty of time to register... Yeah, I feel sorry for a lot of people.

Now the big question is, what will the BAA do about next year's registration? Obviously the same thing would happen again only worse, since I'm sure this will be one of the biggest if not THE biggest marathon story of the whole year and everyone will know about it. The way I see it, there's a few different ways they could handle this situation:

1) Reduce qualifying times. This is the most obvious and, I think, least debatable of all of the options. It has been common knowledge for years that a higher percentage of women qualify than men, particularly women in the under-35 age group (my age group) who need a 3:40 to qualify. As the differences in record times between male and female marathoners have been shrinking, from about 30 minutes apart to more like 20 minutes apart, the 30-minute difference in qualifying times has stayed the same. I slaved for years to get that 3:40, and always dreaded the possibility that they would lower the qualifying time and render it impossible for me to qualify. But if they had done that, I would have accepted it philosophically. What else could I do? You can't really argue with the numbers. (And actually it wouldn't have mattered, since I qualified with a 3:24:17 instead of the 3:40:59 I was planning on getting, but that's beside the point.) Even if they dropped the qualifying times for women by 5 minutes for each age group, that would still eliminate huge numbers of people.

2) Keep qualifying times the same, but give a 1- or 2-day window of preference to those whose times are the fastest. Say, 10-20 minutes faster than the qualifying time, or something like that. That would keep Boston elite, which it really should be. (And I'm saying this as a lifelong mid-pack runner who somehow managed to squeeze out a qualifying time.)

3) Tweak the charity entries somehow. I don't know enough about the charity entries to know exactly how this should be done, but it doesn't seem fair to people who have gotten better times to have less deserving runners take their spot just because they agree to raise money. Team in Training has raised how many gazillions of dollars at other marathons... why not leave charities out of Boston, or allow charity runners but only those who have achieved qualifying times? (And yes, I know some of the charity runners DO have to have run qualifying times. See above sentence beginning "I don't know enough about the charity entries...".)

4) Keep the same qualifying times, but institute a lottery. Or make it a partial lottery, where the extra-fast runners get in regardless but the mediocre qualifiers have to enter the lottery.

5) Some combination of any of the above. I sympathize with the organizers at the BAA; they have a massive task ahead of them and whatever decision they make is going to piss off a lot of people. As for me, though, I must say that I'm just happy to be in.

OH, one more thing. I have been reading various forums in which the issue of Boston's early closing has been discussed, and there are some really ugly things being said by fast runners who are pissed off because they missed registration. To read these things, you would think that everyone who runs a non-elite qualifying time is a fat, out-of-shape slob who will probably walk the whole thing and who really shouldn't even shame the Boston Marathon with their presence. To those runners I say, that is a load of crap. Even the slowest possible qualifying time is somewhere around the top 15% of runners in that age group. Boston is not meant to be an exhibition of elite athletes; it's meant to be a race for top runners. So suck it up and next time listen to all the forecasts predicting that registration would close quickly. That's what I did, and that's why I'm in and you're not.

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