Friday, February 18, 2011

The BAA has spoken

For those of you not closely monitoring news about marathoning, there was a huge announcement Tuesday.  The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) announced a new registration process and new qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon.  This news has been anticipated and rumors and speculation have been plenty ever since the registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled in an amazing eight hours and three minutes.
First of all, many people said that something had to be done after the race filled so quickly.  I do not agree.  There was a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the opening of registration that it would fill up quickly.  I have many friends who were part of the 20,000 people to sign up in those eight hours.  It seems to me that selling out isn’t a problem for the race, nor is it a problem for the runner who planned ahead to register at the earliest possible moment.
In a nutshell, there are still qualifying standards based on age and gender, but those standards are a baseline and do not guarantee entry.  There is a tiered registration system where runners who have run a race 20 minutes (or more) faster than their qualifying times get to register first, then those 10 minutes faster, then five, then an open registration.  At whatever point the race fills, the faster runners will be registered prior to slower runners.  This system will be in place with the existing qualifying times for 2012, and the qualifying times will be lowered (made faster) by five minutes for all ages and genders for the 2013 iteration of the race.
There seem to be two responses to this news.   The majority of runners whose comments I have seen/heard  feel that the BAA has just raised the bar.  Those runners see the new system and the new standards as just another goal to be met.  In fact, there are now ranks of qualifying.  The runner who qualified with six minutes to spare is now eyeing that BQ-10 (Boston Qualifier minus 10 minutes) to ensure a better chance of getting in the race.  There are also people out there who feel cheated.  They want to know, without a doubt, that they can get into the race, and this system of rating applications by speed relative to the qualifying standard could, potentially, mean that a runner has qualified, but will not get into the race because too many other applicants have qualified by a larger margin. 
I think that the mindset about qualifying will change a bit.  There is still the goal of making the qualifying time, but the larger the margin of beating that time, the better one’s chances are of getting in the race.  That doubt about whether the qualifying time has been surpassed enough to actually get in is a little rough on the runners, but it is good for the race.
The BAA has a good solution here.  They have ensured that the fastest registrants will get into their race and they will not need to adjust the qualifying times because those times are self adjusting.  If the race fills up, it will fill up with the runners who have beaten the qualifying standard for their age and gender by the largest margin.  Reducing  the qualifying time by five minutes makes the pool of applicants smaller, and  the tiered registration will avoid the rush on the servers, allowing the BAA to “dose” the rush of applicants.  They have taken measures to control the rush of applicants into the race (a wave start, if you will) and have maintained the quality of the field.
The Boston Marathon is prestigious because it is old and because it attracts the best competition from the masses of citizen runners.  It is hard to get into, and that difficulty should not be based on beating the rush on registration morning, just beating the clock and running the best marathon possible to qualify.  The BAA has maintained their prestige. Of course, people will complain.  They complain about change, and they complain a lack of change.  Let them complain, but let them train!  There have been changes to the registration process and to the qualifying standards, but one thing hasn’t changed:
Do you know how to get to Boston?  Training, training, training!

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