Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Qualifying times

A 2009 New york times article asked whether slow runners were spoiling the prestige of the marathon.
Many of those slower runners, claiming that late is better than never, receive a finisher’s medal just like every other participant. Having traversed the same route as the fleeter-footed runners — perhaps in twice the amount of time — they get to call themselves marathoners.
And it’s driving some hard-core runners crazy.
If you are one of those going crazy, what to do? In order to surround yourself with fast(er) people, there is at least one option: the Boston Marathon. With its aged-based minimum entry standards, there is a certain density of speed not found in many races. Because Boston marathons have to already have run a marathon, a huge number of feeder races contribute to would-be pilgrims looking to qualify. It's a reasonably symbiotic relationship since many races can advertise their BQ potential. Yet it still leaves Boston's entry policy as popular yet unique. What other races do likewise? I googled "What marathons do you have to qualify for?". Here's what I found:

  • In Japan, the Fukuoka marathon has a difficult minimum entry time of 2:40. Lake Biwa has an even more aggressive entry time time of 2:30. 
  • The 56km Two Oceans ultra and the 90 km Comrades ultra require a sub 5-hour marathon time to enter. Both races are in South Africa. There are several other ultras around the world that do likewise, as the distances are not intended for first-timers.
  • In 2014, Toronto hosted the first annual Yorkville run, which required a sub 21:00/19:00 women and men's time to enter, respectively.
  • For completeness, the Olympics has a standard time of 2:15 for men, and 2:37 for women. The US Olympic trials (in order to be in contention for a team spot), require 2:18 and 2:43, respectively. But these are far from mass-participation events.
So is that it? Looking at the search results, it felt as though I was missing something, but apparently there are very few races with pseudo-competitive races with cut-off times. Though far from an exhaustive list, by and large searching variants of 'qualifying races' leads to a saturation of Boston-related results. Despite being wildly successful, the Boston-model is seldom imitated.

This lack of standard-entry races strikes me as a missed opportunity. At the very least consider the number of runners Boston must turn away every year. And there are many fast runners in the world. Thousands run a marathon under 2:30 every year. Why not host a Boston-like race on the US west coast, or Europe? And why the focus on the marathon? Shorter races can easily mimic this standard entry format, as Yorkville has.

n the early history of Facebook, only pre-approved universities could register. Soon everyone wanted to join Facebook, and the rest is history. People like moderate challenges. There will come a day when a 10k Boston-esque race may emerge, if it hasn't already. If anyone knows of any, pass them along!

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