WELL, THAT’S A FINE KETTLE OF FISH!

02.16.2011
Elite Women 2009 Boston

Elite Women - Newton Hills - Boston 2009

How many of you got up today, checked your marathon training plan and calculated, one more time, what you would have to do for a Boston Qualifier?  Who knew it was all going to change?!?  Brings new meaning to Boston Scrod.  (Look it up before you get too excited.)

The debate, not to mention accusations and snarky commentary, has abounded all day.  I do not envy the powers that be in the BAA and race management group.  As a former race director of an event that has sold out in three and a half hours you try to figure out how best to ensure everyone gets an equal opportunity to register.  Yes, that event was the First Half Half Marathon and I will soon make comment on it.

Boston, like a lot of races, has evolved over many years.  The first Boston Marathon was in 1897.  What many don’t realize is that there were 18 registrants, 15 starters and 10 finishers.  All men, naturally.  Although there were a couple of sneaky dames who evaded the officials over the years, the first woman to run Boston with numbers was Kathrine Switzer, but even she, while not actually being untruthful, registered as KV Switzer and had her coach pick up her bib.  Only in 1972 were women officially invited and sanctioned to run Boston.  And, regarding today’s upset over qualification standards and registration procedures, up until 1970 there was no general or compulsory qualifying time for Boston.  Why would there be?  There were only about 1200 entrants back then.  They only passed 10,000 entrants in 1995, with the exception of the crazy crowd of 38,708 in the Centennial event in 1996.  Between 1997, when entries dropped back to about 10,500 and 2008 numbers leaped to approximately 25,000 and the energy gel hit the fan, so to speak.

Today, the furor is over changes to qualifying times and procedures for registering that will favor the fast.  Charges of “elitism” are being bandied about.  OF COURSE IT IS ELITIST!  If it wasn’t we would all just register for a local marathon and run as hard as we could for the best time we could manage. 

Qualifying for Boston is special.  It is special because NOT EVERYONE can do it!  Like me.  I haven’t been able to do it so far, and now probably never will.  I have personal physical issues that create a challenge for me, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying and getting within a reasonable distance of the current standard for my age.  I am very sad that my dream is now probably never to be more than that, at least when it comes to actually running. 

Like a lot of runners, I am pretty good at finding victory in defeat.  Shortly after the initial disappointment of realizing that even if I met the current standard, employing some or all of the 59 second grace period, that probably wouldn’t allow me to register for the 2012 Boston Marathon, I decided that I could at least be satisfied that I HAD qualified.  Assuming, of course that I do in the next six months or so.  Fortunately, I already have a campaign ongoing that will culminate, successfully I hope, in Eugene, Oregon on May 1.

I know that I am anything but alone or unique in my disappointment at the turn of events.  What I do hope is that the new system if fair and equitable in all respects.  The number of exemptions must be absolutely minimal.  The time difference between men and women needs a careful review if it has not had one in this process.  Although I am certain that what is about to follow is politically incorrect, that doesn’t make it a fair matter for consideration.  It is somewhat hard to believe that 30 minutes applies across all ages.  Starting with the world’s best men and women, there is a difference of just over 11 minutes between Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie.  OK, fair enough, those are the world record times.  Winners at big events like Boston, New York fall in the 15-20 minute range of male-female difference.  For Boston, Masters men and women have a difference among winners again, in the 15-20 minute range.  When you get into the veterans (50+) the difference gets into the 25-30 minute range.  Seniors (60+) winners get pretty close to the 30 minute difference and the Over 70 crowd is a bit more sporadic because there are no upper age limits.

Boston has a big problem in analyzing preformances from their own race because they already allow the 30 minute difference.  It is kind of built into the system.  You can’t allow people to qualify on the 30 minute difference, analyze your own race and then conclude that, “yes, there is an average difference of about 30 minutes”.  I don’t know how they came up with this standard in the first place, but it is the one area in which I think there is some scope to look at whether my basic demand that the system be fair and equitable is met.

Other than on a strictly personal level (which is just my own disappointment) I have no problem at all with applying stringent and difficult standards.  It is like using grades to qualify for a scholarship or a program like Law or Medicine.  They will say you “must have a B average” to be considered.  That doesn’t mean anybody is going to give you anything, just that you will be considered.  The guys with the A+’s, A’s, A-‘s, and B+’s are all likely to be ahead of you.  It is really all the Boston Marathon standards and registration procedure is doing.  The folks with the A-grades are getting in before you (ME) if there aren’t enough slots for everyone.  I mean, as far as the basic time standard goes, what is the difference between 4:15:59 and 4:10:00?  Yes, yes, I know – 5:59 and just enough to slam the door forever on my personal aspirations.  But, as a standard it is just a suitable number for male runners in the 65-69 age grouping.  Nobody is complaining there is something wrong with the current standard, just that it is being dropped and made more difficult.  If there are that many good runners out there that the standards have become too “lenient” then, sad as I may find it personally, so be it.

So, there you have at least 25 cents worth from Running in the Zone.

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