Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boston Marathon announces new registration process

After the field for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled up on the first day of registration on 18 October 2010, the Boston Athletic Association realized that for future editions of the 115-year-old race the entry process was going to have to be re-tooled. If they hadn't seen it themselves, a lot of unhappy people that got shut out of the 2011 Boston Marathon were quite willing to point out the shortcomings of registration. Seven-time winner Bill Rodgers pointed out that he wasn't good enough with a computer to have made it into the race.

The BAA promised change, but stated that they were unhappy with either going to faster qualifying standards or instituting a lottery. Well, if you aren't willing to reduce the size of your pool of applicants, and you aren't going to reject some of those applicants, what are you going to do?

So on 16 February 2011 the Boston Athletic Association announced the changes for 2012 and 2013. Qualifying time aren't being lowered for 2012, but they'll be five minutes faster in 2013. However, the de facto qualifying standards will be even faster in both years, because BAA will also be adding a "rolling admission system." Here is what's happening in 2012:

Registration will occur on a “rolling admission” schedule until the maximum field size is reached, beginning with the fastest qualifiers. On the first day of registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon, those who are eligible for entry by having met the qualifying standards for their age and gender group by 20 minutes or more will be able to enter on the first day of registration (September 12). On the third day (September 14), registration will open for those who have met their qualifying standards by 10 minutes or more. On the fifth day (September 16), registration will open for those who have met their qualifying standards by five minutes or more. During this first week of registration, applicants will be notified as they are accepted and their qualifying performance verified.

Well, a week has gone by, and if you qualified by just a few seconds, you still haven't been allowed to enter.

If the field size is not reached after the first week and additional space remains, then registration will open to all qualifiers at the beginning of Week Two (September 19) and those who have met the qualifying standards by any amount of time will be able to apply for entry. The application process will remain open for the entire week, closing on September 23. At the conclusion of Week Two, those who are the fastest among the pool of applicants in their age and gender will be accepted. Accepted athletes will be notified on September 28.

Notice: "If the field size is not reached after the first week." This reads like BAA fully expects the marathon to fill up sometime in the first week, so your qualifying time only qualified you for disappointment. Even if the marathon isn't full after the first week, a marginal qualifying time doesn't qualify you to enter but only to apply for entry.

Because the race will likely be full before those just under the qualifying standard are allowed to apply, the actual qualifying times are in effect faster for 2012, event though the posted standards remain the same. For 2013 BAA will have the same "rolling admission system" and posted qualifying times that are five minutes faster.

I'm not unhappy to see this. Boston has to limit the number of entries. If you're going to pick a criterion for allowing people in, the fastest qualifying time is a good one. At least it's better than favoring the guy who can write a computer program to auto-register, or the person who draws the lucky number in the entry lottery. This way the race retains integrity as a sporting event. It's still a lot more open than events of similar luster in other sports, because qualifying times are adjusted for age and sex. After all, no one gets a bye into Wimbledon because he's over 60, and no one is going to get special consideration for a Super Bowl roster because they're female.

I also wouldn't be unhappy to learn that the BAA had done away with entries for non-qualifiers, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.



  1. So, is there an advantage to running a 2:51 qualifying race as opposed to a 2:59? Both times get you the same registration slot if you are under 35, right?

  2. It depends on the interpretation of the phrase, "At the conclusion of Week Two, those who are the fastest among the pool of applicants in their age and gender will be accepted." It sounds to me like a college admissions process. For instance, Prestigious University advertises an admissions requirement of a 1200 score on the SAT. You score 1250 but fail to be admitted. Upon investigation, you learn that the class had been filled with applicants whose scores were 1280 or better.

    In other words, there is no time that guarantees entry any more. Being in the first slot just means that you're going to be allowed to apply.