Saturday, October 23, 2010

Boston Marathon Filled - Now What?

Having absolutely loved the unique experience of qualifying for then running the Boston Marathon in 2009 and 2010 (I'm hoping to run it again in 2012) I watched with interest on Monday as the BAA opened registration for the 2011 race. While I anticipated that the race would sell-out far sooner than last year, I did not expect it to fill-up in eight hours!

The BAA's Executive Director Guy Morse had the following to say afterward, and I am glad to hear that the BAA will seriously consider changes for the 2012 registration process:

While it is increasingly common for major metropolitan marathons to be filled on their initial registration day, leading race organizers such as New York's and Houston's to move towards a lottery system, I hope that the BAA does not follow this path. Three key elements significantly differentiate the Boston Marathon:
  • Boston's long-time history of the marathon - the 2011 race will represent its 115th - is truly a national treasure;
  • Boston's unique and beautiful course provides an awe-inspiring experience from its small town Hopkinton start to its dramatic Boston finish, frequently along narrow and scenic two-lane country roads lined by hundreds of thousands of exuberant, enthusiastic and noisy New Englanders;
  • Boston is uniquely positioned as the only world-class marathon whose tough qualification standards define those runners who are the most dedicated and strongest.
As well summarized by Dr. Dave in his blog post, should the BAA in response to the rapid sell-out of the 2011 race:
  • Have lots of people qualify but only a fraction who get to run - or fewer qualifiers that everyone can run?
  • Implement a hybrid qualifying time and lottery, or would that diminish the cachet of the race?
  • Increase the field, and what does this do to the quality of the Boston experience?
Pending the BAA's eventual decision regarding almost certain changes for the 2012 race I hope that the running community coalesces upon a consensus to assist the BAA in its ongoing deliberations. In that regard, though risking being excluded I feel that in lieu of adopting a hybrid qualification and lottery system that the BAA should instead strengthen its unique athletic tradition by uniformly tightening qualification standards - though using a more rational basis such as outlined in this Running World article.

To fully address the Boston Marathon's supply-demand imbalance the bib supply should also be reviewed. In doing so the BAA must first acknowledge that it has encouraged the continued growth of bandits on the Boston course (of which over 6,000 are now estimated) via not enforcing a prohibition against runners who have not registered.

While I concede that the narrow country roads east of Hopkinton are not conducive to a substantially increased number of runners, through a rigorously enforced exclusion of bandits the BAA could easily add an additional 6,000 runners to the course. In addition, 15,000 runners could be safely added through excluding bandits and by adding a third ~15,000 runner wave (with each wave separated by 45 versus the current 30-minutes to minimize congestion).

I reject many runners suggestion to substantially reduce the 20% allocation of running bibs currently provided to non-qualifying athletes (i.e. sponsored/charity individuals). The losers of such a move would be needy clients of the many worthy charities throughout New England, and the loss of good-will to the BAA by the many communities, agencies and corporations which directly or indirectly support the Boston Marathon.

The future of the Boston Marathon is at stake in the BAA's ongoing deliberations. While simply adding a lottery system to restrict entrants to those runners who have achieved the current qualification times would be the easiest to implement, doing so would fundamentally transform the Boston Marathon to merely another running event versus the race which defines the world's strongest runners - as it consistently has for 114 years.

    1 comment:

    1. Uh oh.

      My company gets 100 free entries which they give to employees who did not even come close to qualifying. And that's just one company. Not cool.