I’ve been running for a while, though I don’t remember when I started. I only know it’s a race as runners are flocking around me. A gentle wind is blowing: I can see the others effortlessly running through it, but I’m stuck midair, incapable of inching any further.
That’s the basic structure of the many allotropic forms of my most common pre-race nightmare, the one of the moving target: I am running towards the finish I can see in the distance, but some unknown, external force is preventing me to make any progress.
Yesterday reality touched my most feared nightmare; as news came out that the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon were tightened by 5 minutes, I clearly saw that long-sought goal sardonically moving away (and it doesn’t help injuries are keeping me from running).
The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has any right to set the qualifying standards as they see fit and the decision came in order to address last year’s registration mess (you may remember the Boston closed in 8 hours! cry floating on running forums for weeks), but from a pure statistical standpoint, I have my doubts that changing the standards will have any effect in easing the registration process: after all, if a registration closes in 8 hours, it means the pool is huge and removing those who ran slower than 3:05 can’t be a solution. And the BAA seems to acknowledge this as they decided to stagger the registration, that is, no more first come, first served, rather the registration “will accommodate those who are the fastest qualifiers first.”
This nebulous statement is the center-piece of much on-going discussion, which can be brilliantly summarized by the statement from Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 edition:
You can achieve a BQ, a Boston Marathon qualifying time, but that doesn’t mean there’s a Boston Marathon race number waiting for you. Because if enough other people beat the BQ by more time than you did, you could be locked out. In other words, your BQ isn’t really a BQ–it’s only a provisional BQ.
I may be a cynic, but it seems to me that the staggered registration process addresses more issues of web-traffic and Denial-of-Service on the BAA server (as it was experienced during the registration mess of 2010) than giving everyone a fair opportunity to qualify for Boston.
Qualifying for Boston has to be hard: it’s the reason why it’s such a big deal among runners, but adding artificial obstacles makes the game unreasonably unfair and doesn’t solve the issue of a too big to handle field.
I’m curious to see how they will actually implement it, since they’ve been coy on all the details from how the staggered process works to the size of the field in 2012 and 2013; for now, I will keep on shooting for a BQ regardless of running Boston: a marathon in 3:05 is already a huge achievement.