The 2021 Boston Marathon: My thoughts on this year’s race

Last week, the Boston Athletic Association announced a date for the 2021 Boston Marathon — Oct. 11, 2021. This all hinges, of course, on how the pandemic progresses over the coming months and whether the state of Massachusetts will even allow an event of that magnitude this fall. 

The BAA hasn’t announced when registration will open. But obviously, this announcement has stirred up major excitement throughout the running community. I belong to several Boston Marathon Facebook groups, and they’ve been lit over the past few days, with many people posting that they’ve booked their hotel rooms already. And of course, lots of speculation about the infamous cutoff. 

Because that’s the thing. The BAA has said that the qualifying period for Boston 2021 began Sept. 15, 2018 and continues through registration (whenever that will be.) So basically, that means everyone who qualified for Boston 2020 (the race that had to be held virtually due to the pandemic) can apply. Plus everyone who ran qualifying times during the typical 2021 qualifying period (September 2019-September 2020) and now, the typical 2022 qualifying period (September 2020-present.) 

My recent BQ, achieved on Oct. 31, 2020 at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, PA, would usually fall into that 2022 window — but now it looks like it will count for 2021. But there’s the issue of the cutoff. 

What is the cutoff, you ask? It’s a source of stress for everyone who qualifies for Boston, unless you’re one of the super fast runners who beats your qualifying time by 20 minutes or more every year. For the last decade or so, the BAA has declined to accept everyone who runs a qualifying time, due to field size limitations. This means they only accept the fastest qualifiers, and if you don’t beat your qualifying time by a certain amount — which varies every year, and there’s really no way of predicting it — your application to run the race is denied. 

For example, when I ran Boston 2019, the cutoff was four minutes and 52 seconds. I beat my qualifying standard by five minutes exactly. So I barely squeaked in. And then for the 2020 race, the BAA tightened the qualifying standards by another five minutes. I aged up and am now in the 40-44 year old group for 2021  — which just means I have to meet the same standard (3:40:00) I had to meet when I qualified for 2019, in the 35-39 year old group! Sigh. 

I ran a 3:36:34 at Chasing the Unicorn, which means I beat my qualifying time by three minutes, 26 seconds. I *highly* doubt that will get me into Boston 2021. Not if I’m competing against everyone who ran a BQ since September 2018. Right now, I’m just holding out hope that the BAA might also let me submit my time for the 2022 race. 

Here’s what I think they should do — not that my opinion holds any weight. I think everyone who was registered for Boston 2020 should get to run Boston 2021. Yes, they all got to run the virtual Boston if they wanted. But we all know that’s not the same as running Boston. All of those runners worked hard for their BQs and deserve to have the true Boston Marathon experience. As for the registered 2020 runners who were running for charity (about 20% of the field), they should also get to run in 2021. They still put in work to get there, and they raise money for many incredible and very worthy charities. 

So that would take care of the 2021 race. Then, the BAA should lump everyone who qualified in the usual 2021 and 2022 qualifying windows into one field for Boston 2022. And of course, leave room for charity runners, too.

Why? Think about it. Plenty of runners qualified for Boston between September 2019 and March 2020. But then COVID brought the racing world to a grinding halt. Slowly, races began to come back over the summer and fall — including small marathons like Chasing the Unicorn. However, all the major marathons that produce a lot of qualifiers (Chicago, Berlin, Philadelphia, the actual Boston Marathon) were canceled in 2020. And plenty of marathons scheduled for the first half of 2021 have already been canceled, too. So there are fewer BQs not only for the traditional 2021 qualifying window, but also for the 2022 qualifying window.  

I just think that’s the most fair thing to do — and not just because it would mean I’d most likely be in for 2022! 

I’m still going to apply when they open registration for 2021. And I will try not to get my hopes up. I got to run Boston two years ago, after all. And I’ll get there again. I’m still extremely proud of my Chasing the Unicorn BQ. It was not easy, what with the last minute cancellation, then last minute uncertainty over the rescheduled date ….. And then all the obstacles that happened at the race itself (I hope I never have to climb over a fallen tree at mile 23 of a marathon ever again. It makes for a good story after the fact, but yikes.) I did my best that day, and it was a great experience. If it’s not good enough for Boston this time — I’ll have other chances. I really believe that. 

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