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. 

When every second counts: I got into the Boston Marathon with 8 seconds to spare

Did you ever think about what you could do in eight seconds?

Read a sentence in a book? Give someone you love a hug? Walk up a flight of stairs?

I never did, either. Until the Boston Athletic Association announced that the qualifying cutoff for the 2019 race was four minutes, 52 seconds.

I qualified for Boston 2019 at the 2017 Rehoboth Seashore Marathon with a perfect five-minute cushion — meaning I squeaked into the race with eight seconds to spare.

As many of you know, qualifying for the Boston Marathon has gotten tougher and tougher in recent years. It’s no longer enough just to hit the qualifying standard for your age and gender (which is already no easy feat for most runners.) Since 2012, the BAA has implemented a cutoff for qualifying runners, meaning you have to run a certain amount of time faster than your standard to be accepted. The frustrating thing is, you never know what that time is going to be, so it’s a moving target. Also, the cutoff has been trending upward over the last few years because more and more runners want to run Boston and are training harder and racing faster to get there. For the 2018 Boston Marathon, runners had to be three minutes, 23 seconds faster than their qualifying standard to get into the race.

For the 2019 Boston Marathon, a woman in my age group (35-39) had to run a 3:40:00 marathon to register for the race. When I was training to BQ in Rehoboth, I figured a 3:40 wouldn’t actually get me into Boston, so my goal was to run a 3:35. When I met that time exactly, I was thrilled! But as my registration date neared, I started to stress — especially as I started to see chatter online that the cutoff for 2019 would likely be higher than ever before. Would my extra five minutes be enough?

I registered on Friday, Sept. 14, and I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous about waiting for an acceptance. I wasn’t that anxious when I applied for college. I’ve certainly never been that stressed over a job application. Does that seem ridiculous? Maybe. But I knew I’d earned my BQ, and felt I deserved to be able to run this historic race. And the fact that I knew I qualified, but didn’t know if I’d make that yet-to-be-determined cutoff …. well, it drove me crazy.

Thankfully, I got my official acceptance Monday, Sept. 17! I was surprised it came that fast — there were people in my Boston Marathon groups on Facebook with much larger buffers than myself who had to wait longer. Maybe the BAA knew my impatient self couldn’t stand it? Haha.

About a week and a half later, the BAA announced the 4:52 cutoff, and I realized just *how* close I came to not getting in. I mean, eight seconds! What if I’d stopped to pee? Or lingered too long at a water stop? Eight seconds is nothing over the course of 26.2 miles.

The BAA also announced they were tightening the standards for Boston 2020, making them five minutes faster for all age groups. So, for 2020, I’d have to run a 3:35:00 or better to BQ. Personally, I’m a little bummed because I’ll be aging up for 2021 (I turn 40 in July 2020), and was looking forward to getting an extra five minutes. But now if I want to BQ for 2021, I’ll need to run a 3:40:00 or better once again.

While I’m thrilled that I got into Boston, I’m so sad for all of the qualified runners who were turned away for next year. The BAA said more than 7,000 runners were shut out of the race, which really sucks. I do feel that they all earned their spots and they all deserved to be there — but the BAA limits the field to 30,000 runners. I’ll be really curious to see what the cutoff will be for Boston 2020, if there even is one with the new standards. I’m sure there will be — but I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near 4:52.

What’s next?

In less than two weeks, I’ll be running the Baltimore Marathon! It’s my sixth marathon, and my main goal is to have fun and not blow up like I did in the B&A Trail Marathon. I’d like to run a 3:45 or better, which seems doable.

I’ve followed a 12-week training plan this time around, and it’s mostly gone well. I’ve been able to work a few races into the plan, including the A10, the Charles Street 12 and the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach. I actually had 16 miles to run the day of the Bottle and Cork, so I ran six miles before the race. Given that extra mileage, I ran the race about 10 minutes slower than last year, but that was still fast enough to get third in my age group. Can’t complain about that.

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99 percent sure I can see mascara from the previous night still smeared around my eyes. Because Dewey Beach.

I also dealt with an annoying calf strain that appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago. I was running the Run Now, Wine Later 5K fun run in Annapolis and wasn’t even a mile into the race when it just seized up. I had to DNS the Charm City 20-Miler two days later, and was so bummed. But it feels good now. I ran 20 miles last weekend and 12 this weekend, and I also got a spiffy new pair of hot pink calf sleeves to wear that will hopefully prevent this from happening again! Bring it on, Baltimore!

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My friend Tammi is going to crush her first marathon!