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! 

I’m a Boston qualifier! Recapping the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon

No need to bury the lede — I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday!

Three days later, and the excitement still hasn’t worn off. I really did it! All that hard work paid off! Next September, I will get to register for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

My BQ standard is 3:40, and I ran a 3:35:00:7 — that’s right, seven-tenths of a second over a perfect 3:35, which was my goal. If you run five minutes or more under your standard, the Boston Athletic Association lets you register during week one of registrations — not sure if this counts. Anyone know? The field for the Boston Marathon has gotten so competitive over the past few years that to gain entrance into the 2018 marathon, you had to run a whole three minutes, 23 seconds under your standard — which is why I was shooting for 3:35 instead of 3:40. I should have a pretty good cushion for 2019, barring any major jumps in the cutoff time.

The road to a BQ goes through Rehoboth 

The Rehoboth Marathon was my fourth full marathon, and the first time I trained specifically for a BQ. I decided to go for it after I ran the Charlottesville Marathon last April in 3:42:15, surprising myself — it was a difficult course, and my last long run before my taper was a disaster of a 20-miler. I always train hard, but I knew if I pushed myself even harder, I could earn a Boston qualifier. Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan, which had me running Yasso 800s (I truly believe this is what got me the 3:35 … more on that in a bit), hill repeats and three 30-mile weekends comprised of 10 miles one day, 20 miles the next.

It was a damn tough plan, but it worked. I chose Rehoboth because I’ve been vacationing there most of my life, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The course is also super flat, unlike, well, every other marathon I’ve run. I think the fast course, coupled with that training plan and the amazing weather on race day, helped me meet my goal.

Speaking of the weather, I was REAL nervous about it. The race (which is both a full and a half marathon) has a really active Facebook group, and about 10 days out from the race, people started posting forecasts. One of the early forecasts called for 30 mph winds, and my heart sunk immediately when I saw that. I really feel the crazy winds hurt me in the Annapolis Running Classic and the Turkey Chase 10K two weekends ago, so I was not happy about possibly facing the same thing in the marathon. Fortunately, the forecast changed and there was almost no wind at all! With temperatures at the start of the race in the 40s, and the sun shining, it really was pretty ideal weather for a December race.

The race

My plan was to run with the 3:40 pace group for at least the first half of the marathon, then pass them by. I figured staying with the 3:40 group in the beginning would keep me from starting out too fast, then burning out late in the race. It ended up being the right strategy.

Both the half and full marathon started off at the Rehoboth Bandstand on Rehoboth Avenue, and right away, I noticed how crowded it was. I was pretty much running shoulder to shoulder with other runners until I broke off from the pace group at mile 14. That was the only thing I really didn’t like about the race — but when you’re running on narrow-ish streets, through a state park and down a rail trail, it’s kind of to be expected. I definitely had to apologize a few times to other runners I elbowed!

That aside, I thought the course was just beautiful. After starting in downtown Rehoboth, runners in both races ran through Cape Henlopen State Park, a favorite place of mine. The half marathoners turned around at a pavilion inside the park, while everyone running the marathon ran through the park and into Lewes Beach. We even got to run along the coast line for a hot second. At around mile 10, we ran past a Dairy Queen, where workers were handing out small servings of vanilla ice cream. While that was a nice idea, there was no way I was brave enough to try eating ice cream when I still had 16 miles left to run — I’ve had issues with dairy during training as it is. I stuck with my typical marathon fueling plan, which is taking Gu at miles five, 10, 15 and 20. It worked, though I felt my stomach start to grumble just before I hit mile 15 and got worried that a crash was imminent. Fortunately, the Gu (shout out to the lemon sublime and toasted marshmallow flavors!) did its job.

After turning around in Lewes Beach, the marathon runners went back through the park, and I decided it was time for me to go off on my own. At that point, I had been running a steady 8:20 pace, and it felt really comfortable. I started to speed up into the low 8s, while still making a point to appreciate the view around me (if you haven’t visited Cape Henlopen State Park, you totally should!) When I looked at my watch and saw I ran mile 15 in 7:58, I got a little nervous that I was going too fast, but I still felt great. I ran mile 16 in 8:07 and 17 in 8:16, and then came upon two runners who were chatting about running Boston.

I told them I was trying to qualify, and the one runner, James, asked me what time I was shooting for. I said I needed 3:40, but wanted a 3:35. He offered to pace me the rest of the marathon, which was so nice of him. He told me he was trying to take it easy with a 3:40 time, so he was quite obviously a much faster runner than I am! At this point, I was still feeling really strong and we hit miles 18 and 19 (which were back in the town of Rehoboth) at a sub-8 pace.

That pace continued as we ran miles 20 and 21 together, then we entered the Junction and Breakwater Trail, a rail trail that I didn’t even know existed until this race. (Now I have a new place to run when I come to the beach!) The trail was a little uneven, but not too bad, and I was able to hold a steady pace in the high 7s/low 8s. One big highlight was the dozens of flags hanging above the trail at mile 22, representing countries from all around the world. The volunteers at that stop were playing awesome music, too. At that point, I remember looking down at my watch and seeing I was at three hours, and knew that I could conceivably finish in the low 3:30s. After the turnaround point at the end of the trail, it was time to head back into Rehoboth, and I knew the finish line was near!

At mile 24, I started to hit “the wall,” and even began to feel a bit queasy. But my running partner cheered me on and I managed to power through. At mile 25, as we were running into Rehoboth, a spectator called out, “You look so athletic!” which made my day. At that point, I kept my eyes trained on the sidelines looking for my husband (who was in the bathroom when I crossed the finish line at the Charlottesville Marathon, haha.)

This time, he was right there at mile 26, and when he saw me, he yelled “EMPTY THE TANK! The finish line is right around the corner!” So I pretty much pushed as hard as I could mentally, ran that last 0.2 with everything left in me and crossed the finish line in a hair over 3:35. I hugged my new friend, who congratulated me on the BQ. Then I met up with my husband, who had brought a change of clean clothes for me, and it was time to hit the after party! I got three beer tickets, for three Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales (one of my favorite beers), and boy, did they taste good!

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Why I qualified 

Aside from the kindness of a fellow marathoner, there are a few reasons why I had such a successful race.

  1. Yasso 800s. This speed workout is named after its creator, Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso, who realized he could predict his marathon time, more or less, by how fast he could run 800 meters. My training plan had me doing the 800s every three weeks, starting off with repeats of four, all the way up to repeats of eight. I ran my repeats in 3:35, and ….. voila, a 3:35 marathon! Of course there is probably more to it than that, but I was amazed at how accurate the 800s turned out to be. I tweeted Yasso after the race, and he said he was actually in Rehoboth cheering on the runners — so I ran past him and didn’t even realize!
  2. I ran more than ever before. This is a no brainer, but the more miles you log, the faster you will get. In previous training cycles, I’d always run one 20-miler before tapering. This time, I ran three. Plus, the day before the long run always included a medium-long run– for example, eight miles Saturday then 16 on Sunday; nine miles, then 19 miles; and finally, three weekends of 10 miles, then 20 miles. Some weekends I felt like I did nothing but run!
  3. The weather! Totally out of a runner’s control, but bad weather can make or break a race. I struggled with what to wear during this race, and settled on a long-sleeved technical top and running tights. I did not wear a running jacket, and I’m glad I didn’t, because even with temperatures in the 40s, it started to warm up pretty quickly. I never felt too hot or cold, and I feel like I really lucked out there.
  4. I followed the long, slow distance rule during long runs, but also worked on finishing fast. You’re supposed to do your long runs during marathon training at a pace that’s easy and comfortable for you, which is probably not your race pace. I usually have a hard time doing that, but this time, I ran my long runs in the 9-minute range. But I also threw in a few marathon pace miles in there and worked on finishing fast (I ran the last two miles of my 20-milers at a sub-8 pace.) I feel that definitely helped me in the last few miles of the Rehoboth Marathon, when I was pushing hard physically and mentally.
  5. I believed in myself. Simple, but true! I’ve spent the last few months thinking about my goal and dreaming of what it would feel like to run a BQ time. I knew I had the physical ability to do it, and I’d certainly put in the work. I truly saw this as my race. And it was.

Since I qualified for Boston 2019, that leaves me in search of a marathon in 2018! What should my next one be? I’m thinking of targeting a November marathon, but I’m so used to training for marathons over the winter that I kind of want to do a spring one, too. I welcome your suggestions!