BAA: What’s next for 2014?

May 17, 2013

baa-logoYesterday, the BAA announced that approximately 5600 runners who were unable to finish the 2013 marathon would be invited to register for the 2014 race. I’m happy that the BAA decided to make that offer, and I hope the opportunity to run again will help heal some of the emotional wounds left behind after the events on Patriot’s Day. But that decision will have consequences for an even larger number of people, both runners and non-runners. By adding extra runners to the 2014 field without saying how they will fit them in the race, the BAA created more questions than they answered.

No one knows how the BAA intends to make room for the runners who accept their invitation. Maybe the race will get bigger in 2014, but all they’ve announced so far is, “No decision has been made on the maximum field size for the 2014 Boston Marathon, including the number of qualifiers and invitational applications available.”

The BAA has to finish working with local officials in the cities and towns along the race course to determine how many people can run. If the field doesn’t grow by at least as many runners as get waived in, then those numbers have to come from somewhere, either from charity bibs or from the numbers available to qualified runners.

After the BAA introduced more stringent qualifying times for 2013, everyone who qualified by the time registration opened in September was able to get in, but that might not be the case for 2014. More qualified runners than usual will be competing for the number of available slots, however many they may be. If the field isn’t big enough to include all qualified runners, inevitably someone who had a bad day in 2013 and dropped out of the race well before the bombs went off will get a number that could have gone to a 2014 qualifier.

Charities may see a bigger impact. If the field doesn’t grow, they could see a reduction in the number of numbers they have to hand out to their fundraising volunteers. But even if the charities get as many numbers as they usually do, there will still be consequences.

Since most of the 5600 people who will be getting waivers were charity runners, the pool of fundraisers the charities have to draw upon will be significantly smaller. In a normal year, there are always some charities looking for runners at the last minute. With as many as 5600 people taken out of the pool, some of them hard-core repeat fundraisers, even more charity numbers may go unclaimed.

Most of those dedicated volunteers who return year-after-year will still work to support their charity. But they may not collect as much. There’s a big difference between “I need $5000 to get in” and “I’m in, but it would be nice to collect a few bucks, too.” Are there enough additional runners who will collect the full amount to make up the difference?

And the task of collecting donations may be harder for those runners who do volunteer for a charity number. Already, there have been charities who have noticed reductions in donations because money is going to the One Fund to assist the victims of the bombing.

It will be interesting to watch and see how it all plays out. The BAA has a tough job ahead, trying to balance out all the competing interests. Let’s hope that all parties cooperate and allow the size of the 2014 field to grow enough to make the job easier.


What Would Johnny (Kelley) Do?

May 15, 2013

startUpdate: The BAA has announced that 2013 runners who made it past the half-marathon but were unable to finish will get first shot at Boston 2014. No word as to the size of the 2014 field.

After the events of Patriot’s Day 2013, everyone anticipates that there will be significantly higher demand for entries to the 2014 Boston Marathon. It’s probably too late for hordes of additional runners to qualify, but a higher percentage of already-qualified runners will choose to apply, charity runners are eager to do their part to help the victims, and there’s a petition, signed by almost 30,000 people, asking the BAA to let the 5700 runners who were stopped short of the finish (most of them non-qualifiers) in.

The BAA, along with local officials from the cities and towns along the marathon route, will have some tough choices to make. I have a history of obsessing over the Boston qualifying process (there’s a reason one of my books is called Overthinking the Marathon), probably because I’m usually I’m right on the edge between ‘in” and “out”. I’m sure that the BAA is eager for my opinion as to what they should do (not).

I wouldn’t be too upset if the field size and the registration process remained unchanged for 2014. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that if we let the terrorists force changes then they win, but it does seem fair to keep the rules the same for everyone, whether or not they made their qualifying attempt before or after the bombing.

But it would be great if we could open up the field. The BAA managed to fit almost 40,000 people on the course in 1996 for the 100th marathon, even with everyone starting at once. With wave starts, they might be able to fit even more runners into the race in 2014. On the other hand, there would be less time for the advance planning needed to prepare for the crowds, especially when you consider the inevitable increase in security precautions.

Coincidentally, since I missed my BQ-5 by 36 seconds, a larger field can only help me get in.

If they do increase the field size for 2014, I would recommend that they register people in this order:

1) ALL qualifiers (as of the date registration for 2014 opens)

2) Everyone who couldn’t finish in 2013

3) …and then fill out the field with charity runners

My favorite idea: With 40,000+ runners, there won’t be enough room on the course to race once you get past the elites. Since that’s the case, why not seed runners according to their charity donation? Maybe, as Amby Burfoot suggests, the process could target the One Fund Boston and other nonprofits that clearly benefit Boston’s public well-being. Even qualifiers would have to kick in, if they didn’t want to start behind the 6-hour sloggers.

boston-bibHowever they do it, I hope the BAA finds a way to open up the race to as many people as possible. The bombers attacked the race by hurting the spectators, our fans and loved ones. In 2014 we owe them a pageant, the bigger the better.


2014: Year of the Marathon-a-Month?

March 15, 2013

I’m thinking about making 2014 the “Year of the Marathon-a-Month” (aka “Marathon Book Tour 2014″). That would be a nice little challenge; not much, maybe, compared to the recent spate of marathon-a-week runners, but enough for my tastes. I might even get around to registering as a Marathon Maniac.

It’s NEVER too soon to start planning these things, so today I put together a spreadsheet with some possible races. The criteria:

  1. One marathon in each month
  2. Keep travel expenses low by picking marathons near where we live (eastern Massachusetts) when possible
  3. In April, running Boston is a given
  4. Avoid mega-marathons wherever possible

Travel expenses are the biggest potential hurdle. The preliminary list I came up with doesn’t have many options for March, August, or December.  I’d love to get your suggestions for those months in the comments!


Learn from Tom Osler’s Painful Experience

May 12, 2012

In 2009, Running Gazette published an interview with Tom Osler, a champion runner from the ’60’s and author of one of the best early training guides, the Serious Runner’s Handbook.  There’s some fun stuff on shoes and interesting looks at  other well-known figures in running history, like Bill Bowerman and George Sheehan.

The money quote is about how to run injury-free.

“After that [publishing his book] the only things that I can say that I have learned is that injury is caused by running hard when you are tired. I was just in Barnes and Noble and picked up Runners World. They had an article titled “Run Injury Free for the Rest of Your Life.” I looked at it and it was just baloney. Do this exercise…you are getting injured because your hips are this or that…It’s much simpler than that. You get injured because you are doing something your body just can’t take. You are running hard and you’re tired at the same time–that’s when you get hurt. If you don’t do that you’ll really cut down injuries. However the problem is that’s what a runner does in a race.  He gets tired at the end of a race and he runs hard. You’ve got to be cautious and sparing of what you do in a race. You have to realize that the final stages of a race are destructive.”

Elite runners can tolerate frequent speedwork, but that’s what makes them elite.  Most of us (non-elite runners) who want to improve are better served by avoiding speedwork, limiting all-out racing, and running more miles at a comfortable pace instead.  Speedwork should only be done in small doses just before the most important races, to sharpen up without getting overtired or breaking down.

It’s a damn hard lesson to learn.


Why run?

April 28, 2012

People are always asking me, “Why do you do so much running?”  Everybody who spends much time running has a long list of answers to that question, but my personal favorite is simple:

“Because when I’m running, I stop worrying about ‘why’ all the time.”


Preliminary Report on the Effect of the New Boston Qualifying Times

April 22, 2012

(Update: Click here for a look at the numbers from races through mid-August)

The other day, @jamieofthenorth tweeted about how tough this year’s Boston Marathon was because of the heat.  “At the 2011 #bostonmarathon, 10,374 runners requalified for Boston. This year? Just 2705.”

That got me thinking.  It was a tough day, that’s for sure, but you also have to remember to take the new, faster, qualifying times for 2013 into account when comparing qualifiers for Boston in 2013 with qualifiers for 2012 .

@jamieofthenorth got his numbers from MarathonGuide.com, so I went there to poke around.  Their lists show the marathons with the highest percentage of qualifiers and the races with the most qualifiers.  It’s only April, so a lot of races that were on the 2011 lists have not been run yet this year.

If you compare the qualifying rate in 2011 (for 2012) with the qualifying rate in 2012 (for 2013) for the seven races that show up in both years, you get this:

Boston Qualifiers 2011/2012
Race 2011 % 2012 % 2011 temp 2012 temp
Houston 8.3% 13.1% 67 70
City of L.A. 4.1% 3.6% 56 58
Disney 4.7% 3.6% 64 77
RnR Arizona 13.9% 7.4% 71 63
Miami 10.1% 6.7% 74 76
National 14.6% 4.9% 47 75
Boston 43.6% 13.1% 61 87

The percentage of runners who qualified for Boston at the Houston Marathon actually went up, but I figure that anomaly might be due to the quality of the extra runners (about 10% more than 2011) who showed up because the U.S. Olympic Trials were held there the day before.

The qualifying rate at the National Marathon in DC plummeted by two-thirds.  That’s about the same drop as Boston but, like Boston, it was much hotter in DC in 2012 than it was in 2011.

In the other four races, the qualifying rate dropped on average by about a third.  That sample is only from a few months, but it covers well over 40,000 runners, so for now I’ll assume that that’s the approximate size of the effect created by the new BQ times.

It’ll be interesting to look back in December to see whether those numbers hold up over the course of the year.


Your fingers point to your athletic ability

January 21, 2012

A pair of recent studies found that for both men and women, people whose ring fingers were longer than their index fingers were more likely to be successful athletes.  Lower ratios (shorter ring fingers) are believed to be linked to higher pre-natal levels of androgens (male hormones).

The ratio for the average person is about 1, meaning that the two fingers are about the same length.  My ratio is about .9.  What’s yours?


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