Qualifying for Boston

I ran my first marathon in 2013, and since then I have run 8 marathons and 3 ultramarathons.  According to Running USA, there were about 541,000 marathon finishers in 2014. For most marathoners, myself included, the Boston marathon is considered the Holy Grail of marathon races.


Nashville Rock and Roll 2013, my first marathon and it poured the whole time!

So, what makes the Boston Marathon so attractive to runners? First, there is the history of the race, which dates back to 1897 as the oldest annual marathon in the world. The Boston Marathon is one of the six world marathon majors. (The world majors include London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Boston, and one day I want to run all of them!)  It is also New England’s most widely viewed sporting event, with about 500,000 spectators annually.

Then there is the qualifying process, which is just the carrot that a lot of runners can’t resist.  A runner must complete a standard certified marathon course within a specified period of time, usually extending from September to September the year before the upcoming April race.  The qualifying times were tightened in 2013 due to the number of registrants.  For a female in the age bracket 18-34, which is my category, the qualifying time is 3 hours and 35 minutes.  For a male in that same age bracket, the qualifying time is a speedy 3:05.  The time standard increases by 5 minutes for each age bracket category. A table of qualifying times is below.  It is a big accomplishment for a runner to Boston Qualify in itself, often called a “BQ”.

18 – 34: 3hrs 05min 18 – 34: 3hrs 35min
34 – 39: 3hrs 10min 35 – 39: 3hrs 40min
40 – 44: 3hrs 15min 40 – 44: 3hrs 45min
45 – 49: 3hrs 25min 45 – 49: 3hrs 55min
50 – 54: 3hrs 30min 50 – 54: 4hrs 00min
55 – 59: 3hrs 40min 55 – 59: 4hrs 10min
60 – 64: 3hrs 55min 60 – 64: 4hrs 25min
65 – 69: 4hrs 10min 65 – 69: 4hrs 40min
70 – 74: 4hrs 25min 70 – 74: 4hrs 55min
75 – 79: 4hrs 40min 75 – 79: 5hrs 10min
80 and over: 4hrs 55min 80 and over: 5hrs 25min

Registration opens on a designated day in September where qualifying candidates are able to register with priority for faster times.  The registration period typically lasts over a couple of weeks.  For the last few years, the race filled up before all qualifying candidates were able to register.  The 2015 race cut-off was set at 1:01 faster than qualifying time, and the 2016 race was set at 2:28 faster than qualifying time.  This means that runners need to plan their BQ with margin for the cut-off.  In 2016, 4,562 runners met the time standard, but were still not accepted.  This is a disappointing reality for any runner, especially since the cut-off time is not determined until the actual registration takes place in September.

About 1/5 of the entries are reserved for charities and sponsors with the expectation that these slots will raise about $10 million a year.  There is also a special division for runners with disabilities.

I ran my first marathon in spring 2013, and decided to try for a BQ in 2014.  I chose the February 2014 Run with Donna marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, and finished with a time of 3:34:59, which was one second within the qualifying time.  Knowing that I would probably need more margin that one second, I turned around and ran the Nashville Rock and Roll a few weeks later, but did not improve my time.  Marathons require about a 6 month recovery time if you push your body for a best time, so I took my Nashville experience as a sign that I needed to give my body a break.  In September of 2014, I registered for Boston 2015 with my time of 3:34:59, but the cut-off for the race was 1:01 shorter than my BQ time.


Jacksonville Run with Donna 26.2

Not to be discouraged, I decided to try again for 2016.  The race period for 2016 was September 2014 through September 2015.  In December 2014 I ran the Kiawah marathon in 3:29:36, which was faster than the required time by more than 5 minutes.  My average pace throughout the race was 7:56 min/mi.  I know that some people BQ on their first try, but it took me three marathons before I understood what it meant to train smarter and pace myself during a race.


One month after I BQ’d, my husband and I got pregnant.  We had planned to only try to get pregnant as long as I would have time to deliver a baby and still train for the race.  I know, that may sound crazy to plan pregnancy around Boston, but my husband and I didn’t feel any real urgency to start a family right away.  Fortunately, God knew what we needed more than we did, and He gave us the biggest joy of our lives.  Cadence Joy Ussery was born on September 29, 2015.  Six months later, I ran my first Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016.

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