It Isn’t Easy Qualifying:
Some Just Squeak Through

By Celia Spell, Tedi Rabold, Ana Aceves, and Haley Bascom

It doesn’t matter how many people want to run the Boston Marathon. Only 30,000 of them can. And 24,000 of those people have to qualify. The requirements are different for each age group and gender. The remaining participants run for charity and don’t have to beat a particular time.

For the 2016 marathon, elite runners can qualify only if they are 2 minutes and 28 seconds faster than the standard qualifying time for their age group — meaning that these runners need to run faster than the average elite runner. This number is twice as fast as last year’s qualifying minimum of 1 minute and 2 seconds faster than the standard time.

Qualifying can be lucrative. More than half a million dollars are awarded to those who place in the Beantown race. Last year’s first place men’s and women’s winner received $150,000 — the highest amount of prize money awarded by any marathon. For second place the hefty sum dropped to $75,000, and then decreased at each subsequent spot until 15th place with a $1,500 prize.

Little known fact: Competitive runners can’t place among the top 15 if they wear headphones, out of concern that they could benefit from outside coaching during the race. “I’m on track to break 3:30. So if I want to qualify, I won’t be listening to any music,” said Elizabeth Calhoun, a charity runner racing for Tedy’s Team, a Boston charity team benefiting the American Stroke Association.

The first step to qualify for the Boston Marathon is to run a different race within the prior year. That may sound counter-intuitive, but the demand to race in Boston is high. The organizers use these statistics to determine if you’re fast enough to run such a high profile race, and the finishing time of a previous race determines your ability to run in Boston.

From where do all of these runners hail? This map shows that most runners come from New England. But there are many qualifying races coast to coast.

The image above shows what races Marathon runners use to qualify. Most runners use their running times from the previous year’s Boston Marathon.

The next largest group hails from Chicago, and then from New York City. Even though these runners travel from 87 countries to pound the pavement in Boston, most qualifiers run their qualifying race in the United States. A whopping 4,308 qualifiers ran the Berlin Marathon, and 1,351 ran marathons in Ottawa and Toronto.

Squeakers-marathonQualifying itself isn’t easy. For example, if you’re under 50, you must run a qualifying marathon in under 4 hours. And that number drops with
age —18-20 year-old men need to break 3 hours and 5 minutes. But even if you meet that time, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get to run. Your ability to run the Boston Marathon depends on how speedy your age-group opponents are.

Running times also determine when you can register. Spots fill quickly, and early registration is important for your acceptance into the marathon. The faster you run, the more likely you are be one of the 24,000 runners who compete in the Boston race.
Some runners barely make the cut off. These slowpokes are called “squeakers” because they just squeak by. They may only qualify by a measly margin of 4 seconds: the difference between one gulp of water or 2.