To qualify and gain entry into the Boston Marathon you have to meet a time standard, what is commonly referred to as a Boston Qualifier (BQ). For my age group that means I have to run a sub-3:30 to even be able to apply. But since the Boston Marathon is such a popular and prestigious race, many runners want to vie for the 25,000 or so slots. So to keep it a competitive race, they award the faster runners first. Those that are 20 minutes under the qualifying times are shoe-ins. So are the 10 minute and 5 minute under runners that apply. I got my BQ at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, running a 3:28:19 on a somewhat warm day for the race. I had qualified! But I was a ‘squeaker’ – a runner that has a small margin of being under the cutoff. My cushion was 1:41. One minute and forty-one seconds. Today, the Boston Athletic Association announced the cutoff time – 2:09. I missed the cutoff by 28 seconds.
To say it didn’t affect me would be lying. But the disappointment of missing out on what is generally accepted as the pinnacle achievement by twenty-eight seconds stings somewhat. 28 seconds. Where could I have lost 28 seconds in my BQ run at Chicago? Did the weather set me back? It was warm, and it was definitely windy in the last 5K, but I had a personal best race that day. Did I not train enough? Where could I have gained 28 seconds? I had not stopped for any bathroom breaks. I had limited my time spent getting through the aid stations. I had hit my splits very well. I ran the tangents. My nutrition was all going to plan. Truthfully, I think I gave it my best shot.
As I finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon I glanced at my watch and saw my time. My reaction was very strange. I had a sense of overwhelming joy at being under my qualifying time, but I knew that the current BQ cutoff was a whopping 2:28 for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I realized that my time probably would not be enough. I had my own personal “ABC Wide World of Sports” moment – I was experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in the post 26.2 mile finish chute. I was both happy and upset. Then I went to Devil Dawgs and had a hot dog.
It didn’t take me long to get over it. I was proud that I had qualified, and extremely proud that I had just set a marathon personal best for myself by ten minutes! So I patted myself on my back and moved on to my 2016 racing season, with the expectation that I would apply for the Boston Marathon when it opened in September of 2016.
September arrived and I hit submit. I knew that it was long shot, but I have spent probably close to 15 or more years attempting to get into this race, so why not? And then this eternal pessimist started to become an optimist. I had come across a Runner’s World online forum that was discussing the cutoff time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Among the contributors that were posting on this forum were statistics loving runners and stat crunchers who almost took joy in trying to guess what the cutoff would be. Amazingly enough, they were mostly predicting that the cutoff would be less than 30 seconds to even as small as ZERO cutoff! I absorbed it all. One guy I questioned as to what he thought my chances were replied that I was “definitely in”. All the stars were lining up for me. The previous year’s qualifying marathons had been hot, which meant many runners had difficulty qualifying. The 2017 Boston was to be run on the day after Easter Sunday, which would more than likely keep many more away. And they had indicated that the field size may be around 30,000. I waited for two crazy and stressful weeks. Then the email came. 28 seconds.
I left work at noon and had already talked myself off the ledge. As I was driving home listening to my typical classic rock radio station, one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands – STYX – came on the radio. I pulled into the driveway already rocking out to Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) and I was struck by the chorus:
- “GET UP! GET BACK ON YOUR FEET! YOU’RE THE ONE THEY CAN’T BEAT, AND YOU KNOW IT! AWW, C’MON! LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT. JUST TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT AND DON’T BLOW IT!”
I put on my running gear, and went for my planned marathon training plan run. I have the 2016 Chicago Marathon in ten days. I plan on taking my best shot at another BQ.