To Get to the Boston Marathon, Run Faster, and Faster

For thousands of runners, that dream of running in the Boston Marathon just got a little more far-fetched.

Boston is a rare marathon that admits most runners based on merit. To qualify, runners must complete another marathon during the year or so leading up to the registration under a certain time, dependent on their age and gender. For men 35-39, for example, the time is 3 hours 10 minutes; women 60-64 must run in 4:25.

But in recent years, Boston has been getting more qualified applicants than it can handle, since its permit limits the size of its field. It solves this by admitting the fastest runners, while turning away those who only barely met the notional qualifying time. And the problem keeps getting worse.

Boston announced Thursday that only those who bettered the qualifying times by 4:52 would be accepted for 2019. Suddenly that man in his late 30s who thought his 3:09:59 got him into the race found that he really needed to have run 3:05:08.

The marathon said that 30,458 qualified applications had been received; of those, 7,384 were turned away because their times were not 4:52 better than the standard.

Why 4:52 and not an even five minutes? Those eight little seconds mattered: 433 runners who would not have made it if the cutoff had been five minutes sneaked into that tiny window.

The times that runners need to receive an invitation are dropping by more than a minute per year of late. For 2018, the figure was 3:23. In 2017, it was 2:09.

The marathon also announced that in view of the increased applications and faster times, the official qualifying times would all be made fully five minutes faster for 2020.

About 80 percent of the field of 30,000 qualifies on merit, and some elite runners get special invitations. The rest get in as part of charity programs. A few hundred who have completed 10 straight Boston Marathons also get in.

The news was a blow to many runners who had been buzzing in recent days with hope that they would get into the race. There has been much speculation on where the cutoff would fall this year, with many close qualifiers, sometimes known as “squeakers,” holding out hope they would sneak into the race.

Boston is for many lay runners the ultimate American marathon, and running in it can be a career pinnacle, a moment that in some runners’ minds separates the serious marathoner from the hobbyist.

Many runners are finding their dream keeps slipping away, by a minute or so every year.

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