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How to Qualify for the Boston Marathon

Updated on August 7, 2020
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Stephanie has run seven marathons, including the Boston Marathon and numerous half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. She loves running and exercise!

The Boston Marathon is the Ultimate Race

After years of believing I could never even complete a marathon distance race, I qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon in my second marathon (the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco)!

For those that are not familiar with the sport of running, just anyone cannot sign up for Boston. You must qualify to run the race, and you must get one of the approximately 20,000 spots in the iconic race. The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, which covers a distance of 26.2 miles. The race is one of the five World Marathon Majors and among one of the best-known running events.

In 2010, registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon reached capacity in a mere 8 hours, the day the site went live for sign-ups. After the race was filled, no one else was allowed entry... even if you trained for and ran a great marathon to qualify for the ultimate marathon race!

To address this, qualifying times for the Boston Marathon were changed for the 2012 race to make it more difficult to qualify for the race.

The Boston Marathon is a world-famous race
The Boston Marathon is a world-famous race | Source

Do you Have to be Fast and Strong to Qualify for the Boston Marathon?

Depending on your age and sex, there are different qualifying times for the Boston Marathon. For example, a woman my age currently needs to finish a Boston-certified marathon race in 3 hours, 50 minutes within 18 months of the iconic race. Run too early and your time won't count!

Details are set forth at the Official Boston Marathon website:

Qualifiers for the 2014 Boston Marathon must meet the designated time standard that corresponds with their age group and gender. All race applicants must adhere to the guidelines set forth by the B.A.A., USA Track and Field or foreign equivalent, International Paralympic Committee, Wheelchair Sports, USA, Disabled Sports, USA, and the United States Association for Blind Athletes. Qualifying times are met in competitions observing these same rules. Proof of qualification must accompany each athlete's application, and participants are required to be 18 years or older on race day.

Outside of the Olympics and a few Championship races, the Boston Marathon is the only U.S. marathon for which you have to qualify. Proof of your qualification must accompany your application.

Personally, I would say that you do have to be strong to qualify for Boston. Physical strength is only part of it. You need the mental toughness to train for and run a full marathon, and to keep up the qualifying pace throughout the entire 26.2 miles. For me, that meant a consistent 8:45 pace, which is actually slow for my normal 5K and 10K races. But its very different when you are running for several hours! It also means weeks and weeks of training, through all sorts of weather and other challenges. Then, there is the race itself...

Improving your speed so that you can achieve a Boston qualifying time is also possible. Read on for more tips below!

At the start line for the Boston Marathon
At the start line for the Boston Marathon | Source

Qualifying Times for Boston Marathon (post-2012)


Qualifying times no longer include up to :59 seconds

NOTE: there are separate qualifying standards for Wheelchair racers, Blind/Visually Impaired and Mobility Impaird

Could You Qualify for Boston?

Runners in the Boston Marathon
Runners in the Boston Marathon | Source

How to Improve Running Endurance to Help you Qualify for the Boston Marathon

I trained for my most recent marathon with a training group in my hometown. Certified marathon coaches guided us on our weekly long runs and also set special speed workouts, hill workouts and tempo runs during the week. Each week, we logged 20-40 miles, following a 16-week schedule leading up to the day of our marathon race.

Most people will tell you that you don't have to run fast during marathon training. In fact, we often kept our pace between 9:30 and 10 minute miles. Our marathon coach held us to "negative splits" during our long runs. So, if we ran the first 9 miles at a 9:30 pace, our second 9 miles had to be 30 seconds per mile faster.

Give yourself at least 3 months to train for a marathon if you have completed the 26.2 mile distance before. Newbies should consult a doctor before starting marathon training and allow 6-12 months to train.

A very important part of any marathon training program is cross-training. I am currently taking two spin classes each week, as well as two strength/core conditioning classes. Cross-training allows me to continue to build my fitness level, improve muscle strength and reduce the potential of injury from repetitive pounding over too many running miles.

Losing weight can also help improve running endurance and speed. Even a relatively small 5-10 pound reduction can literally lighten your load. Again, be sure to consult your doctor before embarking on a weight loss program. Since you are probably burning more calories than usual, you will want to carefully manage your diet to include an optimal balance of carbohydrates and protein. Don't lose too quickly, or it could affect your running performance.

Complete the Boston Marathon Course in only 8 Minutes!

Getting ready to run the Boston Marathon
Getting ready to run the Boston Marathon | Source

How to Improve your Running Pace to Qualify for the Boston Marathon

In a typical week, most marathon training plans will require 1-2 "regular" runs, about 3-6 miles in length, one run per week that is performance-based (speed, tempo, hills) and one long run, which will vary in length from 9-23 miles. Generally, you will add 1-2 miles to your long run each weekend. Don't make the mistake of simply piling on miles each week without a plan. You may end up injured and otherwise unable to finish your marathon, much less qualify for Boston!

Specialized workouts are generally where you can improve your overall running pace. Speed workouts at the track will require you to run 1/2 to 1 mile at a pace about 60-90 seconds faster than your qualifying time pace (for me, that's about a 7:30 pace), with 1/4 to 1/2 mile recovery between sets. Repeat 3-6 times.

Hill workouts help build leg strength. Some runners do hill repeats using time as a measure: for example, run 30 seconds up, recovery 30 seconds down (repeat 3 times), then increase to running 60 seconds up, with 30 seconds recovery (repeating 3 times). Finally, end with 90 seconds up and 30 seconds recovery. Don't lean into the hill. Stand up straight and tall and imagine a rope around your waist, pulling you up the hill.

Tempo runs are also timed workouts that focus on pace. Warm up for 1 mile, then run 4-8 miles at a 5K pace (faster than your projected marathon pace), then cool down for a mile.

While not necessarily part of a training program, I like to include several races in the months leading up to a full marathon. Last year, I ran four 1/2 marathons and two 10K races. You'll learn important lessons about pacing during a race and how to avoid going out too fast. Racing will also give you insights into hydration and fuel needs, which could differ in the higher stress situation of a race, as opposed to when you are merely logging miles during long runs.

Reasons to Run the Boston Marathon

A proud Boston Marathon finisher!
A proud Boston Marathon finisher! | Source

Details About the Boston Marathon

Each year, the Boston Marathon is run in Boston, Massachusetts on Patriot's Day, which is the third Monday of April. In 2011, the race was be on April 18. And I was there!

The Boston Marathon is hosted by the City of Boston and managed by the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association). It has been held on the third Monday of April since 1897. Approximately 20,000 runners enter the race each year. In 2011, when I ran the race, it was the 40th anniversary of the first time a woman was allowed to run the Boston Marathon (1972).

The race itself is a point-to-point course, starting in Hopkinton and ending in Copley Square. You've probably heard of "Heartbreak Hill," one of the challenging hills of the course, near Boston College around miles 20-21. There are several other hills along the course, as well (Heartbreak Hill is actually the last of them), which can slow some runners to a walk, if not adequately trained.

Running Boston is like no other race - with half a million people cheering you on along the course! Not only do people line the streets, but the Boston Red Sox always play a game at Fenway Park on the day of the marathon, which is timed so that the crowd will empty out into the streets to cheer on the runners as they get to the final mile of the race.

Do You Want to Qualify for the Boston Marathon?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Stephanie Marshall


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