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How to Qualify for the Boston Marathon

Updated on August 7, 2020
stephhicks68 profile image

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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    • Nicole S profile image

      Nicole S Hanson 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Wow, I could never dream of running that kind of distance. More power to those who can! That's incredible.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good luck, Gerg! With proper training, 18 minutes off of the 26.2 mile distance sounds do-able. It is getting harder to qualify. I was :37 over the qualifying time in 2011 for NYC, and now those times have really been ratcheted down, too. Wishing you the best, Steph

    • Gerg profile image

      Gregory S Williams 

      8 years ago from California

      Hi Steph - it's in my sights. I need to shave 18 minutes off to qualify, which is definitely within striking distance (the qualifying times have now been adjusted by about 5 minutes per age group from your times above, by the way). It is getting harder and harder to qualify, but I'm thinking of trying for 2014. Thanks for the great info!


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Steph, Thank for the link; I don't know how I missed it, although I did enter Boston Marathon as a search term for your hubs, and only this hub was listed.

      I'm off to read it now!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Steph, Congratulations on achieving your dream!

      Are you planning to write a hub about that once-in-a-lifetime experience?

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Oh yes! Ran the Boston Marathon last year (2011). An experience I will never forget!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Steph, Very interesting with helpful tips for preparing for this momentous event! It's interesting to learn on the DietHealth video that you can run without qualifying if you run for a charity, with the proviso that a certain amount of money has to be raised to bypass qualification.

      Did you make it into the Boston Marathon?

      Congratulations on your dedication.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub, looking forward to come back and fascinted by your posts. Thank you.

      Ron from

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks so much ChaseGirl! I am thrilled and excited for the Boston Marathon in 2 months! :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      What a great accomplishment!! Congratulations.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Barry - looking forward to sharing my experiences after April!

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      10 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great Hub well done !

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi gmmurgirl! I hope that your running takes you places... like Boston! ;-)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Goodluck Ms. Hicks! You're truly one great inspiration for one newbie runner like me.:)

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks @wallstickerdecals!

      @beccas90 - I have thought about the extreme weather the East Coast has been having!! Wow. Hope some of you are getting off the treadmill and outdoors when possible... ;-)

    • beccas90 profile image


      10 years ago from New York

      And if you live in Boston or New England your heavy mileage weeks are slap bang in the worst winter we've experienced for decades - ouch!

    • WallStickerDecals profile image


      10 years ago from US

      I am so interested, congratulations to all participants!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Audrey - there is no question that training for a marathon takes time... but fortunately, my longest workouts are on the weekend when my husband is home (and my work responsibilities are a bit smaller) ;-) If inspiration ever strikes you, let me know! There are some good runs over in Prineville. Best, Steph

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      10 years ago from Washington

      Holy cow....I think my marathon days might be behind me but it really is inspirational! I know you can do these things but think I'll have to stick to urban mushing marathons...I wish! Just here and there will have to do I guess until I'm rich and famous and can retire. Rated up - beautifully put together as usual!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Eiddwen - thank you so much! Training for and running a marathon does take determination, that's for sure. I appreciate the comment and support. Best, Steph

    • Eiddwen profile image


      10 years ago from Wales

      Hi stephhicks,

      Congratulations on your true grit and determination. I'm sure it will certainly pay off !!!A great hub which I give a awesome/useful and voteup.

      Thank you so much for sharing and I wish you a great run.

      Take care,


    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much Prasetio! Running a marathon is definitely something to work up to. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a goal of many runners, but few make it! I am so glad you enjoyed the hub. Best to you as always and good luck out there with your own running! Cheers, Steph

    • prasetio30 profile image


      10 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I never knew about this before. I liked jogging very much. But I don't really know, I can pass all the route in this marathon or not. I want to try this someday. Very inspiring us. You post great tips about this marathon, complete with video. I love your presentation, my friend. I learn much from you. Vote up as always. God bless you. Take care!

      Your best friend, prasetio

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you TravelEspresso and ocbill - I agree regarding the qualification. There is word that the qualifying times may be tightened up to make it more difficult to qualify in the future. All the more reason to work hard to qualify ASAP. :)

    • ocbill profile image


      10 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      It's great that people have to qualify. It puts it at a more prestigious status

    • travelespresso profile image


      10 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      That's awesome Steph. I'm so happy for you and wish you all the best!

      I'm always full of admiration for those who manage to run marathons. Lots of New Zealanders do well in marathons - definitely not me though!

      Good luck with a great training program and of course the race itself.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Husky - I learned a lot about Boston while training last year. One interesting tidbit - the qualifying times are not adjusted for more difficult marathon courses. So, to qualify, you might want to pick one with fewer hills, decent running temperatures and at sea level. :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very interesting. I knew that you had to have an excellent time in a marathon to qualify for Boston but was not aware of the scale that is used regarding age. It is a great race.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      LOL Nell, you crack me up! Actually, there probably is a way to track individual runners on the Internet during the race. When I did the Nike Women's Marathon last fall, the timing chip on my bib triggered posts to go up on Facebook (which I prearranged) to let my friends and family members know when I had crossed certain mile markers along the course. I love technology!

      And yes, I hope that rating this hub up brings me good luck!! :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Well done! yeah! I wonder if we could get to see it on the internet afterwards? hope so! what a great race to be in, good luck! personally I can't run to the corner shop! but that's me, hey ho! ha ha fantastic! rated up, it might bring you luck! cheers nell

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much Genna! I am so excited for the race. My training is going well this winter and I'm looking forward to lining up at the starting line come April. Best, Steph

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      "Newbies should consult a doctor before starting marathon training and allow 6-12 months to train."


      As a Bostonian, I just had to say this hub is excellent...well-written and informative.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi kashmir, mentalist acer and Will - so appreciate the cheering and support! I'm very excited and will undoubtedly publish another hub when I've finished running the Boston Marathon! Best, Steph

    • WillStarr profile image


      10 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Congratulations! Well done.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      10 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      Good luck on Heartbreak Hill,Stephhicks,and congradulations on getting to run!;)

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi stephhicks big congrats to you and good luck, I'll be cheering for you !!!


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