In a recent post, I expressed uncertainly about whether I was going to run the Boston Marathon next year. After getting a lot of encouragement from friends, I decided to enter. This morning, I received my acceptance.
There were two reasons why I had reservations. One was lodging. The hotel I stayed at for three of the past four years was more than twice as expensive this year. Other hotels within walking distance of the finish line had similar rates. After some research, I found a hotel that’s farther away, but close to a Metro station. I was able to get a reasonable rate (for Boston) through Marathon Tours & Travel.
My other reservation was the realization that I won’t be in very good shape next April. I’ve already lost quite a bit of fitness. In December, I plan to take a two month break from racing. During that time, my training will also be limited. My top priority will be getting healthy. I probably won’t begin any kind of serious training until sometime in February.
I’ve had to revise my marathon goals to finishing at any pace I can, rather than having ambitious time goals. I hate to do that in Boston, but it occurred to me that I would probably have regrets if I don’t do the 2016 race.
First, let’s suppose that I’m able to get back in shape to qualify for 2017. I’ve already run four consecutive Boston Marathons. The 2016 race will be five, and 2017 would be six. If I can get into the 2017 race, I’m pretty sure I could continue the streak in future years. In that case, I would regret not running in 2016.
Alternatively, let’s suppose I’m not able to qualify for 2017. If 2015 was my last Boston Marathon, at least for a few years, I would have wanted to know that at the time. There are things I might do differently if I knew I wasn’t coming back. I’ve never brought a camera with me to take pictures along the route. That’s not something you do if you’re going for a fast time. If I couldn’t run fast anyway, I’d want the opportunity to share images of the race with friends who have never been there.
I don’t take for granted that I’ll quickly get back to being able to qualify consistently. I don’t take for granted that I’ll be able to qualify at all. When I started running marathons, it took years of training before I qualified for Boston. Each year, I improved my PR by about 10 minutes. Even then, I needed to have a good race on a reasonably fast course with favorable weather. Out of my first 40 marathons, I only qualified four times.
It was only when I lost weight, took my training to another level, and moved into a new age group that I was able to qualify consistently. By then I was training year-round. Once you reach a high level of fitness, it’s much easier to stay in peak shape then to get there from scratch.
Next year, I’ll be starting over from scratch. Currently, I can’t break four hours. My fitness will get worse before it gets better. I don’t know how long it will take to get back to where I was earlier this year. It may take more than a year. In the meantime, I’m not getting any younger.
Five years ago, the B.A.A. revised the qualifying standards, making them five minutes faster. They may do that again, possibly as early as next year.
The registration process for Boston allows the runners with the best qualifying times (relative to the standard for their age groups) to enter first. They start with people who qualify with at least 20 minutes to spare (BQ-20). Then they open up registration to runners who qualified with 10 minutes to spare (BQ-10). Then it’s BQ-5. If the race isn’t full yet, they open it up to everyone else for one week. If the race fills during any of these registration periods, the runners who get in are the ones who qualified with the most time to spare.
Last year, just qualifying wasn’t enough. You needed to beat the qualifying standard by 1:02. This year, it will likely be more. Today, registration opened to the last group of qualifiers. I heard that there are only 5,000 unfilled slots. There will probably be at least 10,000 runners competing for those slots.
I move into a new age group next year. If they don’t revise the standards, I would need a time of 3:40 to qualify, but to be sure of actually getting into the race, I might need a time of 3:35 or faster. Even before my current problems started, I needed a good race to break 3:30. Even with a good comeback, 3:35 isn’t something I can take for granted.
It’s within the realm of possibility that 2016 will be my last opportunity to run the Boston Marathon. I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip away. For those of you will be there, I look forward to seeing you in Boston. For those of you who won’t, I’ll post a race report with lots of pictures.