When I qualified for Boston at the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon on May 1st, 2016, two things went through my mind:
- I can’t believe I qualified in the 40-44 age group!
- There’s no way my time will be enough to punch my ticket to Boston when the cutoff for 2016 was 2 minutes 28 seconds.
2016 got off to a fast start with a huge PB in both the half marathon and 30K distances. My goal was to finish the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon in a time of 3:20 or better. I came up with this time as it would be the time I needed to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon (the qualifying time for the 45-49 age group is 3:25) plus a 5 minute buffer to beat any cutoff (as long as the cutoff was less than 5 minutes!).
After I smashed my half marathon PB in March, I had a chat with Brittany Moran from The Runner’s Academy and she convinced me I could run faster than 3:20 at GoodLife. When I first started participating in the Building Better Runners clinic at the Runner’s Academy, I was asked to write my 2016 goal on a chalkboard. At the time, I wrote “A Fall BQ”. That goal would now be bumped up five months! I adjusted my training plan accordingly and sure enough, not only improved my marathon PB time by 20 minutes, I qualified for 2017 with a buffer of 1 minute 18 seconds; not a huge BQ, but a BQ nonetheless.
On the day I qualified, I posted my thoughts about trying to improve my BQ buffer on Instagram and setting my sights on qualifying for 2018 this Fall. A few weeks later, someone introduced me to BQRun.com. Jeremy, the brains behind the site attempts to analyse various Boston Marathon feeder races to come up with an estimate of a potential cutoff for the next Boston Marathon (in this case, 2017). Jeremy references another site aptly named “Name That Boston Marathon Cutoff” run by Chiara. At the time, the cutoff estimate on both sites was zero seconds; the lack of a cutoff was a result of the hot weather at the Boston 2016 race (roughly 5,000 less runners qualified for Boston 2017 than the previous year). The hot weather also impacted a number of other major feeders including the Ottawa Marathon. The zero cutoff also meant anyone who qualified for Boston, in theory, would be accepted to participate in the 2017 event. There are a number of unknowns that can impact the estimate (field size, actual registrations, etc.) so even if the estimate was off by 30-60 seconds, I would still be in accepted!
For the next four months, I visited BQRun every day and the cutoff held at zero as each feeder race after Boston resulted in a reduced number of qualifiers due to weather and other factors (trains crossing the course, runners making a wrong turn, etc.). In June, I came across a forum on the Runner’s World website where runners were discussing the potential cutoff, results of recent races, and just about anything to do with running (and sometimes topics that had nothing to do with running!). This forum also gave me some hope as everyone seemed to be on the same page regarding the zero cutoff. Chiara was one of the regular posters on the forum and was a great resource for other runners.
I still attempted to improve my time at the Erie Marathon in September, but was unable to do so. Perhaps I put too much stock in the cutoff prediction and didn’t run the best race I could, but I won’t dwell on that.
The Registration Process
Registration for the Boston Marathon commenced Monday, September 12th, 2016.
- Runners who beat their BQ time by 20 minutes or more we invited to register on day one.
- On Wednesday, September 14th, 2016, runners who beat their BQ time by 10 minutes or more were invited to register.
- On Friday, September 16th, runners who beat their BQ time by 5 minutes or more were invited to register.
By the end of the first week, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) determined there were a number of open spots remaining and invited all runners who qualified regardless of how much time they beat their qualifying time (affectionately known as “The Squeakers”) as long as their race they ran to qualify fell within a specified window (for the 2017 race, the window was September 2015 – September 2016). Registration remained open until Wednesday, September 21st. As registrations from the first week were confirmed, various users in the Runner’s World forum, including myself, visited the BAA website to count the number of runners who were accepted. By the end of the first week, it was clear more runners were accepted than previously projected on the two websites referenced above. What does this mean?!?! Naturally people started panicking.
Monday, September 19th, 2016
With a 1 minute and 18 second qualifying time, I was allowed to register on Monday, September 19th; the second week of registrations. There was a lot of speculation surrounding what BAA would post on Facebook and their website during the second week of registrations. When registration closed Wednesday afternoon, BAA made it perfectly clear there would be a cutoff. More panic! New calculations were run by Jeremy and Chiara and everyone started to speculate the cutoff would now fall between 30-60 seconds (I’m oversimplifying the cutoff times here to make it easier to understand!).
Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
BAA not only notified runners there would be a cutoff, they targeted the week of September 26th for the remaining runners to be confirmed. How am I supposed to remain calm until then? The truth is, the wait was absolutely killing me. It preoccupied me every waking moment and while I had to remind myself I was still a squeaker sitting on a small cutoff. I admit I got caught up in the numbers game and there was a ton of speculation from everyone on the Runner’s World forum about a cutoff that likely wouldn’t exceed 60 seconds.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
How I made it through the week, I still don’t fully understand. I thought about the announcement CONSTANTLY! Finally, the day was here and regardless of the outcome, the wait would be over. I thought about how I would react if I got in considering I would probably be sitting in a meeting when the news hit. I also started checking hotel and flight prices considering ~6,000 people would soon be doing the exact same thing! By mid-morning I was cautiously optimistic and was thankfully really busy at work that the hours flew by.
Around 11:30am EST, the forum exploded with activity. Runners who beat their time by 3 minutes were notified they were accepted and then posting their confirmation of entry to the race. The comments below were pulled from the forum:
- Acceptances are coming in. I just viewed my name on BAA site. I am in with BQ – 4:04. Good Luck to all
- Just got mine – I’m in with 3:37 under! Good luck all
- I just appeared on the entry list and received an email that I am in, -3:14
- On the entry list at -2:12
- NOT in at -40.
- 2:09 is the cutoff. I’m in at -4:04
- The cutoff was at least over a minute maybe even 2….
- WOW 2 MINUTES and 9 SECONDS!!! Where the heck did that come from?!?
- I think I need to hang up my analysis hat. So far off. – Chiara
2 minutes and 9 seconds
I missed the cutoff by 51 seconds. How did that happen? Thankfully i was sitting at my desk at the time. I buried my face in my hands and quickly thought about the last 4 kilometres at GoodLife. I should have fought harder for those 51 seconds. I quickly composed myself and went back to the forum to see what people were saying. It didn’t take long for the comments to get ugly. For some reason, BAA accepted roughly 800 less runners than last year and that sparked a number of heated exchanges. The Internet is not always a good place to go if you’re looking for answers.
I was really disappointed, but I am also realistic. 2016 has been an unbelievable year for me. Just thinking about everything I’ve accomplished including a BQ in a race in brutal weather conditions at a finishing time I never thought was possible made me realize I am capable of accomplishing so much more. Yes I will advance to a new age category for the 2018 race and gain 10 more minutes to qualify, but I have never been more determined to crush my next BQ attempt.
I have two more races this year, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon and the TCS New York City Marathon (YAY!). At the conclusion of these races, I’ll be reducing my kilometres for the remainder of 2016 and giving myself enough time to rest. 2016 was a really fast year for me and hopefully 2017 will be even faster. I will qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon and the next time I register for Boston, it will be in the first week and I won’t be on pins and needles worrying whether my time will hold up.
I am really proud of my BQ and everything else I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve come a long way the past three years and considering I ran my first marathon last year, am so grateful I am even in the position to be disappointed I missed a cutoff. So many runners will never experience the agony of registering for the Boston marathon.
I am also so grateful for everyone who cheered me on this year, who trained with me (Thanks Daniel, Anna, Rose, NTRC, NRC, CRS, RunToBeer, BlackToe and everyone else!), who ran me in for my first BQ (Thanks Dom!), who talked me into attempting my first BQ five months earlier than planned (Thanks Brittany!), and everyone who supported me the past two weeks on Instagram and Facebook. The sting is starting to subside, but the fire is already building.
Most importantly, thank you to my amazing wife who supports the pursuit of my dreams even if it means it takes me away from my responsibilities as a husband and father far too often.
BAA, you have 19 months to prepare because I’m coming for you in 2018 and I’m coming in red hot!