© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

“…it’s all too much and not enough at the same time.” — Jack Kerouac

The B.A.A. Boston Marathon has reported that the organizers have received a record number of qualified applications for the 2024 running.

What’s not to love? There is the history — it’s the longest-running marathon in the world. There are the screamers in Scream Tunnell at Wellesley College, drama and intrigue and the challenge of both Heartbreak Hill and gaining something — through the qualification standards — that you may not be able to get.

Tens of thousands of people each year will utter the phrase, “I ran fast enough to qualify for Boston….” This, even though they may never run the event.

Likewise, many marathon races throughout North America will advertise that their race is a Boston qualifier. It is a marketing coup that McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Google and Nike would have been proud to conjure.


In the 2023 edition, Kenyan Evans Chebet successfully defended his 2022 title. He clocked 2:05:54 and 2:06:51, respectively. The latest American male to win was Meb Keflezighi in 2014. He finished in the time of 2:08:37. Twenty-four of the past 35 years a Kenyan has won the race. The latest non-Kenyan to win was the ‘citizen runner’ Yuki Kawauchi of Japan in 2018 in 2:15:58. During the initial running boom of the 1970s, the big names were Albero Salazar, Bill Rogers, Frank Shorter, Greg Meyer, Dick Beardsley, all Americans. There was also Geoff Smith from Great Britain. Toshihiko Seko from Japan who uttered the famous line, “The marathon is my only girlfriend. I give her everything I have.” Canadian Jerome Drayton won in 1977 in the time of 2:14:46, he held the national record from the Fukuoka Marathon in 1975 at 2:10:09 for decades.


The latest American woman to win was Des Linden in the infamous rainstorm of 2018, clocking a 2:39:54. Since then, it has been all East Africa, one Ethiopian and three Kenyans. The celebrated Hellen Obiri is the 2023 champion at 2:21:38 — a pretty fast time for the course. Like the men’s race, ‘back in the day’ the winners were from North America like Canada’s Jacqueline Gareau, who was the rightful winner after the infamous cheater slipped into the end of the race. The year prior was American Joan Benoit, she won in 1979 and 1983. Lorraine Moller won in 1974. Fellow Kiwi Allison Roe won in 1981. The history books are full of great memories of iconic wins. The elites inspire the age group competitive and the age group competitive perhaps challenge the mid-packers — the fun destination marathon runners, who take in all the sites and spend wads of cash — make the event tick. The financial incentive for a city to host a big marathon is lucrative.

33,000 wanting what they may not be able to get

The organizers report that a record number of qualified runners of 33,000 applied for 2024. This is terrific news for marathon organizers. But a lot of work and it is saying “no” to many people.

The easy suggestion is to make the fairly pedestrian qualification standards a little tougher. Athletics Illustrated asks, where is the bottleneck? It is likely in the 45-60 age range who currently only need to run 3:20 to 3:50 for the men and 3:40 to 4:20 for the women to run fast enough to qualify. Make no mistake, it can take a lot of training to run that well in those age ranges, but there are 40-something women running in the 2:20s. Sure, few and far between, but they exist, 3:40 is just fast enough to require the runner to make running their primary hobby, hire a coach, join in clinics and begin to read the volumes of literature available online.

The intrigue of Boston allows other marathons happening at the same time of year to host the athletes who are not quite fast enough for Boston or did not get in with their qualification time. The standards are a boon to the marathon industry. People want what they fear they may not be able to get.

Perhaps it is time to knock five and 10 minutes off the qualification standards. Note the youngest age group is 18-34, the rest are in five-year increments except 80-plus. There is a jump from five minutes between 18-34, 35-39 and 40-44, but then goes 10 minutes from 40-44 to 45-49 and again 50-54 to 55-59. It is likely that the B.A.A. pours over the data of previous results to see where the bottlenecks happen. It appears that in all likelihood the 10-minute increments may correlate to the thickest numbers of applications. And 55-59 to 60-64 is 15 minutes for men, women and non-binary. Perhaps all standards should be dropped by five minutes.

At the end of the day, the record numbers are a great sign for road racing and the industry of event organization.

Qualification standards

18-343hrs 00min 00sec3hrs 30min 00sec3hrs 30min 00sec
35-393hrs 05min 00sec3hrs 35min 00sec3hrs 35min 00sec
40-443hrs 10min 00sec3hrs 40min 00sec3hrs 40min 00sec
45-493hrs 20min 00sec3hrs 50min 00sec3hrs 50min 00sec
50-543hrs 25min 00sec3hrs 55min 00sec3hrs 55min 00sec
55-593hrs 35min 00sec4hrs 05min 00sec4hrs 05min 00sec
60-643hrs 50min 00sec4hrs 20min 00sec4hrs 20min 00sec
65-694hrs 05min 00sec4hrs 35min 00sec4hrs 35min 00sec
70-744hrs 20min 00sec4hrs 50min 00sec4hrs 50min 00sec
75-794hrs 35min 00sec5hrs 05min 00sec5hrs 05min 00sec
80 and over4hrs 50min 00sec5hrs 20min 00sec5hrs 20min 00sec

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