Should women run faster for Boston?

Today’s WSJ had an interesting article on qualifying for the Boston Marathon It’s Time for Women to Run Faster by Kevin Helliker and David Biderman.  A pretty spunky title that appears devised to attract attention and feedback so be sure to read the comments in the coming days. The Boston Marathon is the golden race in the marathoning community and ignoring the charity runners is the only marathon you must qualify for. Boston as its known, is a prestigious, historic, and revered event whose name is one of the few races that has ubiquity even with non-runners (you know, the ones who ask “how far was this marathon you ran”). Which is why it is the only running race where the participants seem to purchase every apparel item available: pants, jackets, hats, shirts; in what I think is the lone acceptable form of egocentric boasting allowed in the running community.

Even with the qualifying requirement, the Boston Marathon fills fast. A registration window that in years past could be open for 6 months is now expected to close in days. With such a short window those who qualify in the upcoming NYC Marathon will likely be unable to register for Boston 2011. The article brings up the subject of addressing this issue. If a race requires one to qualify, is deemed prestigious, and yet so many people are able to qualify that it fills out registration in days then does the qualifying process need a review?

A man of my age (less than 35) must run a 3:10 marathon which is roughly a 7:15 minute mile for 26.2 miles. A woman of the same age group needs a 3:40 to qualify which comes out to a 8:20 minute mile. That 30 minute difference between the genders is continued through all age groups and is the focus of the authors. They raise an interesting point in that when the 30 minute gap was implemented in 1977 the “mentality was ‘frailty, the name is woman'” and is 30 minutes to much time given for women. Citing the statistics of elite runners shows an average gap of more near 20 minutes than 30 minutes and looking into the marathon population as a whole shows a difference that is less than 30 but not to far off; but that also included the second wave runners who run at much slower times and are predominately women.

I think this is a fair question to present and perhaps the research we need is what is the average gap between the Boston qualifying running population. This would reduce the population studied by removing those that are not Boston material presently to see what that delta is. Perhaps 20 or 25 minutes instead of 30 is the way to go. Another issue is that perhaps the male times should be dropped as well. If marathoning is so popular that so many people can join this exclusive club then make the club more exclusive. Make me run a 3:05 or a 3:00 to qualify. All qualifications are fair game.

Dropping of the men’s qualifying time would not benefit me of course and note that I have yet to qualify for Boston. That was supposed to have occurred in May but the Fargo weather decided to bring a sudden wave of storms full of humidity and warmth to me and the fellow runners who had trained in the comforts of a dry winter and cool spring. Overheat anyone? Now the Philadelphia marathon is my next attempt and 6 weeks away. And when I get my time I will know that Boston is already full for 2011 which means I will have to defer to 2012; talk about planning out your races!

But I’ll be there and yes, I’ll probably buy the jacket, the shirt, and a hat…c’mon, it is the BOSTON MARATHON.

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