The Planet Wave: It’s Time For Change At The Boston Marathon
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on April 27, 2012
For an American runner, the Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of our sport. It’s our Masters, World Series and Super Bowl all rolled into a once-a-year extravaganza and, unlike the other major sports, we can actually compete in it. Boston is the one marathon nearly every runner dreams of running in someday.
It’s inarguable that Boston is the greatest road race in the world. It’s the oldest marathon in the U.S. and the one with the most traditional, history-laden course and has the most rabid, wildly enthusiastic crowds who treat the race with the reverence it so richly deserves.
By now, you’ve read or heard about the scorching conditions of this year’s marathon—conditions that hadn’t been seen in Boston since the 1976 race which is still known as the Run for the Hoses. Perhaps, you ran and suffered through this year’s race. If you made it from Hopkinton to the finish in downtown Boston, congratulations. Even if it was one of your slowest times, just finishing was a notable accomplishment on such a brutal day.
Just how hot was it in Boston? I didn’t run, but spent the day in Kenmore Square near the famed Citgo sign at the 25-mile mark. Before the first runners even arrived, the Boston police on duty there were cautioning the marathon celebrants to make sure they stay hydrated. Some of the cops were even passing out water bottles. And in the most amazing scene I have ever seen in a marathon, I saw a Boston EMS team giving an IV to a spectator who had fainted. Repeat: A spectator.
Spectators aside, the Boston Athletic Association shabbily treated the many thousands who were brave enough to tackle the 116th Boston.
The weather predictions leading up to the marathon were so dire that, in a magnanimous gesture, Boston offered entrants a chance to pass on running and if you did, you would get an automatic spot in next year’s race without having to qualify all over again.
Unfortunately, the B.A.A. attached a bunch of caveats. First, you had to pick up your race number at the Runner’s Expo to qualify for the deferment and you could not start the race. Finally, if you deferred, there wasn’t any refund for passing up this year’s race and you will have to pay the full entry fee for 2013.
So, if you were still sitting at home when you received the deferment offer two days before the race, you were faced with three rotten options. You could go ahead with your plans and travel to Boston for the race, knowing you probably would be 30-50 minutes slower than your goal time and likely wouldn’t get your BQ for next year. Or, you could still come to Boston, pick up your number, defer for next year and watch your friends and training partners suffer. That would also mean you would still be on the hook for many hundreds of dollars on the jacked up flight and hotel costs in Boston.
Finally, you could just bite the bullet and stay home. But you’d have to scurry around and look for another spring marathon to run where you could get your BQ for 2013.
Of the 27,716 registered runners for Boston, 3863 did not pick up their race packet (mostly from the Third Wave, the last and slowest) and presumably those folks stayed home. That’s almost double the normal no-shows for Boston and none of those will get a guaranteed entry into next year’s race. A paltry 427 registered runners picked up their race number and took the deferment, but most gutted it out and ran.
Boston should have made greater concession for all the no-shows scared off by the weather, but probably won’t. Instead, here’s what Boston should do:
- The B.A.A. should make time adjustments for all those folks who braved the heat wave, slowed way down and finished many minutes slower than what they need to requalify for the ’13 Boston Marathon.
- At the very least in light of the rotten conditions, the B.A.A. should delay instituting the already announced tougher qualifying standards for 2013.
- Provide a discount on the entry fee for ’13 to all the no-shows who followed the advice of the B.A.A. and chose not run.
And while I’m at it, the B.A.A. should have learned something from the heat this year. Boston is notorious for its lousy marathon weather. Occasionally, the weather is cool and there’s a tailwind (see 2011), but more often than not, it’s clear, sunny and warms into the 70s. This year’s temp of 89 degrees wasn’t even the hottest Boston. One year it was in the triple digits and in 1976, it was 90 degrees.
Obviously, Boston can’t do anything about the weather but it can do something about its starting time, which for the masses, begins at 10-10:40 a.m. The elite runners get a little break with the weather and the top women start at 9 and the top men leave Hopkinton at 9:30, but the final wave doesn’t go off for more than an hour later and, by the time they began this year, temps had already climbed into the mid-80s and runners were scurrying all over the course for water and every snippet of shade.
The Boston Marathon should do what every major marathon (save New York City) does and start much earlier. An 8 a.m. start would be just about perfect and get most runners to the finish before the worst heat of the day.
Unfortunately, an early start is unlikely to happen. Boston is all about tradition and embraces change about as quickly as your cranky old uncle who insists dinner is always served at 6 p.m. to coincide with Wheel of Fortune.
Boston didn’t even have official aid stations, mile splits or clocks until 1986. It still seems hard to believe that Boston started at high noon for 109 years because that was the traditional start time. Just five years ago, the B.A.A. finally relented and allowed for the earlier starts with the first of the three waves at 10. But that’s not early enough for most warm, spring days that are so commonplace in New England.
Certainly, the B.A.A. would argue against an earlier start because of all the time it takes to transport the 27,000 runners from downtown Boston to Hopkinton. But what runner wouldn’t get up a couple of hours earlier if the parade of busses left at 5 a.m., instead of 7? An 8-8:20-8:40 start for the masses would mean a safer, cooler Boston experience.
But the Boston Marathon is like that old uncle who refuses to change —unless he is pushed. It’s high time the Boston Marathon was pushed.