Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Buzz Kill for Boston

I have to be the buzz kill. Someone's got to do it, right? I’m just like that person at the kegger who screams, “Someone just threw up on the tap!” Bummer.

In light of Boston Marathon registration yesterday (with a record setting 8 hour sell out), there continues to be talk of the women and qualification times. In case you missed the memo, it’s apparently too easy for women to qualify for Boston.

In an October 13 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “It's Time for Women to Run Faster,” authors Kevin Helliker and David Biderman outline how marathons have surged in popularity (especially amongst us women) over last few years. This explosion has vastly increased the number of people who qualify.  According to the qualifications standards set up in 1977, women get to run 30 minutes slower than men in order to obtain that coveted BQ.

runningtimes

Looking at elite runners for a moment – on average, the gap between women’s and men’s finishing times is (in fact) closer to 20 minutes and is decreasing all of the time. Running USA has collected data from 500 nationwide marathons that shows a gender difference in finishing times of about 28 minutes (keeping in mind, the study says, that many more women than men are “social” runners, going out to run with the girls and not to “race” or PR).

The authors sum up the male/female discrepancy like this:

In a nutshell, to make Boston, a 54 year old man had to run faster than the nation's youngest and fastest women.

There may be something wrong with that picture.

Some people think that we need to stop being soft on women. Back in ‘77 when the standards were enacted, women were viewed as more fragile, less physically able. Today, many women run faster than the men who won the Boston Marathon in the past (example: in 1927, the winner finished in 2:40. Since 1979, the women’s winner at the Boston Marathon finished in 2:35 or better).

In SUAR terms, we might have boobs (well, some men have those too), periods and the need for lots of coddling and emotional support, but we’re literally catching up to our male counterparts.

No tightening of standards is on the horizon, however, according to the executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. “With physiological advantages such as larger hearts and greater lung capacity, men (overall) will probably always run faster than women.” However, the data shows the gap is closing in. 40 years ago, the women’s world marathon record was 54 minutes behind the men’s. Now it’s 11  minutes.

Boston used to be only the elite club, and now we average Joes(ephines) are storming in with our tutus and running skirts. It’s kind of like when the nerds become popular – everyone feels a tad bit threatened, maybe a little put off. Just watch Glee and how those poor kids get slushied every week. No one wants them to edge into the “in” crowd and water it down.

All kidding aside, I am a Boston qualifier. After running for 1.5 years, I was able to BQ at my second marathon in May 2010. Not bragging, just making a point. I’m 43 and needed a 3:50 to qualify, and got a 3:42. That time is good enough to qualify in the 35-39 age group of 3:45 and only 2 minutes off of qualifying in the 18-34 age group of 3:40. Don’t get me wrong. This was not easy. I trained my ass off and on that day I could not have run a second faster. But, if Boston is truly meant to be the creme de la creme of runners nationwide, I’m pretty sure I don’t fall into that category, regardless of what my Garmin said.

Too easy? Maybe.

If the BAA cared what I thought and asked my opinion (right after Ryan Hall calls my house), I would say the standards need to be tightened for women. Easy for me to say since I’ve already BQ’d, right? I’m such a bitch.

Making the times 5 minutes faster would close the gap enough to reflect the current running trends. It would cut down on the number of qualifiers significantly. As anyone who runs knows, 5 minutes can make a HUGE difference.

I know women. I am one of them, vagina and all (last I checked). My guess is that if the standards were made more difficult, women would “man up” (excuse the term) and run faster. Sure it might take more tries to qualify, thereby making the prize even sweeter. We can be one determined bunch. Hate me if you want, just my humble opinion.

What are your thoughts?

Keeping it real,

SUAR

52 comments:

  1. To be honest, Boston Qualifying is so far off my speed radar, it's hard to have a good perspective. However, I think if the statistical data shows a smaller gap, then I certainly wouldn't be upset about a tightening of the qualifying times. But, I think no matter what the time difference is, someone will raise a stink, and someone will think it's unfair... it's too arbitrary a thing to nail in stone, but someone has to draw the line somewhere.

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  2. Since I would have to actually run a marathon to qualify, I don't think it would be a big deal to shave off some of the time for women. 5 minutes is a big deal, running wise. But, I agree with Lesley. Someone will call unfair and raise a stink. But, it would make that prize THAT much sweeter! :) As runners, we always want something better, a faster time, a better race, so, I think it only makes the race better.

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  3. I have no desire to run Boston (qualify, why not) but you bring up a valid point. The real kicker is that studies are showing that men not only peak earlier, but also slow down much more than women do as they age. I guess we are the inferior sex...

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  4. Just like Lesley said, since I'm never ever qualifying for Boston (have you seen how slowly I run??? Even I can walk at almost the same speed!), it's not an issue that would affect me. But how about checking the percentage of men vs women that at any Boston-qualifying race finishes with a BQ? That might be more accurate and if more women are BQ'ing then men, tighten up those standards, if not, then let it be, or maybe even tighten the standards for both.

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  5. As a woman hoping to qualify for 2012 (I've run a 3:43 and need 3:40), I'm hoping they leave it the same one more year for my own sake. But I'm also hoping that when I do qualify everyone isn't still talking about how "easy" it is to qualify as a woman! Like you said, if they lower the standard my goal will be to "man" up and meet the new time, regardless of whether I've qualified with the 3:40 time. I don't want any excuses or to feel the need to put an asterisk next to the fact that I qualified for Boston!

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  6. I suppose it doesn't really matter. I'm going to have to wait until I'm ancient in order to qualify unless I can actually train without injury someday. That and have some elite runner blood pumped into my body. But then again, I'm a newbie runner...like never ran ever (oh wait gym class in middle school) so there is still hope for speedy improvement. Right now that 3:40 is way too fast for me!

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  7. +1. I concur. It does seem that those who have already qualified are ok with a lower standard ad those who haven't would be more likely to raise up in arms. I have qualified and run it, although it did take me like 5 tries to earn it! I am definitely on the side of "a higher standard is good"/will make me work harder. I don't want anything handed to me. Plus in my opinion ones goals should not end with a BQ - keep aiming higher! (the NYC qualifier is harder)

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  8. I have had a goal of running the Boston Marathon since I was about 13 years old. I am now 22, and my marathon PR is 4:15 (I have run two marathons). I have a seriously long way to go, but I WILL run Boston one day.

    So, you know what I say to tightening the gap?

    Bring it on. We're ready.

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  9. I too am a later in life runner, but I'm slow. Good thing I don't care if I ever run Boston because I'll never qualify. I run hard, train hard, do the speedwork etc. but I will never be fast enough. My only thought would be to check the ratios of men who run to men who qualify and do the same for women. If more women are qualifying maybe there's a point there.

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  10. You know my thoughts on this--it IS too easy for women! I will age up in Nov, and my qualifying time will then be 4 hours. I will have qualified with just about 30 minutes to spare. And if you check my results from last year, that still only got me about 15th in my age group, in a not so big marathon (Richmond). That means that if you went down to the people who ran 4 hrs, you're getting really deep into the age group. Shouldn't Boston, the one and ONLY race with qualifying standards, not be for the masses? And I'm all for the 4,000 or so spots that go to charity--I don't think removing them from the picture should even be on the table. Let's make the standards something worth fighting for. (Let's see how many followers that rant just cost me!)

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  11. I heard all the buzz yesterday about people being upset about chaity bibs take the place of real "qualifiers," and the such. And also the point about lowering the qualifying standards.
    As someone who has already qualified, I may be biased. I do think they need to lower the times. In all reality, if you train smart, you can do it. Like you, not to dimish your accomplishment, but you did it on your second marathon. BUT you trained smart and hard. But really, a 3:40 is easy if you do it right. I would like to see five mins shaved off on both sides, men and women. I don't think it has the presitge that it used to. Women are running faster, as are the men.
    I am sure I will get flack for this. But as a person who has already qualified, I'm aiming for an even better time the next time. I know it's in me. If I can run a sub 3:40, then I can run a sub 3:35.
    And for chairty bibs, I think they are great. They raise money for awesome causes and they also allow people who may never get to run the BEST race on the planet.
    Thanks for having the guts to write about this. Everyone gets on their high horses about this topic, but in reality, I do believe that things need to change. I'm curious to see what comes of this crazy sell out.

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  12. Very well said. I have yet to qualify, and even though tightening the standards would pull the goal yet further away from me, I do think it needs to be done.

    Boston ought to be for the elite. I am in noooooooo way close to ever being mistaken as an elite runner. But that fact that my times are creeping close to the cut-off is perhaps a sign that the cut-offs aren't what they should be.

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  13. i think that the standards for women need to be faster too. when i qualified on my first marathon i was like "really?". not that i was too upset buttttttt i think that a faster standard would be a good thing. i was actually thinking of running a marathon in RI that has faster standards and a 100% qualifying only policy if i hadn't gotten into boston

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  14. One other thing, NY has a huge qualifying standard, with MUCH harder times. That is the race I'm aiming for. We should not end with a BQ, we should, as runners always aim higher. Good luck with this!

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  15. I would say rather than focus on the gender differences, what about charity runners? I am all for charity but they are clogging up Boston. I haven't BQ'd yet after 4 marathons but I am getting closer. That said, the % of the population that runs marathons isn't huge so I am still happuy with my accomplishments

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  16. I wouldn't be offended by 5 minutes. Either way, I probably won't ever make it. However, you my dear are not an average joe. You might even be a bit of an over achiever. Just saying.

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  17. Great post! I totally agree. I qualified in as well after running also for about 1.5 years. It was my first marathon. Right now, I'm 35 and need a 3:45 to qualify. My dad is 58 and also needs a 3:45. I tell you what, a 3:45 is a helluva lot more difficult for him than it is for me and we both train consistently. Boston is a prestigious race and in my opinion should be the ultimate goal of most runners-maybe a once in a lifetime goal. It should be DIFFICULT, should require one to train HARD and probably result in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I'm no elite athlete, but I'm determined. I will push myself, I will make time, while raising my kids, working, traveling for hockey etc. and my marathon PR is 27 minutes under my qualifying time after 2 marathons.....Not tooting my horn by any means here, but saying I think the standards are too easy for women and I think women, or at least this woman, like the challenge and would like to see them stiffen up! I guess I will join the people who likely lose all their followers from this comment-ha!

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  18. I've been reading/hearing a lot about both sides of the story lately.... I honestly don't know where I stand. Obviously, I have not qualified nor will I in the immediate future. 3:40 for me, right now, is a pipe dream. So of course I hope the standards don't change. At least not yet. ;)

    I realize that the elite women generally run 20 minutes slower than elite men. But the stat you quoted above ("Running USA has collected data from 500 nationwide marathons that shows a gender difference in finishing times of about 28 minutes.") would indicate that the 30 minute difference in qualification standards is quite fair.

    My hope would be that the BAA considers first changing the rules in that one BQ earns you a spot at Boston for TWO years (depending on when you qualify). I think it's a good idea to keep the option of running one of the two years, but not both. Does that make any sense?

    I'm rambling now... great topic, thanks for the post.

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  19. I don't think men and women should have different times. I think we should be treated as equals. That's what we worked for, right? It's only fair.

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  20. Runners World suggested alternate qualifying times, but also said this: "So you can't say the BQs are biased against men or women, and they certainly aren't biased against older runners. Boston has the same 60/40 male/female split as the average of all marathons in the U. S., while its average age is older than the national average. Here's what you can say about the BQs: They're inconsistent." So if you're an older man or woman, you have a better chance of BQing than a younger runner, percentage-wise.

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  21. At first I was put off by all the buzz about tightening up the BQ standards. I have been running for a little over 2 yrs and I am just now training for my first full marathon. One of my goals is to BQ. My first reaction was that if they made it any more difficult I would never get it....you are right though...it would cause those who really want it to "man" up.

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  22. Wow, someone threw up in the keg?????????? At least this got us from talking about the BCS.....

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  23. OH God-word vomit regret! I should mention 3:45 is definitely more difficult for some women than others regardless of training. That being said, a few minutes on the BQ standards would set the bar just that much higher and force everyone to push just a little harder!

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  24. I know! I'm soo with you on this. I remember miss zippy wrote a post ~6 mo's ago basically stating the same thing and I think she got some backlash for it.
    so maybe they keep boston as boston, and create a 'harder' national/world championships qualifying , race similar to the Ironman World Champs qualifying standards.

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  25. I think this whole Boston this is so blown out of proportion. The reason it filled so quickly yesterday was because of the masses panicked for fear it would close early and they'd be shut out so they ALL registered yesterday. Boston has spent a great deal of time researching this and this is what they came up with. These are the rules and we must abide by the rules if we want to play. It took me a very long time to qualify for Boston, and it wasn't because I didn't give it sweat, blood and tears. It wasn't because I didn't "man up" in the past, it's because I kept trying and trying until one day, I got there.

    NYC has tougher qualifying times...for those that want to get manlier, then shoot for New York!!

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  26. As much as it initimidates me to have an even faster qualifying time (seeing as the current standard would require an 18 min PR on my end), all of the above makes total sense. Clearly, fitness levels and the interest in races overall are changing and evolving...as should the times we need to get in. Plus, it's harder to qualify for NYC than it is for Boston! Something's off there...no? If they raise the bar, we'll totally "man up" to the challenge.

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  27. totally agree with what you said.
    glad to hear your completely woman too, lady bits and all.

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  28. I couldn't agree more with you in terms of making it harder. Look around and standards in all sports are being re-defined because athletes are getting faster and stronger. The NFL is always refining the rules to accomodate these athletes and so the question is why shouldn't running associations do the same if the proof is that women are getting faster?

    Jason
    www.baha703ironman.com

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  29. I don't know. 20 minutes between elites isn't the same as 20 minutes between non-elites. If you considered the difference as a percentage, I wonder if it would still come to around the 30 minute spread?

    Having said that, I kind of think it would make sense to do the BQ the way it is done to qualify for Kona when doing an ironman. The top finishers in each age group are the ones that qualify. That way, it isn't about choosing the best and fastest course, but actually about being among the fastest on the course you're on.

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  30. The bigger issue for me is that it's far too easy for women to kick my ass in marathons, half-marathons, 10ks, 5ks, runs to the mailbox, runs to Taco Bell, etc. Massive packs of women that run right by me and chuckle as I stagger towards my destination.

    I can't qualify for Boston right now with or without my junk, so I'll just stay on the sidelines and bow to those who have - running skirt or not.

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  31. I agree with you totally. I am not a fast runner...just someone who loves to run. It is likely that I will never qualify for Boston, and I am totally okay with that. It just kind of makes me sad that Boston has turned into a race to the keyboard with credit card in hand. Until the standards are tightened, the mystique will continue to fade away.

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  32. My HALF marathon PR is just shy of 3 hours (2:45), so my opinion may be completely useless. However, if my goal was to qualify for Boston, I would want to win my BQ with pride and not have anyone telling me that I only qualified because I'm a woman. Sure, men will always be stronger and run faster but women are indeed closing the gap and the qualification rules should reflect that.

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  34. As much as it would suck, for me, since I have never qualified and am very far from it . . . I do have to agree with you. 5 minutes would be okay . . .

    I have no lofty dreams or desires to run Boston but if I did qualify, I am sure I'd be all excited and into it too . . . right now I am content with my slow status. Maybe some day when my kid is grown and I have the appropriate time to train . . .

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  35. I totally agree. They should base the qualifying time differences on the differences between average finish times (at max), or perhaps somewhere between the average difference and the world record difference. Selling out in 8 hours is just ridiculous.

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  36. Coming from the "yet to BQ/possibly never will" side of the argument, I could really care less what the time standards are though I can see the point that the haves want it to be harder for the have nots to become haves. Why share a good thing, right?

    All kidding aside, maybe they keep the time standards the same and then if you want to BQ for a second time you not only have to have run your qualifying time again AT Boston (because how many people actually re-BQ at Boston?), but you have to run 5 mins faster at any other BAA Qualifying race before you can claim BQ status again.

    I also like the idea of only having so many entries at each BAA Qualifying race for the top finishers in each age group (like Ironman), and you have to register right then and there or you lose your spot. That's gold.

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  37. I agree with you. Honestly, it should be harder to get into Boston, like it is super hard to go to Kona. I qualified in my first marathon, on 30 miles a week. That should not happen. I like the criteria for New York, I think those should stay for Boston. It is much easier for women at all ages to get into Boston than it is for men, and that does not speak good about women. We are strong, and we should not be given the easy out (or in). I agree with what you said - if you know that you need a 3:30 instead of a 3:40, you will get that 3:30, it may just take you longer.

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  38. Now for some Boston Buzz Killing of my own. Boston is a legacy, it is what it is because of it's long history. At 113 yrs, it is the longest running marathon in the world. Because of it's huge history, everyone wants to run Boston, therefore the need for qualifying times.

    Boston may be the oldest, have a lot of media coverage, a lot of prize money, a lot of hype, but for the middle of the crowd runner, is it really the best marathon? I would say absolutely not. Run Boston to add the finisher medal to your trophy case but with respect to the actual course, logistics of the race, quality of experience, etc. There are many marathons out there that I would easily rank above Boston.

    Marathons are really about personal taste but for those of you reading who are not fast enough to qualify, don't get wound up about it, I would argue that there are better marathons out there that don't require qualifying times.

    I have been running marathons and ultra marathons since 1982, I can't tell you how many because I stopped counting long ago. I grew up in a suburb of Boston and ran the marathon in 1983. I have been running the Denver Marathon for the last several yrs including this past Sunday. I have to say, I have enjoyed the Denver marathon far more than I enjoyed Boston and you don't need to qualify to run in Denver. Sometimes we make more out of the things we can't have than what they really warrant.

    Dana

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  39. I think it could be lowered too. Or the men's could be increased a bit ;)

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  40. Never ran a marathon, may never run one, I don't know, but if my goal was to qualify for Boston, I would want to do it and be part of a super elite crowd and then be able to go. I don't like this lots of people make it and then can't get into it. Kinda ruins the moment! I am in favor of upping the standards 5 or 10 minutes. Probably not a group I will join, but if Boston Qualifying is on so many people's lists than it should be fully (attendable) attainable.

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  41. Ah, Boston! How I want to run thee... I was 16 seconds away...

    Those seconds... aaaah!

    BUT! I whole heartedly agree. The gap between qualifying times for men and women seems unfair. I say, a 20 min difference would be fair and justified, but not a whole half an hour as it is now.

    A good read today, btw. Thanks!

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  42. Nice post! I agree. Tighten it up. We can handle it - most women I know love a challenge.

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  43. I would say tighten up to bring the gap closer. I think we can "man up" and run faster if we need to. 5 minutes-10 minutes is a huge time to shave however if it is fairer then let's do it. Eek, that means a lot more training for me....

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  44. I'm nowhere near qualifying for Boston, and I'm okay with that. I'll either get there eventually or I won't, whether or not the qualifying times change.

    That said, while I don't necessarily have a problem with the qualifying times changing, I don't think it's as simple as women getting faster. Men have gotten faster, too, in the last forty years. Does it make sense for the Boston Athletic Association to raise the bar? Sure. Running standards have changed over the years. But I don't think raising the bar can be accomplished solely by narrowing the gap between genders.

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  45. I totally agree, not that you'll notice 45 posters later...and GREAT BLOG. I qualified on my first attempt, but I still think that was an accident. I didn't know! And it was downhill, ha. I ran as slow as I could on the uphills and as fast as I could on the downhills. How's that for a strategy? It's still my fastest, and that is NOT impressive.

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  46. i wanted to comment last night but i cannot comment form my computer at home so i had to wait.

    I just want to make a few points for the sake of debate/discussion. There is all this talk that the women's times need to be faster...BUT until the BAA posts what percentage of entrants are men and what percentage are women, we can't really point the finger at the women's times. Is the real issue here that too many women signed up???? or is the real issue that EVERYONE signed up at the same time???? we don't know yet. last year boston was 42% women, and 58% men, we are all curious to see what it will be this year. if it is still less than 50%, i doubt the BAA will change the times. If it is over 50% then maybe they will. Now i'm just throwing this out there...but a 40% female and 60% male ratio is acceptable...but if it was 60% female and 40% male then it would not be acceptable?? just saying...

    personally, i think its unfair that a man my age has to run a 3:10 and i really feel for them. BQ'ing is a huge accomplishment, but i do feel more impressed when a man BQ's than a woman, just being honest here. i would HATE HATE HATE to see the BAA cut their time down to 3:05 or 3:00, that would break my heart. ont he other side, i wouldn't mind seeing the women's time get cut down to 3:35 or 3:30. But before that, i think they could stop allowing people to defer their entires and they could make qualifying times good for only 12 months too.

    this year there were more people qualified, naturally, because registration opened a month later, allowing more time for ppl to BQ at fall marathons.

    Someone needs to look at every marathon ran in the last few years to see how many people BQ'd and compare it with this year. What's the REAL issue here? is it that too many ppl are qualifying?? or is it that everyone signed up at the same time? i don't know. the BAA did warn people it would sell out fast and they urged everyone to sign up immediately.

    natural talent will always be there for some, special invitations will always be there, what's fair for some isn't fair to others etc etc., i think the times are posted for equality purposes, keeping the field at 40/60 or 50/50, if that's no longer working then they need to be changed. if they cut 10 minutes off the women's times then i would guess the percentages of women would significantly drop. There is a reason for the times being what they are, the BAA didn't just make up these numbers. Are they outdated? maybe. but i don't think it's as simple as saying cut 10 minutes off the times.

    i am really interested to see the percentage of male to female runners this year.

    thanks

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  47. I agree. The qualifying times for women should be bumped from 30 min. diff. to 25 - 20 from mens BQ times.

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  48. Late comment, but I ran Boston when qualifying meant 2:50 for all men, regardless of age, and 3:20 for women. Qualifying meant one was an excellent runner way back then.

    Of course, there's still Fukuoka. You have to be invited for that one and I think the cut-off is about 2:25 for men and 2:50 for women...

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  49. Hey as much as I hate to say it, I am not opposed to the times being changed. I am a half hour from qualifying as it stands now (can I please borrow your 3:42? ha ha) But the thing is, I think that the disparity in men and women racing has decreased, and the qualifying times should probably show that. Maybe next year so I can qualify though ha ha ha...

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  50. not sure i agree or disagree. my opinion might change if i had already qualified and ran it.. however it hasn't and i haven't. so i really don't know how i feel or what to say.

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  51. Maybe *all* the age group standards, men and women, need to be looked at again?

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  52. I posted about this too (and quoted you). I honestly don't feel comfortable at all talking about the current standards for women. BUT, what I do know is that I sure hope they don't make the standards for men any harder. It is all I can do to run a 3:10!

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