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How Do Boston Qualifying Times Work?

Here’s a great question we received from a listener named Anthony. We featured it in the quick tip segment of podcast #250.

“I really enjoy the web site and podcast, very inspirational. I finished my first half marathon in 2007 at age 45 with a time of 2:07. I stuck with it through the years and recently achieved a BQ at the Manchester marathon with a time of 3.35.47 a 6 and a half minute pb. I am in the 55-59 age category. What are the chances of this time getting an entry into the 2019 Boston Marathon? Keep up the amazing work.” Anthony

Here’s my best explanation:

How Do Boston Qualifying Times Work?

Hi Anthony,

It’s awesome to hear how you’ve been able to make such great progress in your running journey during the last 10+ years.  Congratulations on running a BQ! Since you’re in the men’s 55-59 age category your current Boston Qualifying time is 3:40:00. 

In the second week of September every year the marathon does a rolling admission for the next year’s race (this year’s registration for the 2019 race begins on 9/10/18 at 10am). Typically the field size is around 30,000 runners and 80% of the spots are reserved for time qualifiers. Anyone who has run a qualifying time during the previous year (after the last September cut off) can enter.

However, the rolling registration process allows those who’ve BQ’d by 20+ minutes to register first, followed by 10+ minutes, then 5+ minutes, and finally all qualifiers until the spots are filled.   For the 2018 race those who qualified by at least 3:23 were accepted into the race (leaving 5,062 qualifiers unable to get a spot). So it’s impossible to know how many will enter this year and what the cut off time will be as the margin usually gets tougher every year.

Previous cutoff margins:

  • 2014- 1:38 cutoff (2,976 not accepted)
  • 2015- 1:02 cutoff (1,947 not accepted)
  • 2016- 2:28 cutoff (4,562 not accepted)
  • 2017- 2:09 cutoff (2,957 not accepted)
  • 2018- 3:23 cutoff (5,062 not accepted)

When I BQ’d in 2014 my qualifying time was also 3:40 and I managed a margin of 3:48 (but I was definitely sweating for a couple weeks before I knew if I got in). The fact that you have a 4:13 time margin means that you have a very good chance of being accepted into the 2019 race.

I typically advise people who are training for a BQ to aim for qualifying by 5 minutes to give themselves a margin. And like we’ve mentioned on the podcast before it’s also important to make sure that the marathon you choose is run on a Boston Qualifying course. It’s always very disappointing to qualify for Boston but be shut out due to the spots filling up or because the marathon course wasn’t certified. I know some time qualifiers who have decided to run for charity so that they were still able to participate.

For more information on the history of Boston Marathon cut off times: http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/participant-information/qualifying/history-of-qualifying-standards.aspx

Posts About Qualifying For Boston

Marathon Success Story + What it Takes to Qualify for Boston

My Boston Marathon Qualifier, Thanks to MTA Coaching

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon –Interview with Chris Russell

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