Marathon Success Story + What it Takes to Qualify for Boston

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In this episode we bring you a marathon success story with Academy member Karima Modjadidi who kept a recurring knee injury at bay and earned a PR and BQ at her recent marathon.

Plus, Angie talks about the Boston Marathon qualifying standards and what it takes to run a BQ.

Interview with Karima Modjadidi

Karima ran the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon (we refer to it as the Via) in Allentown, Pennsylvania this fall.

The race is known for being a last chance Boston Qualifier, however in 2016 it was interrupted by a train crossing for 8 minutes which led to people missing their BQ.

Karima’s goal was to run a Boston Qualifying time at this year’s Via Marathon, but a nagging pain in the knee messed up her last 4 weeks of training.

In this conversation you will hear how she and her coach worked through it and what he told her before the race. She’s been training with MTA Coach Steve Waldon. Spoiler alert: She did qualify for Boston and set a PR! She’s amazing!

Karima is originally from Bethlehem, PA, hometown of Bart Yasso. She’s a PhD student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC and studies Psychology and Law. Her marathon PR is 3:24:56

This conversation illustrates the ups and downs of training and the often epic struggle that goes into earning a BQ. We hope you enjoy it!

Karima and parents after the Via Marathon

Karima with fellow MTA-ers Foti Panagakos and Mitch Goldstein

Training for a BQ Race

If you’re planning on training for a BQ at some point it’s important to realize that this may not be a straightforward process. While there are a few marathoners who BQ during their first or second marathons it’s more common to have run 10 or more marathons before qualifying for the first time.

And it’s also important to know that your BQ must be run on a qualified course. The B.A.A (Boston Athletic Association) also does not accept indoor marathon times toward a BQ . Most marathons will advertize that they’re a Boston Qualifying course but if there’s any doubt in your mind be sure to contact the race directly and find out before you sign up. You should also check with the USATF or AIMS websites to see if the race is listed as an official Boston qualifier.

We got this email that underscores this point:

Hey you two I just wanted to write and tell about my BQ story – and a hard lesson learned in the process.  In May I ran a marathon with the main goal of qualifying for Boston.  I was able to finish 4:12 under my standard.  The course was advertised as USATF certified but no! it never was certified.  The BAA denied my entry last week.  They told me to contact the RD but he will not help.  At this point it feels like nobody cares.  It was a small race, 54 runners.  In case you want to look it up: Road to Carthage marathon in Illinois.  I feel like my ticket to Boston has been stolen.  Just do me a favor and make sure your listeners know that if they are going to make a BQ attempt at a lesser known, small town marathon, they need to check the USATF website and search for certified courses to be sure that their race will count!  Just because a race website says the course is certified doesn’t mean that it is.  I tried another attempt to BQ this past Saturday and failed, which makes the pill that much harder to swallow.  The journey continues… your friend and loyal listener, Matthew from Missouri

Tips to Keep in Mind

Be Patient

In endurance sports like running you must be dedicated to the process and committed to learning about your individual needs along the way. You also have to start where you are currently at with your fitness level (not where you were last year or where you hope to be). Certain elements like dialing in a good racing weight, a solid nutritional plan, injury prevention strategies, and a fueling plan are so important and often take time to accomplish.

Marathon training can be like learning to cook because there are so many elements that go into a good result. It comes naturally to some people while others tend to struggle more along the way.

Be Persistent

For most runners qualifying for Boston is a challenging goal. Having the right mindset, incrementally working toward your goal, and not giving up are keys to success. You’ll occasionally hear about the runner who BQ’s during their 1st or 2nd marathon but that’s the exception, not the rule.

I often find that runners who have to work longer toward their BQ often appreciate it so much more. Adversity can make us stronger and more grateful.

Stay Balanced

Make sure to balance intensity with rest in your training. This is one big area where a lot of runners go wrong. We tend to see results for a while by hitting it hard 100% of the time. But after a while this can come back to undermine your goals. Finding balance can be especially tricky if you have a stressful personal life and busy schedule. You’ll need to build in recovery tools like rest days, low impact cross training, strength work, foam rolling, extra sleep, and healthy nutrition along the way.

Be picky

Let’s face it. There are a ton of running, racing, and fitness opportunities available. And it can often be tempting to do ALL THE THINGS. But many runners aren’t able to balance quality and quantity at the same time. When you’re pursuing a BQ you’ll need to choose quality every time. This means that you’ll want to pick your races wisely as you build toward a BQ and as you choose a course to try and qualify on.

In general you want to try and BQ on a mostly flat course at lower elevation. Often mid-sized events in cooler temperatures are best. When pursuing your BQ spend time training for the type of course that you’ll be racing.

Also having a plan B marathon anywhere from 3-6 weeks later can also be helpful in case of a fluke (like illness or warm temperatures) on race day. See marathons that produce a high percentage of Boston Qualifiers.

Get a Support System

It can be very challenging to try and take on a big goal like a BQ on your own. The process can be so much smoother and less stressful when you have a supportive running community around you. Many runners choose to hire a running coach to help them achieve their goal.

Whether you’re a new runner or very experienced a running coach can help you get the best out of yourself. Achieving your best may include giving you a gentle push when you need it to optimize performance or even hold you back when that would be wise to avoid injury or overtraining.

A coach can help you manage training loads in a way that fits with your schedule, fitness level and personal needs. Plus, the motivation and support can be very valuable since you know the coach is just an email away and able to give you feedback on a workout you’ve completed or maybe a push to get it done. Some runners feel like they’ve hit a plateau on their own and need help to get to that next level. Other people need advice on how to choose and balance their racing schedule for injury prevention and maximum performance.

Here are some of the common ways our MTA coaches are helping runners right now:

  • Training for a first marathon, half marathon or ultra.
  • Running faster. Achieve a personal record (PR) or Boston qualifying time.
  • Run further. Safely train for back to back marathons and mileage increases while minimizing injuries.
  • Get your fitness back. Systematically build your fitness to its pre-injury level.
  • Run more efficiently. Fine tune your nutrition, fueling, and form.
  • Implementation of race day strategy. Your coach will help you evaluate the course and formulate a solid plan for getting through the tough parts of your marathon.
  • Staying motivated. A coach can help you develop positive habits that last a lifetime.

MTA Coaching Services -if you are interested in putting the power of a running coach behind your training we have a limited number of spots open at the moment.

Also Mentioned in This Episode

Health IQ -Marathon Training Academy is sponsored by Health IQ, an insurance company that helps health conscious people get special rates on life insurance. Go to to support the show and learn more.

BEDGEAR® Performance Bedding uses heat-deflecting, moisture-wicking, and air flow technologies to get you sleeping deep so you wake ready to perform at your peak. Use code MARATHON20 to get 20% off through December 31.

RXBAR -a whole food protein bar made with a few simple, clean ingredients, which all serve a purpose: Egg whites for protein. Dates to bind. Nuts for texture. 100% delicious!

5 Responses to Marathon Success Story + What it Takes to Qualify for Boston

  1. Tom Willson November 14, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks Karima, Angie and Trevor! Enjoyed this pod! I think I may have been unknowingly training “alongside” Karima this summer with Coach Steve so that’s cool.

    I wanted to plug the marathon I ran which actually had the HIGHEST percentage of BQ’s at 67%. It’s the sister marathon of the #1 race that is listed on the site Angie linked to in the show notes. Either way both races are relatively flat fast loop courses in scenic locations.

    It’s called the Last Chance BQ.2 Grand Rapids (the sister race is in the Chicagoland area). Both are held on the Saturday prior to Boston registration opening. I hear ya loop course meh, boring! But it has it merits! There are 2 aid stations at the mid points of the loop serving water n gatorade as well as gels. If you like you can deposit your own stuff at the “elite” bottle stations and they organize them for you after use if you drop them in the drop zone so it’s there every time you come around. In addition there are no corrals. Instead you get pace groups. All those in your BQ qualifying time start together so you can pace each other encourage each other and hang on together. Kinda cool! They print your name on your bib and the volunteers and staff all are very encouraging always referring to you by your name when able (nice for me since I never bring my own cheering section). Also temps in Michigan that time of year are typically in the 50’s. Starting line temp for me this year was 45 (F), finishing temp was 53 (F).

    Here’s a link to the race FB page you can see the race director’s post about the results there.

    Good luck for 2019 BQ’s everybody!!

    • Trevor Spencer November 14, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

      Thanks for sharing this race with us Tom. We appreciate you!

    • Karima Modjadidi November 16, 2017 at 8:27 pm #

      Good to know! Thanks, Tom!

  2. Jenn November 17, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

    This is just the podcast I needed to listen to! I needed to hear Angie say* that is was better to be under trained if it means showing up healthy to the starting line! I had to take the last 2-3 weeks off in my training program for a half marathon I am running this weekend! (Tulsa Route 66). I cried* and was really frustrated that I put in so much work and towards the home stretch got shin splits (due in increasing mileage* too much after week 13 of my 16 week plan. Your podcast are always encouraging and I learn a lot from them.

    Thank you both!

    • Angie Spencer November 20, 2017 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks for the comment Jenn! It’s always so frustrating to deal with injury during a training cycle. I hope your half marathon this past weekend went well. Keep up the great work!

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