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The case for a second Boston marathon

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  February 16, 2011 04:52 PM

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Boston doesn't need new marathon rules. What the city needs is a new marathon.
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The Boston Athletic Association, the organization in charge of the venerable Patriot's Day race founded in 1897, announced new entry requirements today that will take effect in 2012. The changes come in response to last year's sign-up fiasco, in which the race filled up in just over 8 hours and left many runners — some of whom had trained for years just for the chance to run Boston — seething at the BAA.

In an attempt to cut down on the number of applicants, runners now need to post slightly faster times to qualify, and the fastest will receive preference.

But the BAA will also still continue to accept charity runners, who account for about 20 percent of entrants and don't have to meet any time requirements at all. Many time-qualifying runners resent charity-runners for taking entry spots, which are capped for logistical reasons.

In dividing up the entry slots, the BAA is trying to juggle its role as both a national institution and a local tradition. As Bob Hohler and Shira Springer reported in the Globe last year, local charities make up to $7,000 selling marathon bibs. But as running becomes more popular, those two goals may become irreconcilable.

Indeed, right now the marathon is basically two races run on the same day: elite runners in one race, and a slower group of charity runners in another. So why not make the separation official, and run them on different days?

In addition to relieving some of the pressure on the April race, setting up a new race would also provide an opportunity to map out a new a route that better showcases Boston. The Boston Marathon, while it finishes in Copley Square, is actually run mostly in the suburbs. For a city marathon, this is pretty unusual, since organizers usually approach races as an opportunity to advertise their cities. The New York Marathon always crosses through all five boroughs. Washington's National Marathon includes all four quadrants of the city. But apart from Fenway Park and the Boston Public Library, television viewers of the Boston Marathon see few local landmarks. A second local marathon could include the whole city, instead of just Back Bay and a small slice of Brighton. And the race could be run in the fall, a popular time both for marathons and enjoying New England scenery.

The Boston Marathon is a treasure, and remains the ultimate goal of many runners nationwide. But there's no guarantee it'll stay that way. Episodes like last year's sign-up controversy — and a growing feeling among many runners that entry to Boston is unfair because of the charity runners — could eventually undermine its popularity.

So while holding a second marathon in Boston would obviously benefit the extra runners who get a chance to participate, it's the original April race that might have the most to gain.

Globe file photo: the start line of the 2010 Boston Marathon in Hopkinton.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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