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New Boston Marathon rules diminish the race's special allure

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  September 12, 2011 01:49 PM

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As a matter of logistics alone, the Boston Athletic Association had to do something to control the growth of the annual marathon, and a new tiered registration system and next year's faster qualifying times will help ensure that the fastest runners aren't excluded. This is only fair. But these steps also change, and in some ways diminish, the relevance of the Boston Marathon for all the recreational runners who aspire to it.

Qualifying for Boston is a mark of distinction among weekend warriors — partly because the existing qualifying times are challenging, but also because they're still attainable by people with full-time jobs and other obligations in their lives. Make the qualifying times too tough, and the Boston Marathon becomes more like the US Open or the World Series — a display of athletic ability, surely, but one in which mere mortals can never hope to participate.

Needless to say, this is all sour grapes on my part. I run, too, and entertain my own fantasies of bounding down Boylston Street before a cheering crowd. The old qualifying time for men in my age category might have been just within the realm of possibility for me — with the right training plan, the right temperature on race day, and the right, um, brisk tailwind. To qualify under the 2013 times, I'd need a couple of galloping pink unicorns to pull me along as well. Even then, the new registration system likely reduces the odds of getting a race number.

One of the lures of running is the idea that even if you don't have much native running talent, you might be able to take part in the sport's premier event if you push yourself hard enough — if you can stay on top of things at work despite that 9-mile practice run at sunrise, if you keep to your regimen even in the gloom and darkness of February. The Boston Marathon surely doesn't need more runners like me, but whether recreational runners need at least the possibility of the Boston Marathon is a completely different question.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff: Runners cross the Boston Marathon finish line in the 2011 race.

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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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