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Slim window of opportunity for runners hoping to still qualify for 2014 Boston Marathon

Runners start the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, in Hopkinton, Mass., Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
There were more than 23,000 starters in the 2013 Boston Marathon, but about 5,700 were unable to finish because the race was shut down after two bombs exploded near the finish line.Credit: AP

After the events of April 15, 2013, thousands of runners are determined to do whatever they can to earn an entry for the 2014 Boston Marathon. It’s already hard to get into Boston, one of the few marathons to require most runners to first run another marathon under a certain time in order to get in.

With the special circumstances for the 2014 race, many runners are wondering whether they will be able to qualify. They’re studying race calendars and looking for the right race so that when September rolls around and the Boston Athletic Association opens up registration for 2014, they’ll be able to get in.

To manage the demand for the 2013 race, the BAA lowered qualifying times by 5 minutes across the board. The change was successful. Everyone who qualified before registration opened was able to get in. But if the registration process remains unchanged, for all practical purposes the qualifying period for Boston 2014 may already be over.

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For purposes of qualifying, a year can be divided into three parts. The first part is the period between registration, which starts in mid-September, and the race. The second is Boston Marathon day. In a typical year, far more people qualify for Boston at Boston than in any other single race. And the rest of the year, from Patriots Day until registration for the following year, makes up the third part.

Each year, MarathonGuide.com publishes a list of the 30 races with the most qualifiers. For 2012, the last year for which we have all the numbers, 23,236 runners qualified in those 30 races. Since some runners ran more than one qualifier, fewer runners actually qualified, but for our purposes that’s not important.

For 2012, 22 of those races fell into the first period. They had 15,033 qualifiers, or almost 74 percent of the total. Then 2,705 runners qualified at Boston, another 11 percent-plus. So by the time Boston was over, more than 85 percent of the qualifying races had already been run.

Of course, that only covers 30 races. For 2012, MarathonGuide listed 618 marathons in the US alone, with 240, well over a third, coming after Boston and before registration opened. But those are the hot summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, when few large marathons are run. Races outside of the US and Canada aren’t included, either; however, US and Canadian runners make up well over 90 percent of all the qualifiers who actually register for Boston.

For 2014, it gets worse. In 2012, the heat at Boston kept many runners from requalifying. In 2013 the weather was a little warm, but much closer to the ideal. Even though the race was forced to end early, most potential qualifiers were able to finish. More than 8,300 additional people qualified at Boston 2013 than at Boston 2012. If you assume the variations in the numbers for the other races even out, then almost 90 percent of Boston qualifiers for 2014 have already been run.

More runners than usual will probably try to qualify in the late spring and summer marathons before registration opens in September, but that shouldn’t change things much. The people who need to run a qualifier in the summer are fast runners who haven’t tried yet or slower runners who have already tried and failed. The first group is relatively small. For most people in the second group, running one fast marathon a year is hard enough. Running a second one in the heat of the summer faster than their first in order to qualify will not be an easy task.

And more of the runners who have already run qualifiers will be inspired to run Boston in 2014. The runners who haven’t already qualified will have to beat their times to get in.

We haven’t even considered all the charity runners and the runners who couldn’t complete the course in 2013 because of the bombing. More than 5,700 runners were prevented from finishing once the race was stopped, and an online petition asking the BAA for spots in the 2014 marathon for runners who were stopped has more than 21,000 signatures.

At this time, it’s not clear what changes, if any, BAA officials will make to meet the anticipated demand. They could expand the field and allow many more to register and run in memory of the victims from the 2013 race, but they are already pushing the limits of how many people can fit on the course, and that’s before any new security procedures are taken into consideration. But if they don’t open things up, most of the people who will be at the start in Hopkinton in 2014 have already run.

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