Keena Byrd-Moro crossed the finish line at the 2014 Sioux Falls Marathon in 3 hours, 33 minutes, 58 seconds. And she thought, “I did it. I finally did it.”
After six marathons and more than two years of trying, Byrd-Moro finally qualified for the Boston Marathon. She returned home to the rural community of Kadoka, S.D., and found a homemade sign on her front door that read, “Congrats Boston Marathon Qualifier.” At the time, it didn’t matter that 29-year-old Byrd-Moro ran 1:02 faster than the qualifying standard for her age and gender. But soon that 1:02 would loom large.
A Boston Marathon qualifying time is no longer a guarantee runners will gain entry into the field. The overall popularity of marathons, plus the prestige of Boston, equals too many entries for the more than 24,000 total qualifier spots available. So, there are qualifying times that give you bragging rights and there are qualifying times that get you bib numbers.
This year, runners needed to finish in 1:02 or faster than the Boston standard for their age and gender. That meant some anxious days for Byrd-Moro before she squeaked into the field.
“My stomach was turning,” said Byrd-Moro. “I was crazy nervous. I was very obsessive with checking, refreshing all throughout the day, each day until I could see what the cutoff was. Then, I typed in my name minutes after the cutoff was posted. I saw my name [on the entry list] and I called my husband. I’m freaking out at this point because I couldn’t believe my exact time got me in.”
Byrd-Moro wasn’t alone. The 2015 field includes 28 runners who gained entry with the exact qualifying time they needed. Many of the just-in-time-qualifiers share a sense of shock at their precise good fortune, replaying all the moments in their qualifying races when they could have lost a second here or a second there. It also prompted some to pass along the lesson that every second counts.
For Brady Cudd, qualifying for Boston without a second to spare prompted him to write the Wisconsin-LaCrosse wrestling team. The 36-year-old competed on the team during his college days and his coach introduced him to distance running. He told the team how five years of training came down to one second and how all the lifts and drills and runs and competitions add up. That said, Boston may mark Cudd’s final marathon.
“I don’t plan on running another marathon,” said Cudd. “My goal was to run the Boston Marathon . . . I’m going because it’s something I want to experience.”
Mitch Meinerding, 30, first tried to qualify for Boston in 2009 and missed by 97 seconds. It was discouraging and put him off marathon running. Then, a couple years later, the Boston Athletic Association lowered the time standards by five minutes. More discouraging news. But after years of running half-marathons, he decided to give 26.2 miles another try. He entered the 2013 Air Force Marathon and finished in in 3:03:58.
When Meinerding learned that time was exactly what he needed to qualify, he wondered if it would be good enough for a spot in the 2015 field. He also thought about how he easily could have been a second or more slower. Plenty went wrong in his qualifying marathon. He nearly missed the race’s start due to traffic, arriving at the starting line 15 seconds before the gun went off. Then, he experienced a tight hamstring at Mile 22. He knew the smart move was to stop and stretch, but he also realized he was too close to the 3:05 qualifying time for men age 18-34 to stop.
“I went ahead and registered thinking I don’t know if I’m going to get in and I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to everyone,” said Meinerding who lives in Bellbrook, Ohio. “Then, I got an email at work from the Boston Marathon and it said, ‘Your time has been accepted into the 2015 Boston Marathon’ and that was pretty cool . . . When I saw the cutoff time was 1:02, I was like wait a second, I’ve got to read that again. Then, I thought, ‘Good thing I didn’t stop and stretch my hamstring like I needed to.’ ”
Tom Bergeron, 51, spent a decade trying to qualify for Boston. As he ran the 2013 Hamilton Marathon, he had one goal in mind: Just get under 3:30, his qualifying time. He traveled from his home in Exeter, N.H., to the race in Ontario, Canada, because it had a nice downhill and he figured he could pick up some speed there. Bergeron finished in 3:28:58.
“It was a great feeling to cross the finish line and hear the announcer say, ‘You qualified for Boston,’ ” said Bergeron. “The emotion was big. You definitely felt like you had qualified. But that was November 2013 and I had to wait almost a year. When I got the email that I was in, I was ecstatic. Then, I checked the site out and saw that my time made it to the exact second. In one way, I was excited and in other way I couldn’t believe that if I stopped to tie my shoe or change anything, I would have missed it.”
But even after the just-in-time qualifiers made the field, some faced a long road to Hopkinton. No one may prove how prized a Boston qualifying is more than Byrd-Moro. In December, she tore her ACL and put her marathon participation in jeopardy. She had reconstructive surgery on Dec. 31, 2014, and used Boston to motivate her rehab.
In March, she was given clearance to start running. She ran 10 miles over Easter weekend in two hours and hopes she can finish Monday in less than six hours.
“Every time I went to see my surgeon for a follow-up, he’d say, ‘So, have you forgot about Boston yet,’ ” said Byrd-Moro. “I said, ‘No, I’ve been thinking about it every day.’ That’s what’s keeping me going.’ ”