After making it more difficult to qualify and expanding the field size, fewer qualified runners will miss out on participating in the 2020 Boston Marathon, officials announced Wednesday.
Last year, more than 7,000 qualifiers were turned away. This year, the number dropped to 3,161, with 1,500 extra bibs — increasing the field from 30,000 to 31,500 — balancing against Marathon organizers lowering the qualifying time by five minutes for each gender and age group.
Men ages 18-34 must run a sub-three-hour marathon to qualify; women of the same age group must run it in under 3:30.
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The more difficult qualifying time resulted in 3,170 fewer applications — 27,288, compared to 30,458 for 2019. Organizers accepted 24,127 runners for next year’s marathon, which will take place on April 20.
The 24,127 runners had to be 1 minute, 39 seconds faster than that lower qualifying time for their gender and age group to make the cutoff. That’s a substantial drop from 2019’s 4:52 better than the qualifying time, leaving 7,384 runners who met their standard out of the race.
“We’re always looking at ways to enhance the participant experience and, of course, we know the demand and interest to participate in the marathon has grown and grown in recent years,” said Chris Lotsbom, communications manager at the Boston Athletic Association.
Lotsbom said they made the “data-driven decision” to increase the standard by five minutes and “keep elevating the bar,” and found that the running community embraced it.
“No matter the challenges, they strive to get faster,” said Lotsbom.
The 1:39 mark is the lowest bar runners have had to reach since 2015, when you had to be just 1:02 faster than the qualifying time — which was five minutes slower than 2020’s — to be eligible.
According to numbers released by marathon organizers, 4,051 qualifiers ran at least 20 minutes faster than their gender and age standard. Those runners had access to registration first when it opened on Sept. 9. Rolling registration has been in place since 2012, and allows faster runners to have a better shot at a bib. After runners who finish 20, 10, or five minutes faster than the qualifying time have a chance to sign up, the BAA opens it to all qualified runners for three days.
More than 80 percent of the 2020 field will be qualified runners, with the other bibs going to invited elite runners and those participating in invitational programs, like running for a non-profit or in the marathon’s charity program.
The field will also have 471 runners who qualified by finishing 10 or more consecutive marathons, and 290 para-athletes who will be accepted once that registration period closes.
Runners had to hit their qualifying time in an approved race between Sept. 15, 2018, and Sept. 18, 2019. The BAA had to parse through results from more than 600 certified marathons, sometimes manually confirming results by combing through times, according to Lotsbom.
For most of the 27,000-plus applicants, and especially for the 31 people who finished exactly 1 minute, 39 seconds ahead of their qualifying standard, Wednesday was an exciting day. As for the 28 who finished at 1:38? Lotsbom said running lends itself to the type of people who use it as motivation for 2021.
“Even in a moment of disappointment,” he said, “there will be others trying to inspire you to keep going.”