I sympathize with Dante Ramos's objections to the new Boston Marathon sign-up process designed to weed out slower runners. The new procedure, which went into effect today, puts faster runners at the start of the line. Starting next year, qualifying times will be lower for everyone. I’m about 30 minutes behind the qualifying time myself; the new rules just put it even further out of reach.
But, I also like the Boston Athletic Association’s new effort to protect the race's elite status. Let’s put this in perspective: the BAA rules will be culling the very, very elite from the super-fast. Boston’s qualifying times have always been exceptionally competitive, and it is rare to have a truly casual runner in Boston’s qualifying crew.
The rules and standards make the Boston Marathon different from most other marathons. It is the oldest, and one of the hardest. It has never been the common man’s marathon. (Go to New York for that one.) It has been, however, open to all who can qualify, amateur and professional alike. It is that mix of people that makes the race so appealing.
That the BAA needed a mechanism to protect its competitive status, and ensure that common folks who do have spectacular times can find a place in the race, is a limited response to a bigger problem: the marathon has gotten too big. The 2011 marathon had 26,895 runners, and while it might be nice to increase its size, that takes a tremendous burden on sponsors, runners who are tripping over each other, public health professionals who are needed to support the wounded (if you want to relive the Civil War scene out of "Gone with the Wind," go visit the emergency health tent at the end of the marathon about four hours after the race begins), and the public safety officials who line the communities across the state.
I have run a few other marathons in the last decade. There is nothing more humbling, or inspiring, than to be at about mile eleven and to hear that the winners are crossing the finish line — fifteen miles ahead of you. I love the image of a runner “operator” game, as the news that the lead runners are now resting gets passed back through the masses, back miles and miles, to the common souls at not even the half-way point. Like me.
But that's not what the Boston marathon should be about. I have been a spectator at the marathon, and ran it once when I was in state government and got a complimentary space reserved for public safety officials. It was wonderful to run, but I knew I should have been on the sidelines — or running in a second, separate marathon for fundraisers and more recreational runners.
Yes, mere mortals can still run the Boston marathon — but they should have to be really fast mere mortals.
John Blanding/Boston Globe: Discarded cups cover the Commonwealth Ave. pavement at a water station on Heartbreak Hill in Newton during the 2011 Boston Marathon.