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Boston Marathon qualifying times out of whack for women?

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  April 30, 2013 03:02 PM

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It remains to be seen what effect the Marathon bombing will have on participation in future years' races: Will more people try to run as a way to celebrate the triumph of a great event? Or will runners be scared away by the memory of this year's attack and the fear of future violence?

Participation in the Boston Marathon also hinges on the more general issue of how to set qualifying times. In 2011 race organizers lowered qualifying times by five minutes in order to pare the overwhelming number of people who were becoming eligible for the race (this year's race was the first where the new qualifying times were applied). A recent study published online in March in the Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance assessed the fairness of these qualifying times and found that different relative standards exist between men and women and across age groups.

Paul Vanderburgh of the University of Dayton compared men's and women's qualifying times for each age group to the world records in those categories. He found that the men's qualifying times were consistently about 50 percent slower than the world records for each age group, but that the relationship between world record and age group varied considerably for women. This led Vanderburgh to conclude that current qualifying standards are too lenient for women age 18-54, too strict for women age 55-80, and just right for men. However, he notes that if women's qualifying standards were changed to hew proportionally and consistently to world records as they do for men, about 40 percent fewer women would end up BQ'ing, leading to a dramatic gender imbalance in the overall field.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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