Rush to web snags runners

Shut-out marathoners voice their frustrations

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / October 20, 2010

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Glen Holyoke is the kind of middle-aged marathoner who is easy to root for. The lifelong runner from Brewer, Maine, spends his days teaching English to eighth graders and coaching cross-country. He fondly remembers watching the Boston Marathon as a kid, climbing the trees along Heartbreak Hill for a better view. He saw his father run in 1980 and 1982 and hoped someday to experience the same thrill.

When Holyoke met the qualifying standard for his age group two weeks ago, he set his sights on the 2011 Boston Marathon.

At 10 a.m. Monday, he clicked onto the Boston Athletic Association’s website to register. Caught up in a stampede of people rushing to register and frustrated by website glitches, Holyoke was unable to complete his entry during his only break in the school day. At 6 p.m., he visited the BAA website again, only to learn that registration was closed.

“I shook my head and laughed because I thought there must be a mistake,’’ said Holyoke. “I thought there’s no way that could happen after the work that I’ve done, the hundreds of miles I’ve run since last Christmas.

“Now, I need another focus. I’ve come too far not to have something out there as my goal. But it certainly won’t be the same.’’

Holyoke was far from alone in his disappointment when registration closed Monday in a record 8 hours 3 minutes.

Yesterday, runners unable to register because of computer problems or packed work schedules or both vented on Facebook and in e-mails and with calls to the BAA. Some pleaded their case for a spot in the race. Some questioned the allotment of bib numbers to corporate race supporters and charity runners. Some suggested ways that more qualifiers could register in the future.

“I feel like I got rejected from my first-choice university,’’ Devon Mara wrote on Facebook. “12th grade all over again. Gutted.’’

On the same forum, Meghan McEwen posted: “I have been trying to qualify for 3 years. Finally ran a 3:36 and qualified in Ottawa. This is all I talk, breathe, eat and sleep and I feel like it’s just a tragedy I didn’t get in.’’

The BAA listened, and by yesterday afternoon, it posted a video on its website in which executive director Guy Morse addressed the fallout.

“We wanted to let everyone know we were aware of the situation and aware of the pressure it’s caused,’’ said Morse. “We’re not taking it lightly. We’ll do whatever we can to improve in the future. It’s too harsh to say, ‘We’re closed. See you later.’

“We’re very much aware of and share the anxiety and disappointment. It’s very difficult to hear the stories. It’s not in our playbook to have this situation.’’

Asked if there would be changes for 2012 — whether it is expanding the field, toughening qualifying times, narrowing the qualifying window, or holding a lottery — Morse said, “That’s a pretty good bet that we’ll attempt to alleviate the situation one way or another in 2012 and beyond. But it’s too early to predict what that might be, but there are lots of ideas out there.’’

Morse anticipates making an announcement about 2012 qualification shortly before next April. In the interim, ideas from runners denied registration to the 2011 race likely will keep coming. So far, they’ve suggested everything from staggering registration to a system for replacing no-shows. But nothing short of a 2011 bib number will take away their disappointment.

“I was flabbergasted to see that I was too late,’’ said Chicago-based attorney Anthony Anscombe, who went from a plane flight straight to an all-day meeting Monday, with no time to register. “I swapped some e-mails with the BAA and all I really got back from them was, ‘Thanks for your e-mail. 2012.’ That was basically the message.

“They’ve got presumably thousands and thousands of people who are very, very disappointed and feel like they didn’t have a chance to sign up.

“I thought one thing they could do would be opening up the field by another 5,000 or 10,000 and holding a lottery for those remaining spaces. At least I’d feel like I had a crack at it. If I didn’t make it through the lottery, I could accept that.’’

The BAA, however, has no plans to register more qualifiers for 2011. Morse emphasized that the field size has been set for next year’s race. For some runners hoping to officially enter the Boston Marathon, the long term has gotten a little longer.

Shira Springer can be reached at