Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Market Response?

We are now more than three weeks after the opening of registration for the Boston Marathon and the race is still open.

That's unheard of in recent years. When I first registered (2001 -- didn't run), I qualified in January and registered in early February for that April's race. When I started paying attention again in 2009 I heard the race was closing up more quickly. Some runners who qualified for the 2010 race at the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon (early November) got in, but qualifiers from the Philadelphia Marathon (mid to late November) did not. I qualified at the 2010 National Marathon and registered for Boston before noon on the day it opened. That year the registration system was inundated; many would-be runners could not get through online. I also understand the marathon expanded its charity slots, reducing opportunities for qualifiers. Many were closed out. (The amusing result was the creation of a protest marathon in Gansett, Rhode Island, that is now run yearly two days prior to the Boston Marathon. They proudly announce that they are a true "qualifiers only" race.)

The debacle in 2010 for the 2011 race was such that the Boston Athletic Association moved to a tiered entry system. In the September 2011 registration for Boston 2012, if a runner beat the qualifying time by 20 minutes or more, she or he had first shot at entry. Two days later, the 10-minutes-or-more qualifiers had their shot. Two days later was reserved for the 5-minutes-or-more qualifiers (including me). The next Monday registration was opened to all qualifiers, but not on a first-come-first-served basis. After a week of "mere qualifier" registrations, the marathon selected the fastest times relative to qualification standard to fill the remaining slots. One other big difference: historically, qualifying was determined by the hours and minutes only. If a 30-year-old man ran a 3:10:59, that met the 3:10 qualification standard. Starting in 2011, that same runner had to meet or beat 3:10:00. The marathon filled up by the close of registration.

This year they used the same tiered system, but they also brought the qualifying times down by 5 minutes across the board. Three weeks later, the race is not full. One of a few things may explain the phenomenon:

(1) the recession-driven running craze has run its course (good for the economy);
(2) last year's heat scared many away;
(3) the 5-minute decrease in qualifying times is precluding many from running;
(4) people are sick of Boston.

I think number 4 may explain a lot of it. When Boston makes you think of Bill Rogers, Wellesley College girls, and high-fives atop Heartbreak Hill, it's a place you want to go. When Boston makes you think of that club that you lined up outside of when you were 25 and watched the beautiful people go in ahead of you, you'd rather find a nice race somewhere that is still about running. I do know that 2013 may be my last year there for a while.

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