28 Seconds…

To qualify and gain entry into the Boston Marathon you have to meet a time standard, what is commonly referred to as a Boston Qualifier (BQ).  For my age group that means I have to run a sub-3:30 to even be able to apply.  But since the Boston Marathon is such a popular and prestigious race, many runners want to vie for the 25,000 or so slots.  So to keep it a competitive race, they award the faster runners first.  Those that are 20 minutes under the qualifying times are shoe-ins.  So are the 10 minute and 5 minute under runners that apply.  I got my BQ at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, running a 3:28:19 on a somewhat warm day for the race.  I had qualified!  But I was a ‘squeaker’ – a runner that has a small margin of being under the cutoff.  My cushion was 1:41.  One minute and forty-one seconds.  Today, the Boston Athletic Association announced the cutoff time – 2:09.  I missed the cutoff by 28 seconds.

The highly anticipated, but extremely regrettable email.

To say it didn’t affect me would be lying.  But the disappointment of missing out on what is generally accepted as the pinnacle achievement by twenty-eight seconds stings somewhat.  28 seconds.  Where could I have lost 28 seconds in my BQ run at Chicago?  Did the weather set me back?  It was warm, and it was definitely windy in the last 5K, but I had a personal best race that day.  Did I not train enough?  Where could I have gained 28 seconds?  I had not stopped for any bathroom breaks.  I had limited my time spent getting through the aid stations.  I had hit my splits very well.  I ran the tangents.  My nutrition was all going to plan.  Truthfully, I think I gave it my best shot.

Earning my BQ at the 2015 Chicago Marathon.

As I finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon I glanced at my watch and saw my time.  My reaction was very strange.  I had a sense of overwhelming joy at being under my qualifying time, but I knew that the current BQ cutoff was a whopping 2:28 for the 2016 Boston Marathon.  I realized that my time probably would not be enough.  I had my own personal “ABC Wide World of Sports” moment – I was experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in the post 26.2 mile finish chute.  I was both happy and upset.  Then I went to Devil Dawgs and had a hot dog.

It didn’t take me long to get over it.  I was proud that I had qualified, and extremely proud that I had just set a marathon personal best for myself by ten minutes!  So I patted myself on my back and moved on to my 2016 racing season, with the expectation that I would apply for the Boston Marathon when it opened in September of 2016.

September arrived and I hit submit.  I knew that it was long shot, but I have spent probably close to 15 or more years attempting to get into this race, so why not?   And then this eternal pessimist started to become an optimist.  I had come across a Runner’s World online forum that was discussing the cutoff time for the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Among the contributors that were posting on this forum were statistics loving runners and stat crunchers who almost took joy in trying to guess what the cutoff would be.  Amazingly enough, they were mostly predicting that the cutoff would be less than 30 seconds to even as small as ZERO cutoff!  I absorbed it all.  One guy I questioned as to what he thought my chances were replied that I was “definitely in”.  All the stars were lining up for me.  The previous year’s qualifying marathons had been hot, which meant many runners had difficulty qualifying.  The 2017 Boston was to be run on the day after Easter Sunday, which would more than likely keep many more away.  And they had indicated that the field size may be around 30,000.  I waited for two crazy and stressful weeks.  Then the email came.  28 seconds.


Actually 28 seconds, Agent 86


I left work at noon and had already talked myself off the ledge.  As I was driving home listening to my typical classic rock radio station, one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands – STYX – came on the radio.  I pulled into the driveway already rocking out to Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) and I was struck by the chorus:


I put on my running gear, and went for my planned marathon training plan run.  I have the 2016 Chicago Marathon in ten days.  I plan on taking my best shot at another BQ.



Author: Ironman Chris

Family, running, triathlon and drumming are my things.

20 thoughts on “28 Seconds…”

    1. I fault no one! Your insight was actually inspiring. As I said on the forum, I learned a lot about the process of applying and getting in. I am also interested in the postmortem. I’ll try harder next time.


  1. I feel your pain. I missed by :09. 9 stinking seconds- not even 1 second per mile faster in my qualifier race. I had the same reaction when I qualified with a 6:00 minute or. I doubted the 2:00 under woul get me in. Definitely feeling defeated. Hopefully chicago brings me luck and I move an age group and gain 5 minutes. Hopefully I will see you in Boston 2018


  2. Great read Chris! I was on the same boat last year when I BQd for the very first time at Erie w/ a 3:28:20. What’s funny was my wife was jumping up and down and was so happy for me when she saw me cross the finish but just like you it was mixed emotions for me. It’s sad it has to be that way because it takes away all the joy and true meaning of actually qualifying. Make a long story short, I ran Peak to Creek 6 weeks later and qualified BQ-3. I knew that was still on the border but decided to just stick w/ it. Use what happened today as your fuel for Chicago. I know you have it in you! I wish you the best!


  3. I am so sorry that you did not get a spot for 2017. I heard the Chicago race was really hot last year, and that is probably why your time didn’t give you that extra cushion. The charity bibs for Boston seem to be the problem why qualifiers don’t get in. I qualified and ran in 2015, but still have heartburn every year when runners are “squeaked out”. I hope to run it again in 2018 or 2019, but hope to have a 5 plus minute cushion again so I don’t have to worry. I’ve been stalking the weather for Chicago this year, and it looks like it could be a little hot again. Hopefully that changes before race day.


    1. It’s all good. First time qualifying gave me more hope of getting in than the many numerous attempts where I was never even close to a BQ. Disappointing to be left out, but being left out is nothing new. Take my lump and move forward. I love running, and I’ll love it whether I am a qualifier or not.


  4. Really sorry to hear this. The link to your blog was posted on the Reddit Advanced Running site. I turn 50 next month, have run a few marathons and numerous ultras, but never attempted to BQ. I’ve decided to take the next couple of years to work back up and take a stab at it. I’ll be in that sub-3:30 category as well, and was thinking to shoot for 3:25. Race day can rarely giveth, but it can sure taketh away though. Congratulations for getting the qualifier though. It’s still a very nice achievement and helps to paint the road ahead as now you have a better understanding of what it takes.

    I live in the Houston area, so training here for several months of the year is just horrible. I likely won’t be able to travel much to run good BQ marathons, so I’ll have to rely on running the few in this area. I’ll be battling the clock both racing and with recently diagnosed degenerative disc disease in my lumbar region. We’ll see who wins out. Good luck in Chicago!


    1. Good question. I tried going on it on Friday and looking at some of the posts and the page would just hang there. I figured that maybe they were doing some mainframe maintenance or something. But same thing today, with my web browser saying it can’t find the page. The guys who were prognosticating about the cutoff were commenting about how bad they felt about getting everyone’s hopes up and seeing how off they were with their numbers when the cutoff was announced. Maybe the person that created the forum took it down.


  5. In the same boat (missed by 34 seconds – likely would have also made it had they not shrunk the accepted field size by 800 over 2015), then went on to crush Chicago (with a 3:04:57 – a BQ-10 minutes). If that isn’t good enough next year, I’m giving up.

    I hope your Chicago went as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great! Awesome run. I padded my BQ to -4:52 at Chicago. Not quite the slam dunk you have, but I like my chances as well. I’m the same way, I will probably stop focusing on it if I don’t get in.


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