Gulsum Ozturk Rustemoglu
March 9, 2021

Boston Athletic Association’s recent announcement of the 70,000 virtual Boston Marathon  on October 11, 2021, all around the world caused mixed feelings, especially for the hard trained marathoners. Some of these marathoners have been dreaming about the real Boston experience for years, trying to shave minutes or even seconds from their personal records to enable them to not only qualify but also have extra cushion to secure a place. They work like everybody else, train harder than many, sacrifice many more things, just to feel the joy of their endurance paying off in the end with a real Boston experience and that Boston memorabilia and in many case just the medal. The Boston medal is more than just a medal. It is far from ordinary.

Understanding the challenges of the Covid era, wanted to share the feelings of more than majority Boston Qualified runners. Yes, we are grateful that we are mostly healthy and here writing or reading this piece, but how we are learning the adaptability to various challenges without completely shifting, blaming, or changing well established programs and keep their legacy alive is an issue not to miss.

First of all, let’s be real… 7 months from today, did we really picture a real live 30,000 Boston Marathon field at Hopkinton? Not really… So, maybe this conversation will be a bit immature but there needs to be a discussion on where the Boston Marathon is going.

Second of all, Oct 11, 2021, is not and will not be the so-called 125th anniversary of the Boston Marathon. This hype about the 125th is over last April when the race did not occur due to Covid. Claiming to be all-inclusive for all runners to celebrate the 125th anniversary is meaningless. We are forcing ourselves to find reasons to justify certain decisions by forgetting the realities. A silver lining, maybe!

Third and the main point actually is, considering the Boston Marathon as elitist is a rather correct statement. No doubt about that. Because it is. The Boston Marathon is an elitist race. Why do you think, even though New York Marathon has the hardest qualification times, nobody calls it New York Qualified ever but only cares about Boston Qualified? Thousands of people dream about qualifying for the Boston race and pushing their boundaries for years and years. Boston has or had a long time legacy of being the hardest to qualify since there is no other way of qualification other than race performance or being a very costly charity runner and still needed to be interviewed to be a charity runner and could still get rejected. So Boston is or WAS hard to get in. That medal, that race memorabilia has a meaning, a very deep meaning. Boston is not one of those 800 world marathons that anyone can easily run, pay money to run, or travel to. Boston is the nirvana of all marathons. It is the ultimate goal for an avid marathon runner. It has its uniqueness to it. We have even seen candidates writing Boston Qualified avid runner in their resumes to demonstrate their discipline, dedication, and persistence in life. Yes, the history of the marathon did not start that way. It had humble beginnings starting with only 15 runners. The demand for a challenge, to push our limits and to test our capacity year by year, race by race, happens at Boston.

People who are cheering about the latest announcement have the following points in their corner:

  • Being inclusive and accepting runners all around the world,
  • Limiting pandemic exposure indirectly, especially BAA choosing Oct 11th, the day after Chicago Marathon, BAA is clearly saying “We don’t want more people to come, please.” 
  • Giving other runners a once in a lifetime chance to earn that unicorn medal.
  • Let us celebrate this iconic race’s so-called 125th anniversary. What harm will this do other than making everyone happy?

YES, these all sound very positive very inclusive with no harm points for sure. But what we are missing in all this are the real runners who made this race iconic for years. BAA is basically shifting the focus from performance runners into a standard marathon. What this is saying is:

  • Runners who qualified from Sep 2018 till to this date, tough luck on all your efforts,
  • Runners who sacrificed many working hours, family hours, invested in coaches and training, tough luck on all your efforts,
  • Runners who are exemplifying the reward of hard work and dedication, tough luck on your preaching,
  • Runners who are beating odds in many facets of their lives and fundraising thousands of dollars for Boston, tough luck on your tireless fundraising efforts,
  • Runners who were qualified in the past but could not make the cut because of even a 1-second cut-off, tough luck that we could not have you race at the time, and give you the medal but we are giving it now to 70,000 people as long as you sign up and pay the price for the race. You have cried for nothing.
  • Runners who are performers for the last 125 years, sorry but financial aspect is now the only driving force for us right now so, tough luck and we need to collect more funds this year to survive. Yes, we all get that, too. 

WE ARE ALL THE SAME… That indeed is very true. Pandemic showed us that it does not differentiate PRs, marathon times, runners or non-runners. It is an equally risky time of our lives at the moment. But instead of maintaining years of legacy of the program, making such drastic change, and making Boston Marathon, a regular ordinary marathon, anyone can sign up for and walk or run will have long-lasting effects and possibly set up precedents for future Boston Marathon races and the qualification process. That is our worry.

Simply, while some cheer for this decision, many runners also voicing their shock and surprise saying that there are over 800 marathons in the world that welcome walkers, and any level of runners. BOSTON is our dream club to belong to after tireless days, months, and years. BOSTON is a DREAM race and DREAMS are hard to reach not easy to grab!

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  • Joe Decker

    I couldn’t have said it any better. I qualified twice in 2019, only to see the pandemic wipe out 2020. The B.A.A. is hurting I understand that. 70,000 people will be able they ran a Boston marathon race with or without caring about the specialness of this race. I I want to run the real deal someday, but can’t do another virtual race. My personal pride and hard work mean more than a medal given and not earned.

  • David F

    Totally agree as a three time Boston Marathoner it was the crown jewel of marathons. I worked and trained to get in every year and now its going to be just another race where anyone can get in. No hard work except be one of the first 70K to get in.

  • Debbie Stemmerman

    Completely agree with these statements… you don’t just get to run THE BOSTON MARATHON you get the honor of running THE BOSTON MARATHON from your hard work & dedication to the sport 💙💛#5timerbostonstrong

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