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Why the reverence for Boston?

Posted by on Feb 22, 2010 | 11 Comments
My friend Shelley Viggiano recently blogged about qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  By the way- check out her blog, she’s an awesome writer!  It’s a goal many of us runners have.  Adding a “BQ” to your accomplishments is a badge we wear with pride.  It’s tough to do.  If I were to qualify this year, I would need to run a 3:10.  Given my aversion to speedwork and inherent laziness, it’s not happening.  After next year, I will gain an additional five minutes.  BFD.  Shelley’s blog forced me to ponder this odd accomplishment.  It is THE measuring stick used to quantify your ability as a runner.
Then I remembered this elevation chart from Stan Jensen’s website. 
The small red area represents the Boston Marathon… the pinnacle of the road racing world.  The big wavy line represents Western States, the pinnacle of the ultramarathon world (in the US, anyway.)  Neither race is the toughest in the world, but both are the most prestigious races in their particular genre.  Note “Heartbreak Hill”… a art of the Boston course known for it’s treachery.  Doesn’t look too bad compared to WS, does it?
What’s the point of this post?  I have no idea.  Even though I’m more or less mocking the Boston course, I’m not fast enough to qualify.  It IS a goal of mine… just secondary to my ultra goals.  Why is this such a major goal for us?  Why do we obsess about this singular race?
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  1. runningquest
    March 10, 2010

    Awesome. Good find. Thanks for posting. Have you come across or created the elevation profile for Hardrock against WS?

  2. Jason Robillard
    February 23, 2010

    I appreciate all the comments! Even though I focus exclusively on ultras, I still have this BQ monkey on my back. One of these days I plan on attempting it. My problem- no time to do the necessary speedwork AND train for my goal races.

  3. Marny
    February 23, 2010

    I liked this post. I really felt that I had to qualify for Boston before I moved on to ultras, like that would be my right of passage or something. What I REALLY want to do is run ultras. I don't even like big races. And I hate running on the road. I don't know why I was so caught up with the BQ. After a few attempts and coming fairly close, I signed up for a 50 mile trail race. I felt like I was cheating for entering the ultra before getting the BQ. I think that in every marathon I do, the BQ will be the goal that I don't say out loud, but I'm not going to obsess over it anymore.

  4. Adam Gentile
    February 23, 2010

    Good topic, I always thought about this as well. I can name so many other marathon races and locations that I would rather run than Boston. I can understand the history and qualification aspect, but who cares. I don't think it measures your ability as a runner. You work your ass off, qualify, run the marathon, then what? I think the obession is ridiculous. Could I qualify for the boston marathon? who knows maybe. Do I want to put the time and effort in the training, no. Life is to busy right now.

  5. Ewa
    February 23, 2010

    It is the history we are honoring. NYC Marathon has tougher qualifying standards than Boston but there is less aura around it. Again it's the history.
    I would love to be able to do both/either. I am in awe of people who BQ and who manage to do any 100mi. If Boston inspires people to train harder, do the work (speed and distance) than this is good. No need to knock it down.

  6. Jamoosh
    February 23, 2010

    I have zero desire to run Boston. Qualify, sure; but run; sorry Boston.

  7. shel
    February 23, 2010

    thanks for the plug, jason. that's interesting, donald. i have a few ultra friends who made it to boston and they all praise it very highly. maybe there is some magic there, that us outsiders don't know about. part of me thinks the only reason i have been so anti-boston is that i never thought i could qualify.. not until i was 65, anyway.

  8. Donald
    February 23, 2010

    Done 'em both, love 'em both. They're both unbelievable experiences, full of history, and for many years, both served as the de facto world championships for their particular sports.

    As far as comapring the difficulty, it's apples and oranges. Trying to push up Heartbreak at 6:50 pace at mile 20 is just as painful – more intense, in fact – than struggling up Devil's Thumb in 100 degree heat.

    Both races are awesome accomplishents, but I don't think they lend themselves to comparison very well. Ultras are my preference now, but I wouldn't trade my Boston experiences for anything.

  9. UrbanSage
    February 23, 2010

    "Why do we obsess about this singular race"
    Because it is an accomplishment that so far is laughing at us.
    I don't feel any more reverence about Boston than I do my first ultra, or my first 10K, or my first marathon…

  10. Barefoot Brandon
    February 22, 2010

    Hah, I love that chart. To be fair though, the two races are completely different styles. While not equally difficult to finish, I assume both are insanely difficult to win. I do plan on running my first marathon later this year, but my ultimate goal is more towards the ultra-marathon, not qualifying for Boston.

  11. CoyoteGirl
    February 22, 2010

    Not to insult anyone else's dream but I couldn't give a rat's a$$ about Boston. I don't want to do road marathons – so I've never done one. Probably never will.

    My great white whale? Western States.