How to Qualify for the Boston Marathon


With the Boston Marathon coming up on April 17th, I can't help but be somewhat obsessing over it and daydreaming about when I'll get my chance to run the iconic race in 2018. I have several friends running this year and I couldn't be more excited for them. Want to get in for next year? You'll have to qualify by September 17, 2017. My qualifying race was in November of 2016 (after the cutoff for 2017), so that's why I'm running in 2018.

By no means am I an expert running coach or BQ'er, but I'd like to give you some high-level guidance for how to get in to this one-of-a-kind race.

Know the goal (your qualifying time)

BQ times aren't the same for everyone. Here are the current standards, as defined on the Boston Marathon website:

  • Age 18-34 | Men: 3h05min | Women: 3h35min
  • Age 35-39 | Men: 3hr10min | Women: 3hr40min
  • Age 40-44 | Men: 3hr15min | Women: 3hr45min
  • Age 45-49 | Men: 3hr25min | Women: 3hr55min
  • Age 50-54 | Men: 3hr30min | Women: 4hr00min
  • Age 55-59 | Men: 3hr40min | Women: 4hr10min
  • Age 60-64 | Men: 3hr55min | Women: 4hr25min
  • Age 65-69 | Men: 4hr10min | Women: 4hr40min
  • Age 70-74 | Men: 4hr25min | Women: 4hr55min
  • Age 75-79 | Men: 4hr40min | Women: 5hr10min
  • Age 80+ | Men: 4hr55min | Women: 5hr25min

I'm in the first bracket, which meant that a BQ for me was under 3hr35min. Something to note, though, is that a BQ time doesn't guarantee entry. Most people suggest that you train for 5min under your BQ time. Why is that? Because registration happens in waves. 

They open up the registration to qualifiers who beat their time by 20 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 5 min, then just under the time. So in theory, if a whole bunch of people were fast that year, it could fill up before it even opens up to people who beat their time by 10min. In year's past, it's filled up around the time that people who beat their time by 3min are registering. My goal was to beat my time by more than 5min, and I did, with a 3:28!

Choose a goal race and a back up race

You have to get your time at a USTAF or AIMS certified course. Here's a list of some of the races you can use to qualify. Make sure that your race is on the list. And pick one that gives you plenty of time for training. I hired a coach 6 months before my race to help get me there.

Everyone has bad days. Even if you are fully prepared, something could go wrong -- you could have digestive issues, it could be blazing hot, you could get sick, it could be snowing/pouring rain... you never know. You can only plan for what you can control. For that reason, a lot of people will sign up for a back up race, knowing that a lot of these races fill up far in advance. If you know you're not feeling well or you see the forecast looks terrible for your race, you could either skip your race or run it at an easy pace, and then plan to race your backup race a month or two later.

Know that not all courses are created equal

While the NYC Marathon is great for crowd support, it is not a fast course, riddles with 90 degree turns and a bunch of steep bridges. Here are some of the fastest courses, but I will say that a lot of die-hard runners will give you crap if your PR is at one of the completely downhill Revel races. Some people see that as a cheater way to get a PR. But, they will still get you into Boston.

Get a strategic training plan

As I mentioned earlier, I started training with a coach, Neely Spence Gracey, in May of 2016 to get me ready for NYC in November 2016. Initially, we just built base miles and really kicked it into serious marathon training about 18 weeks before the race.

If you're really wanting Boston, I'd highly recommend hiring a coach to create a custom plan for you. They'll know where you should start and how to properly pack on the miles and kick up the pace without getting you injured. I ended up training up to 60 miles a week -- which is jaw-dropping considering that I was running 10-12 miles a week in May.

If you need to save money, there are some free plans out there. You could try one of Hal Higdon's plans -- Novice 1 | Novice 2 | Intermediate 1 | Intermediate 2 | Advanced 1 | Advanced 2 | Personal Best | Marathon 3 | Senior | Alternate/Postponed Marathon 

Sign up for a shorter race for practice

A key indicator for knowing if you're on the right track for your goal pace is running a shorter race at a target pace. For a marathon, a half would be a great marker. A lot of people suggest scheduling this half for around 9 weeks before your race (halfway into an 18-week training plan).

Know that it may take time

Depending on where you're starting from, you may not be able to get up to a BQ time in a race this year. You may need to think longer term. I have a good friend who has had a pretty long-term BQ plan for a while. She's strategically choosing a race after she turns 35 to give herself an extra 5 minutes. She's been diligently working with a coach for years and I know she will get that BQ eventually!

All that to say, it's totally okay if it doesn't happen at your first marathon after you start serious training, or your second, or your third, etc. It may take some time. Compete with yourself and enjoy the journey.