Time to clear the air.
One of the things that keeps cropping up is people claiming that, because I think there should be standards in sports - running in particular - that I'm being elitist. It comes up most often in discussions of marathons, most recently in my saying that the Boston Marathon qualifying standards are too easy, particularly for older women. I end up being the old coot who says that he had to break 2:50 to run Boston "back when it meant something" and that they used to shut the clocks off at marathons at 4:30. (Well, they did!)
If someone enters a marathon, lines up with the starters and runs the first 0.1 mile, then leaves the course, but comes back every day and does another 0.1, carefully documenting each segment, completing the course in 9 months, did they do a marathon? Should that be an official finish? I say no; I expect most people would say no. It is an accomplishment; not many people have run every day for 9 months (I've only done that twice in 35 years). Is it something that should be recognized as an achievement? I say that that depends upon the person; there may be someone for whom that would be remarkable, but overall, for the average person, it's not much to brag about.
So, I think everyone would agree that there must be some cut-off time. But what should it be? In ultramarathons, there are almost always cut-offs, if for no other reason than that it's impossible to get volunteers for an endless event. Because they are often held on trails and have varying difficulty, the cut-offs vary from race to race, but a common thread appears: the cut-off is usually about twice the course record. There are a few exceptions, like the H.U.R.T. 100, which is generally regarded as having a much harder cut-off than most. For a marathon, twice the course record is about 4:30, the way it used to be when I first started running.
The attempt to open the races to larger numbers by making the standards easier has had some negative effects. It's made the races much harder to get into, as they fill ridiculously early (Boston filled in a few hours). It's made them more expensive, as the races have had to accomodate the slower runners - my favorite example being the Twin Cities Marathon having a dance the evening after the race; if you can dance the evening after finishing a marathon, your finish will not impress me. Grandma's Marathon has started to see decreasing number of entrants, even as they add more events to attract more people, because, as I'm told over and over again: it's too expensive (especially getting a hotel room).
The added expense has made the races elitist. In ultramarathons it's especially evident: look at the numbers of docors and lawyers among the finishers. They are the ones who can afford the sport. I'd always looked at running as being the egalitarian sport, as it required very little equipment, but runners are being priced out of competition unless they're fast enough to get comp'ed (in 2009, I ran two free races and one half-price). Most people who finish a marathon finish only one in their life, so an expensive race is a once-in-a-lifetime event. For those, like me, who are used to racing themselves into shape, it's impractically expensive. By trying to make as much money as possible, races have become playgrounds for the rich; I'm not the one being elitist.
I'm not saying that there's no place for a 6 hour marathoner. Far from it! There's quite a few who read this blog that are in that range. There should be races that are open to anyone who just wants to try to finish. What I'm saying is that there should also be more races with harder qualifying standards, that are off the treadmill of "ever more entrants, ever more expensive." There have to be "open" races without qualifying times, or one can't have races that have qualifying times.
So what do I think the qualifying standards should be for age classes? I think 1.5 times the world record, for each category of age and gender might be a good standard. Here's the Boston qualifying times and what I recommend on the 1.5 rule.
35-39 Boston 3:15 Me 3:06
40-44 3:20, 3:13
45-49 3:30, 3:21
50-54 3:35, 3:30
55-60 3:45, 3:39
60-65 4:00, 3:54
35-39 3:45, 3:28
40-44 3:50, 3:40
45-49 4:00, 3:44
50-54 4:05, 3:45
55-60 4:15, 4:16
60-65 4:30, 4:30
The numbers for men are almost the same, but the times for women under 55 aren't. Don't be surprised if, watching the Boston marathon, it looks like there's a lot of women between 45 and 54. There will be.
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