On New Boston Qualifying Standards, Fairness, and Determination

Warning: The title was initially "On Qualifying, Fairness, and Determination". I'm not sure if I'm sticking with that topic.  It just echoed the general reaction from runners in response to the new qualifying standards and procedures for the Boston Marathon announced 10 days ago. That's part of my inspiration for this post. I threw in the linkbait-ish "New Boston ... Standards" bit just so the post title is clear without the context of the blog as a whole.

Waaaaa...

Obviously, I'm late to the pity party/pile-on about Boston.  I probably whined 3-5 times on Twitter, so I'm not completely indifferent in how the B.A.A. has ruined my life and all (self-deprecating sarcasm, people...).  However, to be honest, for 31 years of my life, Boston qualifying was as unattainable as the Olympic trials is for the average marathon enthusiast.  I didn't even run for 30 of those years. It was only after breaking 3:40 in my second marathon that I needed a bigger dream. Boston, for my running ability, pretty much fit that mold.

Besides, I'm still too busy being annoyed with our own local half-marathon's changes to care about what's changed with Boston.  That, and jobs, kids, life, and actually finding the time to run.

My new standard

I don't really see that I have a new standard.  I set out with a goal of 3:20:59 [or 3:15:59 for the next couple of years] before I turn 40.  Those new standards are 3:15:00 and 3:10:00 respectively.  There is no sense sweating 5 minutes and 59 seconds when I have at least 12 minutes of gap to close before then.

Qualifying is one thing. Gaining an entry through qualification is more a matter of luck, unless meeting the standard wasn't a major challenge for you in the first place. The guaranteed entries will go to those who beat their respective standards by more than 5, 10, or 20 minutes.  The leftovers will go to those who just barely beat their time.  Given that the women's standard is 30 minutes slower than the men's, those margins are smaller percentages of the overall time for women than men.  This is not to mention the argument that the women's world record is only 9.2% slower than the men's, yet the fastest women's standard is 16.2% slower than the men's.

However, in terms of fairness and tough standards, Boston has, in the past, required a 2:50 for under 40 men, 3:10 for all other men, and 3:20 for women.

Determination

I can imagine that many people will abandon their pursuit of qualifying for Boston over this. I don't really see how a single organization managed to redefine the term "self-improvement" in the dictionary. Do you cease professional development because another layer of management was inserted between you and the CEO? Never mind. Don't answer that.

Challenge

All of this rambling aside, life changes, marathon entry changes, and course changes have made me reevaluate what a challenge is for me--at least this year.  It's not about lining up with 10000-50000 of my closest friends, although I'll probably do that in New York this year. It's not about hitting 10 PRs--I'm hoping for two.

This year is about running consistently, every week, every month.  I'm working on my 3rd 50-mile week in a row.  I'd like to build up a streak of at least 20 of those.  I'm also working on my second 200 mile month this year. It'd be quite an accomplishment for there to be 12 of those this year. With jobs and family, keeping running going this year is my Boston qualifying.  With a year of consistent running, maybe I can build a successful training problem on top of it late this year or early next year.

The Kentucky Derby Festival Sends an Email on the Course Change, Finally

Email from KDF Mini/Marathon

Of course, it's a marketing email.  (Speaking of which, I seem to always see "Constant Contact" on emails that get me more fired up than other email.)

You'll noticed that this email was received February 8, 2011.  The early registration deadline is February 14, 2011.  I would imagine that most procrastinators probably wouldn't have made the early registration date, anyway.

Thanks for the notice of the advance change for the early registrants.

The text reads:

- Now with both the start and finish lines downtown, our new Marathon and miniMarathon courses have been designed to be faster than ever while taking runners past some of Louisville's best-known landmarks!

- More great entertainment along both routes to keep you going on your 13.1 or 26.2 mile journey.

- Runners will enjoy the sights of Old Louisville and the Original Highlands and pass landmarks like Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Slugger Field, KFC Yum! Center and the Speed Art Museum -- just to name a few!

- It's a whole new challenge

On point 3:  I guess the Southern Parkway crowds weren't supportive enough.

Iroquois is for Runners, or How to Ruin the Best Half Marathon in the Country

The Course In Question

Go to the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon page for the course map.

Where I'm Coming From

I'm a runner with modest ability.  I never ran track or cross country in high school.  I barely finished the mile fitness test my freshman year in high school.

Those PE exercises and recess games in middle school?  I didn't have enough sprint in me to dodge a guy running up to me to tag me with the kickball that I just kicked.

In the last five years, I've built up the strength and endurance to run in the top 10% of the pack in a couple of marathons, and I've finished 8 marathons and 4 half-marathons.

A Comfortable Challenge

I regularly run the Iroquois Hill Runners' Hard Ten route for training.  The uphill portion is a slow and steady climb.  The lower loop [marked Rundill Road on maps] has some steeper grades than the uphill road. And yet, Iroquois is no Eden Park hill in the Flying Pig, no Hatfield-McCoy 700 ft/1 mile up and downhill, no undulating 300 ft/mile up- and downhills of the Flying Monkey.

The lower loop in Iroquois is somewhere between "not flat" and "a little more than rolling hills," depending on the elevation profile of your average training runs.  The base loop's hills around the base rarely break out of the 50 ft range, and you get just about as much assistance on the downhills as you lose on the uphills--without the sustained punishment on your quads of a sustained downhill.

The Iroquois Park Runner's Experience

Uphill and Rundill Rd at Iroquois Park in the Snow

Regardless of whether you're running by yourself, with a couple of friends, or a few thousand of your friends, the canopy of trees makes the run serene. As you race around the bends, the narrow field of view keeps you from focusing on a point too far in the distance, so that landmarks in your field of vision go past quickly. The bends on inclines and declines offer opportunity for the efficient racer to pass without weaving through the crowd. The steady slapping of shoes on the pavement is the primary sound heard throughout the duration of the park run.

In the racing experience, going clockwise through park meant that, once you passed the up hill road, you were catapulted down a downhill for almost a mile as you and your fellow runners spilled onto Southern Parkway.  Then, the race began in earnest.

It should be noted that even the marathoners do not get this release anymore.  The new course travels counterclockwise.

Southern Parkway

Running down Southern Parkway was my second favorite feature about the Mini course. With the start line there, there was plenty of starting area on Southern Parkway with plenty of room to roam on the bridle paths on each side.  Part of the challenge of this arrangement was that the first two miles involved some narrow streets and tight turns.  However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to be slowed down leading up to the hills leading up to and inside the park.

When the start line moved to 3rd Street, the crowd congestion just after the first mile dissipated, but the legs were left with more than a mile less of running prior to hitting the hills.  No matter--Iroquois Park was still waiting, and the release onto Southern Parkway would still be there as well.

The crowds along Southern Parkway were always amazing. The bridle path on each side provides plenty of room for spectators. Since the Mini drew at least 3/4th of the runners, crowds supporting the half-marathoners will no longer have a reason to cheer along Southern Parkway.  It could be lonely out there for the marathoners, even as early as mile 8 when they split off from the half-marathoners and run toward Iroquois.  At least prior marathoners didn't hear crickets chirping until mile 12.

Commingling Futility

I sure hope there's a SOLID plan to keep 7 minute mile marathoners trying for Boston Qualifying from being obstructed by 15 minute miler half-marathoners when they rejoin at miles 7.75/18.  If I was running the marathon of my lifetime for the first 18 miles, only to be obstructed by people instead of "the wall", I'd feel like I had been assaulted by cronies of the race committee.  [See Again to Carthage: A Novel by John L. Parker (Amazon link) for a more vivid illustration.]

Updated April 30 [Race Day]

As I watched video of mile 10 of the Mini course, I saw a runner moving at roughly twice the speed weaving through the other runners. Apparently, at this point, there was no clear division of the two courses.

Also, due to last minute course adjustments, the mile markers 9/18 through 11/20 were paired...  That means that a 7:30 marathoner would have run into the wall 15 minute half-marathoners [the KDF mini attracts a large walking contingent] and would have to fight through for 2 miles, much like I experienced in Chicago, but with participants moving at half the pace instead of about 80% of my pace.

I encourage the 15 minute miler to participate. I blame bad course management for not giving a clear path for the half-marathoners and marathoners to co-exist.  Of course, I also blame bad course design, but minimally, better planning should minimize the challenges presented by the course layout.

Tradition

Having grown up near the park, I once knew little about the Mini except for the fact that we couldn't exit our neighborhood via Southern Parkway until after 10am, the barricades that lined the bridal path, and the stampede of runners running down the street.

Now, with the only the marathon route passing by at mile 15 instead of everyone passing by at mile 8--the neighborhood will now be blocked until noon, but the stampede of runners will be the thinned out trickle of marathoners that is typical of a medium-sized marathon at mile 15.

So, tradition doesn't mean much.  Unless it's Churchill Downs. I can't recall if Churchill Downs--especially the trip through the infield--was always a "feature" on the Mini-Marathon, but judging by the contrived nature of the path through Churchill's infield, I would have my doubts. Something about running through dank tunnels, snaking around aimlessly on the narrow infield path, and inhaling fresh hay and manure smell doesn't scream "preferred running route" to me.

By contrast, thousands of people hit the Iroquois hills willingly, sometimes even when the traction is limited.

No Complaining Without Solutions!

Okay, so it's easy enough for me to be a naysayer.  What would I do for the Mini course if I had some bizarre insistence on finishing on the waterfront?  Here's my course.  It's a pretty straight shot down 4th Street, and runs by the back side of Churchill Downs but not in it.  It would run through 4th Street Live! as well.