Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The REAL Top 10 Boston Qualifiers (FWIW)

Cool Running, part of the network, tweeted several days ago to a list billed as the “10 Best Boston Qualifiers.” Many retweets followed.

Now, neither the tweet nor the page itself claimed that this was fresh data, but people have been reseasonably interpreting it as covering the recently completed 2009 marathoning year. This caught my attention because I remembered seeing a tweet to this same list several months ago. Hmm. does say their info came from Running USA, but after clicking around that site for a good long while, I couldn’t find the Boston qualifying statistics.

Then I visited Marathon Guide, a low-key site that I’ve always found to be a great resource. And it came through again. They present Boston qualifying data by year. And their data for the most recently completed year, 2009, differs from what has on their site. In fact, what’s on — and what people have been tweeting about the last few days — appears to be based on 2008 data. So courtesy Marathon Guide, below is the latest data on the 10 U.S. races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifying times. The list is similar to's, but four races fell out of the top 10 in 2009 — Grand Rapids, Snickers, Tucson and Newport. They were replaced on the list by Pocono Mountain Run for the Red, Jacksonville, Green Mountain and St. George.

Marathon Guide
Boston Marathon Qualifying Races — Most Likely To Qualify — 2009

  1. Boston — 43.2%
  2. Mohawk Hudson River (Albany, NY) — 34.9%
  3. Bay State (Lowell, MA) — 33.5%
  4. Pocono Mountain Run for the Red (PA) — 30%
  5. Steamtown (Scranton, PA) — 28.1%
  6. Wineglass (Corning, NY) — 27%
  7. California International (Sacramento, CA) — 26.7%
  8. Jacksonville (FL) — 24.9%
  9. Green Mountain (South Hero, VT)— 24.4%
  10. St. George (St. George, UT) — 23.3%
Of course, as Marathon Guide points out, it could be a mistake to interpret a higher percentage of qualifiers as evidence that a marathon is easier than one with a lower percentage of qualifiers. For one thing, the huge marathons — with the exception of Boston, for which one must qualify, natch — draw fields with a lot of newer and slower runners. This weighs down their qualifying percentage. Other than Boston, no marathon with more than 10,000 finishers was on the Top 10 list. Chicago is widely considered to be a pretty fast course, yet just 12.7% of the people who finished it in 2009 met their Boston qualifying standard.


  1. I've always wondered about what factors go into those lists that might bias them. Like the idea that big marathons attract a lot of slower runners. I remember thinking during Wineglass that it was by no means a hard course, but that now way did it deserve to be so highly ranked.

  2. I had the same thought during CIM in December. Sure, it's a net downhill course, but the first half is rolling and the ups and downs both take a toll. Plus, wind and cold can be — were — issues. Yet the percentage of people posting BQ times remains high. I gotta figure that limiting the field to 6,000 runners is a factor. Plus, a December race in Sacramento, that doesn't strike me as outrageously attractive to the newbie, who might be more likely to be drawn to, say, Rock 'N' Roll in San Diego. The result of all that is a disproportionately hardcore field. Maybe some clever researcher will figure out a way to normalize the field factor and give us a true reading of course difficulty...