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Inspired To BQ: Runner Surveys Boston Qualifiers

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon might be a common goal, but no two runners trains the same. Photo:
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon might be a common goal, but no two runners trains the same. Photo:

A runner who’s still hopeful for a BQ surveys runners who have qualified.

The idea of qualifying for the Boston Marathon can be an inspiring thought, no matter what your ability level or experience in running. For some, it’s an annual thing that comes relatively easy. For others, it’s a do-or-die quest to get back to the hallowed finish line on Boylston Street. For still others, it’s a goal that’s just out of reach, a lifetime achievement that hangs just out of reach.

Sean Sullivan, a 39-year-old attorney from Brooklyn, has been running for five years and certainly has the Boston bug. He’s only run two marathons and owns a PR of 4:00:58. But he’s very interested in one-day reaching a BQ time, which, for his current age, means he’d have to run 3:10:00. But in his quest to continue improving as a runner and to find out how other runners made it to Boston, Sullivan started seeking out training advice and input from other runners. That turned into a semi-formal online questionnaire, which turned into an online project that now includes input from more than 50 runners. (View the questionnaire and click on individual runner responses at Sullivan’s website.)

We caught up with Sullivan to learn more about the project and find out what he learned about Boston Marathon qualifiers.

1. What inspired you to do this and how and when did you get started?

I have been running now for about five years. As soon as I got serious about it, I started to wonder about qualifying for Boston. I knew next to nothing about running, and was trying to get a sense of what it took to be good at the sport. I looked around for info on who qualified for Boston, how much they ran, what kind of workouts they used, etc., but I couldn’t find much so I decided to just start asking people myself.

I was logging my runs on the website and starting a blog called “Just the Distance” to track my running.  I started asking some of the faster runners on the site if they’d be interested in answering some questions and I posted their responses on my blog. People were very open and friendly and willing to take part. Pretty soon, it just started to grow.

I’ve been doing the project as a sort of hobby since then. About two years ago, I moved all the responses over to my new website/blog.

2. How did you reach out to runners to engage them with the questionnaire?

Some of the runners are people I know personally, though most of them I found through online message boards at, and Other people have just found it by happenstance and reached out to me. The thing has kind of taken on a life of its own. People sometimes just link to it on message boards and it consistently gets read by runners all over the world.

3. What did you hope to get out of this?

This started out as a way for me to learn more about running and to try to get a sense of what it took to qualify for Boston. It is still that, but I also think it’s a good tool for the running community. Though some of the runners who have answered the BQ(Q) are very talented, none of them are professionals. All of them are trying to figure out how to get better at running while going about their daily lives of kids, jobs, school, etc. I think its super interesting to see how everyone has done it.

4. How close are you to getting a BQ time? How long have you been running?  How many marathons have you run?

I’ve been running somewhat consistently for about five years and have run three marathons. I am way, way off a BQ. My marathon PR is 4:00:58, run in Philadelphia three years ago. At my age, I need at least a 3:10. Since that race, work, injuries and a new baby have all put a lot of bumps in the road to my training. I’m trying now to get serious about it again. Right now, I’m trying to get faster at the half marathon and looking to tackle the marathon distance again next fall.

5. Were you surprised by the response from BQ’ed runners? 

Running a BQ is the greatest accomplishment most recreational runners will ever have. I’m not surprised people want to share their stories of getting there. However, I’m just some random guy on the internet and I am surprised that so many people have been generous enough to share their story through my silly little website.

6. What have you learned from the responses? Any trends? Inspiring insights?

I think the biggest trend I’ve seen is consistency in training couple with running at least 40 miles per week. Other than that, people’s experiences have been all over the map. Some have BQ’ed on their first attempt, and some have taken years to get there. Some have the classic runner’s physique of short and slim; others have been over 200 pounds. The most inspiring thing about it is that all of these people wanted this badly, and they worked hard to get it. There’s no shortcuts to a BQ, even for a talented runner. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this. If you want to get some sense of what I mean, check out the final answer in Tim T’s response.

Another interesting side note: for some reason many of the responders (especially the men) are people who ran competitively in high school or college. I don’t know if that is because more former college and high school athletes get BQs or more of them frequent the message boards where I’ve reached out. I would certainly like to hear more stories from people like me who are looking to get a BQ and have no structured racing background.

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