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Yesterday the B.A.A. announced its cut-off times for Boston qualifiers to get into the 125 Boston Marathon scheduled for October 11, 2021. Runners had to have qualifying marks that were 7 minutes, 47 seconds (7:47) or faster than the qualifying time for their age group and gender to get into the field, that has been reduced to 20,000 due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
The 7:47 “cut off” mark is by far the largest cut off time since the race began limiting the field to fewer than those who met the qualifying standards in 2012, allowing those with faster times to register first until the field reaches a predetermined capacity. And this cut off is on top of the new qualifying standards for the 2020 race which tightened the marks by 5 minutes for every age group.
The times for “open” (18–34) racers now stand at 3:00 for men, 3:30 for women. But with the cut-off, it took a 2:52:13 or 3:22:13 to get in, making it the hardest Boston to enter since 1986, and close to the most strenuous qualifying standards in the history of the race. In 1980, facing exponential growth from the new running boom, the qualifying times for open (18-39) runners — having just been lowered by 30 minutes in 1977 — were tightened to 2:50 for men/ 3:20 for women, and stayed there until 1987, when they began a gradual relaxation to a high of 3:10 men/ 3:40 women from 1990 to 2012.
The hardest qualifying mark in race history was the 3:05 time for all women, that stood from 1977 (the first time women had their own qualifying time) to 1979. Early masters standards for both genders were disproportionately difficult, and age-groupings limited, until a large correction in 1990.
Lots of factors will be different for the 2022 Boston, whose qualifying window began on September 1, 2019 and will continue through the conclusion of the to-be-announced 2022 Boston Marathon registration period later this fall. Not the least of those differences is the lack of races during much of that time period. It will be interesting to see if the qualifying times and cut-off marks will continue the trend of getting faster each year and exceed the 1980s marks, which seemed incredibly fast as average marathon times got slower and slower during the 1990s and 2000s.
It seems more likely to me that, given a full field and the influence of the pandemic, the 2022 race will be easier to get into, although the tighter marks instituted in 2020 will still need to be met. But perhaps all this off-season base and strength building, coupled with the widespread use of super shoes, will produce a bumper crop of fast times as soon as races start accepting runners again.