Saturday, March 15, 2008

qualified. denied.

My running partner, Fran, and I have spent the winter training for the Boston Marathon once again. Our goal: to qualify for Boston at Boston, rather than at one of the other New England marathons. To clarify: in order to run Boston, you need to qualify at an accredited marathon; qualifying times are based on age. Although I have qualified for Boston at several races, I have not been able to do so at the Boston Marathon itself. Boston, as any veteran will testify, is an entirely different beast: until recently, the race started at noon, which poses a number of challenges for your body, because you have to get to the starting line around 7;30 or 8:00, hang out in corrals, often in the sun, and then of course there's the question of what, and how much, to eat.

And the hills. The course goes steadily downhill for about 15 miles, and then lo and behold, "Heartbreak Hill!" This is actually a series of hills that lasts for about 4 miles. Burning, burning quads.

So, Fran and I have been training. Every week, one of us would say, "Have you registered yet?" Nope. The marathon is pricey, and so I was holding on to my precious $110 as long as possible to make sure illness or injury wasn't going to prevent me from running--because once you send in your money, it is the property of the Boston Athletic Association.

Two weeks ago our running pal Todd said, "Just make sure you get your form in by March 1; otherwise, you'll be at the back of the pack. But you'll still be able to run."

That very night, I went to register, and stared in disbelief when I received a message saying, "Sorry, this year's field is full. Try again next year." Full? 25,000 runners, and full before March?

"Just send them an email," Bryan said casually. "You qualified; they have to let you in."

I sent the email. They wrote back. Sorry; full. Try again next year.

What a blow! And even more so because I qualified in 2006, which means my qualifying time expires this spring. Which means I have to re-qualify.

Yeah, it's just a race. But it's Boston! The glory! Yeah, okay, I've done it before. But still. . . .to let a qualifying time go to waste is just too, too painful.

My fellow runners were outraged: so many waivers casually distributed by the BAA, and here we are , two runners who qualified, with no Boston to run. Denied. No gut-busting run up Heartbreak Hill amidst the cheers, no Wellesley scream tunnel, no painfully victorious crossing of the finish line in Copley square. Maybe next year.

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