Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was harder than ever this year, as the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) announced on Tuesday that runners hoping to compete in the famous race had to run seven minutes, 47 seconds faster than their age group qualifying times. This is a huge cutoff time, coming in a whopping six minutes faster than the cutoff of one minute, 39 seconds that the B.A.A. set ahead of the 2020 race. This year’s cutoff has led to 9,215 runners receiving the unfortunate news that they have not been accepted for this year’s event despite having run under the original qualifying standard.
It’s been a long road back to the 125th #BostonMarathon, but we're excited to announce that we we've started accepting qualified applicants today!
— Boston Marathon (@bostonmarathon) May 4, 2021
It’s already tough to get into the Boston Marathon, and the B.A.A. continues to lower age group qualifying times as demand for the storied race increases. In 2013, qualifying standards were lowered by five minutes per age group, and these times stood until 2019. Then, ahead of the 2020 race, the bar was lowered (or raised, seeing as qualifying got tougher), by another five minutes.
Over the previous 10 races, despite quickening qualifying times, cutoffs were still necessary, as there were thousands more qualified runners than the race capacity. From 2012 to 2017, the time cutoff wasn’t too big, and Boston hopefuls only had to run a maximum of two minutes, 28 seconds faster than their age group qualifying time. Even so, these cutoffs led to thousands of runners left out of the race each year, with more than 4,000 qualified athletes missing out in 2016.
In 2018, the cutoff jumped to three minutes, 23 seconds, and more than 5,000 runners were left off the start list. The next year, 7,200 runners missed the cutoff, which had been raised to close to five minutes. There was a dip in 2020, and the cutoff dropped to one minute, 39 seconds, but it shot right back up to seven minutes, 47 seconds, setting the bar higher than ever before for anyone hoping to race in Boston.
The pandemic is a big reason for this huge cutoff time. In the past decade, the smallest Boston field size has been 27,000 runners, and that was in 2011 and 2012. Since then, the field hasn’t been smaller than 30,000 runners. This year, due to COVID-19, the field has been reduced to just 20,000 runners — a field size the race hasn’t seen since the early 2000s. With demand for the race as high as ever, that meant the B.A.A. had to make the tough call to implement an unprecedented cutoff time, resulting in close to 10,000 runners not being accepted.
The B.A.A. accepted 14,609 runners who met the cutoff, and the additional few thousand spots will be filled by elites and invited athletes who are running as part of the Boston Marathon’s Official Charity Program and John Hancock’s Non-Profit Program.