Home > The Scene

What’s leading to Boston’s overwhelming popularity?

The running community has changed. It's no longer a small group of elite people, it includes everybody

Geoffrey Kirui
Instagram: Krista Duchene

This week the Boston Marathon announced that it would be tightening its entrance standards for the 2020 event. They did this in part because runners already needed to be 4 minutes and 52 seconds faster than their qualifying time in order to be accepted to the 2019 Boston Marathon. 

RELATED: Boston Marathon tightens 2020 qualification times

We spoke to Alan Brooks, race director of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and President of Canada Running Series, about what is behind the seemingly unstoppable growth of the Boston Marathon.

View this post on Instagram

I've spent a lot of time today reading the reactions and feeling the emotions of some of the 7,384 people who missed the Boston cut-off. Rightfully heartbroken, most people are incredibly positive and motivated to keep reaching for their goals. They are the #inspiration you did not know you needed right now. The best line I took from today was, "I will not be bitter, I will be better." For whatever it's worth, I say it is okay to be bitter. You worked your butt off for this moment, and it was not given to you. Call yourself a Boston Qualifier with pride. Never let that go. Then, turn that bitterness into fuel to be better. Let it feed you. Let it nourish you. Let it heal you. Then, be better than ever, and do the things you once thought impossible. Be unstoppable. Be #BostonStrong. #offmysoapbox #bostonmarathon

A post shared by Cary Aurand (@caryruns808) on

Brooks says that running is more inclusive and diverse than in the past, which has contributed to the growing popularity of marathon running. “We can see it in the broader context. In the beginning there was a running community with all of our special language, and special signs, and if people were really nice we’d let them in.”


Brooks says that the running community has changed. It’s no longer a small group of elite people, it’s inclusive of everybody. “In the nineties people like John “The Penguin” Bingham started talking about running in different ways.” Bingham encouraged the expansion of the running community to include those who weren’t looking to be the best – they just wanted to run. Bingham embraced running on his own terms and encouraged others to do the same.

Photo: Boston marathon (Facebook)

Brooks explains, “This opened up that running community to a much larger group of people. I think in the last decade, there’s been another big shift. Millennials have come along and gotten very excited about running. I think they’ve changed the paradigm completely. Currently there is huge diversity in the running community. We’ve seen people get excited about running, but not only running, now people are doing mud running, spartan running, cross-fit and running, running and yoga. Within this diversity, there is a really competitive group of millennials who are running.”

RELATED: Top last-minute qualifying races for the Boston Marathon

Brooks points to social media platforms like Strava and Instagram as key markers that running has become mainstream for the millennial. Lines like, “If it’s not on Strava did it really happen?” drive this point home.

Boston has become a benchmark. Brooks says, “The marathon itself is the pinnacle of road running, and Boston is the pinnacle of marathon running in North America. Running has become diverse and inclusive.” Brooks suggests that within that diversity there is a subset of competitive millennials who have embraced Boston in their world.

However, Boston only has so many places on the start line. For the 2019 race, of the 30,458 applications, 23,074 were accepted, leaving 7,384 who met the standard but were not accepted due to field size limitations. Brooks says that the competitive element within the diverse running community is drawn to Boston. “I hope the competitive element continues to grow.”

When asked where he sees running going in the future, Brooks says he sees running becoming coupled with other things like yoga and cross-fit. “I see continued variations and diversity.”