In 2015 with 1 marathon under my belt and struggling with an injury, I decided I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I needed to take my 1st marathon time of 5:04 down to around 3:35. Would that be possible? Am I crazy? Can an average runner Boston qualify?

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Can an Average Runner Boston Qualify?

Can someone with no apparent, explicit natural talent, no super-speedy 8 minute mile averages, who picked up running in adulthood, train and qualify out-right for such a prestigious event?

And a prestigious event, it is.

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. The exclusive race is qualification-based with a field size of 30K.

Can an Average Runner Boston Qualify?

To apply for the Boston Marathon, you must complete a certified marathon within the time listed for your age/gender group in the year before your application. Running within the time standard only gives you the ability to apply. When applications exceed spots available (every year, recently), those fastest in their age/gender groups will be accepted. Last year 4,500 people were denied despite making the cut-off time.

What’s so special about Boston Qualifying (BQ)?

It actually seems like a pretty arbitrary goal, right? Yes, it’s historic and exclusive, but its time cut-offs aren’t a determination of good runners vs bad runners. It doesn’t definitively measure your drive, passion, or speed-potential. It’s just cut-off times (that occasionally change) for one specific race.

Can an Average Runner Boston Qualify?


Boston qualifying presents a unique and recognizable challenge. It is something people can measure themselves against, even if there is little reason to it. While personal records can always be challenged, BQ can be an end-point, if you choose.

Other advanced marathon challenges exist, but this one is far less travel-dependent than say The 50 States Marathon Club, the Abbot World Majors (completing the Boston, NY, London, Chicago, Berlin, and Tokyo marathons in one year), or World Marathon Challenge (7 marathons, 7 continents, 7 days… what?!). These are real things, people! Ultra-marathons (any distance greater than a marathon) are also popular, with many being trail runs. But, my arbitrary goal is BQ.

Stretching for that Big & Scary Goal

While I often make a stretch goal for a race, just in case the weather is beautiful, the course easy, and my running light… I don’t often make goals that I could just downright fail. But I need to do that. If I’m always making goals and achieving them, am I really asking myself to stretch far enough?

This goal is big and scary, and possibly not possible.

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Possibly possible? Impossibly possible?

I don’t think it’s coincidence that I decided on this goal while injured and failing to train for a marathon. Up to that point, I had been rushing my training and my races. It was make or break, and I was often injured as a result. This goal was a paradigm shift, moving me from the pain of the current moment to seeing a lifetime of running. Missing a marathon was no longer the end of the world, but just another step and learning-moment to that Big & Scary Goal.

I have since run my 2nd marathon, clocking in at my goal 4:30. I am training for a 4:15 marathon now. Race prediction calculators show I should be running a 4:00, but there is no rush to this 10 year plan. I may try for that in the spring before starting strength and hill training. I will look for harder, hillier courses and possibly half marathons, before returning to flat, full courses ready to shave minute after minute to qualify.

Can an Average Runner Boston Qualify?

I don’t know.

What do I know? I do know that it is good for me to stretch myself. And I am thankful for the paradigm shift that such a Big & Scary Goal has brought to my running life.

Further reading:

What’s your Big & Scary Goal?

Can an average runner Boston qualify?