Is the Boston Marathon qualifying system fair?



Minute 1: The NYC Marathon is back

One of the most dramatic comebacks in NYC Marathon history was Rod Dixon’s win over Geoff Smith in 1983. At the 20-mile mark, the pack led Dixon by 2 ½ minutes and he still trailed Smith as they approached 26 miles in Central Park. At that point, Dixon surged past Smith, completing his remarkable comeback. (Commentary from Dixon and race highlights are available in this video.) The race itself has staged a few dramatic comebacks, most notably in November 2001, less than 2 months after the September 11 attacks, and now in 2021 after a long hiatus due to the pandemic. City, state and NYRR officials announced yesterday that a real, in-person marathon will take place on November 7. This year, they expect 33,000 finishers, which is about 60% of the usual field size. Registration priority will be given to runners who were affected by 2020’s cancellation. Charity bibs are expected to be available if you are willing to raise money as part of your marathon experience. Just like other major marathon events this year, runners should expect certain Covid restrictions to be in place, most notably staggered start waves that will provide a lot more elbow room on the course and should speed up finish times. Runners will have to provide a negative test or proof of vaccination prior to running the marathon. The organizers provided the details on their website yesterday, including info on charity bibs: “2021 TCS New York City Marathon: Frequently Asked Questions.” #CityThatNeverQuits

Minute 2: Surfaces matter for marathon training

Nerd runner alert: During every visit to New York, we run along the marathon route in Central Park and when we get to the finish line painted on the road, we sneak a glance around us to make sure no one is watching and then raise our arms in the air, celebrating a fantasy victory that will never really be ours. (If you say we said this, we’ll say you lied.) Along with our trots on the paved roads of Central Park, we also make sure to get in a 1.58 mile lap on the Shuman Reservoir Running Track which has a well-maintained crushed gravel surface. As it turns out, the time spent on the softer surface is much better for safe marathon training than living out Walter Mitty fantasies on the pavement, according to a new story: “Do Running Surfaces Matter in Marathon Training?” Hard or paved surfaces can be taxing on your legs, potentially leading to stress fractures or shin splints. If you can tolerate the repetitive scenery, running on a track is a great home for your training. The “Benefits of Track Running” include a softer surface, no cars to worry about, and easy markers to track progress. If you need a vacation from the track, head to the beach. If you think we’re kidding, you should read “The 5 Benefits of Beach Running.” The soft surface takes some of the pressure off your knees upon impact, and you’re forced to engage smaller stabilizing muscles in your feet to overcome the uneven surfaces. It goes without saying, the view is hard to beat. Of course, beach running shouldn’t be the main focus of your training, and too much frequency can put a strain on your tendons, so be careful. If you love beach running, check out these races that take place on sand. #SandTrap

Minute 3: Are potatoes a superfood?

Earlier in the year, there was outrage over the supposed move to cancel Mr. Potato Head. It turned out to be an overreaction to a simple marketing decision, but the real victims of nutritional cancel culture may be actual potatoes. Lately, they’ve gotten a bad rap from nutritionists, citing the introduction of the glycemic index. The GI assigns a numeric value to the amount a certain food will affect blood sugar levels. Potatoes have a high glycemic load, even greater than a can of Coke, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Men’s Health just came to the defense of spuds in “Long Live the Potato, the Original Superfood.” The fact is, very few people are consuming potatoes, and nothing but. They’re usually part of a more balanced meal. Eating a potato alongside other sources of fiber and fat is going to change their effect on your blood sugar for the better. You can read more about the Glycemic Index and its limitations in “Glycemic index diet: What’s behind the claims.” The second source for potato slander likely comes from a 2011 study in The New England Journal of Medicine that associated potato products with weight gain. That sounds scary at first, but it’s a bit misleading. The term “potato product” contains everything from a simple baked potato, to french fries, chips, or other processed food. In fact, new research published in 2018 found contradictions among studies on potatoes and health concerns, noting a lack of specificity regarding cooking method. Potatoes are a great source of fiber, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. If you are a fan of the underground vegetable or an Idaho farmer, you may also want to check out “7 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Potatoes.” #TaterTalks

Minute 4: Is the Boston Marathon qualifying system fair?

Last week, we covered the latest news on the Boston Marathon and its reduced field size. With fewer runners, Boston was forced to make the qualifying standards even harder than expected. Not everyone was happy about that. Podium Runner offers a critique on the subject in: “How the Boston Marathon Qualifying System Fails Runners.” Their main complaint is that you can no longer run down the final stretch of a marathon, on pace to qualify, and raise your arms to celebrate a guaranteed Boston entry. In fact, you may not find out until months later whether you had actually run a BQ or not. While reading the story, we couldn’t help thinking of the Winston Churchill quote: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Other races incorporate the idea of a qualifying time, but also leave open a random lottery for runners of all speeds to garner a bib. New York won’t offer entry based on qualifying times this year because of all the carryover registrations from 2020’s cancelled race. But in a normal year, a 40-year-old woman needs to run a 3:26 and a 40-year-old man needs a 2:58. Both are considerably faster than Boston’s standards, because New York wants to leave open plenty of lottery slots. The full New York standards are here and the Boston standards are here. The Chicago qualifying times from 2019 -- the last year they were used -- are here. If you’re wondering what effect the tougher qualifying times have had on American runners overall, the answer is not what you’d expect. The full analysis is available in this comprehensive study from RunRepeat: “American Runners Have Never Been Slower .” #QualityTime

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • Debates about the fairness of new carbon-plated super shoes continue to rage. According to a pair of new studies, however, one thing that is not up for debate is whether they produce faster times or not. Our friend Amby Burfoot just published a good piece on the topic: “The Latest Research on Super Shoes and Fast Marathon Times.” World Athletics looked at elite runners and found that super shoes improved women’s marathon times by 2:10, and men’s by 1:03 on average. The second report, from Cornell University, analyzed 22 runners below the elite level of competition. They found a 2:57 improvement among men, and 2:10 (again!) among women on average.

  • Coffee offers a benefit for athletes looking to get their day started and/or boost their performance. It’s even the favorite drink among cyclists, according to a Strava survey. People commonly assume the drink can be dehydrating, but is that true? Verywell Fit looks at the science behind the myth, asking: “Does Coffee Dehydrate You?” While the idea originated from a 1928 scientific paper identifying its diuretic properties, modern researchers have questioned the validity of the conclusion.

  • Running can be an excellent tool to aid your mental health. Getting out in nature, breathing the fresh air, and letting your body’s natural reward system work feels great. If you want to use running as a way to lower anxiety, you’ve got to read “4 Ways to Boost the Calming Power of Running.” They cover a few techniques and practices you can use that have proven mental benefits.

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

Spartan Race is a little crazy. It involves barbed wire fences, leaping over flames and crawling face first through mud. Coming from a running and triathlon background, we pushed back when a friend recruited us to try one a few years ago, but we didn’t regret succumbing to peer pressure. In fact, it made us feel like a little kid again, crawling over, under and through stuff while getting really dirty. There is also an unexpected vibe of support and encouragement from fellow competitors that goes beyond anything we’ve seen in traditional endurance events. And speaking of encouragement, whether you think you want to try an obstacle race or not, the video Spartan just released is almost certain to get you pumped up to decline your next Zoom call invitation and go get a little sweaty instead. Some days, your motivation comes from within. Other times, you need a motivational speaker angrily shouting words of encouragement to get off the couch to chase your next PR. When you’re facing the latter scenario, just click on the clip below that Spartan has titled: “Run Through Hell -- Running Motivation.”