Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Running Controversies (Part II of III)

And you thought I forgot! This post is a continuation of Part I of the controversial blog series, addressing topics that are often debated among runners. In the previous post, I addressed headphones, barefoot running, and junk miles. Here are a few more.

BQ Times
The Debate: There are actually quite a few debates about the BQ times, and I will tackle two of them. The first is whether or not the women's qualifying times are "softer" then the men's times. Men are obviously built to go faster, but many runners think a 30-minute gap between the men's and women's times is too large. The other debate isn't really a debate, but rather how people are reacting to the new qualifying standards and process for the 2012 event. Many Boston hopefuls are frustrated that their task just got harder, but other runners welcome the new challenge.
My Stance: The movie "The Spirit of the Marathon" provided some history on the Boston Marathon. The qualifying times were set not to make this a prestigious event, but because the number of applications were increasing each year, and they couldn't accommodate anyone. This was before the days of computerized lotteries, so the easiest way to trim down the applicant pool was to set qualifying standards. Over time, those qualifying times have dropped lower and lower as the demand to run this race continues to increase. The prestige factor is simply a byproduct of what the race managers did to control the size of the race.

Given this, it doesn't really matter if there is a 20-minute difference between the top male and female finisher, but a 30-minute difference in qualifying times. Data shows that approximately the same number of men and women (roughly the top 5%) finish within the current qualifying times. This means the number of male and female runners should be about the same. There would be significantly more male runners if they lowered the women's times. As for the new qualifying standards, this falls inline with what they have done historically. The applicant pool of qualified runners is too large (with the race filling up within 8 hours) so they are tightening things up.

How this affects me:
Two years ago, I would have been upset about the faster qualifying times, and even more frustrated that I bonked at the RnR Arizona marathon because of the heat-- and then again in New Jersey. But now Boston isn't really a focus of mine. Trying to attain a goal that was based on someone else's standard wasn't healthy for me, so now I am just focused on running my best races possible. By my standards. Over the past three years, my fitness level has increased substantially and yet I keep bonking in marathons. If I had listened to my body instead of stubbornly trying to run an 8:23 pace no matter what, I probably would have set some nice PRs. So for my next marathon (Milwaukee Lakefront) I am just going to try my best, listen to my body, and if I qualify, great! If I get a 3:40, it will still be the exact same achievement that it was when it was a "BQ time".

Unauthorized Bib Transfers (running under someone else's name)
The Debate: You registered for a race six months ago and now you're injured and you can't run it. Or you got sick. Or you just don't feel prepared. Do you give your bib to someone else and have them run under your name? The debate is whether or not this is "okay". Some runners do this all the time, and other runners would never dream of it. Some large races have a process in place for officially transferring your bib to another runner, but most smaller races don't allow this. And then there is the question of selling your bib to someone versus just giving it to them.
My Personal Preference: This is a no-no. I would never run a race using someone else's bib and I wouldn't give my bib to another runner, even if I were injured. When "Elizabeth Clor" appears in the race results, I want that to actually be me and to reflect my hard work and training. And if I were to run a fantastic race but then someone else's name appeared in the results, I would be bummed. If it was a PR, I'd almost feel as if I couldn't really claim it as my own.
My Stance: As long as the rules don't forbid it, then I don't really care what other people do. Well, unless I got beat out for an age group award by someone who wasn't running under her own name. That might irk me.  Also, in larger races like the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, where they explicitly say that they accept more people than the course can actually hold because they know people will not show up, then I think it is wrong to break those rules. I'm guessing that at smaller races, the race directors don't care as long as the entry has been paid for.

Weather-Related Shut Downs
The Debate: In 2007, the Chicago race course was shut down in the middle of the event because the temperatures were rising into the upper 80's. One person died. This got a great deal of media attention and since then, race directors have been more cautious about holding races in severe weather conditions. This year, the St. Louis marathon was shutdown early as soon as the temperatures got into the mid 70's. The debate is weather or not races should be shutdown when it gets really hot, and how hot is too hot?
My Personal Preference: I've only been affected by this once (last weekend) and the race wasn't even shut down, it was shortened. So I don't really know how I would feel if I was running a marathon and was told to stop at mile 18. My guess is that I'd be relieved. I DNFed at Shamrock because of the heat. I bonked at RnR Arizona because of the heat, and I sure would have loved for someone to tell me it was okay to walk to the finish! I also ended up in the medical tent after the New Jersey marathon in 2009 with hypothermia. I don't think that race should have been shutdown, but if it had, I probably would have welcomed it. As someone who is heat sensitive, my preference is to shut it down!
My Stance: I can certainly see both sides of the coin here. Even though I DNFed at Shamrock, I don't think that race was hot enough to be shutdown. It really has to do with how prepared they are with emergency medical crews to handle any incidents. Even though I would personally welcome a shutdown if the race was oppressively hot, I really think that shutting down the race should be a last resort. There are many other runners who are willing to tough it or who aren't as effected by the heat as me, and I can see how frustrating it would be for them if they were having a good race.

I also don't like the negative press running gets about it being dangerous and people dying during marathons. Most of the people who have died (and there haven't been many) had pre-existing heart conditions.

What are your thoughts on these hot topics? (No pun intended for topic #3).


  1. Re: bib transfers, I agree with you completely. I would never let someone else run with my name. Part of the reason I love running is to compete against myself. That said, what other people do is none of my business, so long as it's not to get a better qualifying time or somesuch.

  2. About the bib issue- You pay a lot of money for some big races and if you are on the injured reserved list you should be able to transfer your bib to another runner OR be allowed to defer it to the next year. But if you have another runner run it for you to qualify for another race than you are cheating imo.

    Obviously here in the Chicago area shutting down races for the heat is not a decision taken lightly but after the marathon they don't want to take chances. A few weeks ago they shut down a half marathon after a runner passed away. The people on the course were asked to shuttle back to the finish line and still got their medals.

    It's frustrating to be on the course when this happens I imagine because I did Chicago last year when people told me the temps were close to what they were in 2007. After I was done I couldn't imagine it being any worse than what I went through but goofy October can either be cold or freaking hot here!

  3. A more detailed analysis shows that females do have it easier:


    Not to mention if you were to use age-grades scores, such as the ones used by the USATF Masters, it would show a female equivalent to a man running a 3:05 is about 3:22, which is far from the 3:35 time they are now required to run.

  4. BabyWeight: Hello there, thanks for reading and commenting! It would be nice if more of the larger, expensive races had a transfer system.

    Anonymous: I see your point. However the BAA isn't saying "we are making it equally easy for men and women." They are seemingly trying to get an equal amount of male and female runners to participate. To accomplish that, they are using their current standards.

  5. 1- I totally see the point about working towards a goal and having it moved, but it's not like Boston is the only race doing this. I think something HAD to be done about Boston. The 8 hour close out was an obvious sign things needed to be tighted for it to hold any type of prestige at all. When I first got close to breaking 3 hours, the OT time for women was 2:52, making it a reasonable goal. Now? 2:46... not quite as attainable.

    2- Totally agree about the bibs. No way I would hand my bib off to another runner. I would want it officially changed w/ race directors and documented that it wasn't me (assuming they allowed transfers).

    2- Unless a tornado is about to touch down, I really don't see any reason to close a race. For example, i would've been pe-od at Chicago if I'd been out there. I train all summer in 80s-90s + humidity, as do other runners. If I want to suffer through the day, that should be my business.

  6. Oh god -- I hate it when people run under others' bibs. Infuriates me. That's because I regularly get gyped of age group awards when men in their 20s decided to

  7. Boston - I disagree with the anonymous commenter. Age grading is based on WORLD RECORD times. When you look at ordinary marathon age group winners, the female winner is typically about 30 minutes slower than the male winner. That's the demographic of Boston, and that's why a 30 minute difference is appropriate.

    Bib transfers - I think it's absolutely wrong, because of the way it can mess up placement for others, and because it also can create problems in case of medical emergency (misidentification of a victim, lack of waiver, etc). But I also think that most races should have a procedure in place for legal bib transfers. For example, the Imogene Pass Run, which I have done three times, allows bib transfer up to ~2 weeks before the race; you may pay no more than face value, you must pay the race an additional $15, and sign the waiver.

  8. I was the Chicago marathon in October 2007. It was brutal - they ran out of water by aid station two at mile 6 because every runner was taking three to four cups of water - two for drinking; two to pour over their heads. You never know what you are going to get when you sign up months in advance. They didn't offer a refund either - guess its too large of a race for that. I will be back one day!

  9. I agree with you about bib transfers, for the same reasons...but I absolutely think races should have a procedure to transfer bibs, with or without a fee. Re Boston, I reluctantly accept the 5-minute reduction in qualifying times, even though I will probably never qualify for Boston again. But I don't like the rolling registration. I think everyone who can make a qualifying time should have an even chance to get in, whether first come first served, or lottery. I don't know about the heat issue...I do know I will never run Chicago due to the high likelihood of extreme weather, hot or cold.

  10. Thanks for all the comments! I really enjoy hearing different opinions on things, even if they differ from my own.