Last week the B.A.A. announced that 11,000 qualifiers would not be admitted into the Boston Marathon. The qualifier field was limited to just over 22,000 runners and the race had 33,058 applicants. Anyone who did not run at least 5 minutes and 29 seconds faster than their qualifying standard was denied entry. A week later, Tracksmith announced that their BQ singlet would only be available to those runners who had been accepted (22,019 runners), not to all qualifiers.
Everything in the above paragraph caused quite a bit of controversy. I'll provide an overview of the controversies along with my take on each.
There's no data to support the claim of the women's times being easier. Most notably, the Boston Marathon accepted 12,535 male qualifiers and 9,440 female qualifiers. If the B.A.A. made it harder for women to get in, there would be even fewer women in the race.
Further, as the times get slower, the percentage of time difference shrinks. Here's an example. Let's say you have an elite male running a time of 2:05 and an elite female running a time of 2:25. That's a 20-minute difference, and 20 minutes is 16% of 2:05. So the elite female ran 16% slower than the male. Now let's look at an amateur male running a time of 3:10 vs. a woman running 20 minutes slower at 3:30. In this case, the woman has run only 10.5% slower than the man. The gap between a 2:05 and a 2:25 is therefore a larger gap than 3:10 and 3:30. If the percentage difference of 16 were to be maintained, the equivalent amateur woman's time would be. . . 30 minutes slower at 3:40.
So you cannot look at the elite field and say, "the men's and women's times are so much closer together than the 30-minute difference in BQ standards." It's true in terms of actual minutes on the clock. But not in terms of percentage difference.
All that being said, it does "seem like" the women's times are easier. On a gut instinct level it just seems like it's harder for a man to run a 3:10 than it is for a woman to run a 3:40. And you could potentially say that there would be far more women qualifying for Boston if women trained as hard as men did. And that women, on average, do not train as hard because a certain percentage of them are pregnant or postpartum. But once again, all of this is based on gut feeling and I haven't seen any data to support this claim.
To sum up, it may "feel like" the women's times are softer, but the data indicates that it is not easier for women to qualify for Boston than it is for men. And I believe the goal of the B.A.A. with their standards is to have a relatively equal number of runners from each group and not to make standards that are equally physically challenging. You'd almost never have an elite male beat the qualifying standard by over an hour, but there are older women who have beat their standards by over an hour.
Is the non-binary category fair?
44 non binary athletes were accepted into the Boston Marathon. I've heard all sorts of perspectives on this one. Before I get into it, the non-binary qualifying standards are the same as the women's standards. The B.A.A. says they do not yet have enough data to determine what the actual standard should be yet, so for 2024 they are going with the women's standards.
At one extreme you have people saying that the non-binary category makes it easy for men to cheat their way in under the women's standards. And so the race is soon going to be full of men pretending to be non-binary. On the other extreme you have people saying that Boston is still not inclusive enough. I've also heard the argument "why do people care about the non-binary category-- it doesn't affect them."
My thoughts on this issue are that it all goes back to the B.A.A. and their goals. If everything was 100% "fair" (which would be impossible anyway) then you probably wouldn't have a situation in which a woman in her 60s can beat her BQ time by over an hour but a young elite male cannot. With this non-binary category, their goal is to show inclusivity. The goal isn't necessarily to be fair, and that's their prerogative; it's their race.
Remember the vaccine mandates from 2022? The goal was not to Covid-proof the race; that would be impossible. (There was no requirements for volunteers, etc.) The goals were to comply with local town ordinances and make runners feel safe. Many runners, myself included, didn't think the mandates were fair. But the B.A.A. is not obligated to be fair.
To qualify as non-binary you must have qualified in another race in the non-binary category. Will there be runners who take advantage of this? Potentially, but that's really going to an extreme length to cheat your way into the race. What about the non-binary runners who have male genetics who can qualify under the same standards as the women? Yes, those runners have an advantage. The mere act of identifying as non-binary has not changed their physical abilities.
The problem that the B.A.A. is running into is that they are trying to be as inclusive as possible while also being exclusive. And it's not possible to do both. And it's definitely not possible to do both 100% fairly. Someone is always going to have an unfair advantage.
The notion that they are going to look at non-binary data seems fruitless because identifying as non-binary has nothing to do with one's physical abilities as a runner. I am not sure what they are expecting to find. And even if they did end up making the non-binary standards the same as the men's standards, they would receive backlash for not being inclusive.
Finally, I'll address this position: "The non-binary category doesn't impact you - just focus on your own BQ." For the sake of one's own mental health, it's always best to focus primarily on the things you can control. But if everyone did that all the time on every issue, society would likely collapse. Healthy debate is good for all communities, including the running community. You don't want to be fully entrenched in social media debates about non-binary athletes running a marathon, but you also don't want to be completely blind and isolated from what is happening in the world around you.
This debate should not be centered around the non-binary athletes themselves, but the policies of the B.A.A.
Should extreme downhill races be allowed as Boston Qualifiers?
Extreme downhill races like those found in the "Revel" series are often blamed for the increase in the number of Boston qualifiers. Are these courses fair?
I've heard that extreme downhill races come with their own challenges like beating up the quads. Aerobically it might be a walk in the park, but you still need your legs to carry you to the finish line. All of that being said, the data shows that these courses are notably faster than courses with a net-even elevation. Does that mean they should be excluded as qualifying races?
If it were up to me I would institute a limit on the amount of elevation loss permitted. It might be fair to say the Boston Qualifying race cannot have a net elevation loss that is greater than the Boston Marathon's own elevation loss. Not to discount the achievement of runners who participate in Revel, but to level the playing field for one particular race, which is Boston.
The reality is that these races would have far fewer participants if they were not eligible for Boston. If Boston axed them it would potentially put these races out of business. Are they going to do that? Unlikely. Plus, these races are open to all runners. Anyone who wants the advantage of the downhill can run a Revel race.
What in the world is up with Tracksmith?
Less than one week after the B.A.A. announced that over 11,000 qualifiers did not gain entry into the Boston Marathon, Trackmith added insult to injury by releasing a BQ singlet only available to confirmed entrants. They would not sell the "BQ" singlet to runners who actually did the thing that the singlet says!
The backlash on Tracksmith was intense because their post on social media was about much more than the singlet. It began with the quote "This isn't a jogging race," as if the 11,000 non-accepted BQers jogged their way to the finish line. The tone of the post was elitist in several ways and Tracksmith finally took the post down and issued an apology post the following day.This social media post raised the following question by many - is Tracksmith an inclusive brand? What exactly does it mean to be "inclusive" anyway? I'd argue that it's an ideal which is impossible to attain in reality. Featuring runners of diverse ethnic backgrounds does not automatically make you inclusive. Especially not when you charge $48 for a pair of underwear.
Putting on my marketing hat, this is a huge gaffe. You do not post something that feels elitist to a large percentage of your customer base. Especially after these runners worked hard to qualify for Boston, only to be turned away less than one week prior! Issuing the apology was definitely the right thing to do, but it will not be 100% damage control for the brand.
Will I still buy Tracksmith? I have a love/hate relationship with the brand. So sure, I will still buy their stuff from time to time. Thankfully they apologized, but I was never 100% sold on their messaging to begin with. Something about the brand has always rubbed me the wrong way in terms of being borderline pretentious.
I have noticed a decline in their service over the past year. They used to ship their items out immediately and for my last order it took them 5 days to ship the order, plus additional time for it to be delivered. Their prices have increased but their processing speed has decreased. I much prefer rabbit to Tracksmith; rabbit is a feel-good, happy brand with fun colors and styles. California-based rabbit has much better options for summer running, but Boston-based Tracksmith has better options for colder months.
The common theme with my take on these controversies is that you cannot be "inclusive" and "exclusive" at the same time; that's a losing battle. The notion of 100% fairness is unrealistic, especially when "fair" isn't necessarily the goal. It seems like the B.A.A. is opting for equal representation across ages and genders instead of making things equally physically challenging across the board. Tracksmith will continue to face backlash. Feel free to disagree. These are, after all, controversies. All I ask is that you keep it respectful!