Today, the Boston Athletic Association announced its new policies for how one can qualify for and enter the Boston Marathon. I suppose they are fair, and the system they decided on trumps a lottery system any day, but still. The new guidelines left me feeling pretty downtrodden.
Ever since I learned that the blue jackets with yellow stripes I saw runners wearing before races were Boston Marathon jackets, I have wanted to earn one for myself. I see a person in one of those jackets and I think, “That person must be fast. Or maybe they ran the marathon for charity, but it’s more likely they are fast.”
I never even thought qualifying was a possibility for me until last spring, when I ran a 1:43 half-marathon. Based on the Runner’s World training calculator, I should have been able to run a full marathon in 3:34:43, well under the 3:40 I needed to qualify for Boston. I put in the work and arrived at the start line of the New York City Marathon in November feeling healthy and confident. The crowded, windy, and hillier-than-I-expected course drained all that confidence out of me, and I finished in 3:43:23.
I knew the changes announced today were coming even before last fall’s marathon. I figured they would lower the qualifying times, and they did. The time for my age group is now 3:35, which I think is doable. However, the changes allow the fastest people to register first. To have an advantage over any of the other qualifiers, I need to run a 3:30.
The pace per mile for a 3:30 marathon is eight minutes, almost exactly. This seems lightning-fast to me. I ran a 20K in high school, when I believed myself to be at the peak of my fitness, and I ran 8:03 mile splits. I remember thinking, I will never run a distance race at a faster pace. Then last year, when I was 10 pounds heavier and six years older, I ran the half-marathon (slightly longer than a 20K) at 7:51 mile pace.
Negative self-talk, man. It doesn’t help. I have experienced-runner friends who believe I have many faster marathons in me. I happen to work with a couple running experts, and both seem to have more confidence in my ability to improve than I have. I am relatively new to this marathon-running thing. I have many years to continue building on the work I’ve done, to continue getting faster, before I hit that point in life at which everything goes downhill. (Not excited for that!)
My body works, thank God, and I know I am physically able to put in the training for some faster marathons. What really needs exercise are my metaphorical self-confidence muscles. In the immortal words of Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes, “Dreams are hopeless aspirations. In hopes of comin’ true, believe in yourself.”