Over the years I've run a project called "the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire" (or BQQ for short) where I ask runners who've qualified for Boston a series of questions. Many, many runners from this forum have taken part. With the new year here, I thought I'd share a bit of what I've learned. You can read all the individual responses, (and submit your own!) here.
A warning before we get started -- this post contains discussion of body weight and its possible effect on qualifying. I want to be 100% clear that runners can qualify for Boston at a range of weights but feel that it is an important topic to discuss. If talk of body weight is triggering for you, you may wish to skip "The Vitals" section.
I asked participants in the survey for some basic biological facts, including their height and weight. Runners came in all shapes and sizes from huge, like Michael H, to small, like Laura S.
If we can generalize, however, BQ runners tend to be lighter (for their height) than the average American and slightly shorter.
The average weight for male respondents was 157 pounds. The average height, 5’8”. For comparison, the average American male is (allegedly, these statistics may be inaccurate) approximately 5'9 and thirty three pounds heavier (190 pounds).
The story is similar for women — remarkably so in the weight differential. The average respondent is roughly 5’4” and weighs 125.4 pounds. By comparison, the average American woman is approximately 5’ 4” but weighs about 33 pounds more (159 pounds).
On a personal note, I’m six feet tall and currently weigh about 175 pounds. That puts me about fifteen pounds heavier than the average six foot respondent. Clearly, I have work to do on the weight front.
Alright, enough height and weight. Let’s get down to what really matters — the training.
Most runners had been running for less than six years before they first qualified, and had run less than ten thousand miles when they qualified. Of course, there are outliers, like pro-runner Sage Canady, who’d been running a relatively short amount of time, but racked up some serious miles, or John who’d been running for over twenty years before he qualified.
For mileage in the year before the race, there appears to be a fair amount of consistency across the responses. Almost no runners ran under 1,000 miles, and few ran above 2,500. The average is the difficult, but not unreasonable, standard of 1,750 miles.
On a personal note, the only year I ran that much was the year I set my marathon PR. Clearly, mileage matters.
No surprise that for most of us, it takes more than miles to qualify. The vast majority (84% of those who answered the question) say that speed work played a role.
While the vast majority of respondents used speed work in their training, the majority of runners (about 60%) didn’t use a canned program.
Similarly, the majority (64%) of runners didn’t run with a coach or club, nor did they engage in cross training.
Finally, when I started doing this, I wondered if there was a correlation between a background in running, such as those afforded by high school and college teams, and getting a BQ. As this is still a small, and self-selected group, it’s hard to know. But what we do know is that the majority (63%) of respondents did not run either in college or high school.
Some quick takeaways.
What can we take away from these results? Here are some initial thoughts, most of which are obvious. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.
You need to put in the miles – very, very few of the respondents did this on low mileage.
You need to do speed work – similarly, the vast majority of runners utilized some form of speed work.
People with lots of different body weights and compositions can BQ, but Boston Marathon Qualifiers tends to be lighter than the average American.
Getting a BQ happened to most respondents early in their running lives, usually after having run only for five or so years, and less than 10,000 miles.