THE BOSTON GLOBE
Looking for a fast Boston Marathon qualifying time? Here’s some advice: Train hard and take up residence in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, or Iowa. Of all the places with more than 100 qualifiers for the 2015 Boston Marathon, those locations produced the fastest times. D.C. led the pack with an average qualifying time of 3 hours 16 minutes 3 seconds. Massachusetts took first state honors with an average of 3:19:06.
For those living in the Commonwealth, there’s plenty of fast-running real estate options. Boston boasted the most qualifiers (235) and an impressive average of 3:13:19. Other fast locales with 20 or more qualifiers? Medford (3:07:26), Newton (3:11:47), Cambridge (3:12:25), and Somerville (3:12:54).
To rank states and Massachusetts municipalities, the Globe crunched numbers from the 2015 qualifier data provided by the Boston Athletic Association. The data includes the 23,154 runners who earned coveted spots in the Boston Marathon field by meeting the race’s time standards for age and gender and entered the event during open registration in September. The results show, as expected, a widely popular race with all 50 states and 74 foreign countries represented by qualifiers. And the times of qualifiers are impressive with an overall average of 3:22:22 and no state average slower than Idaho’s 3:32:05. For comparison, Running USA calculated that the average finish time for all US marathons in 2014 was 4:29:43.
“It seems like every city, every town, every municipality in this country has a constituency of passionate runners and has a running club within 10 miles,” said Dave McGillivray, race director for the Boston Marathon and dozens of other road races around the US. “The clubs have races. They run together. You can go to any city and you’re going to find a running club and they’re going to cultivate interest and talent. It’s everywhere. I don’t think it’s isolated to one specific pocket.”
That said, runners in Delaware, South Dakota, and Idaho, the three states with the slowest average qualifying times, shouldn’t take exception to what the numbers show. Analyzing the field by qualifying time presents one snapshot. All kinds of variables can affect how fast runners qualify in different places during any given qualifying window. If the major marathons in the Midwest take place during poor weather, then times from that region may be slower than usual. A handful of very fast, younger runners from one area or slower, older runners can skew the data, too.
Still, places with large numbers of fast qualifiers provide some insight about distance running culture and the pull of the Boston Marathon.
The states with 900 or more qualifiers come as little surprise. California, the most populous state, tops the list with 2,044 qualifiers followed by New York (1,359), Massachusetts (1,301), Texas (993), Pennsylvania (942), and Illinois (937). But while New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois all rank in the top 6 in US Census Bureau’s latest state-by-state population count, McGillivray and others in the distance running community see another relevant factor. The high-qualifier states all host, at least, one major marathon.
Even if runners aren’t qualifying at the Los Angeles Marathon, New York City Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the Houston Marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon, the Chicago Marathon or the Marine Corps Marathon in fast-running D.C., there may be a carryover effect. Olympic marathoner and two-time Boston finisher Mark Coogan noted that a nearby marathon with lots of press attention and competitors can provide inspiration and motivation. That can drive participation up and lower times. And there may be no better example than the Boston Marathon and Massachusetts.
“You would assume that Massachusetts would be one of the faster states because the marathon is here,” said Coogan, who grew up in Attleboro and coaches Team New Balance’s elite runners. “We all grew up with it and know about it. My dad brought me to the marathon when I was kid. We went up by BC and we watched it. So it was always on my bucket list as the marathon I wanted to do. It was my first marathon. I would assume that’s what most people in Massachusetts would want to do, do the Boston Marathon.”
There are 53 cities or towns in Massachusetts with more than five qualifiers. Places with the combination of large qualifier numbers and low times tend to cluster around the city. McGillivray, who grew up in Medford, thought the statistics for Boston and nearby municipalities might reflect the fact that more younger, faster runners call those places home.
And what about the cities beyond Boston and Newton that comprise the course? Hopkinton has 18 qualifiers who average 3:22:54; Natick has 11 qualifiers who average 3:17:08; Wellesley has 19 who average 3:26:06; Brookline has 43 who average 3:13:46; Framingham has 5 with an average of 3:21:30, and Ashland has no qualifiers this year.
“It makes me curious to see those figures for Massachusetts year by year and to see how much randomness there might be in those numbers,” said Greater Boston Track Club coach Tom Derderian, who has 30 qualifiers running in this year’s Boston Marathon. “A lot of my young runners, the ones who tend to be faster, will get an apartment in this town or that town all depending on what’s available. So, where they live doesn’t really make any sense for running, but it makes sense in the housing market.”
Looking outside the US, the greatest number of foreign runners come from Canada (2,311). But South Africa with its 12 qualifiers who average 3:02:37 tops the list of fastest countries followed by Spain with 55 runners who average 3:04:17. Of the five foreign countries with 100 or more runners, Brazil ranks first with 107 runners who average 3:16:13.
Of course, the qualifier data doesn’t include professional marathoners. If it did, Kenya and Ethiopia would be out front. But that’s a long way to go for a good time, especially when the 2015 qualifier numbers show there’s plenty of places nearby where marathoners can live and run fast.