So What About Boston 2015?

Dave McGillivray says many factors will go into determining the field size of the 2015 Boston Marathon. Photo: Chris Lotsbom | Race Results Weekly

Final details about the 2015 Boston Marathon won’t be determined for several months.

So what about the 2015 Boston Marathon? How big will the race be? Will there be a higher percentage of qualified runners in the race? Will the B.A.A. adjust the qualifying standards? About the only thing known for sure is that the 119th Boston Marathon will be held on Monday, April 20, 2015.

As for everything else, the initial discussions about next year are already underway. But it’s unlikely the race will return with a field of approximately 36,000 runners in 2015. Race director Dave McGillivray and B.A.A. showed once again it can pull it off (just as it did in 1996 for the 100th anniversary race, when roughly 38,700 runners registered for the race), but the communities along the course might not be favorable to a request to repeat the larger field size, McGillivray said.

Before this year’s expanded marathon field, the field had been set at 27,000 for several years.

“This was an extraordinary year and we were probably given some flexibility to make it larger to accommodate more runners,” McGillivray said. “This is a process, and it has always has been a process. First we have to determine what we want at the B.A.A., but then have to shop it up and down the course to all of our partner communities to see what they will agree to.”

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Because of the criminal investigation, ensuing manhunt, and many memorial events that followed last year’s Boston Marathon, the race organization didn’t have a chance to do the multiple rounds of debriefing it normally does after the race. Instead, the B.A.A. charged right into planning the larger edition of the race with new protocols and new security procedures.

McGillivray said year’s debriefings will help determine what might be possible and what isn’t likely so the B.A.A. can come up with a plan to create next year’s race field—both in total size and how the field is broken down between qualifiers and charity runners—and then take it to each of the communities along the course for approval.

RELATED: Qualifying For Boston 2015

When put on the spot to pick a number off the top of his head that would work best for 2015, McGillivray said 30,000 runners.

“That’s just a round number and that’s just me speaking. It will take time to determine the actual number,” he said. “People don’t necessarily understand from the outside looking in—it’s very complex. Once you decide what the race will be and the numbers it might have, it takes time to get permission for it. Once you get permission, then you can expose the plan.”

McGillivray says he’d prefer not to leave any qualifiers out of the race. But in a normal year, the B.A.A. can base its plans based on the number of people who applied in the previous year.

“The beauty about the qualifying process now is that it dictates who is in and who is out based on how the market is doing the year before,” he said. “That’s why I love our system—you can’t make it any fairer than way it is now. But I don’t want to leave a lot of people on the curb. In other words, if you qualify for this race, I would like you to think that you have a 95 percent chance of getting in. The only way to do that is to have a mindset to know what those standards should be that won’t leave a lot of people on the curb.”

“People can say, ‘Why don’t you just relax the standards?’ But why would you do that? I’m just going to have to turn away that many more people and we’ll be disappointing people. I’d rather have the people disappoint themselves by not performing at the level of the standard than us disappointing them by running a race eight months ago, qualifying and thinking ‘I’m going to Boston’ but only to find out ‘No you’re not’ and not find out for eight months. It’s a delicate balance and we have to think about that.”

The B.A.A. turned away about 3,000-4,000 qualified runners for its 2014 race, largely to make room for the 4,700 or so runners who didn’t finish the race last year but were invited back and other special entries. Other entries were given to the victims of last year’s bombings and their families, Boston firefighters, and the 50 or so runners on Team One Fund Boston. Further complicating matters, though, was the fact that some runners deferred their entry by a year for the 2013 race when extreme heat hit Boston on marathon weekend.

In the end, this year’s race had approximately 24,500 qualifiers (roughly 68 percent) and 11,500 non-qualifiers (roughly 32 percent). Of the 4,700 returnees who didn’t finish, 2,500 were runners who had qualified for 2013 and 2,200 had charity or sponsor exemptions.

In recent years, the Boston Marathon field had typically been made up of 27,000 runners—roughly 22,000 qualifiers (approximately 82 percent) and 5,000 exempt runners (18 percent) participating on behalf of a charity or a sponsor.

“I thought we might have had to turn away as many as 20,000 or 30,000 runners for 2014,” McGillivray said. “But that’s what so great about our process now. We now know how many people people and want to run because they register in the second week (of the B.A.A.’s registration process in mid-September). We don’t want to tamper with the standards until we know what the field size is.”

This year’s race—the second largest in its history with 35,755 registered runners—was broken down into four 9,000-runner starting waves. But those numbers can put a crimp on Hopkinton and every other community along the course. Even in previous years, those communities are sensitive to the balance between celebrating the history of the race and trying to get the roads open again as soon as possible. Larger numbers also require increases in runner transportation, portable toilets, fencing and police, among other things.

“What we don’t know are how many people on the planet Earth have qualified. We know how many people now apply, we don’t how many are in that universe and what the percentage is,” McGillivray said. “In any given year, you can have X amount of people qualify and every year, roughly 20 percent of them show up. The other 80 percent are ‘I already did it, I’m not going’ or ‘I’m injured’ or ‘I can’t afford it.’ But if all 100 percent apply, we’ll be turning away a lot of people.”

Registration dates for the 2015 Boston Marathon have not been announced, but it is expected to open in early to mid-September as it did the past two years. All qualifying times for the 2015 race must have occurred on or after Sept. 14, 2013.

One thing is for sure, the 2015 race is bound to have a higher percentage of qualified runners next year, B.A.A. executive director Tom Grilk said. Whether that returns to previous years and roughly 82 percent of qualifiers remains to be seen.

“I don’t know what will happen, but having runners qualify for the race is the core of the race and that will be uppermost in our minds as we move forward.” Grilk said. “The reason it changed this year was simply because we had so many people come back from last year that weren’t able to finish. Many of those runners were people who were toward the end of the field and tended to be charity runners and as a result many weren’t qualifying runners.”

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