Hey BAA: Better Early Than Late
Any news from the Boston Marathon creates a certain level of buzz, but the latest announcement that the 2006 field will be split into two waves—to start at Noon and 12:30 p.m respectively—has not exactly been met with shouts of joy.
Posted Thursday, 19 January, 2006
The organizers’ concerns with runners “fertilizing” the lawns of Hopkinton residents may be ameliorated to a certain extent, but there will still be a glut of runners overrunning this tiny New England village on Patriot’s day, pretty much all at the same time.
I would venture to say that what would really make many not-so-fleet-of-foot Boston Marathoners happy is an earlier start, not a later one. So here my suggestion, for what it’s worth (not much, most likely). Start the slower half of the field at 7:00 a.m. and the faster half at noon, as is tradition. I can tell you from my experience as a director of several long distance events, there is no such thing as “too early” for many marathoners in the older age groups. They love to get going early, regardless of when they have to get going. 4:00 a.m. wake up call? 3:00 a.m.? No problem. These folks would gladly gather in Hopkinton at the break of dawn if it meant beating the heat and the speedier marathoners into Boston.
Of course, having the fields start so many hours apart would require more volunteers and more road closings in the early morning hours (as well as an early wake up for some Hopkinton residents) but those are issues that could be easily overcome. Maintaining the six-hour cutoff time would ensure the roads would be well clear by the time the elite runners came though later on in the day, even allowing some extra time for those in need of more than 360 minutes to complete the distance. Furthermore, the difficulties of running in the heat, as has challenged marathoners in Boston for the past three years (and in this age of global warning, will most likely continue to do so) would be lessened for those starting in the early-morning.
Another positive byproduct of this starting arrangement would be to restore much of the cache that the Boston Marathon once held for accomplished runners. Only those who qualify by the time standards would be allowed to run in the noon race, and strict cutoffs would be enforced. Let’s say those who qualified in a time of four hours or faster would be allowed to run at noon. All along the route runners would have to maintain that pace or better to remain in the race. Thus, the status of running in the Boston Marathon would return to what it was before the event was democratized in the 1990s.
A further benefit of this arrangement is that the race would be over by 4:00 p.m. instead of 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. as is currently the case. Thus, the late afternoon and early evening traffic gridlock that engulfs the city might not be so constricting. Even more, those that ran in the early start could line the streets to cheer on fellow runners in the noon start. There might be fewer spectators for those in the early start, but my guess is that it is a tradeoff most would be more than willing to make.
When you think it through, it makes sense. So come on BAA; if you are going to make a change to ease the congestion at the starting line, go all the way! Let the slower runners experience the Boston Marathon and return the noontime start to its unique status in the world of marathon running, one in which you must truly earn your way to the start (and finish) with the power of your own two feet.
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