Q & A with the Boston Marathon’s Guy Morse
Cool Running's Don Allison interviews BAA Executive Director Guy Morse.
Posted Monday, 13 December, 2004
How has the Boston Marathon balanced its goal of maintaining the tradition of the race that makes it unique in the world of marathon running with the need to make changes that keep the race relevant in the changing landscape of marathon running in the U.S. and the world?
We believe that participants in the Boston Marathon, along with those who have interest in the Boston Marathon but are non-participants, want the race to be an event which upholds and promotes certain traditions which make it unique, while applying some of the latest trends and technologies and techniques. An example of the latter includes the various applications of our athlete tracking system, which is becoming more widely adapted elsewhere; even as recently as three years ago, there were fewer than a handful of events which had a tracking network. Even now with those events which do, nothing surpasses the extent and infrastructure—and therefore applications—which we have in place. Something on parallel to our technology can be said of our medical program, registration process, number and packet pick-up, and other areas which directly affects the participants and improves the experience. The year-round attention to our systems and procedures by dedicated experts in their particular lines of work is one of our greatest assets, and the benefits are passed along to the participant, the participant’s family and friends, spectators, the media, the running industry [or all of these]. One of the most significant changes to the long-distance running landscape over the last decade has been the advent of formal training programs to benefit a charity or in association with a charity’s fund-raising objectives. We’ve been able to benefit 16 local charities—or their local chapters—on an annual basis, integrating them into the race without compromising the ideals of the qualifying process. In fact, many of the charity runners progress with their running, even meeting the qualifying times. Other examples of how the B.A.A. has not only kept the race relevant in the changing landscape of marathon running have been our introduction of the women’s separate [elite] start and our industry-setting inclusion of mobility-impaired programs.
Do you feel the Boston Marathon is still considered a “must do” race among all marathoners? Or have other races filled that need for runners from other parts of the country, and the world.
Other events, including some of the new marathons, have done a tremendous job in portraying that completing a marathon is an attainable goal. This has given rise to the number of both serious and recreation runners, and that has to be a good thing for the sport of long distance running. Many marathons continue to benefit from the B.A.A.’s qualification process for the Boston Marathon. Certain races, in particular, have become known as "good places to qualify," which has driven and solidified participation at these qualifying marathons. From that perspective, a large percentage of marathons recognize the value of the Boston Marathon experience and provide the means to a would-be Boston Marathoner’s end. However, every sport needs a few marquee events which everyone can point to as the recognized top echelon competitions. The aspects that differentiate Boston from every other marathon—its longevity; the point-to-point, traditional course; that it is held on a Monday at Noon; the qualifying standards necessary to gain automatic entry—are widely-known and are highly-regarded by most in the running world. Most casual observers of the sport and running enthusiasts, alike, would agree that any marathoner’s running resume would be somewhat incomplete without a Boston performance included.
Is it fair to say that the Boston Marathon remains the “cornerstone” in the world of marathon running? Is that something the race itself attempts to actively promote and perpetuate, or is it not as relevant nowadays?
Yes, it still is fair to say, it is important for the Boston Athletic Association to maintain. The fact that Boston is held each spring, and has been held annually for so long, and is at the same time a local, regional, national and international fixture on the running calendar makes it important. The Boston Marathon—and Patriots’ Day weekend—would have to be considered the beginning of the road running season, at least in the United States. You just have to be on-site at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo or watching the national or international television broadcast to get that feeling ... you don’t even need to partake as a competitor to realize it.
Is it at all problematic that the “cache” of winning Boston has been somewhat diminished in recent years? By that I mean that the winner of the race is not automatically elevated to the top echelon of the sport and does not gain the worldwide recognition, as once was the case.
The marathons at London, Chicago, New York and Berlin have all been very successful in recent years. There are more options now for the very best in our sport, which creates opportunities for more individuals to make names for themselves. Winning Boston may not make someone a “household name,” but it can be guaranteed to put them on the map and certainly puts them in a unique class if not launching their careers as someone who does more than win a challenging marathon. Similar to the answer to question two (above), just as it is with the average marathoner or distance runner, so it is true for the elite marathoner: most would agree that an elite marathoner’s running resume would be incomplete without a Boston victory included. The (recent) discussion surrounding Paula Radcliffe following her victory in New York City—and the reports of her contemplating a return to London or an attempt at Boston—prove this sentiment.