Posted by: Joe English | September 25, 2008

Question: Running the Boston Marathon without a qualifying time

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

One of our readers named Kristin asks:

Can you run in the Boston marathon if you don’t qualify? I know I won’t have a qualifying time but would like to run [it].

That’s a good question Kristin. This comes up from time-to-time, so I’ll address the official answer as best as I know it.

The Boston Marathon is fairly unique in that entry is in fact limited to runners who have met a qualifying time to participate. Because the race is unique in this manner — at least in the United States — the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) rigorously enforces the practice of setting and checking Boston Qualifying times. In fact, the BAA has set up a pretty extensive system to certify races as “Boston Qualifiers” and then to verify times submitted by registrants.

The BAA says on its web-site:

To qualify for the 113th Boston Marathon, athletes must meet the designated time standard which corresponds to their age group. Qualifying times must have been run on or after September 29, 2007 at a certified marathon. Seeding is based on qualifying times, which are subject to review and verification.

But in addition to the qualification method, there are two other ways to gain entry into the race. The first is to be an invited elite athlete. Obviously, in order to fall into the category, you’d have far exceeded the qualification times, but I list it here for completeness.

The other method is to run with a supported charity. Sanctioned charities get a limited number of slots (15 according to the BAA web-site) and you must both raise money AND be able to complete the marathon in under six hours. The list of charities is too extensive to list here, but you can view the list by clicking here to go to the BAA web-site. Note that the number of participants in these programs is very limited and the program is already closed for the 2009 race. Applications will open for the 2010 race in June of 2009.

Anecdotally, I have also heard that sponsoring companies may also receive a limited number of registrations into the race, but I have not verified this with anyone at the race.

Those are the official ways that I know of to get into the race. If there are local Boston runners out there that know of other ways, please feel free to comment on this page.

So keep on working on that qualifying time and just remember that the qualifying times get slower as you get older. As one person once said to me: “I’ll be able to qualify when I’m 70!”

Good luck.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor, Running Advice and News



  1. Joe,
    You are right on. My sister-in-law worked as part of BAA years ago in putting the marathon on (computer support area) and my brother works for Puma in Boston. They would concur that it’s pretty tough to find a way around the system. Another good friend of mine with “connections” has told me that indeed some sponsoring companies get some entries, but even then they expect those runners to be able to complete the race in reasonable time frames. He happens to be one who has benefited from a “free” pass. He however is a 3:30 runner now in his 40s (previously a sub-3:00 runner). Just some tidbits I thought I’d pass along.

    This is what keeps Boston unique and special… for the most part… it is earned. So, keep running… your breakthrough race might be around the corner.

  2. […] leave people with a lot of specific questions. A previous reader asked about getting in to the race without running a qualifying time. Here’s a version of the question that we haven’t touched on before from a reader named […]

  3. I ran the Marathon in 2007 with a “Free pass” from the US military as a member of the national guard. I’m trying to run it this year with my wife again but I’m very intimidated by the “minimum donation” requirements of $3000 +. She is a teacher so I was hoping there was some MTA-sponsered passes. I haven’t been able to find any info however.

  4. Nick, I am in the National Guard and I am trying to get a number…how did you do it?

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