For many dedicated runners the Boston Marathon is something of an obsession. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon and has loads of interesting history, from the heroic (Meb’s great win in 2014 and the 1982 Duel in the Sun between Salazar and Beardsley), to the scandalous (denial of female entrants until 1972 and the cheating of Rosie Ruiz in 1980), and the tragic (the bombing of 2013). But I think the main reason for the obsession is the requirement that entrants must achieve a qualifying standard.
The Boston Qualifier, or BQ, is a mark of distinction among runners. For me, it signifies that someone has substantial talent for running or substantial dedication to training or a useful combination of both. We all know runners who train for years to get a BQ and how that goal inspires them to scrutinize training plans, hire coaches, change diets, add strength training, and on and on. All of this activity is beneficial to performance in other events, and we see that people who can get a BQ are generally placing in their age groups, or better, in local races. The BQ runners are always the people in front of us at races and you can spot them around town sporting their bright yellow and blue gear with the famous Boston Athletic Association unicorn logo.
I started running consistently in the summer of 2001, initially just to lose some weight but quickly found that I enjoyed every aspect, particularly being part of the running community. I didn’t follow any specific training plan, mostly just increased the volume, and ran my first marathon in the fall of 2002, missing a BQ by 3 minutes. Still increasing the training volume, I got the BQ in my second marathon in the spring of 2003 by a whopping 15 seconds. I prepped for Boston 2004 more carefully and finally added some tempo runs and intervals. My training times indicated that I should easily set a new PR. The 2004 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest ever, reaching 86 degrees and setting a record for heat-related illnesses. As an inexperienced runner, I still insisted on running a fast pace, fell apart at 15 miles, and walked most of the remaining 11 miles. I should have adjusted my race plan: I trained through the winter in St. Louis and I had a cold (which turned out to be pneumonia) so should have lower expectations and pace accordingly. Even though I had a bad race, I enjoyed the whole experience, being part of Patriot’s Day, the huge crowd, the Red Sox and the Yankees playing that day, the history and glory of it all.
Between now and the 2017 edition of the Boston Marathon I’ll be posting interviews with people training for the race. How they qualified, what it means to them, training status, and race strategy. The first subject is Mercedes Orten. She’s a local running coach and the race director for the Brain Power 5K, 10K, Survivor Stride & Kids Run which raises vital funds for brain cancer research at MD Anderson Cancer Center every September. She runs with TrailRoots. Mercedes answered some questions about the Boston Marathon by email:
1. What is your background as a runner? (high school, college, etc.)
I grew up in the foothills of Colorado to a family of competitive swimmers. I was thrown into the pool before I could walk. I swam throughout my younger years until about age 12, when I ran my first mile without any training in middle school gym class. I shattered the boys and girls school record in that timed mile. I decided then and there that running may be something that I should try. I joined the high school cross country team, became team captain, went to state meets, ran track, became the track team captain and so on. My running continued from there. My one regret is that I didn’t attempt to run at my alma mater, the University of Colorado at Boulder. I did, however, do a ton of trail running when I lived there. All of that gave way to my first marathon in 2007 here in Austin, TX.
2. Do you remember when you first heard about the Boston Marathon?
I have a very distinct memory of hearing someone say “you’re on Boston Qualifying Pace” during my first Austin Marathon in 2007. It was then that my attention was piqued and I began investigating this prestigious race. I was hooked and had caught BQ fever. Unfortunately I didn’t qualify at my first marathon. It actually took me 4 years to qualify for Boston. It was a journey of patience and joy.
3. What Boston Marathon history items do you like the most?
I love “Duel in the Sun” – the epic story of Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar battling it out on that hot day in Boston. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dick over dinner with friends a few years ago and hearing him recount that story in person is something I will never forget, especially when I’m running and training for Boston.
4. How did you go about getting your first qualifier?
I was coaching for a large local training group in Austin as well as racing triathlon and Ironman. Despite all the work that goes into coaching and tri, I always had Boston on my mind. I continually tried my hand at the marathon, running one about every year for 4 years. I chose a race in Ft. Worth called Ft Worth Marathon along the beautiful Trinity Trails in 2010 a couple months after my first Ironman. The marathon was small and intimate. They had no water stops for the first 10 miles. I felt under-trained for the pace I set out to run, but ran it anyway in a gutsy go-for- broke way. As I rounded the final turn of that small marathon with a parking lot finish in downtown Ft Worth, I saw the numbers 3:35 on the clock, exactly what I had visualized in my mind pre-race. What proceeded was a slew of unforgettable marathon moments. Running my BQ that day, hitting my goal, and predicting my time to the last second still is one of the most impactful and memorable running experiences of my life.
5. Describe your “running community,” who are you training with for Boston?
My running community centers around high quality friendships I’ve developed over the years from all our amazing, local running groups. The Austin running community is unlike any I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. It’s so welcoming and genuine. I’ve met some of my best friends running and I’m always open to meeting new friends to run with! I’m proud to say TrailRoots Running is my “home” group. I am constantly amazed at the caliber of people and training partners I encounter with this group. I’m so glad I found them over 2 years ago and plan to continue training and coaching with them!
6. You keep going back to Boston. Why? What is the continuing attraction?
I ran my first Boston in 2012 in 80 degree weather. While I was very disappointed with the sweltering temps and my personal worst finish time – what struck me was the power of the city. I fought hard to get back to Boston in 2013. When I did, it was an amazing race on a perfect weather day. I hit my PR that year and then then the cowardice of two terrible individuals rocked the event and changed it in my eyes forever. Although I wasn’t affected physically by the marathon acts of cowardice that year, I was moved to continue running Boston until I no longer can. No cowards like those small men who killed innocent people on Patriot’s Day can stop me from doing what I love. 2014 Boston was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The power I saw in the city was amplified tenfold and it continues to amaze me every year. I will continue running Boston until I no longer can.
7. Do you high-five the people just after the start line?
I love high fiving people throughout the race. The kids in Hopkinton are a source of joy and inspiration for me. I love how they count their high fives for the day!
8. Any race strategy advice for new Boston runners?
If it’s a good weather day in Boston, go for broke. The crowd and your fellow runners will carry you. They won’t let you stop and they are always there for you. The last 5K of Boston is a celebration, be sure you have something left after the Newton hills to enjoy it. Always look up, always take drunk high fives. That right on Newton and left on Bolyston is worth it.
9. Besides the race, what else do you like about Boston on Patriot’s Day?
The energy is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I can’t stay away. Also, North end Italian is incredible. All the food in Boston is incredible, actually.
Under Armour is getting into the trail running scene in a big way with a new race series starting this summer: the Under Armour Mountain Running Series. The events, held in Oregon, Vermont, and Colorado, will include multiple distances from 5K to 50K. UA has just launched a trail shoe for shorter races. I expect they’ll have more shoes and gear on the market soon…
I’ve been reading Scott Dunlap’s A Trail Runner’s Blog for years. His latest post, How To Be A Sponsored Athlete – Commentary on Ambassadors, Elite Athletes, and Professionals, answers a lot of questions I’ve had about how top runners earn a living, or not.
I’d love to run in the Alps. Maybe the Eiger ultra in 2018? Check out this iRunFar article and pictures.
This looks like another weekend without a big local road or trail race. Send me an email if you know of something I should cover. firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m looking forward to covering these races over the next few months:
Rogue Trail Series