About five years ago, I started asking random strangers on the internet how they qualified for the Boston Marathon. Incredibly, over 125 people have responded with more coming in all the time. If you want to take part, fill out the online form here.
Since the beginning, people have been asking that the information be put into a format which would allow them to look at the information in the aggregate.
At this link you will find all the responses to the questionnaire in what I hope is an easily usable format*. From here on out, I’ll be updating this with new responses, and additional data, so check back regularly if this is your kind of thing. If you want to see all the individual responses, they’re here.
Below I provide some basic info gleaned from the results. However, I’m not statistician. Indeed, I was once told to not pursue a masters in economics because my math skills are so poor. So, I’d be curious to see what others can do with the information and would be appreciative of anyone who catches errors. If you plan to use the information in the spreadsheet for any project, please credit miloandthecalf.com. Please contact me at email@example.com if you plan to feature a particular runner’s story.
I asked participants in the survey for some basic biological facts, including their height and weight. Runners came in all shapes and sizes from huge, like Michael H, to small, like Laura S. With the variety of body types, it’s helpful to look at this visually:
If we can generalize, however, BQ runners tend to be lighter (for their height) than the average American and slightly shorter.
The average weight for male respondents was 157 pounds. The average height, 5’8”. For comparison, the average American male is (allegedly, these statistics may be inaccurate) two inches taller (5’10) thirty three pounds heavier (190 pounds).
The story is similar for women — remarkably so in the weight differential. The average respondent is roughly 5’4” and weighs 125.4 pounds. By comparison, the average American woman is one inch taller (5’ 5”), and weighs about 33 pounds more (159 pounds).
On a personal note, I’m six feet tall and currently weigh about 175 pounds. That puts me about fifteen pounds heavier than the average six foot respondent. Clearly, I have work to do on the weight front.
Alright, enough height and weight. Let’s get down to what really matters — the training.
Years spent running, ands total lifetime mileage, vary widely and are probably best represented visually:
As you can see, most runners had been running for less than six years before they first qualified, and had run less than ten thousand miles when they qualified. Of course, there are outliers, like pro-runner Sage Canady, who’d been running a relatively short amount of time, but racked up some serious miles, or John who’d been running for over twenty years before he qualified.
For mileage in the year before the race, there appears to be a fair amount of consistency across the responses. Almost no runners ran under 1,000 miles, and few ran above 2,500. The average is the difficult, but not unreasonable, standard of 1,750 miles.
On a personal note, the only year I ran that much was the year I set my marathon PR. Clearly, mileage matters.
No surprise that for most of us, it takes more than miles to qualify. The vast majority (84% of those who answered the question) say that speed work played a role. I’ll get into what kind of speed work people used in this post.
While the vast majority of respondents used speed work in their training, the majority of runners (about 60%) didn’t use a canned program. I get into a bit more detail regarding training plans in this post.
Similarly, the majority (64%) of runners didn’t run with a coach or club, nor did they engage in cross training.For the 43% who did cross train, I get into what type of exercise they used in this post.
Finally, when I started doing this, I wondered if there was a correlation between a background in running, such as those afforded by high school and college teams, and getting a BQ. As this is still a small, and self-selected group, it’s hard to know. But what we do know is that the majority (63%) of respondents did not run either in college or high school.
Some quick takeaways.
What can we take away from these results? Here are some initial thoughts, most of which are obvious. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.
- You need to put in the miles – very, very few of the respondents did this on low mileage.
- You need to do speed work – similarly, the vast majority of runners utilized some form of speed work.
- People with lots of different body weights and compositions can BQ, but Boston Marathon Qualifiers tends to be lighter than the average American.
- Getting a BQ happened to most respondents early in their running lives, usually after having run only for five or so years, and less than 10,000 miles.
There’s a lot more to mine in this data, and as the data base grows, I hope the results become more representative of the variety of people who’ve run a BQ. I’ll be doing some additional crunching of the numbers in the days to come. If you do some crunching of your own, get in touch so I can share the results.
A note on the data
The spreadsheet collects data self-reported by runners who answered the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire. Respondents were asked to tell us about their first BQ. Many of these runners likely BQ’ed again later in their running career. In cases where respondents did not answer a question, I left it blank. In cases where respondents gave a range for an answer, I picked the middle point (i.e. if a runner said they ran between 1,500 and 2,000 miles in a year, I picked 1,750).
Additionally, it’s important to remember that this is a self-selecting group of runners. The majority of respondents to the survey found out about it through an internet forum or article online. They skew young (over a third of the respondents are 30 or under) and the vast majority of respondents (in fact, 75%) are men.
If you see any errors, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks: I’d like to give an enormous thank you to Jon W, my pal Matt T, and BQ(Q) contributor and legit math genius Bob H for their help in putting this together. I absolutely could not have done this without them.