New York City Marathon Changes Qualifying Standards, Gets More Exclusive

Image Courtesy Young Yun

It’s been a rough year for midpack marathoners.

In February, the Boston Athletic Association lowered the Boston Marathon qualifying times, effectively barring slower runners from the oldest and most prestigious American marathon.

Surely the Boston Athletic Association expected at least some blowback.

In the hours and days following the announcement, runners, fitness bloggers, and even the 1968 Boston champion Amby Burfoot came forward and condemned the change. It was a public relations disaster.

Well it seems that the New York Road Runners weren’t paying attention to the Boston debacle.

Faced with the same rising tide of marathon hopefuls as the Boston Athletic Association, the New York Road Runners recently announced new qualifying rules for the New York City Marathon and it’s bad news for the midpack.

A new barrier to entry

There are two paths into the New York City Marathon.

Qualified runners can earn a guaranteed spot in the race by meeting certain criteria. Most notable for midpack runners, by being denied entry over three consecutive years – a policy that is being eliminated under the new rules.

If you don’t qualify for guaranteed entry, paying to enter and winning the race lottery is the only other way into the race. With odds historically around 1-in-10, your chances of winning your way into the race are slim. Author Liz Robbins joked, “it’s easier to get into Harvard”.

That means that you had better work toward guaranteed entry if you want to race in New York City. And there’s the rub. The changes the New York Road Runners just announced make it harder to earn one of these coveted spots.

It’s basic probability. As more runners who would previously have qualified for guaranteed entry are driven into the lottery, the odds of selection decrease for everyone.

However unintentional, the qualifying changes will make it more difficult for slower runners to gain admittance to the New York City Marathon.

The aftermath

To the New York Road Runners’ credit, race directors contend with real-world limitations when setting field sizes.

The New York Road Runners have stated that these changes are being put in place to prevent them from running out of room for non-guaranteed spots in the race, ostensibly to protect the midpack. That the race directors have to limit entrants speaks to the health of our sport.

Unfortunately, I doubt the health of our sport will comfort those runners perennially denied the chance to run the New York City Marathon.

What do you think of this well-intentioned misstep by the NYRR? Does this affect your plans to run the NYC Marathon? Share your thoughts with me below.

  3 Responses to New York City Marathon Changes Qualifying Standards, Gets More Exclusive
  1. Elizabeth Glazier

    I am a old age pensioner and each year I don’t get to run cuts my chances of ever getting to run the race…I think they should have kept the three year and then you are in policy…I might make the 1/2 marathon time to qualify but the likely the full.

    • Tim Woodbury

      I completely agree, Elizabeth. That feels like a pretty gross oversight if you ask me. Asking people to buy into the lottery, even at low cost, year after year with no guarantee of every running the race… That’s sketchy in my book.

      Absent the power to change it, I suppose I’ll have to settle for wishing you luck in the next lottery. :(

  2. rob bert

    i considered for the first time actually entering the nyc marathon. i fully expected there to be a waiting period and that’s totally acceptable. But faced with the fact that its very possible to never to chosen, i won’t even waste my time trying. Enjoy….

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