Quest to Qualify Series: Jason

For many runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of their running careers. Some are talented enough to nab a qualification on their first marathon attempt, while most work for years to finally run a qualifying time. And qualifying is not always enough, With Boston Athletic Association’s already tough standards, in recent years a cut off time was put into place due to a higher volume of qualifiers, causing qualified runners to lose a spot.

The Rogue Racers Quest to Qualify Series will tell the story of each of the Rogue founders’ journey to their first Boston Qualifier. In this, hopefully you will find inspiration and motivation to keep pushing and keep improving.

Jason

The dream of the Boston Marathon plants its seeds in the brain of many runners and in many different ways. For me, it all started when I was a college tennis player at Ohio State in 1996. My team would run the mile for conditioning and I thought to myself, one day, I would love to run a marathon. Not because I knew anything about the distance or knew the sacrifice needed to run the distance, but just because the thought of completing a marathon sounded badass.

That seed took a while to eventually germinate, but in 2003, I decided to try running my first marathon. I got hurt that year because apparently going from 0 miles a week to 40 miles a week is a bad idea 12 weeks out from a marathon. In 2004, I ran my first marathon in 4:26:37. I wore cotton sweatpants to the start with the intention of taking them off during the race. I never did. I stopped for a bathroom break at mile 16 and never ran more than several steps here and there after that.

After what I deemed a failure, I didn’t run another marathon until 2007. I needed redemption. This time, I ran much faster and finished in 4:07:36 but I still wasn’t happy. I had to stop a lot during the run. So in 2009, I figured it was time to go below 4 hours. I trained a little better but still only ran 3 times a week. This time though, I didn’t have to stop once during the run and finished in 3:39:32. I thought that was an amazing time and making it to Boston seemed like a pipe dream.

In 2010, I was close to qualifying but I fell apart in the last four miles but I cut more time off finishing in 3:24:47. 2011 brought on an Achilles injury that derailed my BQ attempt. So finally in 2012, I decided that I needed a change so I joined a local marathon group to train. The first night I went, they were doing speed work which has always been my favorite workout. I was hooked. My first organized marathon training season had me primed to qualify for Boston.

On October 21, 2012, I lined up at the Columbus Marathon ready to achieve the dream of qualifying for Boston. I was able to hold my pace through the late miles better than I usually had, and when I crossed the finish line, I was able to achieve my dream of qualifying for Boston with a 3:14:45, only 15 seconds under my qualifying standard. It was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had in my life.

For those who don’t know, the Boston Marathon opens registration in September and has only a certain number of spaces available for runners who qualified meeting the standard in each age group and gender. The year before, everyone who applied to the Boston Marathon got a bib. I had qualified, so I thought for sure I would be in for 2014.

Then the Boston Marathon bombing happened on April 15, 2013. Many people texted me that day because they thought I was in Boston for the marathon. I had qualified in the previous fall but after registration had already closed for 2013. One of the first things I thought of was how could I bring my family to Boston the next year and have them feel safe just to watch me run a marathon. It turns out, that was not the only problem I needed to worry about.

The bombing increased interest in people running the Boston marathon and entries skyrocketed the following fall. I realized early on that my time would not be good enough to get in. It was not enough to run the qualifying standard that year, you needed to beat it by 1:38.

Luckily for me, I run a fall marathon so I was able to get back on the horse and attempt to qualify again one month later in my hometown marathon again. And qualify I did, this time with a 3:14:08, 52 seconds under my qualifying standard. But so many people had been shut out for the 2014 marathon, they were hoping to get in for the following year just like me. The cutoff was a lot lower this time, but the cutoff was that much more brutal for me. I missed the time by 10 seconds. My joke became, if only I had run .4 seconds faster per mile, I would have qualified. That made me a two time Boston Marathon qualifier, but not a participant.

I set out to make sure I didn’t have any issues making the 2016 marathon. So with the idea that the “third time was the charm”, I set out to qualify again. But this time, I wanted to make sure I qualified by at least five minutes under the qualifying standard. This was important for two reasons. First, I thought that was far enough under the standard to feel comfortable knowing that I would get in, and second, I didn’t want to go through that horrible waiting period during registration again.

The Boston Marathon has a waiting period during registration. First everyone who qualified 20 minutes under their standard applies. If there is still space, then 10 minutes, then 5 minutes. Then comes the worst week of waiting for those lucky enough to hit the BQ but under five minutes. You register on a Wednesday and then wait a week for the Boston Athletic Association to verify you qualified and see where the cutoff line is going to be. I had already gone through that twice, I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to do that again.

That summer while I was training for the Columbus marathon, I found out one of my best friends from my childhood and doubles partner for my entire junior tennis career had died. I wanted to do something in his honor. So when I lined up on October 19, 2014, not only was I determined to qualify for Boston by 5 minutes, I was determined to do it in honor of my friend Andrew. I stayed on pace the entire race and around mile 25-26, I was going to be just a little bit over 3:10. But I calmed my body, told myself to do it for Andrew, and found a last second kick at the end. I qualified in 3:09:49. I finally felt like this race would be the one to get me in to Boston. And the following fall, I received my invitation to the Boston Marathon for 2016.

When I started running, the Boston Marathon was that race that would be really cool to get in to if I ever started taking this running thing seriously. Now I was finally going to be able to run it! It has such a rich history, it is the world’s oldest marathon, and the thought of being in the same race with other amazing runners is what drew me to this race in the first place. As a tennis player in college, my dream was to play the US Open but I never reached that status. With Boston, I was able to run the same course and same miles that the elites run. No other sport gives you this opportunity.

I ran my first Boston last year getting a slight calf tear at mile 7 and finishing the race 33 minutes slower than my qualifying time. There was no way I was going to drop out after all it took to get in to this race. Though I was upset with my time, it seemed appropriate that I would have to go through one more thing to finally get my first unicorn medal. This year will be my second Boston Marathon. Fingers crossed, I am hoping to stay healthy through the entire race this time and re-qualify for Boston 2018!

 

Read about other Rogue Racers’ Quest to Qualify stories here.

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