Jeff Gaudette

Written by Jeff Gaudette


5 Steps to Qualify for the Boston Marathon

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of running achievements.

If it’s been your dream to make the famous trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square, this article will show you the 5 step process to achieve your goal.

From helping you understand your needed qualifying times, the best races to qualify at, and of course, provide you helpful training advice to help you dominate your next race and sail under your qualifying time.

First, know the qualifying standards

Here are the official B.A.A. standards for the 2018 Boston Marathon:



Second: know that these times do not guarantee entry.

They guarantee, according to the BAA, “the opportunity to submit for registration.”

Thus, achieving the qualifying time only represents the first obstacle between you and Heartbreak Hill.

Now how do you REALLY get in?

If this were 2015 and you wanted to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon, you’d need to run 2 minutes and 28 seconds faster than the qualifying standard for your gender and age group to get in.

Here’s what it took some of the last few years:

  • 2012: 1:14 under the qualifying standard or faster
  • 2014: 1:38 under the qualifying standard or faster
  • 2015: 1:02 under the qualifying standard or faster
  • 2016: 2:28 under the qualifying standard or faster

As you can tell, it’s only trending upwards. The 2018 Boston Marathon could potentially see entry cutoffs at three minutes or faster than the qualifying times.

In short: you cannot know whether you’ll certainly get in.

But aiming for somewhere around 4-5 minutes faster than your qualifying standard gives you a comfortable cushion.

How much do you need to improve?

Though race conversion charts are far from perfectly reliable, they nonetheless present a basic blueprint for your ability across different race distances.

After all, if you’ve never run a marathon, how can you know whether or not you’re capable of a BQ?

If you have run a marathon before, what are your chances of improving enough to dip under the qualifying time?

Enter our RunnersConnect Improvement Calculator, inside our Masters Membership.

The calculator uses your personal bests and running experience to give you:

  1. Estimated current capability at other distances
  2. Forecast for future performances

For example: let’s look at Jane, a 50 year old with several years of running experience.

Jane continues to train hard, but admittedly sets personal bests a bit less frequently than she used to. She did, however, run her best marathon time of 4:05:59 last month.

Since she has a fair amount of experience but still sets personal bests, we’ll estimate a 4% improvement for Jane over her next training cycle.

Using the calculator, we see the following for the marathon:

  • Current time: 4:05:59
  • 4% Improvement: 3:56:09

Having just turned 50, Jane needs a 4:00:00 marathon to enter Boston.

Thus, her half-marathon predicts that after a few months of smart training, Jane can run 3 minutes and 51 seconds faster than the qualifying standard – nearly ensuring her spot on the starting line.

This means Jane has a realistic opportunity to qualify for Boston.

But, what do you do if “calculations” say you might not be able to get the standard?

First, remember that this is simply a calculation based on scientific data and doesn’t take into account your own personal training background or abilities.

If your improvement estimation puts you close, but not quite under the Boston Qualifying time, you can still give it a shot.

Focus on doing everything right in your training – smart workouts, appropriate mileage, sleep, recovery and injury prevention work.

If your improvement estimation suggests you have a long way to go, perhaps needing to improve by 8 percent or more, step back and focus on the long-term and making a 1 or 2 year plan to qualify.

Shooting for a time goal too far out of your reach is a recipe for disaster as it significantly increases your chances of injury (here’s why).

Instead, start to focus in on your biggest weaknesses. In my experience, here are the most common weaknesses we encounter at RunnersConnect (in order of frequency and importance)…

  1. Increase your mileage (here’s how) (and more)
  2. Run more days per week (here’s why)
  3. Get healthy so you can train without interuption (take our free courses to learn how)
  4. Increase your overall fitness. Try improving your HM personal best (here’s a training guide)

Focus on these aspects of your training for a 12-18 months. Then you can reassess your ability to qualify.

Selecting your qualifying race

Now that you’ve used the improvement calculator and you know you’re capable of a BQ, it’s time to find your target race.

A few things you’ll want to consider for any race:

  1. Course terrain
  2. History of runners BQ’ing – certification
  3. Timing

Course Terrain

Let’s face it – hills and fast times don’t mix.

If you’re a mere mortal hoping for that perfect day to hit your BQ, you probably shouldn’t attempt it at the Pikes Peak Marathon.

You want a course that’s flat or slightly downhill.

Here’s a list of some of the fastest certified Boston courses

Keep in mind, while downhill courses are fast, they also beat up your legs. If you’re not well-trained for the downhills on some of these fast courses you’ll be walking at the end.

Here’s a guide on how to train for downhills.

History of Boston Qualifiers

If a race routinely churns out BQ’s, you know it’s likely fast AND provides pacemakers. compiled a list of the top 20 qualifying races so far this year. The list obviously favors races with more competitors, but it’s useful nonetheless.

Here ‘s an infographic we did a while back with some of these races in order

View full image Best Marathons to Qualify for Boston

The BAA also has a list of the top qualifying races on its website.


For the 2018 Boston Marathon, qualifying races must be run between September 17, 2016 and whenever the race fills up.

For the 2017 race, the race filled up in a few days (during the week of registration) so you’ll need to make sure you have your qualifying time in place by the registration opening.

Training for the race

Obviously, discussing the best ways to train for a marathon is an article a book in itself, so I won’t try to do it all here.

Instead, I want to give you free access to our Marathon Training Guide

This is a 9-part video guide and training schedule on how to structure, build and execute the perfect marathon training plan.

Get FREE BQ Qualifying Guide

Here’s what’s included…

  • We’ll teach you about the physiological demands of the marathon distance
  • Talk about the three most critical systems you need to target
  • Discuss how to take your long runs to the next level
  • Show you how to structure your plan
  • Give you your own training program
  • And help you execute the perfect taper and race strategy.

If you want to avoid the most common marathon training mistakes and ensure you get the most from your training, this is a must watch course.

And it’s completely free (no email or payment required).

Check it out here

Now you have everything you need to plan out how you’re going to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Have any specific questions? Shoot us a voicemail for our daily podcast and we’ll answer it for you.

Free Strength Training Course

The Right Way to Add Strength Training To Your Running to Avoid Injury and Improve Performance

Here’s what we’ve got for you

How the “core” actually contributes to your running and which muscle groups are most important for staying injury-free

Which type of strength training exercises are most likely to directly improve your running performance (based on scientific research)

The 5 most common mistakes runners make with strength training (and how you can fix them)


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