The qualy-time-minus-X-minutes system will favor young male runners. For any X, women and older runners of either sex will be less likely to post a time that will enable them to register in the first week compared to young male runners. Consequently, the field will be fill with predominately young men before, speaking generally now, most women and older runners of either sex ever have the opportunity to register. Keeping in mind that last year more than 42% of entered runners were female and more than 57% were over 40 years old, the qualy-time-minus-x-minutes system will make for a major shift in the demographics of the field.
If the BAA wants the Boston Marathon to be a young man's race, well it is their event after all. But there is another way to organize race entry that both can keep Boston the goal for so many runners of both sexes and all ages that it is now and reward the fastest qualifiers with a bib.
I have suggested to the BAA that they implement a bubble time system like that used to set the starting grids in many forms of auto racing. The BAA would decide the composition of the race it wants to present and let runners determine the times necessary to make it to Hopkington. In fact, the BAA could get out of the business of presetting qualifying times altogether.
The system could work like this: (1) the BAA sets the number of competitive entrants it wants in each age/sex group, say by reference to this site's statistics on all marathon finishers, considering total field size, the number of invited runners, runners participating on behalf of charities, etc.; (2) it accepts all potential qualifying times run within a specified set of months during a registration window period that itself could be open for months; (3) every week or so while the registration window is open, the BAA posts the slowest time that currently fills each age/sex group—i.e., the groups' bubble times; (4) when the registration window closes, the fastest runners that fill each group are registered.
For example, suppose the BAA decides it wants 1000 males aged 55 to 59 to be registered competitively. In the first week or two of the registration window, say 1000 men between 55 and 59 submit times and the 1000th slowest time is 4:32. The initial bubble time is therefore 4:32. More times come in over the next couple of weeks so that more than 1000 times have been submitted and the 1000th fastest time has fallen to 3:43, just to pick a number. The new time to beat to get into the race, thus the new bubble time, falls to 3:43. So it goes during the registration window; 4:32, 3:43, ..., and finally 3:39. When the registration window closes, every man between 55 and 59 with a time of 3:39 or better is entered.
While the registration window is open, the bubble time would fall consistently, probably approaching its final value asymptotically. To avoid ebay-type sniping, potential registration times would be required to be submitted within two weeks or so after they were run or two weeks or so after the registration window opens, whichever is is later. Over the years the time needed to make the field in any given group, that groups's final bubble time, would vary somewhat, most likely generally falling. The final bubble time from the most recent year would serve as a guide for the time needed to make the race next year.
The bubble time system would result in all age/sex groups being represented in the race and still ensure that the starting corrals are filled with the fastest runners.
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