Why is the Boston Marathon So Slow?

Boston Marathon Data Analysis, Part 2

This is my second story in a new series focusing on the Boston Marathon. If you missed it, you can read part 1 here. This is a bit of a departure from my normal themes of design and creativity, but if you look closely those ideas will still probably break through at points. Let’s get to it…

Every dot on the right side of the line is a runner who failed to match their qualifying time
2018: Cold/Wet/Windy, 2017: Hot, 2016: Less Hot, 2015: Cold/Wet

Does Age and Gender Matter?

One might expect the percentage of runners who hit their BQ on race day to be spread evenly across ages and gender. After all, that’s why the qualifying standards are relaxed as age increases and why there are different standards for men than women. In theory, that should level the field. That’s now what happens, however, as you can see from the charts below.

How slow are the runners who don’t hit their BQ?

Runners who fail to get a BQ on race day are about 35 minutes slower than their qualifying standard. While this seems outrageous, if you look back at the first scatter charts on this page you can see that this number is going to be skewed considerably by people who are obviously not trying to race. Just look at the amount of dots slower than 5 hours. Regardless, below is a chart showing the average times that runners missed their BQ by.

Boston runners who don’t get a BQ on race day miss their qualifying time by about 35 minutes on average

What about the runners who are Actually trying?

If we concede that the averages are skewed by people who aren’t even trying, let’s see what happens if we limit the data to athletes who are within 30, 15, 5, and 1 minutes of their qualifying times. And for fun, let’s count the unfortunate souls who have to live with the fact that they were within 10 seconds of a BQ.

Each year there are about 75 runners who miss a BQ by less than 10 seconds

2019 Prediction

In 2019, if the weather is cool, I predict that only 35–40% of the runners will hit their 2020 qualifying times. If there is a tailwind they might be able to hit 45%, but that is pushing it. Although the 2019 field is the strongest ever (remember they had to beat their BQ by 4:52 just to get into the race) the qualifying standards increased for 2020 by 5 minutes . If the data holds, you can expect more than 60% of the runners to underperform in 2019.

About Me

My name is Adrian Hanft. I am a runner from Colorado with a passion for data, design, and storytelling. You can follow my runs on Strava and my writing here on Medium. Stay creative.

Author of User Zero: Inside the Tool that is Reshaping Dystopia