Coach Will: Blueprint To Qualifying For The Boston Marathon

Blueprint To Qualifying For The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon- the name itself sends chills down our spines as every runner worships this race at the running alter. To put this race in perspective, out of every marathon finisher across the US, only 10.4% of all marathon participants hit the Boston Qualifier (BQ). In this blog post I will go into how YOU can become the one out of ten runners who punch their tickets to the greatest foot race in the USA.

 There are several factors you need to understand when it comes to running a BQ.

*It’s important to know what your qualifier time is.

*You will have to run even faster than that qualifier to grab a spot.

*In order to give yourself the best chance at a BQ, consider which qualifying marathons may be the best option.

*Understand what is realistic and doable in terms of an improvement curve to accomplish your time goal.

What is my qualifier?

The official qualifying times can change over time. It’s important that you always confirm by checking the official Boston Marathon website ( or use the direct link to the qualifying page: These times are age and gender graded. As we age, our bodies vO2 begins to decline. This decline accelerates after the age of 40. In the coming weeks, I will go into the details on exactly what this means and how we can slow down the process. In the meantime, study the marks below but understand these times are not guaranteed to punch your ticket to the next Boston Marathon.

Wait, you mean I need to run even faster?

It seems like a sick joke, right!? You studied your qualifying time based on your age and gender and now I’m telling you that you have to run even faster. The Boston Marathon accepts around 30,000 participants each year including charity spots. In the event that 35,000 people hit the qualifying marks outlined above, the BAA is forced to start trimming the numbers to get down to the desired 30,000 figure. The only “fair” way to do this is by taking the slowest qualifiers in each age group (AG) and giving them the boot. To illustrate this point, I’ve listed the last 4 years cutoffs and how hitting your BQ doesn’t always mean you’ve punched your ticket to the famous race.

 *2014: 1:38 under BQ time

*2015: 1:02 under BQ time

*2016: 2:28 under BQ time

*2017: 2:09 under BQ time

 The take home message is this: take whatever your BQ time is and subtract 3 minutes. The more time you can bank under that BQ standard, the safer bet that you will be locked in and accepted into the next years event.

 Give yourself a chance.

What I’m about to say is in no way intended to cast praise or criticism on any of the following mentioned racing events. I’m simply going to share the facts as they relate to terrain and temperatures. I am not in anyway endorsing or slamming the following races. Now that we have that disclosure out of the way, let’s talk about giving yourself the best chance to succeed. Researchers in a study that looked at 1.8 million marathoners over the course of 10 years, have found that the optimal temperatures for the marathon when taking into account body size, metabolic heat production, vO2, atmospheric conditions etc., is 38.9F – 43.2F. Faster runners who consume more oxygen (O2) per minute benefit from the cooler side of that given range, while the four hour marathoner tends to do better with temps in the mid 40’s. However, I will say we’re splitting hairs when we’re talking about a 5F temperature difference. What you need to know is that if the goal is simply to run your fastest marathon, not the most scenic or popular marathon, you should look for races with average temperatures around 38F-43F. If you can’t find one that falls into that exact range, that’s OK, just remember that 35F is better than 60F when it comes to marathon performance. When an athlete asks me about training for a perspective marathon that I’m unfamiliar with, the first thing I do even before looking at the course elevation profile is to see what the average temperatures are for that race location at that time of year. is my go to resource for checking historical averages, as you can look at previous years recorded temps as well as average temps for any day of any month of the year. Assuming the average forecast temp is ideal, then I look at the elevation/ course profile. It’s very important that you find a flat-ish course that has as little elevation change as possible. Although the Publix Georgia Marathon (1,534’ of gain) in Atlanta is a fantastic, well-run event, the course is extremely hilly. The hills constantly break up your rhythm and ability to maintain an even, consistent effort over the 26.2 mile course. Likewise, the Chicago Marathon is incredibly flat and offers very little in the way of elevation changes throughout the entire marathon. If your goal is to run marathons based on destination, then the previous information is not as important. Many of my friends have run Big Sur (2,182’ of gain), or Nashville RnR Country Music Marathon (988’ of gain + avg temps of 53F/75F and the last 3 out of 4 years they’ve experienced 90F temps at the finish), etc. and have had an absolute blast. But they know going into it given the heat or hills, that a fast time or PR is likely out of the question. So do your homework, see which marathons have the highest percentage of BQ’s. has compiled a handy list to get your started:

 RunningLane is taking part of our team up to the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon this fall. To give you an example of why we chose this race, let’s look at the temperature and elevation profile. The average low on race day is 39F. The marathon only has 122ft of elevation gain throughout the entire race.  Hopefully, given the previous examples I laid out above, this gives some perspective on how important it is to do your own homework. It’s all about giving yourself the best chance to succeed.

 How much faster can I run?

This is where it’s crucial to hire a running coach. We are all experts on something. If I have an electrical problem at home, there’s no way I’m going to try and figure it out myself. I’ll hire an electrician because they are the experts. The same goes for plumbing or surgeons or whatever it is that you do for a living – you’re the expert at what you do. So rather than try to figure out everything on your own, consider hiring a running coach.

 I look at each calendar year as two seasons. Through proper training we realistically have two macro cycles (seasons) per calendar year. These are 16-24 week training blocks that are designed to increase aerobic conditioning, increase the lactate threshold and prepare you for the base phase, competition phase, peak phase followed by the recovery or regeneration phase. Through these proven models, we can help individuals improve between 3-5% each season. So for example, if you are a male aged 40-45 who has a personal best of 3:31, 5% improvement would be 3:20:35. Go back to our chart above, and that puts that runner 4 minutes and 25 seconds under his BQ.  But what if your PR is greater than 5% of your BQ? Simple, don’t give up hope. You continue to have these goals and work to accomplish them. But perhaps it is not a six month fix. Play the long game. Remember if you’re hypothetically 10% away from your goal marathon pace, then it might take a couple of training seasons. 12-18 months is not that long in the grand scheme of things. Improving by 5% in the first season, followed by 4% the second season and 3% the third season, and BOOM, you’re going to Boston.

 So where are you? Do you dream about toeing the line of the Boston Marathon? Maybe you’ve tried several times to BQ and things don’t seem to materialize the way you would like. To date, we have helped hundreds of runners PR and over 50 runners in the last 3 years qualify for the Boston Marathon. If you have any questions about RunningLane coaching and how we can help, feel free to shoot us an email at It’s time to stop hoping for success and start training for it. Make this fall your best season yet.

 -Coach Will

 If you enjoyed this read or have questions for Coach Will, let him know by sending him an email at

coach Will


  1. Chris Ottinger's avatar
    Chris Ottinger
    | Permalink
    Hey Coach Will,<br /> <br /> Great article, I like many runners have thoughts of running Boston in the back on our minds. I just completed my first marathon in Fort Worth on 2/26/18. My time was 4:26 and I'm currently 48 years old. Is training for Boston even realistic for me?<br /> <br /> Thanks in advance,<br /> <br /> Chris
  2. Will Rodgers's avatar
    Will Rodgers
    | Permalink
    Hi Chris,<br /> <br /> Thanks for the kind words. Based on your marathon PR of 4:26 and your current BQ of 3:25, this works out to be about a 23% improvement needed to BQ. There are many factors that determine how quickly you can improve such as age, experience, training history etc. My suggestion would to play the long game like I mentioned in the article. Is it realistic to drop 23% in 1 year when the avg improvement rate is 3-5%, not likely over the next 6-12 months. But what you have to remember is that each "season" (4-6mo training period) builds on the previous season. You might find that 6 months from now (October) you're 6% faster than you are now. Another 4 months after that leading into Fort Worth you could realistically be another 3-4% faster then. <br /> <br /> The important thing is to not get discouraged. If you continue to stay healthy, work on a long term plan to improve your fitness, you can potentially shave 20-25% over the course of 5 or so "seasons" or 4-6 month training cycles. Another benefit is that in 2 short years you will move up to the 3:30 qualifier. <br /> <br /> If you have any additional questions please don't hesitate to reach out and shoot me an email. I would be happy to help you with your running goals! <br /> <br /> Coach Will<br />
  3. Ben's avatar
    | Permalink
    Coach, <br /> Similar question as Chris,<br /> <br /> I am a relatively new runner (just about 3 years)<br /> I'm currently 31 and am interested in working toward Boston.<br /> <br /> I've only done a couple marathons(4:15), but I've been working on my Half time and have gotten it to 1:43.<br /> <br /> I'm considering targeting getting to Boston when I'm 35, does that sound reasonable?<br /> <br /> Secondly, I've got two young kids, and a demanding career. How much time or weekly miles should I be looking to invest to meet this goal?<br /> <br /> Finally any coach recommendations for Oklahoma City?<br /> <br /> Thanks,<br /> <br /> -Ben
  4. Chloe's avatar
    | Permalink
    Hi. I really want to do the Boston Marathon when I get older(14 now ) I really like it what are some steps that I can to become a better and faster runner. I have never run a marathon or even a half marathon. I have run a lot of 5ks and my best time is 22:32. I am also on the cross country team at my school and I run 2 miles and my pr is 13:14.
  5. Will Rodgers's avatar
    Will Rodgers
    | Permalink
    Hi Ben, <br /> Much of it depends on your training background and how many miles you typically run in a week. Though the 35-39 BQ time is currently 3:05 (1:32:30 per half) I wouldn't necessarily rule it out. I've coached many runners who were 3:45-4:00 marathoners who end up improving dramatically and run in the 3:00-3:10 range. It's possible, but you need to take a long term approach. Remember consistency is key! I would recommend reading another blog we wrote here: as it gives great insight into the power of consistency and compounding mileage/ training. Ultimately increasing the stimulus of training gradually over time and increasing your training load will help your times come down. Eventually you might be one of these 3:00 guys over the next couple of years of hard work! <br /> <br /> If you're interested in internet coaching, shoot us an email at and you will be paired with one of our expert coaches. We coach runners all over the US and even a few in Europe &amp; the Middle East. Stay positive and don't ever stop chasing your dreams!
  6. Will Rodgers's avatar
    Will Rodgers
    | Permalink
    Hi Chloe! <br /> <br /> Sounds like you're doing well with cross country and track! My advice for you would be to continue your love for the sport and do your very best with high school track and cross country. What I typically tell the high school kids that I coach to do is to create a goal list and tape it to your bathroom mirror. That way each and every day when you wake up you have your big goals staring you right back. On those crummy weather days when the weather is blah and you're just not feeling it, go get the easy miles in, those goals are staring back at you. <br /> <br /> On your list of goals I would have short term (A, B &amp; C goals) as well as long term (A, B &amp; C goals). It might look something like this;<br /> <br /> Short Term: <br /> A) goal: qualify for the state championship (depending on the state this may be easier or harder)<br /> B) goal: break 13 minutes in the 2 mile, sub 6:05 in the mile<br /> C) goal: make the varsity team at my school<br /> <br /> Long Term:<br /> A) RUN THE BOSTON MARATHON<br /> B) Earn a college scholarship for XC / T&amp;F or walk on at XYZ school.<br /> C) Stay healthy and injury free<br /> <br /> Just remember that we focus on the now, but we also in the back of our minds have those big scary goals that we want to accomplish one day. Use that as fuel to your fire and keep training hard and most importantly, have fun doing it!
  7. Tom Burke's avatar
    Tom Burke
    | Permalink
    Hi Coach,<br /> <br /> My goal is to qualify for Boston in the next few years. I have ran two marathons so far starting at 3:48 and improving to 3:28 on the second. The first was one I did minimal training for and the second I did about a 10 week plan. I am set to run the Detroit free Press marathon in October. What should be my goal for this one and how long of a schedule should I set to qualify for Boston(times have been moved up five minutes so as a 24 yr old male I need under 3:00)? Going by the 3-5% rule that’s about 4 improvement cycles dropping between 7-10 minutes on each one. Is this even realistic? Any thoughts?
  8. Debbie Bellant's avatar
    Debbie Bellant
    | Permalink
    I'm a 55 year old female, i have ran close to 60 half marathons in the last 6 years I ran my first Full marathon in 2018 with a time of 4hrs and 16min i'm considering to try to qualify for Boston in the near future As it stands right now my qualifying time is 4hrs 10min ,for which I know I need to be under that by at least 3 to 4 minutes. Is this a realistic goal for me. Thank You for all the information very helpful.
  9. Tony kmeid's avatar
    Tony kmeid
    | Permalink
    Hi Coach,<br /> I am 56 years old and have been running for about 2.5 years now.<br /> I used to follow Higdon's half and full marathon training which helped me cross the finish line, but there were no improvements for me until 1 year ago.<br /> I did my research and wrote my own training plans and I improved my marathon timing from 4:22 to 3:40 over 1 year and 4 marathons later.<br /> My ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston which requires me to have a 3:35 time.<br /> I believe that it's time for me to get a coach to get me over the hump for many reasons:<br /> 1. To avoid injury (starting to get a mild Plantar issue)<br /> 2. To strengthen my core better<br /> 3. To keep the pace after 20 miles which seem to not hold up for me no matter how hard I try.<br /> 4. To get advice on nutrition during the race (Am having no issues with GU gels or liquids), but feel that am missing something.<br /> 5. Finally my goal is to get a finish time of 3:30 for some buffer (10 minute improvement over my last marathon in September of this year), is that possible? My next marathon is on Dec 15, 2019.<br /> <br /> Please advise.<br /> Tony
  10. Vanessa Antoine's avatar
    Vanessa Antoine
    | Permalink
    Hey there, Coach!<br /> <br /> I'm hoping to BQ my 2020 Chicago Marathon. My full PR is 3:51 in 2016, and I am 41 years old. After having my son nearly 3 years ago, I've put zero effort into training for fulls, though I've run multiple since his birth. My last 3 fulls were run with little training (the furthest I'd run had been half distances). The last three fulls were run in December 2019 (very warm), February 2020 (very hilly) and April 2020, and were in each in 60ish to 65ish degree weather, and were 4:30, 4:19, and 4:12 finishes. I have a little more time to throw into training now and feel that if I can run a full with little to no training and still have fairly decent finish times, I can make some big improvements come October. Am I just a dreamer, or do you think this is possible? (Also, my half finishes average from 1:45-1:55 just running and not "trying" to go fast). <br /> <br /> Thank you!
  11. Will Rodgers's avatar
    Will Rodgers
    | Permalink
    Hi Vanessa! <br /> <br /> Based on your age you are probably going to need a 3:37:xx to BQ according to the 2021 standards. Chicago as you know is pancake flat which will help and hopefully you guys catch a cool weather day. All that to say, based on your 3:51 PR, I do think it's possible however, this has to become your obsession over the next 24ish weeks. Everything from safely increasing your mileage to strength training, to focusing on the "little things" such as foam rolling, stretching etc. I normally suggest to athletes I have not worked with and that have not done regular structured speed training or higher mileage, that they can expect to improve about 7-10% in the first season or 4-6 month time period. Based on your recent 4:12 that would be in the neighborhood of 3:44-3:54. It's important to note that this is a general average though and there are outliers. One quick example is a young lady I helped several years ago who was stuck in the 4:06-4:15 range for the previous 18 months. We began working together and ironically, at Chicago in 2014, she BQ's and ran 3:31 which ended up being a massive PR. <br /> <br /> So it is POSSIBLE, however it may take you a couple of cycles (4-6mo seasons) to get to that 3:37. If you are interested in coaching please don't hesitate to shoot us an email at as we would love to be apart of your journey! <br /> <br /> Best of luck to you,<br /> Coach Will

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