Top Ten Boston Marathon Qualifiers

April 26th, 2018

by Michael Ryan


Taking part in the Boston Marathon is something that many individuals dream of but few actually achieve. Enthusiastic and passionate runners from all over the U.S. look forward to this event and thus prepare well in advance. However, running the Boston Marathon is not something anyone can do because you have to qualify for it by running an official, approved “Boston Qualifier” marathon and meeting certain time standards. Keep in mind that a qualifying time does not guarantee you entry into the Boston Marathon; it merely allows you to register. Since registration is opened to faster qualifying times first, you'll want to run as fast a time as possible.

It’s too late for you to qualify for this year’s Boston Marathon, but you can start planning now to qualify for the race in 2019 or 2020. You have until Sep 2018 to get your “BQ” (as a “Boston Qualifier is commonly called) for the 2019 Boston Marathon since registration for that race begins then, so there is still time for you to qualify!





While there are countless races to choose from in every state, some marathons are considered to be ‘easier’ qualifiers for the Boston Marathon because of the course. Here is a list of the top ten Boston Qualifiers that you should consider if you want to give yourself the best shot at making it to the starting line in Hopkinton. (Note: Based on the dates of the first three, the can only qualify you for the 2020 Boston Marathon.) 

Chicago Marathon, IL (October 7)

This extremely flat, fast course has a great record for the number of runners that qualify for Boston. The race typically attracts a lot of big names in the world of running, so there are plenty of fast folks to push you to the finish. The course takes you through the heart of the Windy City, giving you a “big city” experience you’ll likely remember for a long time.  

Steamtown Marathon, PA (Oct 7)

This point to point race takes place in a beautiful setting in Scranton PA, with four miles of scenic paved rails to trails along the Lackawanna River. The course is not necessarily easy, with eight miles of significant downhills in the beginning and three miles with hills at the end; but it is considered to be one of the fastest courses in the U.S., probably due to the 955 foot net drop in elevation. On average, 22-25% of the runners qualify for Boston.

Baystate Marathon, Lowell, MA (October 21)

This race is a great qualifier because of the timers that have been set up at regular points (which help you keep track of your pace) and the geographical location of the area.  Approximately 25% of its participants qualify for Boston each year. The fall weather is ideal for runners, and the charming environment makes the whole experience relatively enjoyable. 





Run for the Red Mountain, PA (May 20)

Runner's love the elevation profile of this race in the beautiful Pocono Mountains: a steady downhill drop of 1440 ft from beginning to end. It's easy to see why it's famous for the number of its runners that qualify for Boston. Not surprisingly, this is also one of the fastest courses in the U.S.

Sugarloaf Marathon, ME (May 20)

Don't let the mountain setting deter you. With the striking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and Carrabassett River, and the 16 miles of downhill grade at the end, this course is a great Boston Qualifier. The race is another one of the fastest courses in the U.S., and many of its participants achieve personal records.

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, CA (May 27)

This “lightning” fast course in southern California provides striking views of the surrounding mountains and beachfront while you run. Beginning at 700 ft elevation, it descends gradually over 22 miles to the finish.  




Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, CA (June 3)

This race, which is the original Rock n’ Roll marathon, is great as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon because of the beautiful location and fun atmosphere. It starts in picturesque Balboa Park and has a nice downhill finish at the end into Waterfront Park. The enthusiastic support along the entire course will keep you motivated in pursuit of a qualifying time. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, WA (June 10)

This point to point marathon begins in a tunnel and continues gently downhill, with a net elevation loss of 2000ft. Surrounded by gorgeous scenery as you run along the course, you can't help but appreciate the beauty around you. Needless to say, this race is also well-known for the number of “BQ” finishers it produces.




Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon, IL (Sep 8)

Held just before registration for the Boston Marathon opens, this is one of your last chances to qualify or improve your qualifying time. This is the second fastest course is here! You can't think too long about signing up for this one, because it’s capped at 300 runners. Since the primary goal of the race team is to help you qualify, the course has exceptional “BQ” statistics: 57% of the runners in 2017’s Last Chance marathon qualified for Boston.

Erie Marathon, PA (Sep 9)

This two-loop course takes place on gorgeous Presque Island. The race claims to be "flat, fast, and fun,” with 30% of its runners typically qualifying for Boston. In fact, with only 10 ft elevation change, it might be the flattest course in the U.S. You’ll also enjoy the support of quite a few excited supporters along the route as your work towards your “BQ.”

Certainly there are many more marathons you can choose from (see this list of USATF certified courses), but these ten will give you a great shot at qualifying for Boston. Just pick the one that works best for you in terms of timing and location. The good news is that once you qualify, your qualifying time is good for two years.

Good luck with the training and see you in Hopkinton!



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