Smile Politely

BQ or Bust Part 2: Enter the Penguin

So I’ve told you how awesome the race was. Even though I’d failed to qualify for Boston, I was feeling good until…

The Disappointment

It came hours after my race, while I sat in my hotel room recovering, watching the NFL playoffs, thinking about what I could have done differently. I had tried to do everything right.

Could I have tapered earlier? Should I have cut the training shorter? Could I have run fewer miles? Should I have skipped one of my 20+ mile long runs? Should I have attempted a BQ after so many PR quality half marathons last fall? I’ve been training many months without a break, did fatigue get the best of me? I don’t have the answers.

Despite everything that happened hours before, I was disappointed.

No, I said to myself. I won’t let this bum me out. I had an awesome run. It was a great day. It was fun. Yes, I’ll admit it. I had fun in this marathon! That’s what my friend who did not finish the race posted on my wall that morning: to make sure I had fun. I did.

Enter the Penguin.

John “the Penguin” Bingham is a legend in the running community not because of his speed — mostly he’s a back-of-the-pack sort of guy — but because of his advice.

I interviewed John by email in March 2010 for a SmilePolitely article I wrote about a trip he was making to Champaign, and I knew he was in Phoenix for this marathon because my friend went to hear him speak.

Now, I’m at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport on Monday, the day after the race, waiting for my flight to O’Hare when “the Penguin” walks by. I recognize him immediately and say hello. We get to talking about that article I wrote about him, his travels to other Rock n’Roll events, and this marathon. I told him my time and age, etc., and he says something like, “Now wait a minute here. I think you might have qualified for Boston.”

What? I’m thinking. Really? Naw, can’t be. I failed. Missed it by that much.

We have to board. The conversation reaches a natural conclusion. He’s Group 1, and I’m Group 3. As I enter the plane, I see John seated in an exit row looking at his phone. He looks up and says something like, “I just checked online. I think maybe you did qualify. For real.”

Come on! He fires off an explanation, but in the boarding process with people behind me rolling their eyes for holding them up, I don’t really hear it clearly. And frankly, I don’t want to believe him. I’ve just spent the last 24 hours coming to terms with a massive PR, not a BQ.

Later in the flight he stopped by my seat and, I’m paraphrasing here, he said, “You have to run a qualifying time after September 2012, which you did, for the age that you’ll be on the date of the next Boston Marathon that you can run, which would be April 2014.”

Something not paraphrased, he said, “Check Google when you can and email me the results.”

Damn right I will, I thought. “I’m gonna do it the minute I get off the plane,” I said.

Three hours. That’s how long I waited. I’m sitting on a plane for three *bleeping* hours with no Internet, no Wi-Fi, no way to check the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) website and confirm John’s theory. Torture. Absolute torture. It’s like thinking you’ve got the winning lottery ticket on your bedside table at home, and you’re on the other side of the globe, unable to see that you have the numbers right. Agon-izing.

Wheels on the ground, out comes my phone. Everybody is up grabbing bags, disembarking. I’m standing there with my face plastered to my touch screen.

The BAA site states:

  • For the 2014 Boston Marathon, qualifying times must be run on or after September 22, 2012
  • The acceptance of official race entrants will be based on qualifying time, with the fastest qualifiers (in relation to their age and gender) being accepted first until the race is full
  • All qualifying times are subject to review and verification
  • All standards below are based on official submitted net time
  • All standards below are equal to the 2013 Boston Marathon qualifying standards
  • The qualifying times below are based upon each athlete’s age on the date of the Boston Marathon in which they are participating*

Am I reading this right? I don’t have to be 40 to qualify in the 40–45 age group? I can make it at 39? Seriously? I jump on Facebook and ask my running friends. I’m texting people left and right. “Are you near a CPU, Facebook?” I type.

Responses come fast and furious from everywhere.

Michele posted:

“I’m trying to BQ also. Someone else told me that it’s not your age at the race, but at the Boston event you are running. That’s the way I’m reading it too.”

Ben wrote:

“Yes, you qualified! A time of 2–3 minutes below time seems to be about where you are guaranteed to get a spot, so you’re right there.”

I qualified? I’m a BQ?

To qualify in the 40–45 year old category, one must run under 3:15, which I did. I ran a 3:12:54.

What are the chances? It’s absolute serendipity that I’d see John “the Penguin” Bingham, an inspiration to thousands of runners, at the airport. Here I was thinking I’d missed out on something I’d dreamed about, qualifying for Boston, and I actually did it. Amazing.

John gave me a bit of advice when we corresponded by email after our flight. I had told him in Phoenix that I hated marathons, that I like half marathons better, and he wrote, “The bad news is that you HAVE to run Boston now. Runners try their whole lives to qualify and never make it. I was invited to run it once — I didn’t qualify — and it was one of the greatest memories of my life.”

Thanks, John, for knowing the qualifying criteria and your sage advice!

There you have it. You’ve read it all. What’s the moral of this story? Read the fine print!


*Bolding, underlining and italicizing by the author.

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