The Regina George(s) of Running

We’ve all seen it: the blue jacket with the yellow unicorn, the words “Boston Athletic Association” arcing over the top. And we all know the unwritten, unspoken rule: that only qualifiers can wear this jacket, just like only marathon finishers can wear the shirt that says “marathoner” on the back.

When I was in Minneapolis last fall to run the marathon, I got in our hotel elevator with my husband. A fellow runner, decked out in his Boston jacket, was already inside. I tried to make friendly conversation, but his reaction was clipped. He clearly didn’t want to talk to me. At the Expo, another runner wearing a Boston jacket physically pushed past me to get her bib. She didn’t say anything, but the her attitude was noticeably chilly. I didn’t think much of it until I casually mentioned it to my client, Jen. I made the offhand remark that these interactions reminded me of high school; how the popular kids with letterman’s jackets treated everybody else like they were second-class citizens.

Jen said, “You know what? You’re totally right,” and then proceeded to tell me about how a runner from her club, who had qualified for Boston, acted as if Jen’s performance in Chicago wasn’t good enough. “I had a huge PR, and she was acting like I didn’t try at all,” she told me. “The woman even had the nerve to say ‘well that’s good for someone like you!’”

Boston is an elite race, and has been for a long time. The qualifying standards are demanding. Men aged 35-39 need to run 7 minute miles to qualify, and women that age need to run 8 minute miles. Given that the average pace of a marathon is a ten minute pace for men and eleven minutes for women (of all ages), it’s clear that many, many runners--if not most of us--won’t qualify for Boston.

And honestly? That’s ok. A BQ doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal, just like finishing a marathon isn’t on every runner’s wish-list. Each individual runner is different, both in their ability and their desire. This diversity is not always portrayed in media like Runner’s World, or on the social media accounts of influencers in our sport, most of whom tend to be fast.

Personally, I believe our community focuses too much on the BQ as a measure of success. It’s interesting to me that influencers like Kelly Roberts (who I’m a fan of) from SheCanAndSheDid plays both sides of this issue. Yes, she encourages her followers the #badassladygang (which I’m a part of) to set their own goals and make their impossible possible.

But her impossible? To BQ.

I’ve written a lot about how treating speed as a measure of success is problematic. But I find it even more disheartening that our community seems to have separated runners into two groups: those who are “good” enough to qualify for Boston and those who aren’t. In my opinion, that’s total bullshit.

Running doesn’t have to be the cafeteria in Mean Girls, where people are divided by who they are. And we certainly shouldn’t create a group like the Plastics, who are given the designation of being “better” or “cooler” than everyone else.

Even though Boston qualifiers are fast and get a cool jacket, they’re certainly not “better” or “cooler” than their fellow runners. And I would argue that Boston qualifiers don’t do as much for the overall community as runners who enter Boston by raising thousands of dollars for charity. (The requirement for Back on My Feet, who I fund-race with, is $7,500.)

Of course, not every Boston qualifier treats their fellow runners as “less than” — just like not every high school jock wearing a letterman’s jacket is a jerk. Even Cady and Regina learned their lesson in the movie. I would hope that most runners can resist acting like we’re in high school again, jockeying for position at the “good” lunch table. We should be more inclusive of everyone.

That’s why our community needs to push back on the idea that a BQ is “bigger” or “more important” than any other goal, finish, or accomplishment.

Don’t get me wrong: Boston is an iconic race. It has a long, storied history. One day, I want to run past the Citgo sign, too. I want to hear the crowds on Boylston Street and give high-fives to girls from Wellesley. Many clients work with me in order to qualify for Boston. I think that’s a worthy goal. But for others, who may not ever be able to sustain that pace, it’s not an achievable goal. And for others, who can do it but at the cost of their happiness or health, it’s simply not in their best interest.

A few years ago, I was dead set on being able to qualify for Boston. I perceived it as a measure of “success” as a runner, and though I was able to get my paces down to nine minute miles (versus 11 minutes), I was miserable.

Yes, I want to go to Boston, but not if it means I can’t enjoy my day-to-day life. I still want to run that race, but I’m happy do it as a charity runner, knowing that I deserve to be there just as much as the people who qualified. I want to be Cady at the end of the movie, after she’s realized that her actions impact people and she shares the crown with everyone.

What do you think?

Are you trying to BQ?

Have you run into a Regina George?

Is there a “jacket effect”?

Share in the comments below.