Two hours, forty-one minutes is, by all accounts, a good marathon finishing time. But for those hoping to run in the Marine Corps Marathon, 2:41 is a bummer of a number, because that’s exactly how long it took this scenic and popular Washington, D.C., race to hit its 30,000-runner capacity. For anyone who waited 2:42 or longer to sign up for the race after registration opened March 7, the race was over before it began.
The sellout time set a record, but it’s not an aberration. This year more than any previous, races are filling up faster than ever. Why? Tightened requirements at the major marathons are partly to blame, but in the big picture there’s no ignoring the fact that endurance running has gone from being strictly an endeavor for serious athletes in training to part of a full-blown commercialized amateur fitness craze.
Prior to 2010, a finishing a marathon was a goal shared by most serious runners, with coup de gras being qualifying for Boston. As the fitness community invaded these events in 2010, event organizers realized things needed to change as participant numbers reached unmanageable values. Boston was the first to announce new tighter qualification standards, effective at this year’s event. New York has faced issues, too.
The New York Marathon has become the largest in the U.S., topping 60,000 runners in 2011. So many that it required three separate start lines that launched simultaneously and converged into a single race route three miles into the course. New York announced that starting in 2012 their qualifications would also tighten, and the remaining entries are still under a lottery. Commercialized races like Competitor’s Rock and Roll Series also began reaching their caps. Organizers responded by adding more races—only to see those races reach capacity, too.
With little warning this trend created a gridlock of sorts at the beginning of 2012 when it came time for runners to begin planning the year’s races. Many of the spring races sold out—fast. The Chicago Marathon, the only other World Major in the U.S. left with purely open registration, sold out in six days in February, breaking its previous record sell-out time of 25 days, set just a year before. For some context, it took 35 weeks for Chicago to sell out back in 2003.
It would seem that the 2012 Chicago registration melee was a result of the tightening of the field in Boston and New York, which forced out many runners from those races and onto Chicago as their premier race. And by proxy, we can see how the already popular Marine Corps Marathon may have picked up some residual overflow from that sellout.
But beyond just the major marathons’ registration logjam, we can’t also discount the exponential rise the number of people seeking chasing after fitness goals in assessing flooded U.S. race calendars. And marathons are not the only events affected—half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, and even Ironmans have sold out in record numbers. By January 2012, almost all this year’s Ironman races in the U.S. were sold out.
Because of all this, interested racers need to start planning 2013 today—yesterday, if possible. Monitor the websites for those races. Most offer an option to sign up for updates, so be sure you do. Clear your schedule so that the day registration opens you are free to act. And be ready to act fast.
Then, hopefully you can relax and concentrate on training, not on the anxieties of planning logistics. Train strong and happy running!