With the 2014 race in the books, what should we expect from the 2015 Boston Marathon?
Race director Dave McGillivray said at a postrace news conference that the Boston Athletic Association will be able to focus entirely on planning a race for next year, rather than the other elements that took up so much of the BAA's focus ahead of this year's marathon. In the wake of the 2013 bombings, focus for this year was on recovering and healing and including those factors into the planning of the race.
So what's in store for next year? How big will the race be? Will there be a higher percentage of qualified runners in the race? Will the BAA adjust qualifying standards?
Well, about the only thing known for sure is that the 119th Boston Marathon will be held on Monday, April 20, 2015.
As for everything else, the initial discussions for 2015 will start as soon as late this week.
Still, it's unlikely the race will return with another field of approximately 36,000 runners in 2015. McGillivray and the BAA showed once again it can pull off a field that size (the centennial Boston Marathon in 1996 had roughly 38,700 registered runners), but communities along the course might not be in favor of a request to repeat the larger field size, McGillivray said.
"This was an extraordinary year, and we were probably given some flexibility to make it larger to accommodate more runners," McGillivray said. "This is a process, and it has always has been a process. First we have to determine what we want at the BAA but then have to shop it up and down the course to all of our partner communities to see what they will agree to."
Because of the criminal investigation, ensuing manhunt and many memorial events that followed last year's Boston Marathon, the race organization didn't have a chance for the multiple rounds of debriefing it normally does after the race. Instead, the BAA charged right into planning a larger edition of the race with new protocols and security procedures.
McGillivray said this year's debriefings will help determine what might be possible and what things aren't likely so the BAA can come up with a plan to create next year's race field -- both in total size and how the field is divided between qualifiers and charity runners -- and then will take it to each of the communities along the course for approval.
Put on the spot to pick a number that would work best for 2015, McGillivray said 30,000 runners.
"That's just a round number, and that's just me speaking. It will take time to determine the actual number," he said. "People don't necessarily understand from the outside looking in, it's very complex. Once you decide what the race will be and the numbers it might have, it takes time to get permission for it. Once you get permission, then you can expose the plan."
McGillivray said he would prefer not to leave any qualifiers out of the race. In a normal year, the BAA can base its plans based on the number of people who applied in the previous year.
"The beauty about the qualifying process now is that it dictates who is in and who is out based on how the market is doing the year before," he said. "That's why I love our system. You can't make it any fairer than way it is now. But I don't want to leave a lot of people on the curb.
"In other words, if you qualify for this race, I would like you to think that you have a 95 percent chance of getting in. The only way to do that is to have a mindset to know what those standards should be that won't leave a lot of people on the curb.
"People can say, 'Why don't you just relax the standards?' But why would you do that? I'm just going to have to turn away that many more people, and we'll be disappointing people," McGillivray continued. "I'd rather have the people disappoint themselves by not performing at the level of the standard than us disappointing them by [them] running a race eight months ago, qualifying and thinking, 'I'm going to Boston,' but only to find out, 'No you're not,' and not find out for eight months. It's a delicate balance, and we have to think about that."
The BAA turned away between 3,000 and 4,000 qualified runners for 2014, largely to make room for 4,700 or so runners who didn't finish the race last year but were invited back and other special entries. Spots were given to the victims of last year's bombings and their families, Boston firefighters and the 50 or so runners on Team One Fund Boston. Further complicating matters was the fact that some runners deferred their entry for 2013 by a year when extreme heat hit Boston on marathon weekend.
In the end, this year's race had approximately 24,500 qualifiers (roughly 68 percent) and 11,500 nonqualifiers. Of the 4,700 returnees who weren't able to finish last year, 2,500 were runners who had qualified for 2013 and 2,200 had charity or sponsor exemptions.
In recent years, the Boston Marathon field had typically been made up of 27,000 runners, with roughly 22,000 qualifiers (82 percent) and 5,000 exempt runners participating on behalf of a charity or sponsor.
"I thought we might have had to turn away as many as 20,000 or 30,000 runners for 2014," McGillivray said. "But that's what so great about our process now. We now know how many people want to run because they register in the second week [of the BAA's registration process in mid-September]. We don't want to tamper with the standards until we know what the field size is."
This year's race -- the second largest in history with 35,755 registered runners -- was broken into four 9,000-runner starting waves. But those numbers can put a strain on Hopkinton, where the race starts, and every other community along the course. Even in previous years, those communities have been sensitive to the balance between celebrating the history of the race and trying to get the roads open again as soon as possible.
Larger numbers also require increases in runner transportation, portable toilets, fencing and police, among other things.
"What we don't know are how many people on the planet Earth have qualified. We know how many people now apply. We don't how many are in the universe and what the percentage is," McGillivray said. "In any given year, you can have X amount of people qualify, and every year, roughly 20 percent of them show up. The other 80 percent are 'I already did it; I'm not going' or 'I'm injured' or 'I can't afford it.' But if all 100 percent apply, we'll be turning away a lot of people."
Registration dates for the 2015 Boston Marathon have not been announced, but it is expected to open in early to mid-September as it did the past two years. All qualifying times for the 2015 race must have occurred on or after Sept. 14, 2013.
One thing is for sure, according to BAA executive director Tom Grilk: The 2015 race is bound to have a higher percentage of qualified runners. Whether that returns to the previous 82 percent standard remains to be seen.
"I don't know what will happen, but having runners qualify for the race is the core of the race, and that will be upper most in our minds as we move forward." Grilk said. "The reason it changed this year was simply because we had so many people come back from last year that weren't able to finish.
"Many of those runners were people who were toward the end of the field and tended to be charity runners, and as a result many weren't qualifying runners."