In Stride

The Lowdown on Registering for Boston

Turns out you need to be mentally prepared for marathon registration, too

The Lowdown on Registering for Boston

Registration is going to get very confusing. We're here for you in spirit. Photo: AP

(Note: the following pertains to those looking to take the qualifying route to getting into the Boston Marathon, which makes up about 80 percent of the field. The remaining spots are reserved for charity runners–information on which can be found here–as well as local companies, sponsors and celebrities.)  

On Monday, September 14, at 10 a.m. EST, registration will open for the 2016 Boston Marathon, the 120th running of the event. The field at next year’s race is capped at 30,000 entrants. If you want to be one of them, here’s a brief explainer for how to get in. Needless to say, it’s a less-than-straightforward system.

The oldest annual marathon in the world is also one of the most exclusive. Many people know that you have to qualify for Boston, but few are aware that achieving the entry standard is no guarantee of getting in. In recent years, you had to be faster than the qualifying standards. It’s a runners’ meritocracy where, the quicker you are, the better your chances of standing on the starting line in Hopkinton next April. And that’s not all. 

First, you need to have run a marathon on or after September 13, 2014, to apply for next year’s race. It doesn’t matter if you’ve run a 65-minute half. Qualifying times for Boston only pertain to full marathons. That marathon also needs to be USATF or AIMS certified.

Registration is held entirely online at You’ll need a credit card, name, address, email, and information on your qualifying race. 

Seems straightforward enough, but this is where things get interesting. 

The first round on Monday morning only applies to those who have run twenty minutes faster than the qualifying standard for their particular gender and age group. For example, the standard for women, ages 35-39, is 3:40:00.  This means that a 38-year-old woman needs to have run 3:20:00 or better to be eligible to register on Monday. (Age groups refer to your age on race day, but you don’t necessarily need to be that age when you run your qualifying race; e.g. if you achieve the qualifying standard for the 60-64 age group as a spry 59-year-old, that’s okay, as long as your race falls within one year of registration.)

Barring the very unlikely event of the race filling up Monday, on Wednesday, September 16, at 10 a.m. EST, registration opens for those who achieved the qualifying standard by ten minutes or better. Then, at the same time on Friday, September 18, registration opens for those who have run five minutes or better than the standard. The first week of registration closes at 10 p.m., EST, on Saturday, September 19.

The second week of registration lasts from 10 a.m. on Monday, September 21, to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23. During this time, anyone who has met the base qualification standards can register for the race. 

A few things to note about the first two weeks of registration. Race spots are NOT on a first-come, first-serve basis. Regardless of when you apply during the initial application windows, your race time is what matters, not when you submitted your application. Faster times are always prioritized. This means that for the same age and gender group, a 2:50:00 marathoner who submits her application at 4 p.m. on September 23, will be accepted before a 2:50:01 marathoner who submits her application first thing at 10 a.m. on September 14, provided the race hasn’t already filled up in the meantime. 

In theory, race registration could fill in the first two days, which is why anyone hell-bent on participating shouldn’t do as the faster woman in the previous example and wait until the last minute. You never know. That said, it is unlikely that the race will be full in the first week. But, if you’re super fast, why wait?

The smartest and safest approach is to make sure you sign up at some point during the first registration window for which you qualify, so you’ll always have at least a day or two in which to do so. This isn’t like the last time the Rolling Stones were in town and you had to be at your computer, credit card in hand, at 11:59:59, ready to vie with a million others to score tickets to be screamed at by Mick Jagger for two hours. 

That privilege is reserved for all Boston qualifiers who didn’t read this article and still want to try to get into the race after September 23. On Monday, September 28, at 10 a.m. EST, registration will reopen to anyone who has run a qualifying time, provided there are still spots available. This time, registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so get ready to stress out when your browser goes on the fritz shortly before 10.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 

Filed To: Events, Road Running, Boston

Subscribe to Outside

Outside Magazine Latest Issue

Save 66% and get All-Access: Print + iPad

Not Now

Get tips. Get stories. Get fit.

Looking for the best in fitness? We got you covered.

Thank you!