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If you’re on the bubble for qualifying times, picking the right course is essential. First, you want one with as few climbs as possible. Even slight elevation changes can seem mountainous after you’ve been running for two or three hours, and every tick of the stopwatch in your favor counts. Second, stay close to home. The point of running a Boston qualifier is to go fast, not enjoy the scenery, so you’ll want to enter one that requires only a short trip so you can keep your legs fresh. Pick a race that’s well-organized and usually boasts a high percentage of people who qualify. Marathon Guide ranks the top North American marathons based on qualifying success rate here. These four top my list:
Qualifying for Boston: Chicago
LOCATION: Chicago, Illinois
DATE: October 13
There are many extremely well-organized major marathons across the country—Big Sur, New York City, and Marine Corps immediately come to mind—but none top the precision of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The route is wide, the water stations stretch long so there’s no congestion, and the pack spreads out quickly after the start line despite the more than 35,000 entrants. The race’s added bonus is that it gives you a chance to enjoy the city in the middle of October.
Qualifying for Boston: St. George
LOCATION: St. George, Utah
DATE: October 5
In theory, there’s no faster 26.2-mile race in the U.S. than the St. George Marathon, which loses 2,600 feet in elevation from start to finish, as it winds down the Pine Valley Mountains into the town of St. George. But downhill running poses rigors of its own on your quads and knees. If you downhill train appropriately, though, and the conditions are right on race day, expect a personal best time here. One challenge: more than 10,000 runners enter the lottery for 7,400 race bibs.
Qualifying for Boston: Bay State
LOCATION: Lowell, Massachusetts
DATE: October 20
While only sparsely attended, the Bay State Marathon is known, hands down, as the fastest marathon in the New England. Maybe it’s the mild October weather, or the board-flat 13.1-mile course (which you run twice) through the the town of Lowell and its surroundings, or something in the water—but whatever the reason, more than one-third of entrants qualify for Boston.
Qualifying for Boston: Mohawk Hudson River
LOCATION: Albany, New York
DATE: October 13
Like the Bay State Marathon, more than one-third of entrants in the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon qualify for Boston. The reason why: so many fast people from New York City make the three-hour drive north to take advantage of its flat route. The 26.2 miles mostly follow bike paths along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers from Schenectady to Albany, dropping a total of 370 feet in elevation, with only a few tiny climbs along the way.
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