For runners around the world, the name Boston holds a legendary status. The 26.2-mile race from Hopkinton to Boylston Street began in 1897, making it the world’s oldest annual marathon and a fixture of global running culture. Major course milestones like Heartbreak Hill and the “Scream Tunnel” have become iconic images to marathoners everywhere.
As one of the most competitive distance races, the Boston Marathon brings in a field of elite athletes and imposes stringent rules on how to qualify. Just making it to Boston is a lifetime goal for many, but that doesn’t mean the average runner stands no chance of entering. Qualifying times are set according to age group and gender, and the thresholds remain achievable for a wide range of dedicated athletes.
Even if you are still training to run your first marathon, it’s worth learning how to qualify for Boston and adding this iconic race to your dream list.
When Is the Boston Marathon?
The Boston Marathon takes place annually on the third Monday of April, which is April 15 in 2024 and will be April 21 in 2025. The race intentionally coincides with Patriot’s Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts that commemorates the start of America’s Revolutionary War. Boston runners also know it as Marathon Monday. It’s the day when tens of thousands of athletes and spectators gather in Boston for the USA’s most famous footrace.
How Many People Run the Boston Marathon?
The Boston Marathon draws a staggering number of runners from around the globe, thanks to its reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious races. Approximately 30,000 runners converge on the Hopkinton starting line each April, though the exact number varies from year to year.
Participation was understandably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on global travel, though a virtual alternative event in 2020 still drew nearly 18,000 entrants according to the official race entry data. With more runners entering every year since, 2024 once again saw pre-pandemic numbers of more than thirty thousand.
Even among all of those racers, none of them can enter the Boston Marathon without running another marathon in the previous year and completing it fast enough to qualify. Here’s a closer look at what it takes to make Boston.
Boston Marathon Qualifying Times
The highly competitive field of the Boston Marathon is maintained by qualifying times. This means that in order to enter, you must run a certified qualifying marathon and finish within a specified time. Times are based on the age you will be on the day of the Boston Marathon, with 18 as the youngest age allowed to enter.
Standards are set by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the organization that puts on the race each year. This table shows the current Boston qualifying times by age and gender, and these are subject to updates each year.
Source: 2024 Boston Marathon Qualifying Times by Boston Athletic Association.
The times shown here are minimums, meaning that you must prove a finishing time at least this fast in order to even register for Boston, but registration does not guarantee entry. Because the race typically receives interest that exceeds capacity, cut-off times are set each year to narrow the field of entrants.
The possibility of a cut-off time means that you may actually need to run several minutes faster than your age group’s qualifying time in order to secure your spot at Boston. You won’t know the cut-off time when you submit your registration, however. These times are set only as needed, or when the number of registrations exceeds the predetermined capacity for the race.
Cut-off times have been imposed in most years since 2012, and they have varied from just over one minute to nearly eight minutes faster than the posted qualifying times. The 2024 Boston Marathon proved to be the most competitive field to date, with 11,039 qualifiers not accepted because they did not meet the 5:29 cut-off time. Considering this trajectory, qualifying for 2025 could be even tougher, so start your training now!
How to Register for the Boston Marathon
As you can tell, signing up for the Boston Marathon is not a decision you can make on a whim. You’ll need to plan far ahead — training to run a qualifying time, finishing a qualifying race within the specified timeframe, and then making sure you don’t miss the narrow registration window.
Mark your calendar. Registration opens in early September each year, on a Monday. Stay tuned to the BAA’s Boston Marathon registration website and social media channels for official announcements, as the date can vary each year and registration closes within a week, usually on the following Friday.
The Boston Marathon’s qualifying window refers to the dates during which you must run another marathon and make the time standard for eligibility. The qualifying window is usually the 12 months before the close of the registration period for any given year.
As an example, the registration window for 2024’s Boston Marathon opened on Monday, September 11 and closed on Friday, September 15. All 30,000+ entrants (and those who didn’t end up making cut-off) had to submit applications during these five days, and they must have completed their qualifying race on or after September 1, 2022.
Boston Marathon Qualifying Races
As if the logistics of qualifying and registering for the Boston Marathon weren’t enough, you must also make sure that you complete a certified marathon — in a fast enough time — in order to be eligible for Boston. The good news is that many marathon events fit the criteria, so you can likely find a Boston Qualifier in a city near you.
Boston Athletic Association does not expressly list what marathons count as qualifiers, rather, the race must be certified by USA Track and Field or another national or international body for distance running. If you aren’t sure that a particular race qualifies, you should check directly with the race organizers and ask if the event meets the BAA’s criteria for marathon certification.
Boston Marathon Training Tips
If you want to run the Boston Marathon, earning your Boston qualifying time is the number one step you have to take. This means running a very competitive marathon time in the year leading up to Boston’s registration window, and of course that is easier said than done. Here are some training tips to help achieve your qualifier and get ready for Boston’s legendary course.
Allow yourself at least two chances to qualify in case you don’t make your time on the first try. This means planning for more than one race within 12 months, perhaps one in the spring and one in the fall.
Timing is everything! Make sure you schedule your races inside the qualifying window for the year that you wish to run Boston. Also try to spread them out with enough time to train, recover, and then train again leading up to the April race.
Embrace hill work in your marathon training. Heartbreak Hill gets all the attention, but it’s far from the only climb along Boston’s undulating course.
Study the course of the Boston Marathon so that you know what to expect. If you can, consider traveling to Boston to see it for yourself and to discover everything that this amazing running city has to offer.
Join a marathon training club in your community, or better yet, join a running club in Boston if you live close enough to train there.
Most importantly, remember that qualifying for Boston is an achievement in itself. Even if you don't make it to the starting line this year, the journey will transform you into a stronger, more confident runner, and you’ll get to check off other marathons along the way.