Marathoners Go to Sioux Falls for Spot on Boston Starting Line

Barry Williamson missed qualifying for next year’s Boston Marathon by 10 seconds at a race in June. He is now spending about $600 to travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to give it another shot.

“That 10 seconds is costing me a lot,” Williamson, of Rosemount, Minnesota, said in an interview.

Williamson, 51, is among the runners on a quest to book a place in the April race. The annual 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boston has taken on a renewed significance after fatal bombings halted this year’s marathon with 5,633 runners still on the course.

The Sioux Falls Marathon, in its fourth year, will attract about 700 runners, up from 350 last year, according to Wes Hall, executive director of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, which stages the race. The race is Sept. 8; the deadline to qualify for Boston is Sept. 22.

The demand led Hall to add about 900 volunteers and spend $2,500 for a “pace team” of about 15 runners in an effort to assist those seeking Boston qualifying times.

“For a race our size, to put that amount of money out there, when we don’t have the budget for it, it’s a little bit of a sacrifice,” said Hall, 33. “But I think it will be for the benefit of a lot of people.”

As the Sioux Falls race has approached, Hall said he has received numerous phone calls and e-mails from runners verifying that the course is certified by USA Track & Field, a requirement for a runner’s time to count for a Boston spot.

Unlike other races, Boston -- the world’s oldest annual marathon -- requires general-entry runners to meet qualifying time standards based on their age. Organizers made it more difficult for this year’s race, the first change since 1990, toughening standards by five minutes for all ages.

First Chance

Runners with the fastest qualifying times are given the first opportunity to register. The increased interest for the 2014 race could make it even more difficult to gain entry, and Hall realized that his race would take on added significance.

“We heard people saying ‘this is probably my last chance,’” he said. “If this is what they want to accomplish, we’re going to do everything we can to try to make that a reality for people.”

After running in Boston every year from 2007-12, Williamson, a grounds crew worker for Delta Air Lines Inc. who has completed 33 marathons, didn’t make the lineup this year, leaving him at home when two bombs exploded close to the downtown finish line of the Boston Athletic Association’s signature race. Three people were killed and more than 200 were injured.

“I have a close connection to Boston,” said Williamson, who finished Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 22 in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 10 seconds, just shy of the required time. “I have a need to get back. It seems as though I want this one as much as I wanted the first one.”

Automatic Entry

Because of the bombings, runners who were unable to finish were granted automatic entry into next year’s race. Their inclusion will increase the field to about 36,000 runners, according to the Boston Globe. The exact number has yet to be announced by race organizers. A record 36,748 runners started the centennial race in 1996. Approximately 500,000 spectators line the route, organizers said.

Like Sioux Falls, other smaller marathons around the U.S. have seen increased interest because of the bombings, race directors said.

Mike Calley, who has organized the Pocatello Marathon in Pocatello, Idaho, since 2005, said he expects to attract 500 runners for this year’s race on Aug. 31, up slightly from 473 last year.

“Immediately following Boston, we had a big spike in our registrations,” Calley, 48, said. “I got a lot of calls to my house asking if our race was a Boston qualifier.”

Downhill Race

The Pocatello race, which has a starting elevation at 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level and drops 1,500 feet before runners reach the finish line, averaged 19 registration per day in the week following the Boston bombings, up from an average of 5 per day, Calley said.

“What happened in Boston united the running community,” he said. “Next year is going to be a pretty special event.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.