To assess the validity of Boston Marathon qualifying (BMQ) standards for men and women.
Percent differences between BMQ and current world records (WR) by sex and age group were computed. WR was chosen as the criterion comparison because it is not confounded by intensity, body composition, lifestyle, or environmental factors. A consistent difference across age groups would indicate an appropriate slope of the age-vs-BMQ curve. Inconsistent differences were corrected by adjusting BMQ standards to achieve a uniform percentage difference from WR.
BMQ standards for men were consistently ~50% slower than WR (mean 51.5% ± 1.4%, range 49.6–54.4%), thus demonstrating acceptable validity. However, BMQ standards for women indicated convergence with WR as age increased (mean 45.8% ± 13.7%, range 17.5–58.9%). The women’s BMQ standards were revised to yield a consistent 50% deviation from WR across age groups (50.9% ± 0.8%, range 49.2–52.2%). Applied to all 16,773 women in the 2012 Chicago Marathon, the suggested BMQ standards would lead to a 4.90% success rate, compared with 8.39% using the current standard. This compared with a 9.6% success rate for all 20,681 men of the same race.
The current women’s BMQ standards appear too lenient for women 18–54 y and too strict for women 55–80 y but yield equitable gender representation in percentage of qualifiers. The current men’s and suggested women’s BMQ standards appear valid but would lead to approximately 40% fewer women achieving BMQ standards.