9 Ways to Run a Boston Qualifying Time

Runners cross the finish line of the 2023 Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon® is the world’s oldest organized marathon, which explains part of the event’s prestige. Add in the notoriously difficult qualifying process, and runners are clamoring left and right to claim their “BQ” (Boston-qualifying time) and earn their unicorn.

Running a BQ allows you to experience many iconic moments, from running through the eardrum-shattering Wellesley Scream Tunnel, trekking up the notorious Heartbreak Hill and making that long awaited “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” in the final 800 meters of the course.

In order to gain entry into the Boston Marathon®, you must have either run a qualifying time within the qualifying window, or have committed to fundraising with one of the race’s charity partners. Neither path of entry is easy, as runners must either meet stringent time standards or raise at least $5,000 dollars (although some organizations require more). If fundraising for a charity is more your speed, check out these six tips for fundraising like a pro.

If you have your sights set on time qualifying for the Boston Marathon®, here are nine tips to help you run a BQ:

1. Start short

When aiming for a Boston-qualifying time, 26.2 is the magic number. But starting short and working your way up can help you approach the goal in bite-size pieces. For example, if you want to run a sub-3:30 marathon, how long should it take you to complete a half marathon race? This VDOT calculator can help you determine appropriate goals for shorter distances as you work your way up to a BQ 26.2.

Runners cross a timing mat at the 2023 Boston Marathon.

2. Select a Boston-qualifying race

Now that you’re ready to go for a Boston-qualifying time, it’s time to choose where to do it. When choosing a marathon, be sure that the race is on a USATF-certified course. According to the B.A.A., they only accept times “from USATF, AIMS or foreign equivalent certified courses.” Most races will advertise this on their website but, if not, it’s best to reach out to the race directly to make sure.

You also want to be certain the race course is conducive to a PR. Think about both the weather and the elevation. Choose a race that typically has good weather, although this is becoming more and more unpredictable due to climate change. Races in late fall or early spring have less risk of being too warm.

If you struggle on hills, pick a flat course. If you live somewhere hilly and aren’t used to the repetitive motion of running on a constant flat, consider a course with some gentle rolling hills. FindMyMarathon.com has a large database of marathon courses ranked by their “PR score,” a combination of course elevation and median weather.

3. Get faster by joining a Fleet Feet Training Program

Runners huddle up before a training run.

Training by yourself will only get you so far. Joining a Fleet Feet Training Program will not only give you access to an experienced coach, it will provide you with the accountability and companionship needed to stick to your training schedule and run faster than ever. Plus, who doesn’t love grabbing brunch with your running buddies after a Saturday long run?

Running with others is a proven source of motivation. Researchers found that when you work out with someone you perceive as better or more fit than you, you will increase the time and intensity of your exercise by 200 percent.You may even find other runners with the same Boston-qualifying goals as you!

4. Add strength training to your routine

You can make huge strides in your running by making gains at the gym. Strength training helps you increase your power and speed, improve your balance and endurance and even prevent common running injuries.

You don’t need any fancy supplements or equipment to get started, in fact, you don’t even need a gym membership. Check out our strength training guide for some quick and simple moves you can do at home.

5. Focus on nutrition and hydration

A runner holds up a glass of Nuun.

Now that you’re in the full swing of training, it’s more important than ever to focus on nutrition and hydration. It’s also easier than ever to forget about nutrition and hydration and reach for whatever’s quickest and easiest when you’re tired from those grueling training sessions.

Planning and preparing your meals and snacks ahead of time can help you refuel after your workouts by minimizing the energy needed to put something together post-run. Getting enough fluids is also important to keep your body working optimally and reduce fatigue. Get in the habit of drinking a glass of water every morning when you wake up. Eight hours is a long time for the body to go without water, and kick-starting your morning hydration will help your body’s natural detoxification system to operate effectively.

Check out our hydration guide to learn more.

6. Make time for recovery

Training for a marathon is understandably hard work for your muscles. Give them some TLC with regular foam rolling sessions, self-massage and lots of stretching.

Regular massage can help release tension, improve blood flow, avoid potential injuries and keep your muscles optimized for running. Learn more about incorporating self massage into your training here.

A man holds a massage gun up to his quad muscle.

7. Select your race-day shoes

Your race-day shoes are like your secret weapon. Racing shoes are designed to be as lightweight and as propulsive as possible thanks to hyper-responsive foams and snappy carbon plates that return energy with every stride.

Just like choosing running shoes, choosing racing shoes is highly individualized. Maybe you prefer a firmer platform as you’re running faster, or perhaps you like a softer midsole for maximum comfort over long distances. Trying the shoes on at your local Fleet Feet can help you narrow down your search. Be sure to check out our list of the best carbon-fiber plated running shoes to learn more about the options out there.

8. Don’t underestimate your sports bra

Ladies, this one’s for you. You probably know that sports bras are an essential piece of gear, but perhaps you didn't know that finding the proper fit can help improve your running economy.

This 2024 study found that “respiratory function may become compromised by the pressure exerted by the underband of a sports bra.” A too-tight sports bra can “impair breathing mechanics during exercise and influence whole-body metabolic rate.” In other words, if your bra is too tight you’ll be exerting more energy taking shallower, more frequent breaths.

Fleet Feet offers expert bra-fitting to ensure you’re in the right size. Check out this article about how sports bras should fit.

9. Switch up your routine

A man smiles while running on a dirt trail.

Research has shown that continually participating in the same exercise over time can hinder your progress and reduce your motivation. To combat this during the long, endless miles of marathon training, switch up your normal routine every few weeks. Try a new strength class at the gym, or a new cross-training regimen. Run with a new group, or try out a new route. If you mostly stick to road running, try out a local trail. Jump into a local 5K race and use it as an easy run or a tempo workout (July 4th, Thanksgiving, and St. Patty’s Day are common times for fun, themed races).

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