At last: the long-awaited CARA 8+2 response blog post!
Several weeks ago now, the Chicago Area Runners Association announced a new program designed to provide CARA members with guaranteed entries into the oh-so prestigious Bank of America Chicago Marathon. At first blush (and by “first blush,” I mean “the general idea of CARA members receiving guaranteed access to the marathon.”), this sounded like a pretty sweet deal — after all, CARA formed as a reaction to decisions made by the Chicago Marathon (well before it was owned by the Bank of America) that weren’t in the best interest of runners: namely, a too-high registration fee and a too-late start time. Obviously, the two have since reconciled their differences, but by offering guaranteed race entries to the marathon, it would seem as if the marathon and CARA had, once and forever, put their past differences behind them and moved forward as more of a team.
Ah, but make no mistake: the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is owned by the Bank of America, and if there is anything at which banks excel, it’s fine print. Obviously the bank wouldn’t just give away thousands and thousands of entries to the race. Unsurprisingly, there are a host of qualifications you must meet to even be eligible to receive a guaranteed entry to the Chicago Marathon — the 2016 Chicago Marathon, mind you, not this year’s race.
– Run no less than 8 CARA Runners Choice Circuit races
– Place within the top five in your age group in no less than 8 CARA Runners Choice Circuit races or be The Chosen One (I assume, though I’m not 100% sure, that that also means the fastest one) on one of the top five club teams or be the top Clydesdale/Athena runner in your division or be The Chosen One from one of the top five corporate teams or be one of the top 10 participation runners (what exactly this means isn’t entirely clear) or be one of the top 10 long distance runners (what exactly this means isn’t entirely clear, either)
– Volunteer two times at either the 2015 Shamrock Shuffle, the 2015 Chicago Marathon, or both (in any capacity — you don’t necessarily have to volunteer on race day. You can help stuff packets, work the expo, etc.)
That’s a lotta fine print.
To me, this begged the question: does anyone fit these requirements? Or, more importantly, does anyone who fits these requirements already not have access to a guaranteed entry through time qualification? For those of you unfamiliar with the CARA Circuit, it draws fast runners. People come to these races to race. I, for one, know I’ll be pretty lucky to finish in the top 15 of my age group (thus earning myself points in the circuit competition) at a CARA Circuit race, never mind the top five.
Fortunately for me, the Internet exists, so I did a bit of research. (Shout out to CARA for publishing all of their age group results in complete detail and Athlinks/Active for filling in several necessary blanks.)
Now, this admittedly is not *entirely* fair, because the 8+2 program didn’t exist last year, and the impact the program has on Circuit participation has yet to be seen. However, based on last year’s results, 55 individuals placed fifth or higher at eight or more races on the Circuit. Of those 55, 36 did not already qualify for the Chicago Marathon based on a marathon time within the past two years. Of those 36 non-time qualifiers, a whopping 33 (92%) are over the age of 50.
While the fact that the vast majority of non-time qualifiers are over 50 didn’t necessarily surprise me, it did surprise me that this program caters to masters runners so significantly. I imagined the program would help fast runners more than anyone, and while it does, the primary benefactors are those over 50.
Something worth noting: I found when looking at race results for those who qualified for 8+2 based on finish places that almost every single runner older than 60 didn’t have a qualifying time for Chicago because he or she has not run a marathon in years. That means 27 runners of the 36 who “need” this program (75%) to get into the marathon most likely wouldn’t take advantage of it anyway, because their marathoning days are long over. If we take out the time-qualifiers (19) and those I’ve deemed, by age and past race results, to be unlikely to run another marathon (27), the total number of runners likely to benefit from this program, based on last year’s results, is…
Nine. This program helps nine people.
Now, this admittedly is not a perfect and complete picture. If we assume everyone from all the other categories (participation, long distance, etc.) takes advantage of this program, we’re looking at 49 guaranteed entries to the Chicago Marathon. However, I think it’s a *bit* of a stretch to make that assumption. “Participant” runners, for example, need to complete 10 races on the Circuit, and one could easily accomplish that without ever needing to run more than a 10K. Is someone who chooses to always run shorter races likely to want a Chicago Marathon entry? I don’t know for sure, of course, but my gut says no.
Another thing I think worth bringing up is the location of Circuit races. CARA schedules its Circuit races so that it hits up multiple locations in Chicagoland, which in and of itself is not a bad thing — unless you’re like me: a city-dweller with no car. Five races on this year’s Circuit take place within the city of Chicago, and two more are easily accessible by the CTA (though is anything really “easily accessible by the CTA” at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday? [No. No it is not.]). That means if you’re in my situation, you only even have the opportunity to run seven races, which isn’t enough to qualify based on your killer age group performance or based on participation.
I like the concept of this program, and I’m really curious to see how everything shakes out this year. But based on everything I’m seeing thus far, it seems like this is a pretty lousy way to try to get into the marathon. It doesn’t hurt anyone, of course, but it doesn’t seem to really benefit many people, either, and that makes me wonder why CARA and the marathon would even bother putting it together in the first place. But what do I know? Maybe this will be a game changer. Only time will tell, I suppose.
(One final thing I want to note: I find it unfair to compare 8+2 to NYRR’s 9+1, despite the obvious similarities in design [run lots of races + volunteer = guaranteed entry to a World Marathon Major]. NYRR owns the New York City Marathon [and several other races.]. CARA doesn’t own the Chicago Marathon [or any races other than the Lakefront 10.]. To organize 9+1, NYRR only needs to deal with itself. To organize anything with the Chicago Marathon, CARA has to work with an outside company, and good heavens, not just any company: they have to deal with the freaking Bank of America. CARA could never have a 9+1 identical to NYRR’s, because the necessary infrastructure [i.e., owning 10 races, including the Chicago Marathon] doesn’t exist.)
Broke the blogger rules and didn’t post a single picture. I’m sorry 😦