Readers Roundtable: Should the Boston Marathon Allow Deferrals for Pregnancy?

boston or no boston?
It’s the first day of registration for the 122nd Boston Marathon, scheduled for April 16, 2018. Starting at 10 a.m. EST today, Sept. 11, 2017, runners who exceeded their qualifying time by 20 minutes can sign up. Those who ran at least 10 minutes faster than their qualifying time can begin registering on Wednesday. If spaces remain, those who beat their time by 5 minutes can register on Friday, and on Saturday registration will open to all who hit their time.

The qualifying window has been open for nearly an entire year, and seven months until Marathon Monday means there is a lot of time for life to get in the way of some runners’ big Boston goals. Imagine, for instance, that you were to find out between now and then that you were pregnant.

Like many races, Boston does not offer deferrals to runners for any reason, including pregnancy. If you register and find out the next day that you’re pregnant? You’re SOL, sister. Found out two weeks after your qualifier that you’re due mid-October? You can roll the dice and hope you’re ready in April, or skip 2018 and try to qualify again later.

Sure, we all remember that lady who ran the Chicago Marathon and gave birth hours later, but that is the exception, not the rule. If you’ve been trying to qualify for years, which is not uncommon, a pregnancy could put off your chances of being fit enough to qualify again for months or even years.

The BAA might think its one-size-fits-all policy is fair — but since only 45% of last year’s field can possibly become pregnant, is that actually the case? After all, if a man gets a woman pregnant, his body will not be affected, nor would his ability to race come April 16.

Tell us what you think:

  • Is the BAA’s no deferrals for any reason policy fair?
  • Should women be able to defer their Boston marathon if they find out they’re pregnant after registering? What about women who qualify and find out they’re pregnant before registration?

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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  1. While it would have been very helpful to me to defer this last year for pregnancy, my current post-baby shape argues against it. I ran a 3:23 just before getting pregnant. Last weekend, I ran a TOUGH 4:07. Post-partum me isn’t a Boston qualifier. Yet.

    The qualifier is supposed to be an indicator of your time since it is supposed to be a competitive field. Your start place is determined by that registration time. Deferring would throw off the planning and crowd up the already congested start.

        1. It’s listed on the link you sent. It has to be a permanent condition with physical, intellectual/adaptive, or visual disability that impacts the individual’s ability to ambulate. A short list is MS, Stroke, TBI, cancer…there isn’t actually a list of medical conditions but impairments, so if your condition has one of the 10 impairments then you qualify for entry under the athletes with disabilities program. They still have a qualifying time to meet (6 hours for all impairments except 8 hours for artificial limb). And I wasn’t comparing pregnancy to a permanent disability, but just pointing out there is already a program to address individuals with certain health conditions.

          1. Certain chronic health conditions under a disability program that renders them incapable of competing on the same level with able bodied athletes forever. I would never put pregnancy into this same category… as it is temporary, can usually be controlled in terms of timing, and is a choice.

  2. Personally I say no to this for a lot of reasons.

    Each pregnancy is different, each woman is different, there are way too many factors that would make this unrealistic policy. How do you prove it? What if you heaven forbid have a loss? When is the cutoff? What trimester do you need to be in?

    I also say that it would not be fair to men who wouldn’t be able to defer, even though they may have a wife pregnant at home….

    What about women who can’t have kids or don’t want kids? Does this provide women a chance to take advantage of the system (come on, we all know there are people who would as much as we wish it weren’t true) and say they are pregnant if their training isn’t going well? Getting pregnant is a preventable CHOICE. As someone who ran boston 5 weeks pregnant last year, I would never have expected or asked Boston to defer my entry because of MY CHOICE and MY LIFE.

    There are just way too many variables. At the end of the day Boston isn’t your hometown marathon you can register the day before the race- there are people who get shut out, there are people who work for years to qualify, and it’s not as simple as yes/no. With registration so far in advance of the race we all have to either plan really well for our lives during that time, or take the risk that something may come up that could affect our race.

  3. Oh man, I didn’t expect to be the outlier here! When I initially pitched this question as a reader’s roundtable, I was thinking more of the women who become pregnant between qualifying and registration.

    Here’s why I think there should be a deferral option: Boston is a *big* deal for a lot of people. Some people work for years and are only able to eek out one qualifier ever. There may not be another chance. And I think not allowing maternity-related deferrals encourages unnecessary risk taking by women.

    I’d argue two points made below: one, that deferrals would further congest the start — I’d wager there are a lot of pregnant women and new moms who toe the line in Hopkington running much slower than their qualifying time. Second, that there are no deferrals for the trials, Olympics, or world champs … those don’t happen every year so there’s a much larger window for planning, being pregnant, and recovering. But even more so, at least one Olympian recently said she had an abortion two weeks before the 2008 Olympics. The decision-making process is a lot different at that level, I think, and it’s comparing apples and oranges.

    All that said … I have no idea what the process would look like. I also haven’t given a lot of thought to other medical deferrals, either.

    1. If you really want to run Boston, but can’t do so the year you qualified for and are unable to BQ for the following year, you can always join a charity.

    2. If you allow pregnancy deferrals I feel like you would have to allow medical/injury deferrals and I feel like that is where it gets grey. how do you prove it? What stops people from saying they are injured if training isn’t going well or something in life comes up that prevents them from being able to run. People are shut out of Boston every year- if you take one of the spots, you are willingly accepting that you earned the spot, you are going to either use that spot or lose it just like others lost out. I feel like allowing a deferral for one thing just opens the doors for too many other conflicts- so best to just have a no deferral policy.

      RT the some women may only qualify once- so then be diligent about birth control for the 6 months or what not if that is the choice or priority you want to make. Some men may only ever qualify once, but they couldn’t defer if their wife were due around the race or something. No it doesn’t affect them physically but doesn’t mean having a kid doesn’t affect them or their schedule/training/life (but yes, not even as close to as much as the woman).

      You sign up in September knowing things could happen- we all register with that in mind. There are a million things that can happen during that time both preventable and not (pregnancy, injury, job changes, death in family, family illness, moving, natural disaster etc…..all of these could affect someone running Boston even if it’s their only chance to run the race)

    3. Nope. Not unless they are going to allow medical deferments, otherwise it’s giving women special treatment for something that in most cases is an option.

      I ran Boston last year when the Run Gia Run blogger “controversy” broke out, where she argued it was fair for her to have had her friend run a BQ under her name because she had to miss Boston ’15 due to pregnancy. This is a sore point for me … I submitted my Boston registration on the same day that a MRI confirmed I was to be confined to a boot for 6 weeks and off running for 6 after that. Not going to Boston wasn’t an option because I didn’t/don’t know if I’ll ever qualify again. I would have loved to have been able to defer to ’17 instead of having to ramp up from 0 to marathon in 5 months.

  4. I’m a no. Besides the logistical issues including having to prove your pregnancy, I’m not comfortable with treating pregnant women like they need special accommodations. Pregnant women can run and even race in many cases. I do not see why pregnancy should afford a deferral over other life circumstances that might interfere with training and racing and I don’t think we need to assume women can’t make good choices for themselves and their children.

  5. No. you can’t start making exceptions for women being pregnant, then it will never stop! once an exception has been made for one thing it starts a shit storm of “well, there was an exception for this… why not for that” it never stops. if it’s not broken don’t fix it.!!!! sometimes things just need to be left alone and people just have to deal.

  6. I think it’s entirely up to the race. The Boston Marathon is a long running marathon and from what I’ve read and heard from friends, they run a great race and get things right. I feel like if deferrals are allowed for pregnancy, they should also be allowed for injuries. Then it opens the box to allow for other reasons (something “came up”). But Boston is a special case because you have to qualify, and so many who do qualify do not get in due to time cutoffs.

    As someone who has been injured twice in the last year and missed races, I am picky about what I sign up for and I always read deferral and transfer policies. I don’t run marathons and can’t BQ anyway, so I guess that doesn’t apply to me, but if a race is a half marathon and does not allow deferrals, transfers, drop-down in distance, etc, chances are I am not signing up.

    I know pregnancies don’t always happen as planned (heck, injuries are never planned), but when registration time comes around, if you’re planning on trying for a baby around that time or any time soon, maybe you should opt not to register so that someone else can have that spot. There will be other marathons and other chances to BQ and go. If there is an issue with the race’s policies for deferral- for any race- you do not have to sign up.

  7. I can see reasonable arguments both ways, but my personal instinct says no, for a lot of the same reasons other commenters have already raised. Professional athletes don’t get to defer the Olympics or world championships. Regular runners may get to defer for injury or some other reason, but that’s up to the race director.

    Also, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from running and having a family, it’s that literally no one can have it all *at the same time*. No, you cannot have a baby and PR at Boston 4 months later! Change your expectations for one or the other. That’s kind of an essential life lesson to learn. If you try to do it all and have it all, something has to give. I see runners trying to cram things in to fit their life timeframes – make the Olympic Trials before starting a family, accelerate a comeback from injury in time for a spring marathon, etc. – but really developing as a runner takes time and patience. I get it. We’re runners. We want to keep improving, to keep moving on to the next thing. There will never be an ‘enough’. But – there are no shortcuts in running.

  8. No. Exceptions never end. It’s how our tax code got so screwed up. There are many legit and sad reasons why people could deserve a deferment and allowing any is going to cause a never ending debate over the merits of all of them.