First off, I got in the Boston Marathon and am darn happy about it. Their website crashed and sputtered. I cursed a lot. But, I got through Monday morning and though I didn't know it at the time, my problems with registering were pretty minuscule compared to what others went through.
Seven or so hours later, the race was filled. Compare this to last year when it took two months and people flipped out about that. And I compare that to four or five years ago when I can remember a friend registering for Boston after qualifying for it two months prior and with no worries. Ah, the salad days.
So... what gives?
I asked around about that and the common answer in one form or another was this: The hype. Mass hysteria and panic that it was going to fill up served as a positive feedback mechanism for the inevitable mad rush to get in before the cap was reached. I bought in, and so did others. The result: Bam! Record setting fill-up time.
The field limit is still the same. The qualifying standards are still the same. I'd venture to guess the number of those that did BQ this past year really wasn't significantly more compared to recent years either. But the drum beating that the race was going to fill up quick was not the same. How much did the race director play in that? Hard to say for sure, but there is now a huge mess for him to clean up and a lot of unhappy people to deal with.
What helped accelerate it? Simple. Social media. Enter Facebook and Twitter, where information is dispersed quickly and efficiently, primarily from peers that we trust and pay more attention to than other information outlets. In my opinion, there is no way this level hype would have been possible without it. Send out tweets or status updates that it'll fill up fast, and people will flock in droves. Your friends and family will pass along the word, adding in their own concerns along the way.
Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed to see the Mt. Desert Island Marathon going this route. The race filled up this year over the summer, which was faster than ever. And I love this race to death, but this morning they were sending out tweets and status updates threatening that the race would be filling up very soon like Boston did:
"The 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in a few hours on Monday and we're right behind them. Don't wait or you'll miss our 1)th [sic] edition, it's gonna be epic! WE PROMISE!"
Okay, now that is just flat out beating the drum. No doubt this race will now fill up very soon as a result, but is it ethical to start a fire in your own crowded theater? This rushes people into the decision making process for the sake of filling up your own race quicker and the hype was happening even before the registration for MDI opened, so it makes me wonder.
Going back to Boston, as a result of the quick fill-up and people not getting in as a result, an ugliness has ensued. Check the Boston Marathon's Facebook page and you'll see. People are looking for scapegoats, and one target has been charity runners. Some are very harshly saying Boston should do away with that group to allow more slots for BQ'ers, but when you consider the charity runners numbers, it's stupid to blame them. I've heard 1350 spots are given to charity runners... not a big impact. And c'mon, it's charity for crying out loud. Where's your heart?!
People who got in the Boston Marathon because they are affiliated with a business that sponsors the event in some way? Well, a bit more of a fair target there, but hey, if a business or organization sponsors in some way, they deserve a few slots.
If you must blame someone, blame the hype machine. Blame social media. Blame Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and everything else. That's what really caused it.
Someone has to drive it. I hope more race directors will use more caution in the future for everyone's sake. There are better ways to bring people to your races. Intentional or not, I think Boston might have learned this lesson the hard way.