Every marathon is exactly the same distance—26.2 miles. And yet many hard core marathoners covet the Boston Marathon more than any other. It’s not because Boston’s is notably prettier, more fun, more challenging, or otherwise better than New York’s or LA’s or Chicago’s marathons (all of which draw runners from all over the world). Boston’s secret is simple—they reject runners who aren’t fast enough.
Hal Higdon, longtime Runner's World magazine contributor and the author of the best-selling "Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide," explains the Boston Marathon’s allure in the documentary “The Spirit of the Marathon.”
When I first started running Boston we had, I think, 150 runners in the race. Gradually through the 1960s, the numbers of runners started to grow. By the end of that decade, I think we were up to about 1,000. And they sought a way to limit the field, and they put on standards that began with, I think, you had to have run a previous marathon in four hours. That, they figured, would limit the field. And then they started cutting it down to 3 ½ hours, 3 hours, and the more they raised the challenge, the more interested runners became in meeting that challenge. So, without realizing it, they had made their race much more popular by making it more difficult to get into.”
That’s surprisingly similar to the allure of the most prestigious colleges.
Telling lots of people, "You're out" just makes more people want in. It’s true for night clubs, dinner parties, colleges, and even marathons. I know that not every college is the same. I know that people who go to Harvard or Yale or Duke will tell you that they couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else, just like runners who finish Boston will tell you nothing could match that experience. But whether you run a “sub-3” marathon in Boston or Toledo doesn’t matter—you’re pretty damn fast. And if you work hard, find subjects that interest you, make contributions to activities you enjoy, treat people right, and keep doing those things once you get to college, you’re going to be a pretty damn successful college graduate no matter where you went to school.