What Are The Qualifications To Be An Elite Runner?

If you run for any amount of time and for even the people that don't run, you've probably seen, heard of and maybe watched in the Olympics, the elite runners and you wonder what are the qualifications to be an elite runner?
What Are The Qualifications To Be An Elite Runner?


If you run for any amount of time and for even the people that don't run, you've probably seen, heard of and maybe watched in the Olympics, the elite runners and you wonder what are the qualifications to be an elite runner?

I'm Jesse Funk, this is a show I call Runner's High, where we talk about everything running. If you haven't billed me here before hit the Subscribe button, stick around with me for more episodes every Tuesday and Thursday, where we cover the entire gamut and experience of what it means to be an endurance athlete or specifically a runner most of the time.

We want to talk about what it takes to be an elite runner. What are the qualifications to become an elite runner?

This is something that's actually a little tough to define. So if you've been on the channel before, you know a little bit of my back story. You know that I ran at what was at the time an NAIA school, now NCAA Division IIo.

So I was not really in a place to become an elite runner. Decent times for average Joe running like high 15s before injuries kind of caught up with me. My senior year couldn't get any faster than that, which is a awesome time for many, many people. But it is nowhere near what you might see like Olympic caliber.

I didn't want to stop there, so I figured, Hey, I've always been good at, you know, above average at many sports so why don't we just combine them together? And maybe it'll be a good thing. So I pursued triathlon and I wanted to be a professional in triathlon.

Triathlon, unlike running, actually has set qualifications that say You are a pro now and you'll get like a nice card. This is actually my USA Triathlon membership card, which is now expired since I've come back to running.

But there's an actual qualification process, a license that you hold to be a professional triathlon where, among other things, you can finish top three at qualifying events like the National Championship, World Championships, top five worlds. At one of these draft legal events, they're very fun if you're in a triathlon.

Running, on the other hand, doesn't really have that. It's on a case by case basis as to whether you qualify for the elite field. So I want to talk about what that means in a couple of different contexts.

So I want to use two races, one you're going to know very well and one you might know, but they kind of show two different classes of elite runners or elite qualifications. So there are many, many races that you go to; we're going to speak about marathons in particular. There are going to be ways to qualify as elite in other categories, but it gets more complicated.

So this is the easiest to compare apples to apples. So we're going to talk about marathon times.

There are races you can go to that don't have prize money or maybe have a small amount of prize money and don't ever have an official elite field, but often the more prestigious the races and the more money is offered, the more often it's going to be cut out where there is an elite field.

And the reason at least I believe, since I'm not getting this straight from the race director's mouth is because you want to make sure that people contending for overall spots are not stuck behind and getting a disadvantage. You want them all together so that they can equal start.

You have a cut off time to allow them to race together and then at the front and then you have the rest of the race behind them. So there's no trying to cut around people or getting jarred and elbowed anything like that at the start, you try to make the start as fair as possible.

Now I want to talk to you about first what it takes to qualify at we'll call like a regional elite kind of race. So we're going to talk about the Missoula, Montana Marathon. The also will have a half and a 5K.

They have a very competitive field across the board. Now, if you want to qualify for the elite field in Missoula, which has a first prize of a thousand dollars and then on down from there for several places, they also have extra prizes or primes for setting course records, beating certain times, all that kind of thing, even if you don't win or place in the top three or five, whatever it is.

At Missoula for the men you have to have a personal best or personal record within the last two years of two and a half hours, and for women of three hours. It can be any time in the last two years, but it's going to have to be a USATF certified course, a USA track and field certified course.

If you send that to the race director, you should be able to get into that elite field and compete for that prize money.

Now, does that mean that you're ready to go to the Olympics? Probably not, because remember, this is like a smaller field. So if more people are going to show up, then the qualifications are probably going to tighten a bit. So let's talk about the elephant in the room. I know you want to know what are the qualifications for that field.

And that race, of course, is Boston. Well, we have a qualifying time just for the amateurs to run. It is very competitive. And I would argue one of the most prestigious marathons around. I don't think many people would argue with me on that, but if you would, I guess leave it in the comments below and then I'll delete your comments.

No, I won't delete your comments, but you can leave the argument down below if you don't think it is.

So if you look at the field in the qualifying times that allowed them to be there, this is kind of on average they vary a bit above and below these lines. But the men's field, the qualifying time for Boston, the elite field roughly two hours, 10 minutes, getting some faster or some a little bit slower, but right in that range. And then for the women, about 2:20.

So you can see that when we go from by regional elite to much more competitive elite field, the time shrinks down a ton and dropping 20 minutes off of your marathon time is no joke. You remember Missoula? We're going to go from two 30 for the men to roughly two 10 in Boston or for the women.

They have an even steeper curve from three hours down to about 2:20, you've gotta drop 40 minutes off. I mean, you think about that, that's roughly a minute and a half per mile doing that math in my head real quick. I know that's not exact. For the men it's going to be just under a minute and mile.

That's I mean, that's a sharp curve.

You may be able to run as an elite in some fields, but you may simply not be good enough to run as an elite in other fields because people are simply better than you.

The vast majority of us, including myself, we'll never have this problem. But it is interesting to see the dynamics and what it means to be an elite runner because it depends on the context, right?

And some, you know, I've raced in elite amateur fields for triathlon. Those are basically the guys and girls at the top of the amateur field trying to get to that professional license. And that's where I feel like some of these kind of regional elite fields sit. It's like elite amateur versus the Boston situation, where no, those are the elites that are showing up. Those are the people that are going to be really competing for top spots. You know, going to be competing at Olympic qualifying, all those kind of things.

So context is very, very important. When you're trying to figure out what does it mean to be an elite and how do I qualify? So do you have any questions for me about running, running culture, anything running related or endurance related leave them down in the comments below? Love to do video just for you.

I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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