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Why Does the BQ Still Matter?

Over the last 12 years, this evolved into a goal not just centered around my individual pursuits, but to also help increase representation of runners of color.
Words by Emilia Benton
Photography by Johnny Zhang

I’ve been a runner since I was a 16-year-old high school sophomore. While I was dedicated, my times were not fast enough to realistically pursue running competitively in college.

Still, I kept up with running for fitness in college in New York, running 20-30 miles most weeks. I ran my first half marathon at 21 with my twin sister, and after becoming more clued into the local racing scene, I qualified to run the 2010 New York City Marathon, which I completed as my first marathon at age 23, in a time of 4:09:22.

By then, I also was clued into the almost universal goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Being the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon for everyday runners, the age-graded time standards serve as a benchmark or challenge that many of us aspire to accomplish because while it’s clearly attainable, it’s certainly not an easy target for most of us to chase down. 

After completing my first marathon, I knew I wanted to pursue this milestone for myself. What I didn’t expect was for it to take 12 years, filled with many ups and downs, the added challenge of the qualifying times being tightened (from 3:40 to 3:30 for my now-former age group), and that I’d ultimately be running better than ever at almost 35 years old.

Over the last 12 years, I have run 10 more marathons, about 30 half marathons, and countless shorter-distance races. It took experiencing various injuries, long periods of burnout, and a lot of self-reflection to reconcile why the accomplishment of qualifying for Boston was still so important to me. Taking myself and my running too seriously nearly caused me to lose sight of why I run and race long distances, which is for enjoyment, a personal sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to unlock what I’m truly capable of.

The last two years have brought long-overdue conversations about racial injustice in this country, and have highlighted a lack of diversity and inclusion that is still largely prevalent in the running industry and community as a whole. These conversations led me to reevaluate why I do this and why it’s important to me. As someone who has spent my entire adult life living in Houston and New York City, two of the most diverse cities in the U.S., I am fortunate that, as a dark-skinned Peruvian-American Latina, I have never felt like I don’t belong as a runner, which is definitely not the case for a lot of people from minority backgrounds.

I have, however, had people express skepticism about my abilities and question my lofty goal to qualify for Boston, even during this past training season, which definitely indicated that I was in shape for it. I can’t help but wonder if this is partly because I don’t look like the majority of people lining up in Hopkinton every year. Despite the fact that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color do make up a significant percentage of the running community on a national level, and I personally know several who have made it to Boston every year, we are still largely underrepresented in prominent running spaces and events like the Boston Marathon.

This was the primary reason I wanted to put my goal out there this year and share the details of my training on social media. I wanted to show fellow Latinos and runners of color that we are not just worthy of being there on the trails and at the races, but that we’re capable and deserving of pursuing and achieving these lofty goals ourselves. I ended up qualifying in 3:30:14 at this year’s Houston Marathon, which was a 15-plus-minute personal best and well under my new age-group BQ requirement of 3:35. So, 13 years after I started this journey, I hope to be there in Hopkinton in 2023, proud and ready to race. If I was able to inspire just one other person who looks like me to aim for a BQ, then that will feel like a win.

You can follow Emilia’s journey as a writer and runner @emiliambenton.