For the first time in the 127-year history of the Boston Marathon, pregnant runners will be allowed to defer their race qualification until one of the next two years, the Boston Athletic Association announced earlier this year.
The change comes after pushback from the B.A.A. refusing to allow Fiona English, a 34-year-old runner from the UK, to defer her race once she found out she was pregnant and due to give birth just days before this year’s race.
On Jan. 20, English posted an open letter to the B.A.A. on Instagram, writing that she was met with “the coldest brick wall ever” by the B.A.A., who rejected her request to defer her race and that withdrawing from the race would mean she would have to requalify for the marathon.
Four days later on Jan. 24, the B.A.A. announced changes to their pregnancy policy, saying “pregnancy and postpartum deferrals of entries will now be available for registered participants at all B.A.A. events, including the Boston Marathon.”
According to the B.A.A. website, any athlete that becomes pregnant prior to race day and chooses to not participate in the event has the option to defer their race to the subsequent two races. The B.A.A. also is offering postpartum deferrals for the 24 weeks following the birth of a child.
Caitlyn Germain, a runner from Spencer, MA, said in both 2015 and 2017 — prior to the Boston Marathon — she became pregnant. Germain posted on social media about the lack of a deferment option and was met by many in the running community saying “it is what it is.”
Germain said she is “very happy” with the change in policy made by the B.A.A. but said she thinks the decision was made in response to backlash and not a full understanding of its value.
“I don’t think they made the decision because they fully have wrapped their head around the importance of it or fully taken into full consideration what a woman’s body goes through and the sacrifices that we go through,” Germain said. “I hope that over time that can be in the forefront of their minds with making decisions like that.”
Edith Zuschmann is the CEO, president and co-founder of 261 Fearless, a global women’s running network founded by Zuschmann and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. Zuschmann said the change in policy is a “very important signal” for women’s running going forward.
“Each female runner is an inspiration for another woman, and these big races have the opportunity to [share stories],” Zuschmann said. “I think there is always room to improve, to continue conversations … and to use the opportunity to understand the different needs.”
Zuschmann said the new policy takes the pressure off women and believes it will encourage more women to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon without the fear of training, registering and not being able to run come race day.
“We have to be very honest, the B.A.A. has done a lot with their planning, especially for our organization,” Zuschmann said. “Looking back at the last few years, there was really a lot of highlighting in celebration of women running.”
Despite welcoming the new policy, Germain wishes the B.A.A. goes a step further and allows for the option to defer for injuries and not just pregnancy, something other races like the New York City Marathon and the London Marathon allow.
“I think that I would like to see us head in the direction of honoring what our bodies are able to do,” Germain said.
According to the 2023 Boston Marathon participant agreement, “deferment for entry into next year’s race will not be accepted for any reason.” The page has not been updated to reflect the change in policy regarding pregnancy and postpartum deferrals.
“I really, really just want my daughters to have what I didn’t have, for them,” Germain said, “time off and time to respect their body and their needs — emotional and physical.”