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How do you know for sure if the marathon you plan to run is certified, so that you can use it to qualify for Boston? (BQ = Boston Qualifier) The home page of the San Francisco Marathon suggests that its course is “USATAF certified and is a Boston Marathon qualifying race,” but that race fails to appear on the list of certified marathons on the Web site of the Boston Athletic Association.
It is my impression that almost all the major and semi-major marathons in the US, if not all over the world, have certified courses and provide accurate results, usually available online. (I continue to be amazed at the dedication of those who manage our sport.) All this joint effort allows the BAA to confirm that those attempting to gain entry have properly qualified. The list you refer to on the BAA website actually offers only the 25 marathons “most frequently used to qualify…based on the number of accepted entrants.” A race halfway around the world might have only a single entered qualifier, so it would not make even the deepest of lists.
As for certification, it is a procedure that guarantees that the marathon course has been properly measured by an experienced measurer, usually on a bicycle equipped with a revolution counter, so that marathon is at least the full 26 mile 385 yards (or 42.195 kilometers) as advertised. If you want to determine whether San Francisco, or any other marathon within the United States, has been properly certified, USATF (USA Track & Field) offers a searchable link online. AIMS, the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, fulfills a similar function for marathons around the world, although I failed to find access to any lists when I surfed around its website.
Believe me, the BAA takes its responsibility seriously, very seriously, and so too do most race directors. There probably are a few rogue marathons without certification among the approximately 500 held each year around the world, but I suspect they are very much in the minority. If in doubt, the BAA suggests that you contact the marathon you hope to run to determine whether its course is certified by either USATF or AIMS and thus can assure you a BQ—if you run fast enough.