After experiencing a tragic and truncated end to the 2013 Boston Marathon, race organizers were faced not only with grief but with hundreds of administrative decisions, including plans for the 2014 race – an event beloved by Bostonians and people around the world.
One of the issues they faced was what to do about the nearly 6,000 runners who were unable to complete the 2013 race. The Boston Athletic Association, the event’s organizers, quickly pledged to provide official finish times for these runners. Thinking ahead, they also had to consider how to provide these runners with an opportunity to qualify for the 2014 race.
To seek advice on these issues, they contacted Richard Smith, a statistician and marathon runner at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and director of the Statistical and Applied Mathematics Sciences Institute (SAMSI) based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. They asked Smith to come up with a statistical procedure for predicting each runner’s likely finish time based on their pace up to the last checkpoint before they had to stop.
“Once I got their email,” said Smith, “of course I knew I had to help them.” Smith already knew the organizers, as a result of a previous occasion when he provided advice related to the event’s qualifying times.