Lemming Effect Lives in Boston ... And Boise


Registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened today, exactly six months from the day the race will be run. With 21,000 entries available and strict qualifying time standards enforced, one might think there should be no need to rush to sign up. After all, many who intend to enter Boston haven't even qualified yet, because they're hoping to do so at the ING New York City Marathon next month, or maybe at the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in January 2011.

Personally, I was going to wait at least a month after running the Portland Marathon to let my resultant physiological and psychological pains retreat, and then see if Boston still seemed like a non-negoitable item on my bucket list. However, by early afternoon today, I read on a random Twitter post that a whopping 17,000 spots at Boston had already been claimed.

Could this be another case of the Lemming Effect? While the dot-com boom is a good example of this phenomenon, it generally refers to any situation in which people go along unquestionably with popular opinion or action even when there are potentially dangerous consequences. Basically, it enables entire segments of society to simultaneously lose its sense of judgement and do foolish things, like voluntarily experience the pain of running 26.2 miles again. By the way, although lemmings really do migrate in large groups, sometimes jumping off cliffs and into large bodies of water, it's usually not an act of mass suicide. Lemmings can swim.

So, feeling like a bit like a lemming (forced to take quick action by all the eager beaver runners out there who scurried to sign up for Boston the moment registration became available), I joined the crowd and submitted my entry before I was ready. But I can swim, too.

And it's a good thing, because a few hours after I signed up, I re-visited the Boston Marathon homepage, and discovered that the event had filled, a mere seven hours after registration opened.