This April 2019 will be my sixth consecutive year running the Boston Marathon. Every year has been different, and I have taken away new lessons during each run. Some years I ran it hard aiming for a PR. One year I ran the “Boston Double” in which I started at the finish line at 5:00AM, ran the course in reverse, then lined back up for the return trip. And it goes without saying that last year’s monsoon-like weather made for an interesting jaunt into Boston. I am a mid-packer at best who unsuccessfully tries not to let my Garmin control my run both physical and emotional.
Here are some training and race-day lessons that I have learned over the past five plus years.
10) Train Like Race Day
Running Boston for most of us means starting at a time much later than we begin our weekend long runs. This means starting the marathon mid-morning and running through lunch. Therefore, this requires you to really dial-in your race day fueling including pre-race meal(s) and race fuel. Try to run at least one long training run with a start time as close to your race day start as possible. And try to get up around the same time you will have to wake up on race day to catch the bus to Hopkinton. Food intake, especially pre-race, differs for everyone so it is incredibly important for you to figure out what works (and doesn’t work) best for you. Happy fueling!
9) Get to the Starting Line
I am not a coach or physical therapist, but I have trained for enough races (everything from 5ks to 100-milers) to know the importance of remaining healthy. Listen to your body (and coach if you have one) when you are feeling tired or when niggles start to linger for more than a few days. Scaling back your mileage and intensity of workouts is never ideal. But getting to Hopkinton healthy albeit a bit undertrained is better than getting there injured with a high probability of doing more damage during the race. Or not being able to finish it.
8) Let the Race Come to You
The start of Boston is a mess for pretty much every non-elite runner. Runners are packed shoulder-to-shoulder and the first mile is usually strewn with discarded clothes. People always say that the first mile is downhill so do not go out too hard. Which is very true. The flipside of that is going out slow because of the crowds. Do not worry about this. The race and your goal pace (if you have one) will come back to you as things begin to open up. You can always make up time but not energy). Be patient and enjoy the first few miles.
7) Sneaky Little Hill
Rightfully so, there is a tremendous amount of attention put on the Newton Hills with a focus on Heartbreak Hill. But for me, every year the hill as you come out of Wellesley around mile 14 or 15 is the toughest hill. It is an overpass over 95, completely exposed and very little crowd support. And the wind is usually wiping from both sides. Enjoy your first significant climb as the fun meter is about to increase.
6) Feeling Like a Rock Star
Making the big sweeping turn off Rt 135/16 onto Commonwealth Ave makes you feel like a rock star and is the signal that things are about to get real. The crowds deepen, the noise is elevated (thank you firefighters and spectators) and the climbing fun begins. Hit a mental pause here and soak it all in. Then get to work.
5) Even Effort
Yes, there are hills but trust your training in getting up them. Focus on even effort and not even pace. If you have pace goals be sure to factor in a slight slowdown as you climb the but you will get it back on the downhills. There is still plenty of race to go so don’t completely trash your quads on the downhills, yet.
4) Pick a Side & Stick With It
I’ve found that there are so many strategies to climb the hills. Some folks walk the entire hill, some run/walk, and some downshift to a lower gear and power up them. This can make it challenging to keep a consistent pace without spending a ton of energy weaving around to pass runners. You cannot afford to waste this type of energy so late in the race. I’ve found that most runners who walk stick to the middle of the road leaving solid running lanes on both outside edges. Pick a lane, stick with it, and CRUSH those hills. And don’t be afraid to throw out some random hi-fives.
3) Hold Back for a Bit Longer
Getting through the hills and getting to Boston College can make you feel like Superwoman. The Newton Hill are behind you so if you are feeling good you may be inclined to drop the hammer. Not so fast as you still have a solid 5-6 miles to go. Keep focused and disciplined as you make the big right then left onto Beacon Street. Mentally prepare for the road to narrow and crowds, both runners and spectators, to pick up. This is the perfect time to breathe and take stock for your final push.
2) I see you Iconic Sign
As you work your way down Beacon Street through Brookline you will be able to spot the iconic Citgo Sign. Yup, you are getting closer to Boston. Take the sign in, take a mental picture, but do not stare at the sign. It will take FOREEVER for it to get close to you.
1b) One More to go
Beware, the hill on Beacon Street that goes over the turnpike is a little bugger. This late in the race it will likely suck. But lean into and embrace it because you have stomped on bigger hills during training. Think about all the training runs you completed. The early mornings, not going out the night before because you had to get up early for your long run. The feeling of joy and depletion post-long run. This process is about to reward you big time.
1A) Time to Relax
SMILE! No matter how you feel or how hard you are working, be present during the last mile. This is it, no more miles to worry about. Take a few minutes to look around-throw a wave to the fans on the Mass Ave as you run under the bridge, make eye contact with a spectator or two as you turn onto Hereford, check out who is running next to you. Race photos help relive this special achievement, but nothing will feel better than making your way down Boylston (the finish line banner can seem like a mirage so do not stare at it until you are super close). Regardless of how you are feeling, be present and in the moment because you are about to finish the Boston Marathon!!!
Post-Script: if you partake in beer, set aside a special, preferably strong, beer for the day after the race. Enjoy that beer in one hand while holding your finisher’s medal in the other. Think not only of the race, but the immense amount of work you put into your training, the friendships you made, and the people who supported your training. Cheer and congrats!
Kyle is an avid ultra runner and skier. He lives in Boston and is a Brand Ambassador with Topo Athletic and Nathan Sports and is running the 2019 Western States Endurance Run 100-miler with the support of Clif Bar. He is also a public speaker so check out his website for more info