Runners preparing for Boston will embark on the most important run of the training season this coming weekend. Many will be running the first 20-21 miles of the course for the first time. I’m not an advocate of running beyond 20 miles in training because the risk of injury is too great. However, I’ve been convinced to extend the long run of 20 miles by one more mile so runners can place a capstone on their training by conquering Heartbreak Hill…the psychological advantage of beginning their taper at the top of this historic hill cannot be discounted.
Most of the Marathon Coalition runners are running their first marathon, so the tapering process may prove the most challenging aspect of training. Asking a runner to reduce their training mileage so significantly the final 3 weeks prior to the marathon is entirely counterintuitive. It’s analogous to a professor asking their students to only open their textbooks a few times prior to the final exam. Nevertheless, it’s important to allow one’s body and mind to fully recover from the rigors of training the past 4 months. It’s more beneficial to arrive at the starting line in Hopkinton feeling slightly less prepared than overtrained and drained…emotionally and physically!
Runners will also learn, despite all the attention placed on the Newton Hills, it’s actually the downhills that present the greatest challenge…particularly in the beginning. The wait can seem endless in the Athlete’s Village and walking to the corral must feel like what a soldier feels when approaching a major battle. Couple that with getting into a corral with thousands of other anxious runners, hearing languages you’ve never heard before, realizing you’ve just walked to the edge of the cliff and there is no turning back, hearing the national anthem and having the fighter pilots blaze a path overhead…you are full of energy and adrenalin.
I’ve always thought this moment is the most critical of Marathon Day. Those runners that can manage their pre-race jitters most effectively have the greatest odds of accomplishing their marathon goals. However, even the most experienced marathoners in the field will likely start too fast. The downhills in the first several miles will directly impact how well you run the hills from miles 16 to 21. Many runners will be tempted to bank time in the early miles by taking advantage of the significant downhills only to lose minutes later in the marathon because the hills that were their friend in the beginning are laughing hysterically as they struggle in Newton.
Patience is a virtue…particularly in the Boston Marathon. Find comfort in letting the impatient runners pass you in the beginning. Many of the best experiences I’ve had running Boston the past four decades have been passing the runners I’ve found so annoying (i.e., whooping and hollering as well as jumping up and down next to me in the starting corral) in the later miles as they walked dejectedly asking themselves, ‘Why did I have to be so stupid?’
My goal when running Boston has always been quite simple. I run conservatively until I get to the 10K point in Framingham center. Once I find my rhythm I begin running my marathon goal pace until I get to Mile 15. I also prepare for the onslaught of enthusiasm being thrown out like free candy along a parade route by the co-eds of Wellesley College. I’m astonished by how many men run like Kenyans through this segment, only to join the ranks of those aforementioned runners also asking themselves how they too could have been so stupid. I know because one year I was one of them…it NEVER happened again! The goal of any Boston marathoner should be to get to the Mile 15 point in great shape physically and emotionally. The most challenging 11 miles lie ahead as you drop significantly into Newton Lower Falls and tackle what I consider the most challenging hill on the course, climbing out of Newton Lower Falls over Route 128…it is wide open, very few spectators and it has a tendency to be windy. This tends to be a make or break portion of the marathon.
It’s important to run at a pace that’s 10-15 seconds slower than you’ve averaged prior to the hills of Newton. Being conservative from miles 17-21 will pay dividends as you crest Heartbreak Hill (assuming you are not tempted to join the ranks of the drunken BC students by accepting the FREE beer they offer you) and head into Cleveland Circle. It won’t be long before you observe the Citgo sign (it’s farther away than you realize) in Kenmore Square and realize that you’re actually going to finish the Boston Marathon!
The adrenalin is pumping through me as I write because I know the emotion that you’re going to feel in these closing miles. People that you don’t even know will be screaming at the top of their lungs offering encouragement you’ve likely never experienced. And when you take a right onto Hereford…well, all bets are off…you’re on the dance floor. Take a left onto Boylston and you realize, likely for the first time, what it feels like to be a ROCK STAR! There will be people you know that have NEVER felt greater pride for you…they will be filled with emotion they never anticipated when they watch you finish the Boston Marathon…I will be one of them!