Boston Marathon Course Strategy

Posted: April 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

Less than two weeks prior to the marathon is when the questions about pacing begin in earnest. After 35 years of marathoning and 17 years of coaching thousands of runners, I’ve definitely formed an opinion on this important aspect of race strategy.

I have been on both ends of the spectrum relative to managing my pace and have experienced success with both. I’ve worn pace bands and knew precisely where I needed to be each mile of the 26.2 distance and I have employed a feel-based approach. So what do I recommend?

I think it’s important to have a GMP (Goal Marathon Pace) in mind and to know where your pace should be at critical points (i.e., 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, half-mararathonm etc.), but I have become an absolute advocate of running how you feel and effectively managing the circumstances presented throughout the day.

The best example that illustrates my point is the 2012 Boston Marathon. No one training for Boston throughout the New England winter could have prepared for temperatures approaching 90 degrees on marathon day. And anyone attempting to maintain their GMP soon realized that wasn’t an effective strategy. Those that made the necessary adjustments made it to the finish by minimizing the collateral damage and in ‘relative comfort.’

You can gauge you’re likely performance based on training and racing times in the weeks prior to the marathon. If you’ve been able to maintain a certain pace throughout runs up to 21 miles, you can expect to do the same, or slightly slower, the full marathon distance. Runners that have trained to maintain a certain pace throughout the entire distance of their training runs will be more likely to sustain that pace throughout the 26.2 mile distance. Most runners have their fastest miles in the middle of their training runs and can expect the last 10K will be slower than their average pace.

In reality, you are not going to be able to run any faster than you are capable on April 15th, regardless of what pace you have in mind. Runners are quantitative and obsessive by nature. We want things to go the way we expect. By gosh, we have worked hard for this and we deserve it! But running and life often have different plans. Suddenly the weather isn’t perfect or that pain has developed into a chronic injury.

The runners that experience the greatest success in the marathon are those that are extremely flexible (mentally, physically and spiritually) and adjust to unforeseen circumstances. I recommend enjoying Boston for that it is…the most special marathon in the world. Why would you obsess over time and micro-manage ever aspect of the course.

Runners who constantly monitor their watch tend to become erratic with their pace. It’s similar to driving by constantly speeding up and slowing down, it’s very inefficient and can wreak havoc on your energy stores.

Runners that are obsessed with pace are consumed by the Boston Marathon. The most difficult miles are later in the marathon. Getting to Mile 15 in great mental and physical shape is imperative. You can easily predict your marathon performance based on how you are feeling at Mile 15.

So leave your watch at home on Marathon Day! What???? Yes, I could hear the screams from here. Leave your watch at home and enjoy every aspect of the Boston Marathon…the children seeking autographs in Hopkinton, the fighter jets flying over the starting line, our national anthem, the music along the course, the co-eds at Wellesley College,”YOUR” coach at Mile 15, the ‘exuberant’ Boston College students, and the finish line!

And you won’t receive a finish line picture of yourself pressing the stop button on your watch. Instead, it should be a wonderful picture with an amazing picture with nothing but the look of accomplishment and achievement written all over your face.

I will see you at the finish line!

  1. nmolivier says:

    I can’t wait to see you around and near mile 15!!! Whoo hoooo!!!!

    • YAY!!! so excited to being doing Boston this year #5!!! 7overall! I will be thinking of getting to coach Rick from the start to mile 15 and then hearing your warm words of wisdom, calm, strength and encouragement to fuel me to the finish line as you have done for me in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2011! single digits terri single digits! 🙂 GO TEAM!!!

      • Terri,

        My heart smiled when I read your reply. I’m looking forward to seeing you at Mile 15. I’m looking forward to see you at the finish line! It’s been an honor to be your coach for so many years. Go TEAM!


    • Seeing you at Mile 15 hold so much promise…I cannot wait. You’ve got this!

  2. Jan says:

    Thank you so much for these writings! They have been so helpful and inspiring!

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