Tips for Running the Boston Marathon

I have not mastered the Boston Marathon by any means, but in order to help others, and as a reminder to future Blake, I’m writing down tips for what to do and what not to do when trying to run a good time at the Boston Marathon while it’s still fresh in my mind. I recognize that just going to Boston is a big trip for many people, so maybe your finishing time will not be a priority. However, I think it’s fair to say that most runners toeing the line at Boston are hoping for a good time. Here are my tips.

Tips for Training for the Boston Marathon

Train on Hills

Everyone has heard of Heartbreak Hill, but I think most people don’t realize that almost all of the Boston Marathon is either uphill or downhill. It’s not flat. I think there is about 800 total feet elevation gain and 1200 total feet of loss. Your quads will be wrecked if you don’t train on hills, including downhill. Trust me.

Train for Heat

Maybe you’ll have a cold year, maybe you’ll have a hot year. You won’t know until 2-3 days before the race. Prepare for both. Since Boston takes place in April, people from about half the US won’t have any training in warm weather. I’d suggest purposefully doing some medium or long runs with too much clothing and consider spending some time in the sauna (I got that idea from Meb’s latest book). 60 to 80 degrees with humidity will roast you if you’ve been running in 20 to 40 degrees all winter leading up to the race.

Take Clothing and Shoes You Can Throw Away

Take warm clothes, shoes, and socks that you can toss right before the race starts. Wear them to the starting area. Then you don’t have to worry about being cold or getting your socks muddy before the race starts. You can get cheap clothing at Goodwill or other thrift stores. Easily worth the $10, but it’s likely you’ve already got something sitting around that you don’t need. Every marathon runner should have an old pair of shoes that they can discard.

Stay Put on Sunday

Don’t walk all over the expo. Don’t do the Freedom Trail. Just take it easy on Sunday. Go to church then go back to your hotel or wherever you’re staying. Standing/walking for two hours is not easy. You need your quads for Monday. If you want to be on vacation and don’t want to run a great race, then do whatever you want. I suggest saving the vacationing for after Monday at 2pm (when you’re done). If you want to go to the expo, do so on Saturday.

A Cold 21 Mile Run to Cap a 72 Mile Week

Yesterday I did a 21 mile run in the morning before going to work. What made the run particularly daunting was that it was -2 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

There was once a day when I was a fair weather runner. I lived near Phoenix, AZ and I generally wouldn’t run in the winter there because it was too cold. Ha! (For those of you that don’t know, the Phoenix area rarely even reaches freezing in the winter.)

I’ve come a long way since then, and now that I’m training for the Boston Marathon, I’m trying hard to stick to my schedule. That means a lot of snowy and cold runs during the past month here in Meridian, ID. This has been a particularly cold and snowy winter. Boise set the all time record for snow-pack this year, and we’ve had at least one record setting low temperature. I’ve done a few runs in the snow and many low temperature runs. I’ve also hit the treadmill — doing as much as 45 miles on it one week.

This week is cold as well, but the roads were clear (from snow) and I really wanted to do my long run outside. Right now I’m doing my long runs on Monday before work. This week the schedule called for a 21 miler. So in the morning I bundled up and headed out at 4:57am. I wore:

  • Shoes
  • Knee-high socks
  • Tights
  • Jogging pants
  • T-shirt
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Hoodie
  • Ski mask
  • 1 pair of knit gloves
  • 1 pair of gardening gloves
  • 1 pair of socks over the gloves
  • Reflective vest
  • Hydration belt

I looked pretty ridiculous.

But, I finished my run.

I was quite happy after finishing. The pace wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad and I had a strong finish without hitting The Wall.

I was even happier when I logged my run on my spreadsheet and saw that I had run 72.85 miles during the past 7 days! That was my highest mileage ever in a 7 day stretch, and my first time crossing 70 miles in a week.

I’m mostly sticking to the “Up to 70 Miles” plan in Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger. It’s going well for me so far, and my knees and ankles seem to be holding up to the heavier mileage demands.

Long runs can be scary and daunting, but it’s always awesome when you finish one. Especially before work. Especially when it’s -2F. But here’s to hoping that it warms up around here sooner rather than later.

2016: Running Year in Review

2016 was a great year. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from my running.

Miles ran: 2024.4 miles in ~227 runs

2016 was my highest mileage year by far, surpassing the 1359 miles I ran in 2015 by nearly 50%. In January Cyndi and I made the goal to run 2016 combined miles during the year. We hit that on November 11. About that time, I started increasing my weekly mileage to prepare for a new training regimen. I soon realized I could hit 2016 miles solo, and sure enough I hit it on December 30. I couldn’t help squeezing in 8 more on New Year’s Eve.

Miles raced: 140

My 2016 race schedule was similar to 2015, but this year I did a mid-summer relay instead of a half marathon, and an October marathon instead of a 50k. I’ll be starting off 2017 a little heavier with a 20 miler in January (weather permitting) and a half marathon in March.

Races completed: Ten

  • Three marathons
  • Two half marathons
  • One 8 miler (~12k)
  • One 10k
  • One 5k
  • One 1 mile time trial
  • One relay — about 16.5mi over three legs

Worst training run: 20 miler on 3/4

My second 20 mile training run of the year was rough. One month earlier, I had completed a 20 miler and finished strong in the last couple miles. On this run I bonked really hard at mile 17. It served as a reminder that I needed to eat right and bring sufficient fuel for long runs. It was a bit of a wake-up call to me and shook my confidence as I was training for a marathon.

Best training run: 21 miler on 4/29

My confidence was restored in late April on my last 20+ miler before running my spring marathon. I didn’t hit the wall, I picked up the pace in the last third of the run, and everything seemed to click. It gave me a nice confidence boost before my marathon as this run was at a Boston Qualifying pace.

Most awesome training run: Pi run on 3/14

10+pi miles with 1x2mi and 1xPi mile intervals.

Best race: Layton Marathon

Just about everything clicked for me at the Layton Marathon. My pace was solid, and I actually accelerated during the second half. I didn’t hit the wall. I was able to finish 1st overall after passing the leading runner at mile 22. It ended up being a new PR. The one thing that went wrong was I had to take a bathroom break, but that wasn’t enough of an issue to ruin my race.

Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon

Runner-up: Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon was the one that got me into Boston and my first sub-3:00 finish. I stayed right on my target pace and I was able to have a decent finish.

Honorable Mention: Zeitgeist Half Marathon

My performance at the 2016 Zeitgeist Half Marathon was a little slower than my expectations, but I ended up winning, so I can’t complain!

Worst race: ?

I really didn’t have a race that was a disaster for me. I didn’t get lost in any races this year — like the Idaho Falls Half Marathon in 2015. I didn’t have a big bonk in any of the marathons I ran — like the Newport Marathon in 2015.

The one race where I didn’t quite hit my target time was the Zeitgeist Half Marathon, but it was still a solid race and the circumstances were a little unusual (I didn’t have any other runners within sight to push me at the end).

Most memorable experience: Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay

I’m still not sure if I like running in relays, but they are definitely memorable. It was fun to be able to run Wasatch Back with my wife, Cyndi, and spend some time with her and a few crazy guys in our van. I’ll never forget sleeping in the van because everyone was too tired and confused to get out and use our sleeping bags. I made some new friends and I’ll get to run with them again this year.



Overall, 2016 was a spectacular running year for me. Once again I was blessed to not have any significant injuries during the year. My training went really well and I was able to run several races and improve my times. I qualified and registered for the Boston Marathon, which was my top goal.

I’m hopeful that 2017 will be a great year. So far I’m signed up for a marathon, 20 miler, half marathon, and two relays. I’m sure I’ll fill in the gaps!

New Running Workout: Crescendo Diminuendo Run

I’ve been doing pretty much the same workout regimen this whole year to improve my running (and mostly to train for my May marathon):

  • Run intervals on Monday (various distances)
  • Cross train Tuesday
  • Tempo run Wednesday
  • Cross train Thursday
  • Long run Friday

My tempo runs on Wednesday usually consist of a warm-up, followed by 5-8 miles at a steady, fast clip, and then a short cool-down. For some reason I didn’t feel like doing the same old tempo this week. Yesterday I gave it some thought and came up with a fairly challenging and fun workout (I use the term “fun” very liberally here).

I call the workout: Crescendo Diminuendo

The Crescendo Diminuendo run is basically a tempo workout with some speed variability built in. I suppose it’s not a true tempo since it get’s pretty fast and it’s not steady. The idea is to start at a pace slower than normal tempo, then increase speed at a steady rate in 1/2 mile to 1 mile increments. The fastest mile should be half way through the workout. Then slow back down at the same rate.

Here’s a description of the Crescendo Diminuendo run I did, what my targets were, and what I actually achieved:

Description My Target My Result & Comments
1 mile warm-up 1 mile @ ~7:30/mi 7:28. Felt pretty tight after some hard workouts in the past few days and some yard work yesterday evening (digging a ditch)
1mi @ marathon pace +15 seconds 1mi @ 7:00 6:54. I was still warming up here and it was nice to continue to loosen up.
1mi @ MP 1mi @ 6:45 6:42. Not too challenging yet. Feeling better and better.
1mi @ MP -15s 1mi @ 6:30 6:27. Now I was starting to move. I began to wonder if I could hit the upcoming pace at my toughest mile.
1mi @ MP -30s 1mi @ 6:15 6:13. There was a small down and uphill towards the end, so I made sure to speed up on the down to bank a little time for the up.
1mi @ MP -45s 1mi @ 6:00 5:50. I started out on a downhill which was really nice as I got my legs moving fast. However, I’m happy to report that the second half of this mile was still <6:00  🙂
1mi @ MP -30s 1mi @ 6:15 6:13. I didn’t immediately slow down from the previous mile, so that gave me a good head start and kept this mile on pace despite a slight uphill at the end.
1mi @ MP -15s 1mi @ 6:30 6:21. The first half mile was fast with a little downhill, then I started to lose focus and get a little lazy the second half. I caught myself and sped up at the end to stay under my target.
1mi @ MP 1mi @ 6:45 6:38. I thought this would be easy, but the second half was a little challenging for me as I was beginning to wear out.
1mi @ MP +15s 1mi @ 7:00 7:07. I kept the first half under 7:00. I wasn’t too concerned about keeping the second half on pace as I was ready to start cooling down. Also, I had a little uphill to deal with.
Cool-down Cool-down. 7:15. This was only 1/4 mile, so I took it fairly easy although I was still moving at a decent pace.

You can see from this that my run had some decent symmetry:

Crescendo Diminuendo Run
Symmetry of the Crescendo Diminuendo run. I peaked right at the beginning of the 6th mile — the downhill portion of the fastest mile.

Overall the Crescendo Diminuendo run was a success. It was different, kind of fun, and kept my mind engaged. It was nice to have different targets rather than the same target over and over. In fact, my tempo runs often don’t have a defined target until I get going, so this was definitely a change.

Interestingly for me, my overall average pace was exactly the same as my tempo run last week on the same course where ran steady for ~8mi @ 6:20-6:25 pace. That tells me I got the pacing right for this run.

I’m hoping that in 2-3 months I can improve enough that I can lower all my targets by 15 seconds. This workout actually gave me some confidence as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hit those targets. I’m coming off of a hard week for me. I also dug a ditch yesterday evening and didn’t get sufficient sleep. Perhaps if I’m a bit more fresh I can already drop a few seconds.

I did this Crescendo Diminuendo run on mostly flat terrain with only small rolling hills. If you were to do it on real hills, you may have to go by effort rather than pace.

Maybe this workout already exists somewhere, but I hadn’t heard of something like this. If I were more knowledgeable or fancy, I would have some nice descriptions of how this particular run helps your lactate threshold, mitochondrial uptake, etc. etc. Really though, I feel that any challenging run can help you get better, so this was one that was a little different and changed things up. I definitely believe in mixing things up to achieve performance gains. The Crescendo Diminuendo run did that for me.