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.
On Monday I had the privilege of running the Boston Marathon for the second time. The Boston Marathon is my favorite marathon and I had a blast… at least for the first half.
Approaching the Boston Marathon
I trained pretty hard this winter. The only comparable training block I’ve done was leading up to the 2017 Boston Marathon. However, I wanted to enjoy Boston and relieve some of the pressure that comes with lots of training, a trip across the country, and a huge race. Therefore, I decided to do the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days before Boston. I know that was a little stupid, but the Yakima Marathon went really well for me, so I’m glad I did it.
I ate lots of protein and tried to recover as much as possible between Yakima and Boston. It went pretty well, although my left quad became pretty sore a few days before marathon Monday. I cut off some planned mileage and got as much rest as possible.
Cyndi couldn’t come on this trip, so my friend, Greg, came with me. We flew out on Saturday and arrived late Saturday night to Boston Logan International Airport. We got an expensive Uber to Greg’s brother-in-law’s house and went to bed. On Sunday we:
Went to church at 9am.
Went to packet pickup. I just walked in, grabbed my bib, and walked out since we couldn’t find a parking spot. It took about 20 minutes. I would have liked to go to the Expo, but I went last time and I don’t need any expensive compression boots or more running clothes.
Drove to Newport, Rhode Island to see some opulent mansions.
Drove to Providence to meet up with Greg’s friend Jesse.
Drove back to the brother-in-law’s.
Played a game of Camel Up and discussed plans for Monday.
Went to bed around 10:30, which was a little later than intended, but I didn’t sleep well anyways.
I woke up earlier than expected, grabbed my stuff and hailed an Uber. The Uber took me to the wrong side of the bag drop-off area, but it actually turned out to be exactly the right spot for my bib number. It was rainy.
On the bus ride to Hopkinton I met a guy named Kyle from Chicago. He’d done Boston a few times. During the ride there was a bright flash from a lightning strike that I’m sure made everyone think, “Just don’t cancel the race!” Luckily the storm passed through, it stopped raining before the start, and we had clear skies during parts of the race.
At Hopkinton I found myself a coveted tent pole to lean against. I also ran into Tyson, who was on my team for Ragnar Trail Zion. This was his first Boston Marathon, so I’m pretty sure he was even more anxious than me. I had about 2 hours to sit around and talk to people about marathons. Part of what makes the Boston Marathon fun is that there are a bunch of “serious runners” gathered in one spot. You can talk to others about marathon times, favorite marathons, training, etc.
Eventually the rain stopped and we made the 0.7 mile walk/jog to the start line. I dumped all my warm clothing and lined up. I was more calm this time than when I ran in 2017, which was nice. It was still really exciting though. The jets did a flyby, the National Anthem was sung, and we started the race.
Boston Marathon Miles 1-8: 6:50, 6:32, 6:35, 6:32, 6:43, 6:35, 6:31, 6:42
The first several miles of the Boston Marathon are mostly a blur. It was so fun to be out there!
The first mile got started a little slow. I was much more conservative this time around, so I was patient and tried to stay in my spot and not move around too much. Since my bib was 3604 this time, I was a bit farther back in the pack and maybe that made it more crowded. Around mile 2 a guy near me was tripped in the crowd, got very upset, and said some choice words. I asked if he was ok and he said, “Bleep bleep bleep no, but thanks for asking.”
The crowds are just so incredible! There is tremendous pent up energy in the runners and the crowds add energy and make it fun. I gave lots of high-fives to kids and other spectators. There were flags waving, signs flashing, people clapping, music blasting, and lots of smiles. It’s really one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. It may have even been more enjoyable the second time around since I was less worried about my time.
Speaking of my time, I feel like I went out at a great pace. I wanted to beat my Yakima time, even though it was unlikely, but it was pretty hot. Humidity was very high thanks to the morning storm, and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. This may not seem too hot, but I don’t think I’d run in weather warmer than 45 since October, and most of my training I had done in morning temperatures at or below freezing. Therefore, mid-60’s felt hot. The sun broke through the clouds and added to the heat. From the first aid station I dumped water on my head and I drank a lot throughout the race.
Due to the heat, I was fine hitting splits around 6:40. I figured if I felt great later on I could try to speed up to beat my Yakima time, but I didn’t want to kill myself in the early miles.
At mile 8 I was still feeling good, which was comforting since that’s where I first felt signs of issues in the 2017 Boston Marathon.
I was noticing that my heart rate was unusually high — in the 170’s. That should have only been the case during a half marathon or even a 10K. I don’t know if my watch was off, or if it was all the anxiety, or the heat, or what. This was a little concerning.
Another thing I noticed this time around, is that Boston is full of hills. It’s not just the Newton hills and Heartbreak, the whole course is basically either going up or down. I had heard someone mention this, but this time I really noticed it for myself.
Boston Marathon Miles 9-16: 6:39, 6:44, 6:36, 6:30, 6:39, 6:39, 6:45, 6:23
I continued to feel pretty good in the next few miles. I didn’t really experience much fatigue or signs that I needed to slow down. My pace continued to be right around 6:40, which I was happy with.
I talked to a few people during the marathon, but not too many. Many of the runners seemed to be taking the race pretty seriously and were focused. I was willing to talk, but I didn’t come across anyone that really opened up. I’m not the most outgoing person, so maybe I didn’t try enough people.
I continued to give high-fives every once in a while, but I tried not to get carried away because I remembered from Boston 2017 that whenever I got pumped up I naturally sped up. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was energizing, although I didn’t exchange any kisses (as promised to Cyndi).
There’s a downhill on mile 16 which was really nice, and I took it pretty fast as I was still feeling decent.
Boston Marathon Miles 17-21: 7:01, 7:14, 6:54, 7:21, 8:03
Mile 17 of the Boston Marathon is where the wheels started falling off for me. I was running up the first in the set of four hills, when my right quad suddenly tightened. It was enough of a change that I noted what mile I was on and thought, “Oh no.” When I hit The Wall, it’s usually my quads that go first and that feel the worst throughout the race. At the Yakima River Canyon Marathon I had evaded The Wall and I hoped I could repeat that glorious accomplishment at Boston.
Boston Marathon Miles 22-26.2: 7:41, 8:22, 8:17, 8:45, 9:00, 8:25/mile
The uphills slowed me down, and I started losing speed on the downhills. By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill I was pretty much wiped out. I’m a pretty strong climber, so I wasn’t getting passed too badly, but when I peaked on Heartbreak I didn’t have much left for the downhill and after that it was a complete slog. I had hit The Wall hard and I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line and be done. The first 17 miles of the marathon were exhilarating, the last 5 miles were excruciating. Miles 18-21 were somewhere in between.
Occasionally I would pass someone walking, or limping. I saw one guy step on a water bottle on Heartbreak Hill and roll his ankle. I thought he was ok but then he started limping pretty badly. I encouraged him along. For a while it felt like I was standing still in a river of runners that were flowing past me. Eventually everyone started slowing down and I felt a little better, but not before I’d been passed by hundreds of runners. That was even despite the fact that I didn’t walk.
It took forever to get to the right turn on Hereford, but I was so glad when I did! I was in my own world those last few miles just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I started looking for Greg and Jesse. I scanned the crowd as my head swam with fatigue and delusion. I finally found them at the top of the hill right on the corner of Boylston. It was great to see them and exchange high fives.
I couldn’t believe how far I still had to go to the finish line. It took forever to get there, but I was so happy when I could finally let myself walk!
Final time: 3:07:27. Better than 2017 (thankfully!), but not as good as I wanted. I really didn’t feel too disappointed. I knew doing the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days prior was a risk, and I think my legs just weren’t up for another marathon yet. The heat didn’t help either.
Once again, getting through from the finish line to a place where I could collect myself was excruciating. The second I stopped running I just wanted to faint or lay down; however, I didn’t want to get stuck in a medical tent. I did my best to keep on my feet. I had to find a rail a few times to lean against for 30 seconds so that I could keep walking. I got my medal, grabbed a bag of food, grabbed my bag, and finally found a curb that I could just sit down on. I remember this same feeling from some other races, in particular the Utah Valley Marathon and the Boston Marathon in 2017, both races where I hit the wall hard (although it has happened many other times).
After resting for several minutes, I made my way to meet up with Greg and Jesse. I rested more at Boston Commons while they grabbed some pizza. Then we slowly made our way back to the hotel.
After a shower/bath and a game of Camel Up, I felt a lot better. We walked some of the Freedom Trail and ate some delicious Italian. I also downed two Canolies from Mike’s Pastry. (Two is probably too much, even after a marathon.)
I just love the Boston Marathon! It’s full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s full of hope and potential disappointment. It’s full of athletes that are out to prove something to themselves or to someone else, or to just experience the event. I’m glad I could leave everything on the course and have another amazing experience, even if I hoped for more. It’s easily my favorite marathon to run and I hope to return again someday.