First thing’s first… take a moment to be PROUD of yourself and EXCITED!!! This is the most iconic marathon in the world. You’re running the Boston Marathon and it’s going to be AMAZING! Be sure to do your best to leave the stress and pressure at home and when you land in Boston, be ready to take in the whole experience!
I have been fortunate enough to run the Boston marathon twice. First in 2015, as my second ever marathon, and again in the fall of 2021 on the professional list, so I have experience from both perspectives. When I ran it in 2021 I was not after a PB, so was able to really take in the entire experience. I want to share some memories and learnings in hopes that it better prepares you to have the race of a lifetime at the Boston Marathon!
I have been lucky to run two good races. In 2015 I ran a 6mins PB in pretty terrible conditions. In 2021 I ran a controlled, smart race in more ideal conditions and was able to hit my goal of being sub 2:40.00.
I originally started writing a blog while I was fundraising and training for Boston in 2015, so I also have some race reviews from right after that race which you can read those here: https://torunningchiro.com/2015/04/25/race-in-review-the-boston-marathon-april-20-2015/
The lead up: It’s overwhelming (in the best way possible) especially if you have not run a big major marathon in the past. Sometimes overwhelming mixed with nerves can be a little too much, so be prepared for this. Ideally, get the expo done as soon as you can. Usually you can pre buy the jacket online or in the local Boston running stores so you don’t have to wait in a line.
Course preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEoWRSIZB4Q/
I found this course preview helpful and it’s short so you can easily watch it a few times to get ready.
Weather: If there’s one thing we know about Boston, it’s that the weather is rarely perfect. BUT we cannot control the weather, so be as prepared as you can, and embrace the conditions you are given. You have surely trained through most of the conditions that you might encounter. Be sure to think of all the awful weather you ran through to get you here. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” -Bill Bowerman
The morning of:
Elite version: You have to arrive SUPER early in the hotel meeting room to check in and then wait until it’s time to go, most people sitting on the floor. When you head to the buses all of the hotel staff comes out and applauds, it is a really special moment, so be sure to take it in!
From there you load into beautiful coach buses where everyone has their own row. It’s probably worth bringing your headphones along because it’s not a short trip. ALSO, and I did not realize this until halfway through the ride, there is a police escort with motorcycles literally stopping traffic. It was wild!
When you arrive at the staging area (a church) they have Maurten gels, water and coffee. Be sure to grab a mat to sit on as soon as you get there (they ran out when I was there) and find a comfy spot because you have well over an hour before it’s go time. There is a ~100m stretch on a road behind the church you can warm up on pre race. They will give everyone a call before you need to be there. They have multiple porta potties and I am sure there were washrooms in the church as well. I never waited in line. They will take you to the startline with lots of time to do strides etc. And then you are off!!
Bottles were easy to see and grab, at every ~8k or so.
Post race, they escort you to the recovery room which has food, massage and your bags.
Non elite version:
Sorry, it’s a little different than what I just described, but none the less, still an amazing experience!
Bus ride: The bus ride is long, to the point where it is questionable that it’s only 42.2km away. So be prepared for this. Definitely have some fluids to sip on and even a snack, depending on your fueling plan. Also, be prepared for a lot of nervous/excited energy, but do your best to not let it get to you. Try to focus on the excitement and everyone is really friendly.
Anything you bring to the athletes village stays there so do not bring anything so important that you can’t leave behind or do not plan to run with. The year I did it they had some tents set up but they filled up fast. There are many of porta potties BUT also lots of people, so it may even be worth lining up as soon as you get there, to make sure you have gone at least once. Typically you are in the village for ~1hr.
Be prepared if weather is not looking to be ideal:
-throw away clothes (they have a big donation truck for you to throw them in)
-poncho, cheap blanket, cheap pillow to sit on (Dollarama sells all of these)
Once your corral is called it’s about 1 mile to the start line. There are more porta potties near the startline if you need one. I would suggest using this 1 mile as an opportunity to jog a little, do some drills/activations/moblity in order to get feeling good for the gun!
The corral will be FULL, so find your space and take some deep breaths. Shake out those nerves as you wait, double check those shoe laces. This is your moment and it’s going to be amazing. The work is done and you are ready to take the run from Hopkinton to Boston!
Fuel on course: starting at mile 2 there is water and lemon/lime Gatorade (endurance- which is not in Canada) and a lot of the stations are on both sides of the road. Maurten energy gels at 11.8, 17 (pre hills) and 21.5miles (post hills) both gel 100 (black package) and gel 100 caf (silver package)
Okay here we gooooo.
As I am sure you have heard, the first bit of the marathon is downhill. With that being said, it did not feel like it was that downhill. I actually felt the whole first half to be quite rolling. The KEY here is to run the downhill well and NOT overload your quads. This is the problem most people run into when it comes to the hills. Think of marching/piston/step over your ankle while you are out there and in practice. In the first few km a lot of men will peel off and start using the great outdoors as their personal washroom.
At the start, you are definitely out in the country. Only 2 lane roads with people sitting in there lawn chairs watching you run by. The crowds are a little more sparse at the start but this gives you time to stay chill and run your plan and not get too excited. DO NOT go out too fast, you will regret it. Calm and controlled here. As the race goes on, the crowds get more intense!
The other cool thing is that you run through 5 towns leading to Boston and each one has their own feel. There are also flags up as you enter each new town, which is a fun way to landmark yourself.
Just after halfway you will enter the Wellesley cheer tunnel which is UNREAL. It’s made up of the students from Wellesley college and they are ready for a PARTY!! Use that energy to keep you strong for those upcoming hills.
Okay then, the HILLS. These are no joke and come at a rather unfortunate time in the race. Be warned, it is NOT just heartbreak hill. There are 4 (or maybe 5, it’s a blur) through the town of Newton. Heartbreak hill is the last one (I think…I missed the sign…again) and it’s a beast. The hills start at ~28km (18mi) and last for ~5km. They are done by 21mi. For the uphill, think of driving your foot up and pulling it under you. Do not pay attention to your watch through this section, rather try to maintain your effort and use the downhills to relax….but no overstriding and slowing yourself down!! At this point you only have 8km to go. This last section is much easier. The goal here should be to find your legs again and get back to the pace (*or at least effort) you were at previously.
WHEN it gets tough (note I said ‘when’, because it WILL) think of all the hard work you have done to get to this moment. Think of all the people that have inspired you and helped you on your journey. Be ready to work hard and welcome the CHALLENGE… you CAN do THIS!
You can see the famous CITGO sign as you come into the city and it’s a great reminder that you are running Boston. At this point, there is so MUCH behind you and only a little further to go, so be ready to DIG. There is a annoying little dip (aka, a hill) right before you make the famous turn onto Boylston. It’s annoying because there’s a road right beside this one that does NOT have a dip, but what are you gonna do! Once you’re on Boylston you have less than 1km to go. ENJOY THIS !!! The crowds are electric and this is a truly special moment!!
A key to this course is running efficiently and technically sound. Often times, athlete’s quads are destroyed by the time they reach the Newton hills due to poor downhill running, so be aware of your running technique throughout the entire race, not just in the latter half when you’re getting tired. This focus is something that could change the outcome of your race.
Run technique cues: step over ankle, piston, marching
HAVE the BEST time running the Boston Marathon!