Tag Archive | boston racing

Boston Marathon Race Strategy

(just because a few of you asked me lately, I figured I’d put it up here!)
(also, I wrote these “Boston Marathon notes: what to do/not to do next time” after my last Boston, which might be helpful. More links at the end of the post)
People sometimes complain or talk about how hard the Boston Marathon course is. I don’t agree. I believe (KNOW!) that
–      if you have a strategy,
–      and stick to it
you can do well.
I certainly believe Boston is easier than the NYC Marathon, without a shadow of a doubt.
The thing is you have to be really smart, cold headed, and great at pacing to be able to race it well. You can’t just go out and go by feel.
Umm, no.
But no one does that, right?
So, here is what I used to get a strategy ready!
The course elevation is here, and the highlights:
Length Gain/Loss Average Steepest
Mile: Up/Down: (Miles): (Feet): Grade: Grade: Comment:
0.0 Downhill 0.60 -143 -4.5% -5.7% Starting line
0.6 Uphill 0.14 36 4.9% 5.2% Very short uphill
0.7 Downhill 3.00 -187 -1.2% -4.3% Very long downhill section
7.6 Uphill 0.13 31 4.5% 4.6% Very short uphill
7.8 Downhill 0.18 -30 -3.2% -4.2% Very short downhill
15.3 Downhill 0.60 -118 -3.7% -5.2% Just before Newton Lower Falls
16.0 Uphill 0.60 75 2.4% 3.2% Just past Newton Lower Falls
17.6 Uphill 0.30 74 4.7% 4.9% Just past Newton Fire Station
19.2 Uphill 0.40 63 3.0% 4.5% Newton City Hall
20.3 Uphill 0.40 97 4.6% 5.2% Heartbreak Hill
21.0 Downhill 0.50 -87 -3.3% -4.4% Boston College
22.0 Downhill 0.50 -57 -2.2% -3.9% Cleveland Circle
23.1 Downhill 1.00 -95 -1.8% -2.9% Beacon Street
Basically, in VERY BROAD terms:
DOWN for approx. 16 miles
UP for approx. 5 miles
FLAT/DOWN for approx. 5.2
So, really, not so scary broken down, right?
Well, hopefully you trained specifically for the course, which means rolling hills, up and down, up and down. People tend to focus on prepping only for the uphills and forget the dowhhills. And if you’re not prepared for all those 15 miles of down, your quads are going to be trashed very early on and you’ll suffer throughout. Just because downhill seems easier doesn’t mean they don’t have a lactic price! So, hopefully, you’re properly trained for the demands of this course.
Very important note: the massive drop in the first half mile. If you start very excited and go out too fast, YOU ARE TOAST. Curb your enthusiasm. Or start a few corrals back if you can’t (at least two or three corrals). I repeat: DO NOT start too fast or you’re donzo.
Breaking down the plan:

Part 1: DOWN for approx 16 miles

Ease up on the quads and take it easy on the downhills, at least for the first 5 miles. DO NOT think that you need to store up time now. Do not; there will be time for that. Remember BANK = BONK. You can speed up in the flat parts, and the subtle ups/downs but if you take these downhills as your chance to PR you WILL regret it later.
Now, make sure you’re running downhill properly or it’s gonna cost you. How do you do that? Make sure you let gravity adjust your body position as get as close as possible to being perpendicular to the hill. Short steps, increase your turnover. Do not overstride, do not break, do not lean back. Stay relaxed.

Part 2: UP for approx 5 miles 

This is not a constant climb, so it is not as scary, there are long flat stretches where you can gain some speed. There are four climbs, the last one being Heartbreak hill. I didn’t think they were such a big deals as they made them up to be, but that might be because I was prepared for the course, and because I run NYCM every year, and because Harlem Hill exists. This was not that hard and I actually had to ask around to know I had climbed Heartbreak… I really had no clue I was done with it, I barely noticed it. So, I would NOT be scared. Can I say it again? the hills are NOT BAD AT ALL if you run a smart race. Take them easy and go wild in between. Your goal and motto should be to get to the top of Heartbreak in one piece and in good spirits, because that is when you can break lose.
In case you care, here is the info on the uphills:
Mile 16.5:
Length=.6 miles
Elevation Gain=60′
Grade=2.8%
Mile 18:
Length=.3 miles
Elevation Gain=60′
Grade=4.8%
Mile 19.5:
Length=.4 miles
Elevation Gain=60′
Grade=3.8%
Mile 20.75:
Length=.4 miles
Elevation Gain=80′
Grade=4.3%
As a reference, in you are a NYC Runner, Harlem Hill is 0.32 long but it has a 84′ rise, with a 4.4%. As you can see, Heartbreak hill (the last of the 4) and Hill 2 resemble HH. Hill 1 and 3 are a bit less steep.

Part 3: FLAT/DOWN for approx 5.2 miles

You go wild. You hit the gas and run like you’ve never run before.
If you run the previous parts of the race smart and paced well, you’ll be ready to set yourself on fire here. This race is basically a loooong tour towards a 10k, use the 10k up and really get some smoke going. There are not more than 3 turns in the whole race (no need to worry about tangents at all!) and they are in this last part, so you’re really clear to go ahead and sprint like a maniac. It’s still a few miles but you can really recover a few minutes here. Also, you’ll have a lot of cheering and support to wake you up and go, if you slept most of the previous miles…

Other notes:

* For overall pace, I’d recommend running Boston the same pace as your qualifying race, and then, if you have any more speed left at the end, go for it and PR.
* Because most of the course is exactly on the same direction, don’t forget to apply sunscreen, mostly on your shoulders and back, and if you’re wondering if you need sunglasses, you don’t. Sun will be at your back 80% of the race.
* If you still don’t have a pace bracelet, and you want one, I really like these, they’re customized to the Boston course and you can set it up based on: effort vs pace, slow start/fast start, min vs max fading, etc.
* Race Day, arrive at the shuttles early, you don’t want to stress in the lines and when there is traffic. Use the portapotty before, the drive to the start can be over an hour long.
* At the finish, pretend your last name starts with C or D, otherwise you’ll have to walk a lot longer to find your family/friends.
* Wear your medal proudly: you’re amazing.

Other things you can check out if you want more info (or are THAT bored or OCD)

Boston Marathon notes after my last Boston, which might be helpful
Boston Marathon pace bracelet, customized with the specific race course hills and stuff
My Boston 2010 race report, with lots of info you could use
My Boston 2014 race report, lots more info and pics
Boston Marathon 2010
Good to go? Think you can hold your horses? Questions?
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