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Every now and then someone asks me about running the Boston Marathon. It's often because they are going to run it for the first time. I had the same curiosity when I was going to run it for the first time. I decided to capture thoughts from those exchanges and put them here for general access. I may add to this so it's more useful, but this will have to do for now.

WARNING: I am a big believer in two concepts that are heavily present in this write-up

  1. Heart Rate governed racing (and in most training... not so much in intervals)
  2. Even effort throughout a race (and in most training... not in hill intervals, or learning downhill running)

Boston is fairly hilly... none of the hills are hard by themselves, but the frequency and placement in the race can make it way too easy to beat yourself up. Note that I am a FIRM believer in even effort (not even speed).  SO if you believe in even pace, my thoughts below must be filtered accordingly.  Also, I am a firm believer that heart rate (HR) training/racing helps one do even effort more than anything else available... WAY better than gut feel. But I won't preach about that. If you want preaching, see my heart rate page.

Here's how I see Boston - A General Description

At first there's a lot of downhill.  If you have not practiced downhill, take it fairly easy there. If you have practiced downhill, you will naturally take advantage of the downhill.

Downhill Running

The steeper the hill, the more this applies...

Downhill running exercises muscles a bit differently, possibly striding more out the back and causing higher "kicks" to the back... stretching quads in the upper front of your legs, etc. It's hard for me to know exactly what all is different, but it's different. Your body must become accustomed to it. Also, the extra pounding of the downhill can beat you up, especially if you allow your form to fall apart.

The early danger is running way too fast downhill and making your muscles work in a new way (if you've not trained on downhill). The later danger is your form falling apart and making the downhill pounding even worse.

So what if you're used to running downhill? ...Be aware that even if you are accustomed to downhill running, it's way too easy to overdo that, so be careful to keep the speeds to what you've trained. If you're running by heart rate, you should be fine (helps greatly in keeping an even effort). If you go by pace and have practiced even effort on hills, you should be fine. Many don't fit those two, and so they go too fast without knowing it.

Since switching to heart rate, it was interesting to go back and see my Boston data... I was going WAY WAY too fast in 2011. But back through mile 15, I didn't think I was going too fast. I blew up around mile 22 and had my personal worst time on one of the best conditions at Boston (record setting for the winner).

After miles 5-7, there are many rolling hills that are fine if you run them right (meaning, even effort). If you try to maintain the same speed up and down, you'll slowely fatigue your muscles a bit on each hill and waste some time time on each downhill.

There's another downhill around mile 15.. quite steep. Same thoughts apply... you're just slightly less likely to run like crazy there (you're not quite as fresh) but you still may, and many do. I'm NOT saying don't go fast... if you've run downhill and are holding an even effort, then you should go fast downhill. Maintaining effort on the following steep uphill will usually slow a person down, but many beginners will blast up this hill, wasting their muscles with the equivalent of a hill interval. Getting the right speed on this downhill and uphill is important or you will fatigue your muscles before the Newton hills.

The Newton hills can be fine if you've not beaten yourself up by that point. But again, there's a tendency to try to power up them. That wastes energy. Keep the even effort and you can spend the same effort down the other side of heartbreak hill (around mile 19.5-20.5) and do quite well. The downhill after heartbreak is long and fairly steep. By this time, you're fairly tired and you can lose form which can beat you up with the pounding and quads being slightly stretched more than before. If you've been using even effort (especially by HR) you will likely be OK, but you are tired here. Try to focus on form and just maintain even effort here. You may be able to get some recovery in here too, but for even effort people, it may not be necessary. You'll be tired, but not wasted. People who blasted up the hills and recoverd down the hills will be hurting here and you will pass many of them.

There are some rolling hills after heartbreak hill, and they may feel much bigger than they are. Only if you feel really good should you increase your effort a lot. I'd say around mile 22 or 23 is where I feel more free to poor it on but with even effort, you should be doing well by here and even just maintaining speed will bring in a good time.

The strategic difficulty of Boston is one reason I really like it.  You'll have a lot of fun regardless. I hope this helps helps some people.



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