Relax Before The Race
For a race that has grown significantly over the years, the start line setting has remained relatively unchanged. With almost 30,000 runners converging in Hopkinton, the environment is quite crowded and includes hours of waiting for the traditional 10 a.m. start.
Similar to the morning shuttle, you need to plan for this aspect of the race mentally so as not to create unnecessary anxiety. It’s going to be a bit chaotic and extremely boring. You’re trained, ready to run and you’re excited, but the hours will pass slowly. Try to relax as much as possible and don’t let yourself get upset when having to wait in long lines at the portable restrooms.
Expect Unpredictable Weather
Unlike many other major marathons around the world, Boston has the distinction of very unpredictable weather on Patriots Day (the third Monday in April). The fickle New England weather was 80 degrees with a 15 mph headwind for my first experience and near-perfect weather the following year. A Nor’easter storm almost canceled the race in 2007 and it was in the mid-80s last year, so you can never tell.
Going into the event you need to adjust your mindset to include the unpredictability of the weather. This is not to say you should be negative or pessimistic, but be realistic that the conditions might not be ideal. But it will be manageable because you are emotionally prepared.
Pacing Vs. Perceived Effort
I am a big advocate of learning and then applying the skill of perceived effort. Feel your way through workouts and then apply what you learned to the race itself. Most great performances are executed when the athlete lets the race unfold based on how they feel, instead of being overly concerned with what the watch is telling them.
However, Boston is unique as it relates to the course layout, and, in this instance, paying closer attention to pacing the first 10 kilometers can make for a totally different experience than in the last 10km. Just because it feels comfortable aerobically does not mean it is easy muscularly. Paying closer attention to those early miles and even backing off slightly will allow for a much better second half in Boston. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can bank time by going out quicker; that tends to backfire due to the course topography.
The Newton Hills
Ah, yes, now we can talk about the infamous Newton Hills. What makes Boston unique is not that there are hills, but where they fall in the race and what comes before and after them. As I just mentioned, holding back in the first 10km will allow for fresher legs for the hilly sections between miles 19 and 26. The best way to prepare for the hills of Boston is not by simply doing hill repeats, but rather tempo runs and long runs on routes will undulating hills. The objective is to get your system used to having to change from going downhill to uphill and then back to downhill.
The great Bill Rodgers, who won Boston four times, did most of his long runs on the actual Boston course, which taught his body how to manage the various demands that come with sustained downhill running, followed by rolling hills and followed by a gradual downhill section to the finish. You might not have the same luxury, but running on simulated sections of the course in your region will go a long way on race day in Boston.
This piece first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.
About The Author:
Two-time Olympian Alan Culpepper helps runners of all abilities through www.culpeppercoaching.com.