Jason Hartmann’s Top Tips For Tackling The Boston Marathon

Jason Hartmann has been the top American finisher in Boston the last two years. Photo: www.photorun.net

The 33-year-old returns for another chance to win one of the world’s most famous races.

The top American finisher at the Boston Marathon the past two years hasn’t been well-known Olympians like Meb Keflezighi or Ryan Hall; it was former University of Oregon standout Jason Hartmann. Along with his Boston success (where he finished fourth the past two years), the 33-year-old won the 2009 edition of the Twin Cities Marathon and has also claimed top American honors at the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Competitor recently sat down with Hartmann as he was tapering for his next shot at Boston and picked his brain about how to best prepare for the race.

How is training going in the lead-up to Boston this year? How are you feeling?

I feel really good. I just raced the New York City Half [Marathon]. It was a solid race. I had a little bit of cramping, but I got that squared away. I’m now getting in that last little bit of training before Boston.

If you think of yourself at this time last year, do you feel like you are in as good shape now for this year’s race?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been training really hard. You never know how you’ve trained until the race happens. There’s a little bit of a crapshoot, but overall I can’t really complain about my fitness and how I’ve put together a training block. I feel pretty good about where I’m at and things to come.

You’ve placed fourth in Boston a couple times. You’re itching to get on that podium this year, right?

The thing about a world major—a premier marathon in the world—is that it’s really hard to expect those kinds of things to happen. In regards to the amount of competition that is going to be there this year: I think this is going to be the most-competitive field probably that Boston has ever assembled—not just international, but as far as Americans go, too. The goal is to always finish as high as you can. A lot of it depends on the day.

What do you attribute to your success at Boston? What’s worked?

In sports, there’s an element, I wouldn’t say of luck, but just being ready on the day and having a great day. I’ve been able to train really well in those build-ups. Even in other marathons like, New York City, I trained really well and had not a good day. So a lot of it is really the day itself—kind of being lucky. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t prepared. There was also having a positive race plan and being honest with yourself. I think that is something I’ve been able to do really well; that is, execute a race plan that I feel I am capable of doing, rather than trying to be really a hero and trying to go out front and just run a race place plan that doesn’t really equal a good performance overall.

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Have you been doing anything different for this year’s Boston?

I’ve probably been doing more hill running this time around; that is something that I’ve back off a little bit after New York City, because I was running a lot slower going into that. Now I’ve transitioned off of doing more of the hills and trying to get more quicker stuff so I can peak on the day.

In your opinion, where is the Boston course the most challenging?

I would say probably as you crest the top of the hills at [mile] 21. It’s probably the toughest there, because you’ve been climbing for a long period of time. You are just like, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” But when you crest the top you come down a little bit, so I would say that area between [miles] 17 and 21. I think everyone would probably say the same thing, too. That area is probably the toughest. You are doing everything you can to get through that section. If you have to pray to God you have to pray to God. You got to do what you got to do to get through it. I’m no different.

A lot of people, even the elites, make that classic mistake at Boston of just blasting those opening miles since they are downhill. If you were talking to someone on the bus going to the start, and that person has never run Boston before, would you tell them to not go out too fast?

Definitely. But I think the big thing with Boston’s start is controlling your emotion. Boston is such a cool event in that it’s supported really well by the whole area. It’s so easy to kind of let your emotion and excitement get ahead of you, and that’s probably where a great deal of people make a mistake in wasting a great deal of energy before they get to the start, because they are overexcited and see all these people cheering along the course. You can only go for so long where you are only relying on the course or the people on the course. Those are things you want to take with you into the last five miles where you are just trying to get as much energy as possible to have a good day there.

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Back to the hills at Boston: Do you train for them by doing any downhill repeats?

I don’t do any downhill repeats. I just do a lot of downhill running. I think it’s a risk-reward thing. I think sprinting down steep hills just increases the likelihood of injury. It’s a lot more stress on the body than I’m willing to take.

So would you tell people instead of doing specific downhill repeats to prepare for Boston they should just incorporate a lot of downhill running in their workouts — like for instance a tempo run?

Yeah, but not extreme on the downhills. Probably a lot of some of that should be asphalt running so that you can get used to the pounding that you are going to take. That is important as well.

The Hansons do a marathon-simulator workout where they try to run a course in training that mirrors the actual racecourse. You know Boston so well now, I don’t know that you’d need to do it, but when you were first training for it, did you try to simulate the course in any way with marathon pace?

Not necessarily with marathon pace, but actual runs. Maybe I’ll do a run that has high hills at the tail end of the run rather than a course-specific type effort. I do hill climbs where I start at 2.5 miles up, run down, then 5 miles up, and then cool down to where I started. It’s 10 miles total, but it’s gradually down and then up, then gradually down again. Do I do specific marathon courses that are related to Boston? I would say that in a running aspect maybe I might try a workout or something like that, but if not, I don’t stress about it.

The last 4 or 5 miles of the course are flat and pounding. Did you do anything different with your shoes or in training to prepare for that final pounding? Did you run in a different flat?

Something that I tend to do are easy runs in flats every once in a while like once or twice a week. I put on flats instead of training shoes. Those are things that I try to do to prepare my feet a little bit.

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What does that do?

It gets my feet used to the pounding more so than an actual trainer would.

Boston is a point-to-point course and the weather is all over the place typically like with the wind. Do you ever tell yourself in terms of drafting to avoid doing any front running in any of the packs that you are a part of, especially if there’s a headwind? Do you always try to take into account the winds on that course when you make race decisions? Do you plan ahead for that aspect?

I wouldn’t say necessarily planning, but if there is someone that can help with the wind, then you definitely use that to your advantage. In 2013, there were three of us up front. It wasn’t an ideal situation. There was a slight headwind going into your face, but sometimes you just have to be up in front and deal with it.

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