Happy St. Patrick’s Day friends!! Hope you’re having a great week so far. Are you doing anything to celebrate the holiday? I’m going to hold off until the weekend to observe the splendor of my heritage. :)
Speaking of celebrations, I am so excited that Boston marathon is just over one month away (one month and one day to be exact!). On that Patriot’s Day weekend, Boston will be swarming with excited and eager runners and their patient family members and friends. It’s always such a special time to be in the city, bustle and all! Stay tuned for an upcoming post on must-see’s and do’s in Boston over marathon weekend (or any other time!).
Given that we are four weeks from race day, this also means that we are approaching the taper period, which I am happy about. For non-runners, tapering is a period of time before a marathon (or half marathon) roughly three weeks out, in which you cut your mileage to start saving your energy for race day. There is a lot of guidance out there regarding appropriate tapering for a marathon, but I often refer to Runners Connect (and my coaches of course!) for their advice.
Flashback to two weeks ago: as soon as I crossed the finish line at the Phoenix marathon, the following thoughts filled my head: 1) THANK GOSH IT’S OVER, 2) I AM SO HOT, THIRSTY, AND SORE, and 3) WHEN CAN I DO THIS AGAIN?!?! Ohh right, BOSTON MARATHON!!! Following Phoenix, I allowed myself a period of physical and mental rest and recovery before diving back into marathon training. At the same time, the excitement of Boston Marathon has now crept in, and as I start to prepare, I have turned to some Boston marathon “experts” for advice. One of these experts is Hal Higdon, a Boston marathon veteran (he’s run the race roughly 18 times), and has totaled 111 marathons to date. Hal has assisted thousands (half a million and counting) in their marathon training through his online training plans (can be found here), and is a large contributor to the Runners World publication. Hal also has a Boston-Bound marathon training program for runners who have qualified for the race, which can be found here.
I reached out to Hal for some first-timer advice. Here is his answer:
The biggest challenge is the excitement. Flying into what Oliver Wendell Holmes identified as, “The Hub of the Solar System,” your excitement level will rise even before your plane touches the runway. Even those living in Boston and its environment are not immune to this stress-inducing disease. You will be surrounded, like in no other city, by fellow runners, many of them wearing the classic blue-and-yellow Boston Marathon jackets. About this, all I can say is, “Gulp!” Try to arrive in town early enough not only so you can enjoy the expo, do some tourist stuff, then calm down at least by your last carbo-load Sunday evening.
Boston’s bumpy point-to-point course also presents its own set of challenges. First is the weather. Don’t listen to predictions more than a few hours out. Boston’s weather can change drastically and without warning. In fact, it can change in the middle of the race. When you crest Heartbreak Hill, you suddenly may be hit in the face by cold winds off the ocean. What had been a warm tailwind suddenly becomes a skin-chilling headwind, not fun in the last half dozen miles.
Because of those winds and being a point-to-point course, Boston can either be lightning fast or very slow depending on which way the wind is blowing. That, plus a hilly profile can confound all pace predictions, although the Pacing Project from TrainingPeaks has a pace calculator that recognizes the profile of many marathons, including Boston.
Next, let’s consider the course profile. The starting line of the Boston Marathon is at 490 feet with a particularly steep descent in the first mile that ruins be best laid pacing plans of many runners. By the sixth mile in Framingham, you will have dropped 190 feet after which the course levels off somewhat, eventually descending to a low point of 60 feet at Newton Lower Falls, 16 miles into the race.
Then the fun begins. There are the four Newton Hills, climaxing with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. This section takes runners up and down cresting at 230 feet by 21 miles. It is not so much that the Newton Hills are high as much as it is that they are relentless, not allowing runners much time to relax.
One would think the last five miles would come as a relief, given a sliding descent to 10 feet above sea level as you turn off Hereford Street onto Boylston Street. However, this is where the leg damage occurs, particularly if you failed to train for downhill running.
Boston is not an easy course to run the first time. It often takes several visits to the Boston to master the course and take advantage of any tailwind that fills your sails. Boston owes its fame to being the oldest marathon, run continuously since 1897. But another reason for its fame is the uniqueness of its course that challenges runners more than do most marathons throughout the world.
Thanks for sticking with me as I approach the final month of marathon training! I am excited to hear how your running has been going. What is next on your race calendar?
Are you doing anything for St. Patty’s day? What else are you up to this weekend?
Have you followed a Hal Higdon half marathon or marathon training plan? What plan are you currently following?