The Boston Marathon. The “granddaddy of them all.” Race week is finally here. You grinded out long runs and long workouts through the cold, dark winter months. You stuck through it with the rest of life beating down your door – work, family, weather, etc. You got through your last long run and your last true interval workout and now it’s time to taper and enjoy this week. Time to psyched for the race.
It’s game time – this is where you put everything you learned into the field of play.
First off, enjoy the atmosphere!! The excitement in Hopkinton on Marathon morning is palpable but keep in mind you will be out there for a couple hours. Don’t get too excited too early; save it for the corrals. Look around and soak it in. You’ve earned the right to be there. It’s important not to forget that. As runners, we often focus on the future. Allow yourself to live in the present for a little while and celebrate the success and hard work it took for you to get to Boston before shifting focus on the race itself. As you line up in the corrals, keep looking around, smile at other runners, maybe engage in conversation with them, maybe find a local runner or two. Just remember to have some fun out there and reflect on the tremendous achievement that is Boston qualifying.
When the race starts, get out comfortably. Look around and enjoy the sights – and focus on what race execution. A solid first 10K will propel you to the race of your life. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but stay relaxed the entire time. Be patient in the very downhill first mile. Don’t tighten up and get flustered by the crowds. Remember the race is seeded based on qualifying time so there is no need to make sudden movements. Be patient. Weaving to move up may be required but avoid sudden jerks and look for comfortable openings to cruise through. Maybe even get in behind someone doing the same and go with them but save most of this until Ashland and early in Framingham.
The second 10K will be the easiest of the day. You’ll finally be warmed up and cruising! It starts with a long straightaway as you pass the Framingham Depot where the spectators are fairly dense. The packed crowds at the start have lightened up and moving through the pack becomes easier. Here is where reigning it in and resisting the urge to accelerate is important. Execute your race strategy. Remember, you’re not half way yet. Settle into a rhythm, take some deep breaths, make sure to take in fluids and other ‘comforts’ in this section – don’t forget about them! You’ll cruise through Framingham and Natick crossing the half feeling nice and relaxed, but here is where the work begins.
I always say the third quarter of any race is what determines the outcome. Resist the urge to open it up from 13 thru 16 passing through the “scream tunnel” at Wellesley College and with the big downhill leaving of Wellesley. The hill over Interstate 95 right after mile 16 is deceptive so don’t fall asleep out there and ensure getting through that mile confidently and on target. After making the right turn at the firehouse, the Newton hills start so be prepared. Stay steady and do not push through the first couple uphills. Look around and spot a couple people in the race. Make sure those people stay around you. Don’t get caught focusing on one person because if they slow down or speed up, you’re going to go right along with them. Find multiple people. Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Whatever works! Just make sure you are not going faster than or slower than the entire group around you. This is YOUR TRIBE!
The final 10K is all about positive reinforcement and reminding yourself how awesome you are. You’ve come too far to let it slip away now… and, gosh darn it, you deserve to be there! Give me one more hill and know that, on the other side, it is literally all downhill to the finish. Take advantage of the downhill off Heartbreak to get relaxed again (deep breath, best form, fluids and/or food, etc.) and let it serve as your springboard to the finish line. As a distance runner, there is no better feeling in the world than knowing you are running the race of your life and you’re going to do what you set out to accomplish – and maybe even faster! All the runs and workouts completed during the cold, dark winter months have not only prepared physically but mentally for the race. In the last 10K, start remembering all those runs and workouts and remind yourself that getting through those helped you to get where you are right now – and they are going to get you to the finish. This is a quote from Ryan Hall after finishing 4th in the 2009 NYC Marathon: “Over the last 10K I made it my goal to let out whatever was inside of me. I had trained very hard for this moment – too hard to let it completely slip by. This is when the battle becomes about personally overcoming your own body and not giving in to the desire to completely fold when the chips are down.” Make this your mantra the final 10K!
Also, whether you want to admit it or not, the marathon is in fact a race. In the final 10K, start ‘engaging’ with people. If someone passes you, make even the smallest effort to go with them for 30, 60, 90 seconds or longer. It will help take your mind off the fatigue and begin to race. You are more likely to run a faster time racing people than you are racing the clock – I believe in that philosophy from the mile to the marathon. Towards the end of the race, choose a “no pass zone” where you will try not to let anyone pass you.
For the more experienced marathoners, I offer you one last piece of advice: Do NOT be afraid of the bonk! If you are, then you are going to run too cautiously in the first half and not meet your time goals – and you’ll be mad at yourself for that. How many people have you heard say, “I ran a good time but I felt like I could have run faster.” Take the chance and go for the race you know you can run. If you bonk, so what? You won’t regret it, I promise. You’ll just walk away and say it wasn’t your day. Of course you’ll be bummed, but at least you’ll be happy in knowing you went for yours. But if you are afraid of the bonk and run too cautiously, you start losing your chance to get the times you want right from the start.
You – yes, YOU – are the reason a million people will be lining the streets from Hopkinton to Boston. Use the cheers of these fans as the additional fuel you cannot ingest. The crowd at the Framingham Depot, the Wellesley College girls and their “scream tunnel,” the DWRT/ Frontrunners crew set up near the Heartbreak Hill Running Co near mile 20 (remember to wave!), the BC students lining the back side of the Newton hills, people standing 10 deep from Cleveland Circle to Kenmore Square, the right turn onto Hereford and left turn onto Boylston where you’ll be greeted by the sight of the blue and gold finish line banner. There is nothing like the excitement of the Boston Marathon. Enjoy all of it!
You’ve had a tremendous training season. Time to show Boston and the world how great it’s been. Good luck!!