I've run Boston 3 times, each time was quite the experience! Here are a few things to know.
Pre-Race: You will go to the finish line area (actually Boston Commons, a few blocks away from finish) and catch a shuttle bus to the start. The race doesn’t start until 10:00am, but you will catch the bus very early, like 6:00am! It will take you to the athlete’s village in Hopkinton. The bus ride will take nearly an hour.
At the athlete’s village you hang out for a few hours waiting for the start. There will be lots of large tents, with food (bagels, bananas,....), drinks (water, coffee, sports drinks) and a bazillion porta-potties! This area is at a school. That said, bring whatever food you are planning to eat, just to be sure you have what you are used to eating before you run.
I recommend finding some cardboard the day before the race and carrying it with you to the start area. A few pieces that you can carry under your arm onto the bus. This will give you something to sit/lay on that morning while you are hanging out at the athlete’s village. If you are on the ground the cardboard will keep you dry, if you are on the concrete it will be a little cushion. Also bring a couple of large garbage bags. They can keep you dry and warm prior to the race. I usually find a spot next to one of the school buildings, away from the crowd, usually a dry place next to a brick wall, out of the wind.
There is a bag check for your warmups BUT it is nearly ¾ of a mile from the start, so wear some old clothes that you don’t mind ditching at the start line, never to be seen again! You will check your bag and walk to the start. I also recommend wearing an old pair of shoes just in case you step in mud or water, then tossing them before the race, switching to the shoes you will run in. There will be lots of Porta Potties in the athlete’s village, as well as by the start line.
You will be lined up 10-15 minutes before you start running. Once the gun goes off it will take you several minutes to reach the actual start line. Most of the runners around you will be running your pace or faster, so be patient, avoid getting caught up in the excitement. In the first mile there will be crowds, then a few wooded areas that runners will jump off the course to pee!
Patience! Most of the course is a slight downhill, so you will have some fast miles. These fast miles can take a toll on your quads by the time you hit the last 5 miles!
My advice is to run the first 5 miles on effort, keeping it very easy allowing your body to warmup. Don’t get caught up on your splits (unless they are really fast, which is a sign you need to slow down!) In 2008 my first 5 miles were my slowest and I ran a PR. In 2013 I was 2 minutes behind my goal pace time at 5 miles, which really stressed me out. I was stressing out, but forced myself to stay calm and stick to my plan. I made it all that time back up and more to run a PR! So relax for 5 miles!
The course has some slight (almost unnoticeable) elevation changes, so your mile splits will vary even if your effort remains steady. Here are links to pace calculators that take into the course elevation changes so you can have a realistic idea of what to expect:
I also made me a little cheat sheet that told me which miles to expect faster splits, and which miles to expect slower split times. I wrote it on a small piece of paper, laminated it and carried it with me for reference during the race. This kept me from freaking out when my pace got faster or slower!
The hills will start on mile 16, very gradually. You won’t notice there are hills, but you will notice your effort is increasing and your splits start to slow down slightly. You get a break after a couple of miles then they will return on mile 20 & 21, which will be the slowest. BE WARNED! On Mile 22 you will encounter a steep downhill (sounds good, but after 22 miles it can do some serious damage, so ease down the hill until it levels out.
So in a nutshell, be patient for 5 miles, get in the groove for the next 10 miles, get through the hills (miles 16-21) in one piece, survive the sharp downhill and bring it home strong on the last 5 mile.
BOTTOM LINE: The first time you run Boston you should relax and enjoy it! You want it to be a positive experience. If you are patient you will run a good time. If you get greedy or impatient the course will eat up!
The crowds are incredible along the course, so take time to soak in the sights, sounds and smells!
"What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
― John L. Parker Jr., Once a Runner
Elite runner's approach training in "phases", emphasizing different types of training at different times during the year. In the most simple format they break it down into five phases: off-season, preseason, in-season, peaking and post-season. Each phase emphasizes different types of training designed to produce slightly different results
Their secret to success is to have a great off-season phase, this is where where you build your "base", also known as your aerobic system. This is critical for a distance runner. The aerobic system fuels your muscles with the oxygen needed to run fast for a long time. It includes your heart, lungs, blood vessels and at the cellular level the mitochondria that power your muscles. Your bones, joints and connective tissue gain strength to become resistant to injury.
Base building is best accomplished by logging miles and miles, most at an very easy pace! Why? Scientific research shows us that lots of time spent running causes your muscles to develop more mitochondria and blood capillaries. It also conditions your heart and lungs to work efficiently with out tiring. So, how much running is needed? Here are a few stats for you:
Two other interesting developments come from logging lots of miles. One is mechanical, with miles comes increased efficiency. Your body finds the optimal stride length and foot placement that produces the most efficient stride for you. This is called "running economy" and is one of the greatest determinants of a runners performance! The better your running economy the less wasted energy and the easier running is.
The other fascinating aspect of logging miles is increased resistance to fatigue! This means your body does not get as tired from running. Why? The more you run, the more routine the movements of running become. As this happens, your brain does not have to work as hard to make the body run, which reduces mental fatigue. The result is a lower level of perceived effort for whatever pace you are running.
Off-season training generates the greatest gains in performance, so why don't we do this type training year round? Because this type training takes weeks to produce results, and during the process your body does not show the results! You will be tired, beat up and slow. You are more susceptible to injury during this phase, which is another reason to keep faster running to a lower intensity and to a minimum. Your results show up when you back off the training and allow the body to recover.
One final comment on base training. you will reach a point where you feel "fried" from all the running. It is perfectly acceptable to take a few days or even a week of reduced mileage and intensity just to get your legs back underneath you!
So, in summary, if you want to be a great runner, you have to log the miles, and you have to be patient enough to resist too much fast running during this phase! We will tackle the faster running when we get closer to the start of the XC season!
In the immortal words of Quentin Cassidy
“You don't become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE
The first step in becoming a serious runner!
That was the title of a column I read in "Running" magazine back in the early 1980's. It was written by Marty Liquori, a world class runner, and one of my running heroes. The column was summary of the book Marty had written on training for a serious runner. Over the years I have searched for a copy of the article and was thrilled when the article below popped up on my suggested reading list.
On first reading it I thought Marty was a little over the top, but eventually I began to understand his concepts. His point was, if you want serious results from your running, you need to be serious about your running. A serious runner makes running a focal point of their daily routines. It's OK not to make running the focal point of your life, but don't expect extraordinary results with a less than great commitment.
You can be a runner with/out eating/sleeping/breathing the sport of running, BUT if you truly want to achieve great running results, you have to make running your focal point. This is true with most any endeavor/sport that you want to be great at. Don't fool yourself into thinking you are serious unless you prioritize your running. This doesn't mean that you can't do other things, but make a point of planning out your running so that you get it in, and that it doesn't take a backseat to distractions and other things. Take care of getting rest, eating properly, etc.
This concept made a lasting impression on me as a young runner. It changed how I thought about my training and commitment, and set me on a a course to become a true competitive runner.
I recently found the complete series of articles (19 pages total) of which is a condensed version of Marty's book on Training, it is well worth taking a few minutes to read!
As the Styx song says - "Too much time on my hands"!
Being at home offers us more time to run, but also more opportunity for procrastination! Most runners are used to squeezing runs into our normally busy schedules. Now, rather than getting up early we sleep in. When we do get up in the morning we decide to wait until the weather is warmer, or until the wind stops blowing or some other reason. Then the afternoon comes and we get side tracked, or the rain comes, etc.... You know the drill!
Here are tips for adjusting to our new norm.
First have a plan! Know what your running plan is for each week. Start with a rough mileage goal, then plot out your days. Avoid running the same distance and pace each day. You need a long run, some easy days, maybe a tempo day and a day that you can work in some faster "pickups" or "Intervals". Also plan days off as needed!
After you decide what type of run for each day, plan what time of the day you are going to run. Morning, noon or night! Once you make that decision, tell someone in your household so they can help you be accountable!
Finally, decide where to run. A confirmed course gives you a defined start and finish point, so you are less likely to cut your run off early. Loops are sometimes mentally easier to complete as opposed to out and back courses. New locations are often mentally invigorating and make the time go by faster!
A few minutes planning out your run week takes all the decision making out of the day to day so you can accomplish your goals!
To quote Quenton Cassidy (Once a Runner) " These questions had been considered a long time ago, decisions were made, answers recorded, and the book closed. If it had to be re-opened every time the going got rough, he would spend more time rationalizing than training; his log would start to disclose embarrassing information, perhaps blank squares."
Brooks Running CEO Jim Weber always likes to say "A run can flat-out change a day, a life, the world!" I agree 100%! No matter how grumpy I feel, I always feel much better, physically, mentally and emotionally after I finish a run!
With the start of the new year, I would like to offer some "old" advice, but it is always sound and relevant when it comes to getting in that run that will make you feel so much better! Getting out the door is the hardest part, once you do that the rest is easy. I always say to my runners "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!" This is true with running.
Getting out the door, a mile or two a day is the best start you can have. If you do it everyday good things will follow. Don't try to start with 10 miles if you are trying to get into shape. Develop the habit of a daily run first, the miles will come as you stick with it. 10 minutes of slow easy running beats hours of sitting on the coach thinking about it!