In 2004 I ran 3:53:53 for my slowest marathon time.
In 2005 I ran 3:02:33 for my fastest marathon time.
I am going to race it again this year. Or at least that was the plan. Racing is getting to be a relative term as I have been fighting a chest infection which has made my training less than optimal. So that means I have to rely even more on making smart choices on the actual day of the race to make my goal of running around 3:15.
This is my list of things to consider when running the Boston marathon (not in any particular order, and I am sure these are not all my original ideas)
- Race expo and the City - the Boston race expo is large, full of cool stuff and fun. As is Boston. Be careful not to walk, stand, eat, party or whatever too much on Friday and Saturday before the race if you wish to perform at your peak on Monday.
- Race morning - get on the bus. I have only heard horror stories of people trying to drive to the start. The buses are packed and slow and even get lost. Both years my bus driver had no idea where they were going and we took about 20 minutes longer to get there than it should of. But we did get there and it was still way more relaxing than driving. Also bring something to lay down on or sit on while you are waiting to be herded out to the starting corals. "Disposable" inflatable mattresses were popular the years I was out there. Know where the outhouses are and have a time line on when you are going to use them. They get very busy. You goal is to stay relaxed and save at least some of the adrenaline for those final miles. Also know which race coral you are supposed to be in and be ready to head out at the correct time to wait for the start of the race.
- Fuel - plan what, when and how you are going to eat out on the course. If you are going to use aid stations, know where they are and what they will have. I propose that you carry all you need on your person. One less thing to worry about. And how much do you need? I have frequently read that we can only digest about 300 calories per hour during strenuous activity. This works out to be 1 gel every 20-25 minutes. I usually start "gelling" once I am about 60 minutes in to the race. Therefore I need 6- 8 gels to fuel for the entire course. Make sure to see if you are comfortable carrying this many gels and fueling this way long before race day. Remember: nothing new on race day! Having a plan for fueling down to the minute of when to take the gel takes all the guess work out of race day and ensures that you don't do something silly while out on the course. I set my watch to beep every 20 minutes to remind me to gel. I have always needed the reminder.
- Hydration - the 2 years I have done Boston it was warm to hot. 2004 was 85 F at the start. 2005 was 70 degrees. Hydration is important and must match you needs and fueling. Plan it and know how to adapt based on the weather. Do not overlook planning your electrolyte needs as well. Plan it all out on paper to line up for the best chance of success.
- Aid stations - Boston is a big race with about 25,000 people running. If you are going to rely on the aid stations, and no matter how fast or slow you think you are as a runner, the aid stations are going to be busy. Many times there are aid stations on both sides of the street. Go to the end of the station on the left-hand side to reduce the chance of crowding or collision.
- First 6 miles - the first 6 miles are downhill. You will go faster than you should. Fight it the best you can to save those quadriceps for later in the race on the hills and the flats. Train for it as well. Find a route near you that starts with a downhill and finishes flat or up hill. Train to run fast and smart on the downhills. Don't fight gravity...learn to float :-) If you feel you are going slow in the first 6 miles you are likely running the correct pace. There is no bank of time when running a marathon. If you go too fast, you will pay much more than any deposit you make in the first miles. I think ultra runners have an advantage here as this is so very important in the longer distances...a lesson I have been slow to learn.
- Hill running on tired legs - Boston has hills. Know where they are and plan for them. Nothing large compared to a trail ultra but we all feel it with the distance. Train for it, attack it and blow by all those other people who are walking :-) Train on a course that has at least as big a hill as Heartbreak and ensure to run the hill with at least 12 miles already on your legs. But don't be scared....the hills are smaller than you think and once you are done with them the end is within your grasp!
- Adjust to the conditions- weather in Boston in April is unpredictable. It can be snowing or it can be 90F. Adjust your goals based on the weather on the day of the race. I posted my slowest marathon time in 2004 as I did not adjust my goals and attempted to run a PR on a very hot day when I had done no heat training. That was dumb and made for a long day once I stopped sweating at mile 14...ouch!
- Feed off the crowds - Breath it in. You are doing the Boston Marathon. This is as close to being a rock star as most of us get. It seems like almost all of Boston is out cheering and when you go by Wellesley Woman's College, feed off the noise and cheering. That wave of sound and excitement is good to boost anyone for at least 3-4 miles.
- Watch the women's 2008 Olympic Trails on Sunday: cheer for those Olympic hopefuls and get inspired by their running ability. Special opportunity that we just cannot miss. I will be yelling with the most volume for the women from Oregon. Just don't use all your race day energy :-)