5 Last-minute Tips For The Boston Marathon

Originally posted by Poppy in 2016.

The Boston Marathon is on Monday. I repeat: the Boston Marathon is on Monday. Now is not the time to cram in last-minute training or change all your plans. However, maybe you’re waiting to hop on a plane to Boston and killing a few minutes at work because you can’t concentrate on anything other than the big race. In that case, now is a good time for a quick refresher, along with a few last minute tidbits, to help you make the most of your big Boston adventure.

Between my husband and me, we have raced Boston nine times and lived there for over 10 years. Boston is a great city with a huge running community. The city is really behind the marathon and it feels like everything in the city stops for the race. There is much to enjoy over marathon weekend. I know the Boston Marathon course and the city very well, so I figured I’d offer my two cents on both the race and enjoying the city of Boston after the race!

The dangerous downhill at mile 15

If you’re racing on Monday, you should know by now that the first half of the Boston Marathon is largely downhill, but, even so, banking time is not a wise move with the Newton Hills late in the race. What you might not know is that there are a lot of downhills after the halfway point. I think one of the toughest parts to hold restraint is mile 15 to 16. This is a very steep downhill and it’s easy to get carried away, especially because you are past the halfway point and may think “I’m feeling good and am ready to start rolling.” You still have over 10 miles to go and five of the miles include those hills, including everyone’s favorite. It’s important to know that once you pass Heartbreak Hill you will be running downhill almost the whole way to the finish. If you hold yourself back on the screaming downhill at 15, your quads will thank you when you get to the last five downhill miles.

The firehouse just before the start of the Newton Hills.
The firehouse just before the start of the Newton Hills. Best news? The worst hill might already be over!

The ugly uphill at mile 16

Heartbreak Hill rises between miles 20 and 21 and is, of course, Boston Marathon’s most infamous hill. If you’re here, you have probably planned for all the Newton hills, the ones that come immediately before Heartbreak and start after the course turns by the firehouse (not this firehouse). The hill a lot of people don’t prepare for is the not-Newton hill that occurs just after the big mile 15 downhill. Mile 17 is almost all uphill as you cross an overpass.

This mile can feel very challenging with the terrain change from the downhill just before, plus it is the most exposed part of the course to the wind, and, perhaps worst of all, it is one of the only parts of the course where there aren’t many spectators. So let this be a reminder to be prepared that the hills start on the I-95 overpass between mile 16-17, not once you turn onto Commonwealth Ave at the firehouse.

Don’t sweat the splits

Due to Boston’s rolling course, it is very difficult to run mile-by-mile even splits. If you are numbers person, I’d recommend taking splits in 5k increments to get a more telling read on your average pace. If you’re not inclined to going by 5k splits, then just know that if you are running an even marathon EFFORT, you will not see even splits. Don’t sweat it. It’s better to focus on the effort and conserving energy instead of trying to hit perfect splits every single mile.

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You can see the Mile 15 downhill and the Mile 16 uphill in the circle. You can also see from this elevation map why even splits are almost impossible.

Grab some post-race grub

Once you’ve had time to hobble back to your hotel room and are feeling up for some grub and a few tasty, well-earned beverages, let me warn you that downtown Boston is a bit of a pain in the ass to deal with on Marathon Monday. You have the marathon runners, their support crew, the folks who were at the Red Sox game, and all the folks of the Greater Boston area who are off from work or school to celebrate Patriots’ Day. You will likely have a long wait to be seated at places there and who wants a long wait to eat and drink after they ran a marathon?

So, if you are feeling adventurous and not interested in waiting forever for some food, hop on the the Red Line or jump in a cab and head across the river to Cambridge. Central Square is just across Massachusetts Ave from downtown Boston and Kendall Square is on the other side of Longfellow Bridge. If you are a fan of beer, like I am, then Cambrige Brewing Company in Kendall Square is an excellent choice. In Central Square you have places like the Asgard, Phoenix Landing, and Miracle of Science (a really neat place that pays homage to the biotech companies in the neighborhood). There are many more bars and restaurants worth visiting in Cambridge, but these will all be relatively easy to get to. (If you are so inclined to travel a little further into Cambridge or want something more off the beaten path, I can provide you with even more suggestions. Hit me up in the comments section!)

Celebrate!

Boston is unique among marathons. Boston and all of the people in the towns along the course are super into the race. It seems that everyone and their brother are out lining the course, cheering for the runners and offering up everything from orange slices, beer, and high-fives. It’s like running through a giant block party! And when those hills start catching up with you, the crowds will be at their most supportive. Loud cheers, cowbells, bullhorns, you name it. The energy from the crowd is incredibly motivating and might be just the thing you need to forget how much your quads hurt. Among the 14 marathons I have run, nothing compares to the experience of spectator support of Boston. Soak it in!

Good luck to all those racing!

Anyone have any other good last-minute tips for Boston racers?

Sal is a 4 year old 77 hour trail marathoner looking to whittle a few minutes off next time. Being a gastropod, Sal is neither male nor female but will accept either set of pronouns. Sal's spirit animal is the cheetah and Sal's mantra is, "What's slow to some is fast for others." Sal writes about Salty Running news.

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