What You Need to Know if You are Training for the Boston Marathon

The famous start area of the Boston Marathon
The famous starting area of the Boston Marathon

It is that time of year.  The buzz of the Boston Marathon is starting to increase among marathon runners as Patriot’s Day draws closer.

                  Are you ready?

If that question provoked a profound sense of joy and terror deep within you simultaneously, I know  you are training for and greatly anticipating this year’s Boston Marathon.

CONGRATULATIONS!  It’s not easy to qualify for Boston.  Sure, some runners qualify during their first or second marathon, but many people work for years before they earn their coveted golden ticket to Boston.  If you are in, you are either a naturally gifted runner or you have worked really hard to get there.  Most likely, a little bit of both is in play.  Well done, congratulations, you are a bad @ss. You are about to toe the line with some of the best runners in the world.

We are here to answer your questions and provide some tips for preparing for and racing the most prestigious road race in the world.  From Hopkinton to Boylston Street, we’ve been there and we want to help guide you to your best race this April.  Today we’ll start out by talking about what you should be doing now to get ready for Marathon Monday.

Set the Right Goal.  First and foremost, we encourage you to really think about what you want from this race so you can the right goal.  This race will be a big deal for you.  Set yourself up to have the race you really want.

Which corral are you in?

You’ve worked hard to get here.  Maybe you don’t want to journey to the depths of pain required to race a marathon when you get to Boston.  Maybe you want to simply enjoy every spectator, kiss the Wellesley (and Boston College) boys/girls and take in every sight along the way.

Or, maybe the fact that you are running with the best runners in the world has stoked your competitive fire and you want to go after it with all you’ve got.  Both times I ran Boston, I wanted to race!  This was awesome, but the resulting truth was I didn’t even notice Fenway Park or many of the other historic landmarks either time I ran it.  I didn’t have a strong race either time, so both experiences were somewhat disappointing.  When I do it next, I will no doubt do it for fun since I have not yet had that experience.  Think about what you really want from the race and set your goal accordingly.

Also understand that you will probably feel a lot more pressure in this race than you have in previous races.  People think it is cute when you are training for a marathon. But mention that you are training for Boston, people get inspired and excited, whether it is your 2nd, 10th or 100th marathon.  They will be tracking you on race day, they’ll send you amazing e-mails and post-race champagne.  This is all great, but it does add some pressure that you probably didn’t encounter for your other races.  So set your goal, be a celebrity for the day and own it.  And get comfortable with the fact that your friends and family are watching.

Prepare for the Hills.  There is no sugar-coating it.  The Boston course is hard.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve probably heard about how it is a net downhill and it is a point-to-point course (there aren’t a lot of turns).  In fact, the International Association of Athletics Foundation will not recognize times run on the Boston course as world records for those very reasons.  Geoffrey Mutai ran a ground rumbling 2:03:02 in 2011, but his time is not considered a world record because it was run at Boston.

A sign I saw walking to the expo for my first Boston Marathon
A sign I saw walking to the expo for my first Boston Marathon

Not surprisingly, marathoners around the world think this is crazy.  Why?  The Boston course is HARD.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible to run a PR race, but it isn’t easy.  And I am not talking about Heartbreak Hill.  Sure, it gets a lot of attention due to its placement on the course (latter miles), but the truth is that the entire course is a bit of a roller coaster.  There are very few times you will feel like you are running on a flat surface.  That means all of the muscles of your legs will be severely worked over if you aren’t physically prepared.

Training tips:

  • Train on lots of hills.  Don’t just focus on the uphills, but run hard on the downhills too.  Many runners mistakenly worry only about the uphills, but the downhills are just as important.  If you aren’t ready for the first 14 miles of net downhill of Boston, you may really pay for it by mile 20 (or earlier).  So if you haven’t added hills into your training program – do so STAT.  You don’t need to overdo it and add hills in every run,  but be sure you run a lot of them – particularly during your long runs and tempo runs – so that your body can adapt to them.
  • Run a hilly tune-up race or two.  Get used to harder efforts on hills.  An easy long run on hills is very different than race effort.  Simulate this with a hard 10k or half marathon six weeks to a month before Boston if you can.
The long road to Hopkinton.
The long road to Hopkinton.

Prepare for a LONG Pre-Race Routine.  When you ran that marathon that qualified you for Boston, maybe  you were fortunate enough to walk out of your hotel room to the start line and within minutes  you were off and running.  This is not the case for Boston.  Since it is point-to-point starting in Hopkinton, MA (where there are no hotels) – most people stay in Boston.  There are free shuttles from Boston to Hopkinton on race morning, but that ride is more than an hour and often you are standing in long lines to board the bus.  The busses board from 6:00 to 7:30 am.  Once you get to Hopkinton, you are waiting for a long time in Athlete’s Village before the start (start times are 9:00 am for mobility impaired; 9:17 am wheelchair; 9:32 am elite women; 10:00 am elite men and wave 1; 10:20 am wave 2; 10:40 am wave 3).  Plan for a very long morning.

Training Tip:

  • Get up early before a couple of your long runs (hopefully your longest) and simulate race day.  Get up, eat, drink and get your race morning business out of the way.  Then tide yourself over for a several hours before you actually start your long run.   You’ll probably want to take in some carbs/calories, but certainly not too much.  Practice now and figure out what works for you.  Also, when you do this race day stimulation, add several miles at goal marathon pace to the end of your long run.  It may not be easy, but you’ll be glad you did it and hopefully you’ll learn your formula for race day.  Ideally, you can do this 3 or 4 times with the length of your goal marathon pace miles increasing a bit.   This will help you get acclimated to your odd race-day timing.

Acclimate to the Heat.  I know, you are thinking, what heat?  Yes, it is cold for most of us right now, but if there is one thing history has shown us, it is that it very well may be 80 or 90 degrees in Boston on Patriot’s Day.  Even if it is only 60, most of us aren’t training in that kind of weather, so it can really throw us off on race day if it is a warm one.  So run indoors some as the race starts to approach.  Overdress and get your sweat on.  Try to get your body used to running hot.

Save Some Money.  Boston isn’t cheap, ladies.  We’ve told you how to navigate race expos without breaking the bank, but you’ll want that Boston jacket.  So be sure to save some money so you can pick up some great Boston swag without over-extending yourself.

Tell Your Family & Friends.  This is one of the few times your family and friends (particularly non-runners) will be truly excited about your marathon experience.  So enjoy it!  You’ve earned it!

What are your tips for preparing for the Boston Marathon? First timers, do you have any questions about Boston us vets can answer for you?


Check out all Salty Running posts about the Boston Marathon here.

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. Ah thanks for this! I am so excited and nervous for this marathon. I’m running with a charity, so I didn’t have to qualify thank goodness. I’m just hoping to finish! It’ll be my first marathon eeek. I’m from Boston and have had a lot of friends/family run in it, so I’ve heard a lot about the course and all that….. still nervous though haha. Thanks for the tips!!

  2. Just after I posted it I thought about our charity runners. I’d love to hear that perspective on this race… Please keep us posted and let us know what charity you ran for. Qualifying for Boston is tough; fundraising to run is also very tough and admirable in my opinion. Thanks so much Mary.

  3. I almost didn’t want to read this post because I haven’t qualified, but I have to believe that I will (even if it takes 10 years).

    Great tips though, and not just for Boston but for any big marathon. I can’t wait to watch it on tv, and run it someday!