Should You Train Differently for the Boston Marathon Course?

4 Training Essentials to Get you Boston Ready!

It is no secret that The Boston Marathon course is a tough course. People ask me ALL the time why. There are lots of courses that are hilly, and technically Boston is a net downhill course, so why is Boston more difficult than others? Well, this is not an easy answer. Boston is a very technical course and one needs to be very smart to run it well.

The placement of the hills makes this race challenging. The first 8 miles it is extremely easy to go out too fast leaving your legs completely trashed and unable to handle the load of the Newton hills that start at mile 16. Running hills in training is just not enough.  If you want to run well on the course your overall fitness level needs to be good, AND you need to run smart. Training hills can be hard, and can be risky in terms of stress fractures so in training for Boston, recovery is extremely important. Strength training is a bonus for Boston runners as strong quads are essential for running downhill well. I have trained my Boston runners differently throughout the years as they all have unique needs, but here are a few training essentials.

  • Strength training is extremely important. Squats, lunges, deadlifts. Build leg strength. Try to do this early in the training cycle, when doing less speed, as these are effort sessions and require more recovery. When running downhill the quads are in an eccentric contraction for a long time as the front half of the course is a gradual downhill. If the quads are not strong enough to handle this, it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s easy to fall apart when your legs are sore before you even get to the hills. One of my favorite podiatrists in Memphis, Darrell G. Croft, also an iron man and phenomenal Boston runner, swears by backward elliptical. He Ross Trains on the elliptical in the backward motion in a squat position to build quad strength. I love this strategy with my runners because it builds strength in the quads without the extra pounding of the downhill training that can lead to stress fractures. Stress fractures leave you out of the race so I want to avoid this at all costs.
  • Run hills. Every 2-3 weeks for your long run or your mid-week medium long run, do some hill repeats in the middle of your run. Don’t run hard uphill and run the downhill easy, take a different approach. Run at a moderately hard pace up AND down hill. Focus on the downhill as much as you do the uphill. Stay relaxed and practice holding yourself back a little and staying lower to the ground letting gravity pull you down the hill. We don’t want to waste energy running up hill ever. In Florida, my runners struggle with this more than in other areas of the country, simply because we run so flat every day. Floridians want to attack hills when they see them. The best approach, especially in Boston is to keep the same effort level uphill as you are have on the flat ground. This means you will slow a bit going up, surge at the top with 5 fast steps then run relaxed and let gravity take you down. If you run hills correctly it’s a great way to keep your cadence up while racing and use some different muscles so you are not hammering all the time like in flat marathons.
  • Tempo runs. I love tempo and progressive runs as a coach in general, but for Boston they are a must. For my Boston crew I like faster finish long runs as it teaches your legs to push when they are tired. I have my clients run extremely easy for the majority of the long run so we get good time on feet and burn through glycogen stores, and then we turn on the heat the last 3-5 miles as we are depleted and tired.  When doing this, make sure the majority of the run is easy and make recovery from this run a priority. Get in a recovery drink quickly, such as Vega or Fluid, and have a good healthy well balanced meal so that your legs recover quickly and get stronger. Then balance this long run with an easier long run the next week. Recovery is extremely important. We can work extremely hard in training, and then blow it by not recovering properly so we end up going into race day over-trained and burned out. Take recovery as seriously as the hard training always. This means not only a balance in training, but sleep and fueling.
  • Last but not least, pacing strategy. As a coach I will say that this is true almost every time. “If they don’t do it in training, they won’t do it on race day”. What does this mean? Well, it means this: if they run too fast on the track in workouts they will go out too fast on race day. If they don’t hold back on their long runs in training, they won’t hold back on race day. The marathon is the only race that you will run out of fuel if you don’t pace it correctly and carbo load properly. Practice carbo loading correctly. Practice pacing properly in training. Never do this for the full 20 miler but practice with shorter 12-15 mile runs occasionally. Practice holding back. Practice your pace plan because guess what? If you do it in training… will do it on race day!

Incorporate some of these things into your Boston training and you will have a great race! Please remember, Boston is the greatest course ever. If you run it properly you can have a great time and run a great race. The spectators are amazing and the course is beautiful. Enjoy it. Don’t wear headphones, listen to your body and look around you. If you are running it, it is a privilege whether you qualified OR you are running for charity you worked hard to be there, and you never know if you will be able to run it again. Don’t take it for granted. Take in Every. Single. Moment.

On Track

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