Many of you have watched, ran, or would love to run the iconic Boston Marathon or another one like it. For Boston, you can get there by qualifying, which gets more difficult annually, running through a charitable organization, or being a bandit. Yes, they even allow bandits to run the race. I’ve qualified three times and run it twice now and would probably need many more to have my best day there as I am a late life “work-in-project” athlete/coach. The good news is I keep learning new lessons and jotting myself notes. The other good news is that there is a better qualifying chance for 2017 because the tough conditions this year will push the cut-off times upwards.
Many of the athletes at Boston self-identify as runners specifically; however there are many that identify as triathletes or Ironman, not to mention the various other types of special athletes that crush the race in wheelchairs and with other challenges. Some of the athletes there have done it many times over, while there is also a lot of first timers. The excitement of most, no matter how experienced, is palpable.
The Boston Marathon is Tough
Like Bostonians who can be brash and direct at first, but super nice as you get to know them, Boston is one of the more difficult courses to master. The difficulty is due to the course profile that lures you into a dreaded positive split with its ever present front-loaded downhills. Wherein most shorter road races, you look forward to descents, here you will learn that downhills are not your friend! Even worse, bigger climbs start past the midpoint when your quads are trashed.
Then there is the varied nature of weather and temperatures, which have ranged from freezing to roasting. Some years you even get a huge shift in temperatures on the same day. This leaves the athlete a lot of variables to plan for, like many races, in order to have his or her best day. I thought it worthwhile to jot some notes down to help others and myself down the line.
10 Tips to have your best (Boston) Marathon
- Time Goals Can Be Dangerous – You will need to respect the course as everyone gets punished in Boston. Even more reason that you have to be flexible given all the variables. My best races are when I have lower time demands. Lock yourself in and you will struggle with anything that doesn’t go to plan like heat, wind, etc. A better method would be to manage expectations, and plan to finish, have fun, and do your best. Let the results be what they will be by you having the best day you can have managing the various demands that go along with running 26.2 difficult miles.
- Compete With Yourself – Likewise, realize that the competition is not with others (even though some folks may attempt to lure you in) but you getting the most out of yourself and your training. Whether it a chick that a dude doesn’t want to get beat by, or a fellow age grouper, don’t get out of your flexible mindset and game plans. Focus on having your best day. Indeed, I was honored to be beat again by plenty of better runners on the day like the classy Kerry Hobbs.
- Cover The Course Beforehand – “Heartbreak Hill” is not just a clever nickname and many races have something along those lines. Learn the hills (up and down) and other aspects of the course profile, quiet and loud stretches, and where your cheering crews will be. Don’t waste important time in the Expo shopping for crap you don’t need on legs that need to rest unless you are buying great products like those from my pals at Generation Ucan. Learn spots on the course like when you are nearing the turn at the Fire Station heading towards Heartbreak Hill, where it crests at Boston College, the finish and when you are on a long climb or flat stretch so you can rest mentally and focus on the physical work.
- Have A Primary Caregiver Or Sherpa If Possible – Hopefully, you have someone you can trust even if they are very hairy like my sherpa and brand developer Flynn. Not only can they find you the best coffee in the location like that from Render Coffee in Boston (trust me on that one!), they can find you three bottles of the impossible to find KBS Stout from Founders Brewery or whatever you love. They have to be dedicated to helping you have the best race even if it seems demeaning at times. Also, make a good plan about where they are going to be on race day so you can anticipate and find them in the thick crowds.
Tell Your Sherpa To Listen – When you see this person during the race, make sure they are listening not yelling “Slayer!” at you. You may need to communicate something of importance first for him or her to relay to your other supporters, before they can send you a positive or harsh message, depending on what you respond better to. It’s also wise to set meeting spot(s) for post-race when everything is a jumble and for them to have some warm clothes for you to put right on afterward when you get cold.
- Write Your Plan Down AND Have Backup Plans And Gear – Gloves are not just for warmth if you have a bad gut and the port-a-john is out of loo roll. Likewise, it’s good to limit anxiety wherever possible so write down what you will dress in at various temperatures to help with pack and unpacking, what you will eat or drink when, if you will take salt or caffeine tabs and when, etc. Pack and carry backup items to the start just in case. The more you can plan out and think through with contingency plans, the more focused you can be present in the racing moments.
- Feed Off The Fans – If you choose/can, stay or hang with great local folks who will feed you well if you can. Likewise, on race day, not only will the local and distant race fans potentially give you energy, they will give you food, oranges, wet wipes, licorice, and water! Some will even give you a Sam Adams beer. Just don’t grab the warm one or the germ-ridden kids’ options on food and drink. There is nothing worse than getting sick during the event or late in the day!
- Smile Even If You’re Miserable – No matter how good or bad your race is going, your pictures often look better with a smile. Some psychologists say you have to fake it until you make it. Basically, you trick your mind to some degree by smiling that you are indeed happy. This all goes back to achieving the 2nd race goal of having fun even if many of your cohorts are suffering the same or worse than you.
- Prioritize Your Needs (Pre-Race) – You will have a lot of things to do in terms of visits with friends and family, potential tourist items, etc. Remember why you are there and get into your war mindset the sooner the better. 26.2 miles is no joke. 26.2 from Hopkinton to Boston is even worse! You need to focus up and people will adjust to your requests by and large, knowing what you are up against.
- Know and Remember The Pain Will End – There are many reasons not to run a marathon! However, the pain will end. Moreover, you don’t have to run back to Hopkinton, where the race starts, only to Boston, so take care of the task at hand. Leave it all out there on the course in measured form. #NoQuit This point needs emphasized. No matter how ugly it gets, if you quit early, you have that decision to remember forever. It can undermine your confidence moving forward and force you to create an excuse which potentially makes you look bad. 26.2 miles especially in Boston can create a lot of sore spots on the entire body. Expect them and know that you will just endure it until you cross. When you cross, you can relax and heal, and not until then so keep moving as quickly as you can towards the finish line and even if you do stop make it temporary.
- Be Tolerant And A Good Sportsman – Karma goes a long way on race day so don’t be afraid to help your fellow athletes if they forgot something, if they are freaking out, if they are needing weather reports, etc. You will make friends for life during a marathon that you may never meet or talk to again. Final note as it pertains to the Boston Marathon: please try to send hand and verbal signals if you are crossing a fellow runner’s path to get fluids so they don’t trip and fall. Make sure to be understanding if they accidentally cross your path as well. That appeared to be one of the biggest problems on the course.
So there you have it. These are some good general tips to have a better day at your next longer road race or marathon, or possibly even the Boston Marathon. If I can qualify again somewhere (aka “BQ”), I hope to see you there and for you to have your best day.
Of course, like most everyone else at the end of the race, I said I will never race this amazing race again. But, holy cow do we have short memories when it comes to pain! Moreover, how can you not love the folks of Boston and how they pull together for the event? Let me know if you have other good suggestions to add to this blog and get after it! #DoYourJob so you can #ReapWhatYouSow