By Jordan Colby
Luck favors the prepared. That could certainly be said regarding the Boston Marathon. At this year’s Boston Marathon, temperatures hovered in the upper 30’s, while a cold rain fell and winds lashed at runners. The attrition of the seeded favorites to win the women’s race began early on and continued as all the athletes were slowed by the conditions during the second half. By mile 24, American Desi Linden had managed to slow down the least, as she secured the win by a massive 4:10 margin. Desi Linden was the most prepared runner that day and as a result she was able to break a 33-year streak, becoming the first American female winner since 1985.
One of the training pearls that I am fond of is using adverse conditions to your advantage. This holds true no matter the race you are preparing for, because if you race for long enough, you are going to race in foul conditions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should seek out the worst conditions and train in them, but at some point in your training cycle, you may end up needing to get in a key workout during a nasty storm. Rather than being disappointed that your performance may suffer a bit, or worse yet, rescheduling the workout, go out and give it your best. You might be surprised with yourself, and even if your performance is a little under par, the psychological benefits of completing the workout will likely outweigh the inferior performance.
Specific to preparing for Boston is getting ready for the hills. The challenge of the hills on the Boston Marathon course do not come because they are particularly formidable hills. It is the way runners encounter the hills that makes them so notorious. The first mile of the race is nearly all downhill, making the effort of keeping your pace in check in the early part of the race more difficult than it already is, compounding the excitement of running in such an exciting event with so many other eager marathoners. This is an extremely difficult exercise in patience, but holding off and saving your quadriceps from the pounding of fast downhill running will pay later in the race. The Boston course does feature some pancake flat running from miles 6-10, as well as miles 24 through the finish. The famous hills of Boston begin challenging you from miles 17-21, and at mile 21 you will encounter the most infamous of all the Boston Hills, Heartbreak Hill. The difficulty of these hills is primarily that you will run them at a point in the race that is the most difficult part of any marathon. Adequate preparation for them will help ameliorate some of the difficulty of running well in Boston.
When my wife was training for Boston with several friends in 2015, in addition to their regular use of hill workouts throughout their program, I carefully panned out several “Boston Specific” long runs. By driving to the top of one of the regular training hills used by many local runners and cyclists, they would start their run by controlling their speed on the long descent before running the bulk of their long run over relatively flat terrain to work on a nice steady pace and then finishing by climbing back up to their parked cars. When race day arrived for the 2015 Boston Marathon, it turned out to be another rainy and windy day with temps in the upper 40’s and wind gusts of 25 mph. It was not the kind of day that one would anticipate running a personal best. Despite the conditions, my wife knew she had trained hard and that her fitness on that day warranted a PR performance. She was confident in her training and ran a two-minute personal best that day.
The hills of Boston can be tamed if you are prepared for them and train smart. The weather in Boston is unpredictable, but if you are well prepared, you may end up having the race of a lifetime.
Jordan Colby is a Physical Therapist and VDOT Certified Running Coach in Chico, CA. He is a 2003 Boston Marathon finisher. Learn more about Jordan’s coaching bio and training products on the VDOT Marketplace.