The grandfather of all marathons is what they call it and it has as much mystique as you can imagine. Nearly 125 editions have been run of the fabled race and some of the greatest runners have conquered and been conquered on the journey from Hopkinton to downtown Boston. A race entry is one of the most coveted in all of marathonville ut for many getting a BQ is the start of training for what many call the hardest marathon.
Boston has a reputation of being a really tough race, in large part to the Newton Hillsseries of three hills which just before 18 and stairstep through the 21mile mark. Runners are chock full of stories. having to walk the final section of Heartbreak Hill, the penultimate point of the three hills.
ll the handwringing about how hard the Boston Marathon is lore than fact.
In 2011 Geoffrey Mutai ranthe fastest marathon ever run with a 2:03:02urpassing the previous fastest time by 57 seconds. To this day it remains only 6 seconds off the world record. Th American marathon 2:04:58on the same course. To further dispel theNewton Hills, Mutai’s recordsetting run was done with a negative split. This means he ran the first 13.1 miles slower than the last 13.1 miles 1:02 versus 1:01:06 despite having to cover the Newton Hills over the half of the race.
Looking at the course profile most people would be surprised to see the dreaded Heartbreak Hill peaks at only half the height, 250ft above sea level, the race starts, 500ft above sea level. Also, the last miles of the race has an elevation drop of nearly 250ft.
So why are there so many horror stories about Boston being such a hard race?
In all likelihood it comes down to pace management. The first miles out of Hopkinton are a bit like running off a cliff with 20,000 other people. The course drops nearly 350ft the 5K mark. In the first mile the course drops 200 feet. Most runners go into the race with a pace and then find themselves running 10, 15even 30 seconds faster per mile during the first four miles because of the crowd, the magnitude of the race and the elevation drop. arathon pace should feel pretty easy for the first twothirds of the eventhen runners are going subrace pace early in the event they don’t feel the strain. Instead they feel great and think “l bank time”. Seldom does the “bank time” model work in marathoning and Boston is perhaps the worst place to apply this philosophy.
When unner come off the mile descent at the start of Bostonthey hit a stretch of relatively flat road. miles of smooth running, but the legs are already turning faster than normal and runners start to get greedy as they see the time they are “banking”. hat notice is the pounding their legs took coming down the mile descent and the gradual accumulation of running faster than they have prepared their body to do.
Here is where Boston really tricks people.
About 11 miles into the race runners are just starting to settle into the day. The euphoria of “being at Boston” is starting to wear off, the fast start hasn’t up with the but they know theyre starting to level out a bit ust then runner is coered into continuing pace as the course again takes another 100ft drop from mile 1112. you get the adrenaline shot from the Wellesley tunnel with all its girls and signs.
halfway donethinking “massive PR” because the time ve banked. Then the first hint of reality starts to set in. Mile 1415 is everso gradually uphill. So gradual you almost don’t notice it, but here is where the runner begins to feel the pace and has to begin bank. For runners in this situation the next miles are a leg breaker. Boston teases you with another great downhilldrop 150ft from 15.5 to 16. At first you think you can start banking more time or at least slow down youe . However, this time it doesn’t feel fast. No, this time you can feel your quads burning from the way you flew down the first four miles.
Then it happens, the first real hill of the day.
Climbing more gradually, but longer, than any of the Newton Hills this is the section where the Elite race often sees a big shakeup in the field. Technically this climb isn’t one of the Newton Hillsmost non-elite runners don’t pay much attention to this gradual riser prior to race day, but the Elite runners know the race really gets down to business here.
Runners have a little over a mile to collect themselves and regroup before the Newton Hills. The turn onto Commonwealth Ave at 17.5 marks the entrance to the Newton Hills and almost immediately the course points up. Individually none of the Newton Hills are that dramatic. They are mildly steep and not particularly long. Even when taken in succession, the three miles which gain 150ft can still be run pretty smoothly; unless of course you have already run 18 miles.
For thwho lacked discipline in the early miles this is where Boston punches you in the gut.
D to the mild nature of the climbs many are able to fight to stay on pace to the top of the first hill but each subsequent hill takes out of the already smashed legs.
one here and one there the time you get to the fabled “Heartbreak Hill” it seems like 15 or 20% are walking. Some runners hear this and think “theyre talking about backofpack, not sub 3hour people”. Wrong, people with 2:45 marathons under their belt are walking sections of Heartbreak and they still have miles to . Remember, these runners are not walking because the Newton Hills aresteep or long. walking because they g sucked into running below their target pace in the first half.
There are plenty of PRs made on the Newton Hills as the smart runner with a good pacing strategy will find themselves flying past 100’s of people during these famous miles.
Once the Newton Hills Boston again offers up more punishment to the undisciplined, via a downhill . downhill from 21 to 24 miles sounds great to most marathonersour smashed this downhill could the most painful miles .
Turning onto Beacon street marks the homeany first timers fail to realize how far away they are from being done. The treecovered straight road offers occasional glimpses of the famous Citgo sign which everyone associate with Fenway Park, near the finish. However, sign than two miles away you have to go up one tiny hill which can feel like 40,000.
onto Boylston Street you have about 500 meters to the finish. It is a long way off and for the runner who has spent the last miles paying for unbridled running during the first miles…he finish line will never come. or the smart runner who target pace from the beginning thedown the most famous finishing straightaway s a truly memorable experience.