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6 Do’s and Don’ts of Training for the Boston Marathon

I never really planned on being a marathoner. After my collegiate running career ended my running goals centered around the half marathon, and that was far enough for me. However, after some encouragement from my former college coach to give the marathon a shot, I signed up for the 2007 Rocket City Marathon. I ran it and I loved it. Everything about the marathon appealed to me. From the dedication and attention to training, to the challenge of the distance itself, I knew that this wouldn’t be the only marathon I ran.

Sure enough, in December of 2008 I found myself on the starting line of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. My main goal that day was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was bitterly cold and windy. I vowed before the start to hit all three of my goals that day; to actually finish the marathon, not to walk, and to qualify for Boston. I went two out of three; I did finish and qualify for Boston (but an urgent need to use the port-a-john overtook me at mile 20 and I briefly stopped). I was pumped to say the least. As soon as I could I signed up for the 2010 Boston Marathon and set my sights on training as best I could for it.

Not many things in life are more exciting than having a goal and reaching it. For most marathoners, that goal is running in the Boston Marathon. The six do’s and don’ts listed below are lessons I have learned from training for and running in Boston:

DO train according to your current marathon time. DO NOT train at your goal marathon time, all the time. Training outside of one’s current ability level can not only lead to injury and physical burn out, but can also lead to psychological fatigue. At BPC, we set training goals for our clients based on their current fitness level, and as race times improve we move their training paces up. If you aren’t sure of your training paces use the McMillan Running Calculator. By inputting your current marathon time, you are able to see what pace zones you should train at for different style workouts. Stick to those zones and you will reach the Boston Marathon starting line ready and able to run fast.

DO train with a plan. DO NOT train how your friends are training. It can be tempting to train with your friends all the time and do exactly what they are doing. But chances are, you need a marathon plan specifically tailored to your running goals, needs, and lifestyle. Make time to train with friends, but stick to your training plan, and avoid using cookie cutter plans from magazines and the internet. My shameless encouragement, find a running coach and work with them to design and structure a plan that best suits your needs. And yes, and follow that plan.

DO practice running at marathon pace. DO NOT run the same pace all the time. The absolute biggest mistake I have seen marathon runners make is training at the same pace on every single run. It’s important to vary your training paces from day to day. You will use all of your energy systems and muscular systems during the marathon, so you need to train them ALL. The undulating course in Boston will force you to be able to engage different speeds, so practice different speeds in training.

DO include strength work and hill running. DO NOT run for the sake of running. Just about every marathoner is familiar with Heartbreak Hill. This iconic hill in the Boston Marathon is made tough not by how steep it is or how long (it’s only 3.3 percent grade for 600 meters) but where it is on the course. Nestled between mile markers twenty and twenty one, Heartbreak hill tests the strength of runners of all ability levels. Overcome Heartbreak Hill and all the hills by adding core workouts, hill training, and strength work to your marathon build up. The worst possible thing to do is just run all the time. By adding in adding in total body, mobility, and core focused strength training 2-3 times per week for 30-45 minutes, you will reach Heartbreak Hill ready and raring to smash it.

DO have multiple goals. DO NOT have an “all or nothing” mentality. I always approach my marathons with three goals, they may vary from marathon to marathon, but it’s always three. In 2008 it was to qualify for Boston, not walk, and finish. Everyone’s goals are different but whatever they are have more than one for Boston. Training and racing with an “all or nothing mentality” (only having one goal that is) leaves no room for reflection or growth. Line up at Boston with at least three goals, that way if plan A goes down the drain you can move on to plan B or plan C, and still have a positive experience that will keep you hungry to train.

DO rest and reflect after the marathon. DO NOT run a “make up” marathon. I’ll never forget the feeling I had after finishing my first marathon. It was exhilarating. I immediately wanted to start training for my next one. While this may or may not be the case for most Boston qualifying marathoners out there, it is very important to take time off after the race. If you reached your goal don’t let that excitement carry you into another marathon too soon. What’s too soon? I tell the athletes I coach that they should not race another marathon for at least 5-6 months. The body needs time to heal. It’s also important to race other distances (shorter ones preferably). Racing shorter distances will help improve you running economy at higher speeds, so the next time you line up to race a marathon your previous best pace per mile will feel just a little bit easier.

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