Boston Marathon Racing Strategy

For those of you running the 127th Boston Marathon, we put together a little course preview for you below. And even if you’re not running, it’s cool to see how special that route from Hopkinton to Boston really is. Enjoy: 

The Start – Smile and soak it all in. You are about to run the world’s most prestigious footrace!

Miles 0-4 – Everyone talks about all the downhills at Boston. Well, a lot of them take place in the first four miles. Don’t believe us? The first mile drops 130 feet, the second mile drops 40 feet, the third mile drops 55 feet, and you’ll lose 85 feet in the fourth mile. For all you math majors out there, that’s 310 feet in just four miles. If you fly down these bad boys with reckless abandon, hitting splits 10, 20, even 30 seconds faster than your goal pace, you’re going to risk wrecking your quads, and trust us…you’ll need them later.

Instead, run with your smoothest, most efficient downhill form possible. You might run a few seconds faster than goal pace but ideally not much. Instead of trying to bank time, think of it as banking energy. Again, you’ll need that later.

Miles 4-12 – These eight miles are for all intents and purposes, flat. That’s not to say there’s not undulation at all, but compared to the rest of the course they are super tame. Thus, this is the best chance to get into your rhythm. If you can click off one, two, or three miles in a row at your goal pace, you really should be able to lock in and enjoy this section while staying right on schedule.

Miles 12 – 15 – During mile 12, for the first time in a long while, you’ll have to deal with a pretty sharp downhill, followed by an almost equally sharp uphill. Overall you lose 20 feet in this mile. But you probably won’t even notice any of that because this is the mile that contains the Scream Tunnel where the women of Wellesley College will greet you with screams, yes, but also funny signs, and high fives, and maybe even a hug or a kiss.

After you get past the College, you’ll run through the actual town of Wellesley, and its quaint little downtown. Those miles are flat, but don’t get used to it…things are about to get crazy.

Miles 15-17 – ALERT: Downhill ahead! You will lose 100 feet in about a half-mile stretch from mile 15.5 to 16. At this point you’ll be in Lower Newton Falls, but headed uphill toward Newton. You’ll gain 55 feet as you climb alongside the route 128 overpass. We’ll be honest with you, this is not the most fun part of the course. You do flatten out as you finish up the mile…a good spot to freshen up your mind for the Newton hills that lie ahead.

Miles 17-21 – Just past mile marker 17, you’ll turn right at the firehouse–the unofficial starting point of what are known as the Newton hills. The first hill is called “Firehouse” and is less than a half-mile long. Overall you gain 30 feet from mile 17-18.

Contrary to what you might hear, or expect, the next mile is not that difficult. It’s a net downhill overall but just 15 feet. The next mile, from 18-19, contains a nasty little climb that flattens out for just a bit, teasing you, and then climbs again. You only gain 20 feet total, but it’s a punchy 20 feet.

From 20-21 is where you’ll encounter the famous “Heartbreak Hill.” Truth be told, it’s not necessarily any crazier than any of the hills that came before, but it’s the last one…which can make it seem like the toughest. And it’s long. Not terribly steep, but long. Overall you gain 80 feet during this mile.

Miles 21-26.2 – Your reward, if you want to call it that–for reaching the top of Heartbreak, is a bombing downhill from Boston College to Cleveland Circle. Remember the 80 feet we said you just gained? You’ll lose that much in mile 22. And remember when we said you don’t want to wreck your quads during those first four miles? This is why!

From there on in you’ve got four pretty friendly miles coming in. There’s some up and down, but more down than up. Enjoy those miles. Push as hard as you can, but enjoy them. They are among the most historic miles our sport has to offer.

And as they come to a close, you get to make the two most famous turns in all of distance running: right on Hereford, left on Boylston. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. Think of all the race winners that have taken a quick peek over their right shoulder as they make that first turn onto Hereford, checking to see if they have the race in hand. Remember Meb Keflezighi in 2014, as he made the left onto Boylston and looked to the heavens in remembrance of the bombing victims, before storming home to victory. Make your own memories as you make these turns yourself. Because at this point, no matter your time, no matter your place, you’ve done it. You’re a Boston Marathoner!!

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