Boston Marathon Course Strategy
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Boston Marathon: You came for the jacket.
Fallback Point: Mile 7
Boston is a tough, jam-packed course with LOTS to see and soak in. There will also be lots working against you; I never recommend attempting a PR or even re-qualifying here. Weather is iffy and if the sun is out, you may not even enjoy race day.
I don’t mean to be overly negative here–I would rather you knew what to expect before going and be mentally prepared rather than have your hopes crushed. BEING THERE is the reward, nothing about it should disappoint. Everyone gets the jacket, whether they PR or DNF, whether it’s rainy or the hottest day on record.
If you are in the qualifier corrals: keep your elbows tucked in, and be VERY CAREFUL trying to pass people. I've had more than one runner come home with a broken elbow or rib. Not kidding. Go with the flow until Mile 7, which I refer to as "The Fallback Point" because that's where the crowd naturally starts to separate and you will get some breathing room.
Charity Runners: You worked harder than anyone else to be here, fundraising is NO JOKE, and if any of my runners give you grief, email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will sort them out personally. You will also have a tougher day than most with a much later start and corral placement so make good choices in terms of clothing- you will be sitting around a LOT. Dress for the end of the race but wear throwaway layers for sitting around and waiting to start. Wear more than you think you should, you can always toss.
“Positive Split Course” means ‘save your energy because the second half is harder.’ You do not necessarily have to have a huge differential if you run a smart race.
This is a tightly corralled course–the most tight you will ever see outside of the elite corrals. No matter where you start, it’s like swimming upstream with salmon or in a can of sardines for the first 15 miles; the next 11.2 are only marginally better.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will go out too fast and stay there since the first 3 miles are mostly downhill (then the rolling hills start). DO NOT BURN OUT.
This is point-to-point and you will likely take buses to the start. Plan for that. It will be a LOOONG day.
It will be a much longer day if the sun comes out. The race is televised nationally and starts late; you will likely be up and moving up to 6 hours before you approach the start line. The waiting area has no shade. The course has no shade. If the sun is out, even if it is 38 degrees at noon, it will likely feel much, much warmer. (Historically, if the sun is out, it is WAY warmer than 38 degrees.)
If the sun doesn’t come out, the odds are in your favor. Great racing conditions–don’t waste them by making bad choices. If your qualifying marathon was 3:35 eleven months ago, you probably aren’t going to run a 3:03 today. So keep a good bead on your pace and make sure you aren’t approaching the A pace from your EAT.
Follow the pace caps. Don’t totally disregard the HR caps, but you are going to be EXCITED so take that into account.
Do not forget to ENJOY. You got the jacket last night, the race is the victory lap.
Heartbreak Hill isn’t that bad (if you’ve run a smart race). Be conservative, what will REALLY get you is Cemetery Mile; after the uphill of Heartbreak Hill, the steep downhill trashes tired quads. Lock your cage and sit tight!
Oh, except for the Mass Pike overpass. That can suck- heat and winds are amplified here. You can also see the John Hancock building from here; the finish line is CLOSE but not close at all.
So actually, there are 3 hills before Heartbreak Hill, which is why Heartbreak Hill sucks so badly. The first is coming out of Wellesley, a freeway on-ramp. The second is by the hospital, right before the rolling hills in Newton.
Heartbreak Hill is not the last hill and it is nowhere near the end of the race.
Truly, the worst hills and the ones you need to save energy for are the ones that await as you re-enter the city.
MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she trains runners for $29 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her most popular Marathon plan, Tenacious AF, free!