Running the Boston Marathon
Making it to the Boston Marathon
On Monday, April 18, 2011, I ran "the race I'd dreamed of."
I'm quoting one of the many homemade signs I saw along the route of the Boston Marathon, of course. And it was the race of my dreams.
While my finishing time for Boston certainly wasn't my fastest marathon, the skies were clear, temperatures moderate, and a tailwind helped propel the more than 27,000 registered runners from the start in Hopkinton, Mass. along the 26.2 mile course into downtown Boston.
I had heard about the massive crowds - both running the race and lining the streets, but there was nothing to prepare me for the actual experience. Despite an injury that flared at mile 4, I ran with a smile on my face for most of the entire length of the run from Hopkinton into Copley Square in Boston.
Quite simply, there is nothing like running the Boston Marathon!
Want to run Boston? You Have to Qualify First
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon has become a goal of many marathon runners around the world, yet its not easy to get in. When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened on October 18, 2010, the race filled to capacity in a mere 8 hours.
In the hopes of preventing such an avalanche of runners trying to register, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), which organizes the Boston Marathon, revised the process for registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon, and tightened qualifying times by 5 minutes across the board starting with the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon is intended to be a race for the fastest, most deserving runners. Although a number of spots are reserved for charity runners, more than 80% of the field is comprised of elite marathon runners. With revisions to the qualifying times, the hope is that those that train for and manage to qualify for Boston will have a spot in the race if they wish.
The Entire Boston Marathon Course in 8 Minutes
How Does the Boston Marathon Compare to Other Marathon Races?
The 2011 Boston Marathon was my first Boston, and my third marathon overall. In 2008, I ran the Portland Marathon in Oregon. I was only hoping to finish that race and did not aim for any particular time (in fact, I walked much of the course with my injured sister). The Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco was my qualifying marathon for Boston, in October 2010.
In my personal experience, the Boston Marathon was a more difficult course than either Portland or the Nike Women's Marathon. And deceptively so. We toured the Boston Marathon course the day before the race, and I thought to myself... these hills don't look so bad! After all, I train at 4000 feet elevation in Bend, Oregon where just about every run I do includes some hills. Yet, the precipitous drop in elevation from the start of the race - nearly 500 feet in the first 4 miles - to the arduous hills starting at mile 17 through 21, left my legs aching and my muscles cramping when I attempted the Boston Marathon.
I wasn't the only one that underestimated the challenge of Boston. Several of my running friends who have completed other marathons around the country also viewed the marathon course and judged it to be moderately easy. We were all in for a surprise once we were actually out running the Boston Marathon route. Not even the hilly marathon course in San Francisco beat me up as much as Boston!
The challenges of the route itself aside, the Boston Marathon is unique in its vast crowd support, massive numbers of runners, logistical organizational challenges, and the fact that its the oldest annual marathon in the United States - and the only one for which you must qualify if you want to get in.
Why Run the Boston Marathon?
Tips for Running the Boston Marathon
If I had it to do over again - maybe some day I will - I would make a few changes in my preparation for the Boston Marathon. Experience is an excellent teacher, they always say!
Unless you are an elite marathon runner in the first wave, you will need to plan on boarding shuttle buses to the start about 3-4 hours before the race. This might be one of the biggest logistical challenges of the entire event. The long wait between boarding the buses and actually running the race can present issues regarding nutrition, hydration and clothing. It wasn't easy to decide how much to eat, how much water to drink and what to wear between 6:00 a.m. and 10:30.
Once you get to Hopkinton, you will wait in the Athlete's Village until your wave and corral number is called. Starting in the 2011 Boston Marathon, there are now three waves of runners, 20 minutes apart, and each wave includes 9 corrals. You will be slotted according to your qualifying time (I was in the first corral of wave 3). The first wave of the Boston Marathon starts at 10:00 a.m., the second begins at 10:20, and the third wave gets going at 10:40.
Its about .7 miles from the Village to the corrals, and you'll have to drop off your bag at the buses before heading to the start. Don't make the mistake I did and assume that 15 minutes is enough time. Although your "clock" doesn't begin until you cross the starting line, I got caught several corrals behind with slower runners that I had to work to pass over the first several miles. Plus, it can throw you off mentally if you miss the gun.
It can be cold and breezy at the Athlete's Village, raining, snowing, or hot and humid. Before the marathon, runners huddled on pieces of cardboard to stay dry. One person described it as resembling a refugee camp. Quite accurate! Long lines at the porta-potties resulted in wait times of 30-45 minutes. Next time, find a spot in the woods! For me, once I got through the bathroom line, the food was gone. I should have packed my own breakfast, but counted on the bagels and bananas that were originally offered. Water, Gatorade and Powerbars also were available.
Runners are provided roomy bags in which to store extra clothing during the race. It was helpful to have a place to stash my gloves and jacket, especially since the temperature warmed up quickly. Even though it was about 45 degrees before the start of the marathon, temps climbed into the low 60s and I found that my black running cap and long sleeved shirt were way to warm to wear along the course. Fortunately, discarded clothing is donated to the Goodwill. I wasn't the only runner making wardrobe changes along the way!
In short, I would be better prepared with my own food, I would bring warmer clothes for the 2 hour wait in the Athlete's Village, and I would dress more lightly for the marathon itself.
Start to Finish - the Map of the Boston Marathon
Fast Facts About the Boston Marathon
- The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, established in 1897
- The race is run every Patriots' Day, on a Monday
- The Boston Marathon route is point to point from Hopkinton to Boston
- The race is organized by the Boston Athletic Association
- Qualifying times were implemented in 1970
- A new course record (2:03:02) was established for the Boston Marathon in 2011
- Heartbreak Hill is actually the last in a series of hills from approximately mile 18-21
My Boston Marathon Experience
Running the Boston Marathon itself was amazing. After waiting from 6 in the morning until 10:40, I was more than ready to get going.
I missed the start of the race because I underestimated the time it would take to get from the Athlete's Village to the starting line. I spent the first 4 miles dodging slower runners and trying not to go out too fast. My goal was to match my qualifying time, which was 3:50. I told myself that any time faster than 4:05 would be fine.
Over the first 10K, my pace was 8:20, which I thought would be perfect. I knew the course would get hillier and more difficult later, so I was hoping to "bank" some time. A piriformis injury (hip and butt) started giving me issues at mile 4, however. By the half marathon point, I had stopped twice to change, go to the bathroom, and test my blood sugar (I'm Type 1 diabetic). My pace was still around 8:50, which would allow me to finish under four hours. Then things started to fall apart.
By mile 15 or 16, my hip was causing a lot of pain and it became difficult to keep my pace up. The hills started not long afterward. Eventually both hips were aching and my hamstrings were tightening up. I started to drink more Gatorade to replenish electrolytes and salt, and boy was it warm outside! I managed to run all the way up Heartbreak Hill, even though others had slowed to a walk. But when I reached mile 21, my body was done.
At that point, I re-established my goals and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I walked a bit, then ran, then walked again. Low blood sugar at mile 23 left me confused and disoriented. So much so that I determined they couldn't help me at the medical tent since all the beds were filled with other runners.
Finally, I turned the corner - literally and figuratively. With the finish line in sight, about .6 miles away, I ran just a bit harder. I noticed a clock to my right and made up my mind to finish under 4 hours 20 minutes. The final finishing time for my 2011 Boston Marathon was 4:19:37. Regardless of the fact it wasn't my best race, I still got a medal!
And there really is nothing like running the historic Boston Marathon course.
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© 2011 Stephanie Hicks
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