The Boston Marathon is known as one of the world’s most challenging marathon courses. Boston native Kelly Whittaker has run 22 full marathons, running the Boston Marathon twice, going for a 3rd on April 17th. In addition to being an avid marathoner, she’s a full-time trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp, hosting classes specifically designed to help runners train for the marathon. So when it comes to marathon training and prep, she knows what’s up.
Kelly talks about training in winter months, the ups and downs of the Boston Marathon course, and the blood, sweat, & tears that go into running Boston in this week’s Out of Step blog post…
The Boston Marathon is the most coveted 26.2-mile race among long distance, professional and novice runners alike. Not only is it one of six-world marathon majors, it is known as one of the world’s most challenging marathon courses. With extremely competitive qualifying standards and charity fundraising requirements, the Boston Marathon is a course that many long distance runners work towards for many years.
When it comes to training for the Boston Marathon, a “fighter’s mentality” is a prerequisite. Because the race is in mid-April, the training for this race happens in the winter months, and everyone knows that Boston winters are far from mild. Experienced marathon runners typically begin training January 1, and charity/novice runners usually begin building their mileage in late December.
Boston training is unique because in addition to building endurance, runners need to make sure they put in a ton of hill training work. The Boston course is unique in that the 2nd half of the course is pretty much a half marathon (plus) of rolling hills. The course can be broken down into three parts: the first 6 miles of the race is a slight downhill fueled by excitement and endurance, the next 6 miles are more flat in altitude but arguably the most mentally draining part of the race, and the final 14 miles are a grueling series of rolling hills back into the city.
When training, in addition to building mileage, Boston runners have the added advantage of using the course as long run training. It is extremely important to get out on the course to get a feel for the hills - not only because of the number of ups and downs throughout the 2nd half, but also because of the placement of the hills. By the time you enter the really gritty hills in Wellesley, runners’ quads are already starting to feel the pavement taking a toll, and at this point, the down hills can be more brutal than the climbs up. Once runners start to get into their longer runs in February and March, groups of runners can be found logging miles on the carriage road that runs along the hilliest part of the course through Wellesley, Newton, and including Heartbreak Hill - no matter what the weather: cold, snow, rain, random sunny warm days. There is such an overwhelming sense of community, of “we can do this” out on the course on those days.
In addition to training runs, Boston marathon runners need to play around with finding apparel that works for them. I always recommend that runners find layers of apparel that work for them and stock up. Boston winters are harsh - and with the race in April, the weather can be very unpredictable. There seems to be a pattern of alternating between uncomfortably high temperatures, and low temps and rainy weather. The timing of the race is also much different than other marathons - given that there are 30,000 runners, and more than half are charity runners, the first waves start at around 9am, and the final waves go over the start line in Hopkinton at around 11am. This means that the last wave of runners cross the finish line at around 4pm - making it a very long day after arriving in Athlete’s Village before 8am.
Now that the hard part of training is over, it is down to the wire for Boston runners. The last couple of weeks before the marathon are arguably mentally tougher for runners than even the hardest of training runs - many feel that the “taper,” or period of reduced physical activity before the race will undo all the hard work they have put in day after day for the months leading up to the big race. However, these taper weeks are very important; they give tired/overworked muscles the necessary rebuilding phase to make them stronger and able to give their peak performance the day of the race.
As April 17 approaches, the city is gearing up to rally together to support the thousands of runners ready to make a right on Hereford, left on Boylston. Boston’s biggest event is on the horizon, and the city is ready to stand together along the course to cheer on the fighters who have worked for months to make it to the finish line. From the start line in Hopkinton, to Heartbreak Hill, to Boylston Street, the city is behind you. #BostonStrong
Kelly Whittaker is a Boston native that has run 22 marathons. She is a full time trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp in Boston. We wish her and everyone else running the Boston Marathon the best of luck!!!