Running has always been my passion. I’ve had the chance to experience the thrill, the pain, and the sheer perseverance required to tackle one of the world’s oldest annual marathons – The Boston Marathon. This historical course demands from us participants not just endurance, but a fine blend of agility, strength, and hill training.
Here, I’ve put together a comprehensive set of workouts to help you take on the hilly Boston terrain, covering everything from elevation training to fueling your run.
The Course Profile
|Start at Hopkinton
|The race begins with a gentle descent.
|Approximately 1 mile
|After the initial descent, the course features rolling hills.
|Approximately 15 miles
|Between miles 16 and 21, runners face the challenging Newton Hills, culminating with the infamous Heartbreak Hill.
|Approximately 5 miles
|Post Heartbreak Hill
|Following Heartbreak Hill, there’s a descent.
|Approximately 4 miles
|The race ends with a flat stretch after the descent.
|Approximately 1 mile
|Total Course Length
|The Boston Marathon is a long-distance race and is one of the world’s oldest annual marathons.
|26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers)
The Boston Marathon is renowned for its challenging course, which includes significant elevation changes, notably the Newton Hills and infamous Heartbreak Hill. Running Boston isn’t just about distance—it’s about conquering its unique topography.
You’ll begin in Hopkinton with a gentle descent, before rolling hills greet you, culminating in the Newton Hills between miles 16 and 21. To train effectively, it’s essential to replicate these conditions. Implement workouts with incline and decline variations, alongside flat runs.
Treadmills or naturally hilly terrains can be excellent training grounds. I recommend starting with a comfortable incline before gradually increasing the gradient to mimic Boston’s hilly profile.
Key Milestones on the Route
Boston’s course isn’t uniform—it has specific sections that need special preparation. The race starts with a downhill, transitions into a flat terrain, then presents a series of four hills, ending with the notorious Heartbreak Hill. Following this, there’s a descent before a flat home stretch.
With this understanding, create a training plan that mirrors the route’s structure. Start with downhill training, then move on to flat terrain running. Afterward, integrate hill repeats into your regimen before finishing with descent and flat running. This way, you mimic the exact conditions you’ll face, conditioning your body and mind for the challenges ahead.
The most significant workouts
1. Downhill Training
Preparing for the Descent
The Boston Marathon starts with a significant downhill segment that can be tough on your quads and knees. The key to managing this lies in strengthening your legs and mastering the technique of downhill running. Start by doing specific leg workouts that focus on your quads and knees, such as squats, lunges, and leg curls.
Once your muscles are strong enough, move on to downhill running. Practice leaning into the hill, keeping your body perpendicular to the ground, and maintaining short, quick strides. This will help you run downhill efficiently without wasting energy.
The Technique of Braking
Running downhill isn’t just about letting gravity take over—it’s also about knowing when and how to use your “brakes”. This is achieved by developing a strong core and mastering your foot strike. Incorporate core workouts into your training regime to improve stability and control during your downhill segments.
Planks, Russian twists, and Pilates exercises are great options. When running, practice landing on your midfoot instead of your heel, as the latter can act like a brake, slowing you down and increasing the risk of injury.
2. Flat Terrain Running
Building Speed and Endurance
Flat terrains offer a chance to regain your rhythm and conserve energy for the hills ahead. It’s important to focus on building speed and endurance during these sections. Work on your tempo and long runs during training. For speed, interval workouts—where you alternate between fast and slow running—are ideal.
They help enhance your lactate threshold, allowing you to maintain a faster pace for longer. For endurance, nothing beats long, steady runs. They help increase your mileage and condition your body for the marathon’s duration.
Perfecting the Stride and Form
Running efficiently on flat terrains requires a perfect stride and form. This involves focusing on your cadence—the number of steps you take per minute—and your running form. Maintaining a cadence of around 180 steps per minute can improve your efficiency.
Practice this during your training runs, using a metronome app if necessary. For form, focus on running tall, swinging your arms forward and back (not side to side), and landing with a slight forward lean.
3. Hill Training
Preparing for Newton Hills
One of the defining features of the Boston Marathon is the Newton Hills. They may not be the steepest, but coming between miles 16 and 21, they test your endurance and mental grit. Training for these hills is crucial. Start with hill repeats—run up a hill fast, then recover as you jog or walk down.
Start with fewer repeats and gradually increase as your fitness improves. This not only strengthens your leg muscles but also improves your cardiovascular fitness.
Conquering Heartbreak Hill
Heartbreak Hill, the last and most infamous of the Newton Hills, gets its name not from its height, but its placement near the end of the marathon when runners are already fatigued. Physical preparation for Heartbreak Hill is the same as for the other hills, but mental preparation is also vital.
Train your mind for this challenge by visualizing success and using positive affirmations during tough workouts. Running a few long runs on tired legs can also simulate race-day fatigue and help you push through the pain.
4. Strength Training
Strength training is a vital part of marathon preparation, helping to improve performance and decrease the risk of injury. It supports the development of muscle strength and endurance, which helps maintain good running form even when fatigue sets in.
Incorporate strength training into your regimen at least two days per week, focusing on full-body workouts. Exercises such as lunges, squats, and deadlifts strengthen your lower body, while push-ups, pull-ups, and planks can help develop a strong core and upper body.
Recovery and Flexibility
Recovery is just as important as the workouts themselves. It’s during these periods that your muscles repair and grow stronger. Active recovery techniques like light cycling or swimming can enhance this process. Along with rest, flexibility plays a significant role in recovery.
Implementing a regular stretching routine, or using a foam roller for self-myofascial release, can reduce muscle tightness and improve range of motion, aiding recovery and injury prevention.
5. Interval Training
Speedwork and VO2 Max
Interval training involves alternating between high-intensity and low-intensity periods, which can improve your speed and cardiovascular fitness. These workouts help increase your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during intense exercise.
Try incorporating sessions like “Yasso 800s” into your routine. Named after Bart Yasso, this involves running 800 meters at a challenging pace, then taking an equal time to recover before repeating. Start with fewer repetitions and increase them as your fitness improves.
Fartlek, Swedish for “speed play”, combines continuous and interval training. It improves both your aerobic and anaerobic systems, enhancing your speed and endurance. In a Fartlek workout, you mix bouts of fast running with slower running throughout a longer run.
For example, after a warm-up, you might run fast for a minute, jog for two minutes, then repeat. The variability keeps the workout engaging and allows you to adjust the intensity based on how you’re feeling.
6. Long Runs
Long runs are a staple of marathon training, essential for building endurance. They train your body to spend time on its feet, improve fat metabolism, and increase your cardiovascular capacity. Your longest run should gradually increase each week before tapering close to the event.
It’s generally recommended not to exceed a distance of 20-22 miles in training. Remember, these runs should be performed at a comfortable, conversational pace.
Back-to-back runs, also known as “double long runs”, can help simulate late-race fatigue without the need for excessively long single runs, reducing the risk of injury. For instance, you might run a long run on Saturday, followed by a medium-long run on Sunday.
The fatigue from the first day carries into the second, helping you learn to run efficiently when tired, an invaluable skill for marathon success.
Cross-training with low-impact sports can improve your fitness while giving your running muscles a break. Activities such as cycling, swimming, and rowing can build aerobic fitness and use different muscle groups, promoting balanced strength and reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
Consider dedicating one day a week to cross-training. This can provide a mental break from running and keep your training program more diverse and engaging.
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates can improve strength, balance, flexibility, and mental focus—benefits that directly translate into your running performance. They offer a mindful break from intense physical training while still promoting strength and flexibility.
Incorporate yoga or Pilates sessions into your weekly routine. Focus on postures that improve core strength and hip flexibility, such as Warrior poses, Pigeon pose, and various Pilates movements.
Last but not least, nutrition!
The Importance of Nutrition
Marathon running isn’t just about physical training; nutrition plays a significant role too. Your body needs the right fuel to sustain the energy required to cover 26.2 miles. In the weeks leading up to the marathon, focus on a balanced diet rich in complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
As you get closer to race day, increase your carb intake to maximize glycogen stores. Remember to hydrate adequately and consider a sports drink for longer training runs to replenish electrolytes.
Fueling During the Race
Even with the best pre-race nutrition, you’ll need to refuel during the marathon to maintain your energy levels. Plan to consume a sports gel, chews, or similar products every 45-60 minutes during the race. It’s vital to practice this during your training runs to see what works best for your body.
And don’t forget to hydrate consistently throughout the race. Aim to drink every 20 minutes, adjusting based on weather conditions. Remember, the Boston Marathon is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
As you train, maintain a positive mindset, visualize your success, and remember the ultimate goal – crossing that finish line in Boston. It’s going to be a journey worth every step.
What Are Some Tips for First-Time Runners?
Some tips for first-time runners include getting to know the course well, preparing for the famous hills, and following a training plan specifically designed for the Boston Marathon.
When Should I Start Course-Specific Hill Work?
You should begin the course-specific hill work in January.
How Long Should I Train?
The length of training can vary depending on your current fitness level and experience, but many training plans suggest a period of 12 to 20 weeks.
What Are Some Resources for Preparing for The Race?
Some resources include training plans provided by the B.A.A., articles, and advice from experienced runners and coaches, and course-specific workouts.
What Is the Aftermath of Running?
The aftermath of running the Boston Marathon can include muscle soreness and fatigue, particularly due to the hilly course. Some runners even find they need to walk stairs backward for a week after the race.
Training for the Boston Marathon isn’t easy, but with the right workouts, perseverance, and mental toughness, it’s an achievable goal. Take each step of the journey one day at a time, and remember to listen to your body, adjust your training plan as needed, and make sure to prioritize recovery.
A balanced diet, proper hydration, and adequate sleep are as crucial as your running sessions. The workouts outlined here—downhill and flat terrain running, hill training, strength and interval training, long runs, and cross-training—are designed to address the specific demands of the Boston Marathon course.
They’ll not only prepare your body for the rigors of the race but also help condition your mind for the formidable challenge ahead. Remember, consistency is key in marathon training. Each workout brings you one step closer to your goal. Keep running, keep improving, and most importantly, keep believing in yourself!