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The Boston Marathon

For runners around the world, the Boston Marathon is considered to be a highlight of the marathon running world. Whether you are a professional athlete or just a running enthusiast, the Boston Marathon is a really big deal. 

What is the Boston Marathon? 

According to the World Marathon Majors -which is a championship style competition for marathon runners-there are six major city marathons to be complete. Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City are the six city marathons that make up this championship.

The Boston Marathon itself is an annual marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, that is held on Patriots Day -which is always the third Monday in April. The very first Boston Marathon was held in 1897, and it was inspired by the success of the first marathon competition during the1896 Summer Olympics. This makes the Boston Marathon the oldest annual marathon, not to mention one of the best-known racing events. It’s not an easy route, though. Massachusetts is known for its very hilly terrain. Not to say that New England weather in April is not always cooperative. 

The marathon attracts about 500,000 spectators each year and 30,000 registered runners. That’s a pretty huge increase from the fifteen runners that it began with 1897. 

Who organizes the Boston Marathon? 

The Boston Marathon is organized by the B.A.A -The Boston Athletic Association. Just like the other marathon majors, both amateur and professional runners can compete. But not just anyone can enter the race. First, you must qualify. This is not uncommon, and in fact, for all six of the majors, this is the general practice. Not only must you hit the qualifying time, but you must do so within a set date range and on a particular type of course.

How to qualify for the Boston Marathon 

To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you must first have a BQ time-Boston Qualify Time. These time standards are so fast and have been getting faster each year. This means that only a small percentage of marathon runners actually achieve them. In fact, many runners make numerous attempts at reaching a BQ time before they're successful. It does help to choose the right qualifying marathon, though. Ones that have flat courses, cooler temperatures, and uncrowded trails help you to reach that BQ time. The downside is that they won’t help you to run the actual Boston Marathon better. To qualify first, then once you achieve it, train for Boston! 

Run the Boston Marathon via a Charity Program  

Another way to get into the Boston Marathon is to run for charity. The Boston Marathon Official Charity Program began in 1989. That was when the American Liver Foundation became the first charity to receive official entries into the Boston Marathon. Since then, the program has grown to support at least 30 charities each year.

How to train for the Boston Marathon

First of all, this is not a race for beginner runners or even intermediate runners at that. To run the Boston Marathon or also consider qualifying for it, you must be a reasonably experienced runner. If you do have a strong foundation, then you can probably start your official training about twelve weeks out. However, if you are slower or still on the newer side to running, then fifteen to twenty weeks out might be a better choice.

The beginning of your training should be focused on strengthening your weaknesses. Don’t worry too much about the hill training yet, it can be focused on later in your training. This early time is the time to build up mileage and get comfortable with the distance. The more you practice long-distance running, the easier it will be to get comfortable with hills. Hills are a huge part of the Boston course, but before tackling them, the distance must come easy.

Hill Work

About four months before the race is when you should start hill work. The Boston Marathon is filled with uphill and downhill sections that can make or break you on race day. Starting early helps you to build up your tolerance for hills without being too sore to continue running. Just be sure to train downhill as much as you train for uphill. This is a common mistake that many runners make. Training for uphill only may seem like the best choice because it is aerobically harder, however uphill and downhill requires different muscles. Think hips, quads, calves, shins, and all in various combinations and requiring different amounts of power and propulsion in each.

Then you’ll want to think about pacing and repeats. The Boston Marathon course is filled with hills that are long and gradual, not steep and short. So be wary of this in your training. Too many short, sprint runs uphill, will not prepare you well for a course like the Boston Marathon. You’ll also want to ensure that when you ascend the hill, it will be at a conservative pace-not an all-out sprint. Sprinting at the wrong times can drastically increase your race time and even cost you your race. A lot of the difficulty in the Boston Marathon comes from those early downhill miles. This is why your legs can feel like Jello by the time the race is nearing the end.

The Boston Marathon Specific Workout

This workout is designed to help runners achieve their best race possible in the Boston Marathon. It is called the 2-4-2 workout, and it is an uphill and downhill tempo run that is used by the Boston Athletic Association. It can be run anywhere from the actual course if you are training in the Boston area to a treadmill anywhere in the world.

  1. Start with a 2mile tempo and run mostly uphill, at your regular tempo run pace. Then, continue with 4-5minute easy jogging as your resting period. 
  2. Next, run 8 times uphill and downhill repeats on a moderate incline (6-8% of you are on a treadmill) at your marathon pace. Each uphill and downhill section is about a quarter-mile long. There is no rest between these repeats. Hard? You bet. But that’s what you need to expect if you’re going to run the Boston Marathon! 
  3. Finally, after three to four minutes of an easy jogging rest, then start running a 2 mile, mostly downhill, tempo at your normal tempo run pace. 

This is a workout that can be adapted to suit your personal mileage and workout volume, however, just be sure to keep the ratios the same and make sure you include both the uphill and downhill sections. 

How to train for the downhill 

Train for those speed workouts on a slight decline, this enables you to integrate speed work and keep your training course-specific. This also helps to simulate the third quarter of the Boston course. 

Something like this would be an excellent way to train for downhill:

  • 5 x 1-mile downhill repeats at 5k to 8k race pace with 90 seconds rest.
  • 2 x 5 miles

And it will prepare you physically and mentally for the hardest part of the course. 

  • Perform two 5-mile tempos at marathon pace or just a bit faster.
  • The first 5-mile section should be relatively flat, simulating the middle miles of the Boston course.
  • Take a 5 min standing recovery and then run the second 5-mile tempo on a hilly (mostly up) course. 

Also, when training for the Boston Marathon, make sure that your marathon-specific long runs and marathon pace work are performed on rolling hills. 

Honing Your Pacing 

This is important for all races, and most specifically for marathons; however, it is crucial for the Boston Marathon. You must perfect the ability to control the ace of your run, especially on the downhill. There is a great danger in starting too fast. Do it, and you will crash and hit the wall around Heartbreak Hill -the most famous part of the Boston Marathon. 

How does one hone their pace? Like this.

  • Remember that faster is not always better. In this case, you’re simply teaching your body to disregard its internal pace sensors, which will come back to haunt you on race day.
  • Do not rely solely on your Garmin. You must learn to feel your pace by monitoring your cadence and breathing. It’s about feeling the pace, not calculating it.

The Boston Marathon Mile by Mile Route Outline

The Boston Marathon covers 26 miles and 385 yards of hilly and flat terrain. The race starts in Hopkinton and runs through Massachusetts until Copley Square in Boston.

Mile 0 to Mile 2: Hopkinton


The Boston Marathon route begins in Hopkinton Common. This is where the race route's elevation is at its highest: about 490 feet. It drops down right away within the first mile, and the rest is mostly downward and winding through the countryside. A great way to start a race!

Mile 2 to Mile 5: Ashland- Framingham

Mostly just rolling hills. This is where you really want to settle in and get comfortable with your pace after the excitement of the race’s starting point. There is a first upward slop around mile 5.

Mile 5 to Mile 12- Framingham-Natick

Time to leave the countryside behind and really get into the race. This is where we often see the front runners begin to break away from the pack. As the route moves into the city, the course becomes flatter. Remember to take it easy here as the most significant challenges are still ahead.

Mile 12 to Mile 15 - Wellesley 

And surprise! All of a sudden, after all that mostly flat terrain, the course now inclines rather sharply downhill and then climbs up toward the end of the mile. Fortunately, it is quick, and by mile 13, you’re back to flat.

Mile 15 to Mile 17 - Wellesley Hills - Newton Lower Falls-Newton

Here is where you will encounter the sharpest descent of the race. It’s an abrupt 100-foot drop into Newton Lower Falls. It’s tough, and for the next 9 miles after that, you will be challenged by a series of rolling and rippling hills. Eventually, it will flatten, though!

Mile 17 to Mile 19 - Newton

Flat and fine! Keep going!

Mile 19 to Mile 21 - Newton

Here comes Newton's second hill! It happens just after Mile 19 begins. This is where almost immediately, the course begins a gradual incline. What happens after the second hill? You guessed it. The third! Another sharp incline ahead! Just when you think you can’t do more…you’ll rounding the corner to Heartbreak Hill. It is the fourth hill, and it’s another long one that seems to go one forever…and ever. Endurance and proper training will show here. Even if you got through the other hills without so much as a hiccup. Heartbreak Hill can be a killer. At this point, you will have already covered 21 miles and 3 hills.

Mile 21 to Mile 22 - Newton - Chestnut Hill

And the course now plummets down! You would expect this is a release after the uphill portions, but it can actually wreak havoc on your already tired legs. You may feel out of control and as if your legs are running on their own, unable to stop.

Mile 22 to Mile 24- Boston - Brighton -Brookline

A good combination of flat and downhill.

Mile 25-26 – Boston -Back Bay  

Almost there!! Keep it up! Here you can start to pick up the pace. Use that reserve you’ve been hanging on to!

Mile 26 + 385 yards - Copley Square 

The finish line!

The Boston Marathon is a huge challenge, so if you have it as a goal, make sure to train properly to avoid injury and exhaustion on race day. And if you do run it, have a plan to celebrate afterward! Being a marathon finisher is a massive accomplishment any day, but finishing the Boston Marathon is an honour, unlike any other. 


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