Last-Minute Tips from a Boston Marathon Veteran

If you’re running the Marathon this year, these last few days can be the most important. Here’s what to do.

Photo by S. Fischer.

If you’re running the Boston Marathon this year, congratulations. You might be one of the lucky people who qualified on your first try, or perhaps just making it into the entry list was a dream that took years to fulfill. You could be running for a charity, or maybe for a new personal best. Whatever reason got you to the starting line, there are still a last few steps that I, as a veteran of the Marathon about to run it again, recommend:

  • Step back and reflect on all the hard work you’ve done. Regardless of how the race plays out on Patriot’s Day, or on any marathon day, for that matter, I always find it absolutely awe-inspiring to looking back at the string of marathon training that I’ve put into the preparation. The sheer number of hours is often staggering, let alone the blisters, the morning runs, and the general fatigue that go with a marathon on a regular basis. Be proud of the road that led you to race day.
  • Keep that same attitude in mind as you experience everything. The travel (if applicable), the Expo, the contagious spirit of the city as it readies itself for one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Bostonians are a rare breed for their love of running long, especially for their beloved race. I find that wearing my Boston Athletic Association jersey gets me a kind of notoriety no matter what time of year it is. No matter where I might be, people come up to ask, “You ran Boston?” The symbol of the race is that recognizable. Remember to enjoy that spirit, the moment created just for the runners, where a rare mix of nerves, excess energy, and excitement is almost palpable on the street. The Marathon is more than just the 26.2 mile course; it’s the experience of the weekend.
  • Come prepared (if you take comfort in your routines). Especially in an unfamiliar place, I make sure to execute a meal plan and pre-race ritual that is familiar to me. If that means packing some peanut butter and an English muffin in my carry-on, so be it. If it means scoping out the area for the nearest Italian restaurants, (or better yet making a reservation), I’ll do that. A few weeks before the race, I find it’s a good idea to do a “practice dinner” the night before your last long run. If you plan on eating pasta at the Olive Garden the night before race day, then try it out beforehand so you know how your digestive system will react when you need to be on point. The last thing you want are surprises. The day before a marathon is not the time to be adventurous with food choices.
  • Don’t get carried away exploring the city the day before the race. In the 24 hours before the Boston Marathon, it’s easy to walk too far as you search out the hotel, the Expo, the restaurants, and so on. Each mile walked adds to fatigue in the legs, and you’re going to need all your energy the next day. I should also mention that now is not the time to strap on a pair of high heels and go out with your closest gal-pals. Save the torture on your tarsals for after race day.
  • Don’t start fast. It’s very, very tough to recover from a fast start at the Boston Marathon; I’ve learned this the hard way. Strategize your pace beforehand, and make sure to keep a level head, especially in that first steep mile — because it could set you on a pace that you can’t keep up. Try to lock in your desired split time as soon as you can get comfortable, and then just keep the race as calm and enjoyable as possible through mile 16 — the last ten miles are going to require all of the focus and energy that you’ve been saving up during the easy part. You can expect that your quads are going to hurt after going up the Newton hills, so just try to stay relaxed and keep an even effort through any tough patches. The good news is that the course returns to a flatter profile after mile 22, and the crowds will keep getting thicker to cheer you home as you near the last leg.
  • Finally: Remember to smile. There’s nothing in the world like running through the finish line of a big-city marathon, so be sure to look up and smile as your personal paparazzi snaps your photo. You’ll be glad for the memento later.

Good luck!