Heard at the water stop on March 19th, 2022:
Anonymous: "I was reading on the internet that the Boston Marathon and is the hardest marathon in the world. It's impossible to run it fast."
Coach Dan: "Shalane Flanagan ran the fastest marathon of her life up to that point in Boston 2014 [2:22:02]. It's not an easy course but, if run well, it's not necessarily a slow course."
Anonymous: "No, no, it's true. Chicago is the fastest."
Coach Dan: "Yes, Chicago is often faster but Boston doesn't have to be slow."
Hello, this is Coach Dan. I'm writing to battle the trove of misinformation being passed around on the internet right now. I'm not sure what is driving it this year but it seems heavier than normal. I talked to a Bostonian recently who told me that they ran a low 4 hour marathon in the fall of 2021 and they hope to finish Boston 2022 by the cut off of 6:00 hours. When I asked why, the response: "because of the hills." Yes, the hills are famous, even infamous. We named our brand after one, but it's Newton, not Nepal. We don't look North from the South End and see the Hancock to our right and the eastern Rockies flanking us 6 miles to the left. (Those aren't a thing by the way, I made up the eastern Rockies.) I can confirm - THERE ARE HILLS IN NEWTON (4 to be exact, one over the highway and three after the firehouse). However, all 4 hills are barely a half mile in length (the first one is a hair more than a half mile) and only about 4.0 incline on treadmill. Let's do some quick math: 4 hills x .5 miles x 4.0 "incline" = less than 2 hard miles (with breaks from the "incline") in total of 26.2 miles. That's less than 7.8% of this marathon and they are broken up into FOUR HILLS. Continuing on with this silly math experiment, each hill is less than 1.9% of the marathon.
In the lead-up to the Boston Marathon there's a lot of time to google things and worry. I always talk about marathon race day (Boston or any other) as a the sum of all of the training you do in the lead-up. The same is true of Boston Marathon race day - your time is the sum of your ability to execute at EVERY section of the course (not just the hills).
The story of Heartbreak Hill dates back to 1936 when Ellison "Tarzan" Brown took off hard out of the gates burying defending champ, Jonny Kelly, for the early stages of the race. Legend has it that Jonny caught Ellison in the hills of Newton and gave him a little tap on the bum a "good effort but I'll take it from here, kid" type of gesture. It lit a fire for Ellison who regrouped, caught him on the final hill and held on for the win. The Boston Globe's Jerry Nason wrote that Ellison "broke Kelly's heart" with that pass on the hill and the rest is history. It's a great story, an epic battle, one of many that have occurred between Hopkinton and Boston.
Don't get me wrong, the Boston Marathon hurts. It IS a hard marathon. It breaks many. It can be an epic disaster if you don't execute a solid race plan. The downhills may help you boost your pace but if run carelessly, they can trash your legs too. It's critical to know how to run downhill well, to get in rhythm when it's flat, to stay focused, stay strong, back off slightly and relax in the hills. Gently accelerate in the last 5-10% of each hill to help you get into rhythm when it flattens out between each one. You're going to feel like junk coming down past Boston College and, your legs will come back to you by Cleveland Circle.
My larger point is only this - don't count yourself out before the start. The race will challenge your soul. It will require everything you have. But, you train for this for a very long time - you will be ready to meet the demands of this course when it's your turn.
Expect the best of yourself on race day.
Train hard & run smart.
You will finish strong.
Legends are meant to be challenged.
(Elevation profile of the course.)