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BOSTON MARATHONMANAGING THE 5 KEY SEGMENTS

Having crossed the starting line of the Boston Marathon in April 1978, my journey with this iconic race has been a tapestry woven across four decades. With each step, I've not only improved my personal best, clocking in at 2:38:44 in 1983, but also garnered insights and experiences that span the length and breadth of this historic course. For the past 28 years, I've stood on both sides of the road, coaching thousands of runners, and in doing so, I've come to intimately understand every nuance, every rise, and every challenge that defines the historic and challenging Boston Marathon course.

Following are my recommendations for managing the 5 key segments of the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston.


  • Stage 1: Miles 1-5: The opening stretch of the Boston Marathon launches you into a thrilling descent, spanning a remarkable 300 feet in elevation drop. However, amidst the adrenaline and excitement, it's paramount to resist the allure of an overly aggressive start, where the temptation to bank time looms large. Instead, approach this segment with strategic caution, you will benefit from running this segment 30-60 seconds slower than your anticipated average pace. It’s so easy to run this segment much faster without realizing it Prioritize the establishment of a steady rhythm, focusing intently on refining your form and synchronizing your breathing. A key to success lies in landing quickly and quietly with your feet close to your body to avoid over striding and achieving minimal impact. Succumbing to the urge of an excessively swift start not only inflicts undue strain on your legs but also jeopardizes your energy reserves, form, and mental fortitude. Remember, recovery from such a misstep is a near impossibility. Those who falter here risk squandering valuable minutes per mile from their overall pace as the marathon progresses.

  • Stage 2: Miles 5-15:As you transition into this pivotal segment of the Boston Marathon course, it's imperative to sustain your rhythm—a harmonious blend of form, breathing, and mental focus. Execute a meticulous form checklist: chin lifted, shoulders relaxed and aligned, hands positioned softly near your torso without crossing the midline, and land with a gentle knee bend, keeping your feet close to your body. Amidst the bustling atmosphere, stay undistracted by other runners, channeling yourenergy into conserving your reserves and maintaining a steady, sustainable pace.Around the 12.5-mile mark lies the spirited enclave of Wellesley College, where the echoes of exuberant students reverberate long before you arrive. Despite the infectious energy, resist theurge to surge forward, recognizing the value of preserving your strength for the latter stages of the race.

  • Stage 3: Miles 15-17:Navigating this segment of the Boston Marathon poses a formidable challenge for multiple reasons. The most significant downhill on the course is just after the Mile 15 aid station. Be very cautious descending this ¼ mile downhill by leaning back, shortening your stride and proceed gently to the bottom. With 15 miles under your belt, the cumulative toll of the distance starts to make its presence felt. As you brace for a substantial downhill descent into Newton Lower Falls, you'll notice a stark contrast in crowd density, with sparse cheers punctuating the air. Entering the notorious stretch dubbed "Hell's Alley" in Newton Lower Falls, you're met with the arduous task of ascending over Route 128/95 toward Commonwealth Avenue. Amidst this grueling terrain, it's crucial to maintain a vigilant focus on your running form and breathing patterns. Every ounce of energy conserved here is a precious commodity, vital for tackling the challenges that lie ahead in the subsequent segments of the race.

  • Stage 4: Miles 17-21:You've officially reached the threshold of the renowned Newton Hills, where your prudent approach from Segment 1 begins to yield dividends. With single-digit miles left to conquer, the anticipation of the finish line looms tantalizingly close. As you make a decisive 90-degree turn from Washington Avenue (Route 30) onto Commonwealth Avenue, marked by the historic Fire House. Proceed with caution as you brace for the surge of energy from the enthusiastic crowds lining the route. Resist the urge to push too hard; instead, shift your focus from pace to effort as you embark on the ascent. Remember, the initial hill is brief yet steep, presenting an opportunity to employ a strategic power-walking technique without compromising your momentum. Embrace this method without reservation, recognizing its efficacy in conserving precious energy reserves. Lean slightly forward, adopt short and rapid steps, engage your arms, and visualize grasping imaginary cables anchored at your side, propelling yourself upwards with each deliberate pull. Welcome to the legendary Heartbreak Hill, marking the onset of Mile 20 at the convergence of Centre Street and Commonwealth Avenue. Spanning a mile in length, this formidable ascent culminates at the crest where Boston College proudly stands. A word of caution: brace yourself for the exuberant welcome from Boston College's spirited student body, who eagerly anticipate your arrival. Amidst their contagious enthusiasm, it's worth noting that their red cups may contain a variety of libations. Exercise restraint and refrain from indulging, as tempting as it may be. Hold off until the next water station to quench your thirst, ensuring a focused and steady ascent up this iconic incline.

  • Stage 5: Miles 21-26.2: As you enter the final leg of the Boston Marathon, the terrain transitions into a mix of gentle flats and rolling hills, a testament to the journey your tired legs and depleted glycogen stores have endured. Here, amidst the exhaustion, your resolve faces its ultimate trial. Yet, like a beacon guiding a ship through stormy seas, the allure of the finish line on Boylston Street remains steadfast, urging you onward with every step.

Revisit the checklist of energy-conserving strategies mentioned earlier, drawing strength from the unwavering support of those who fueled your journey, whether through fundraising efforts or inspirational presence.

As you make the pivotal right turn onto Hereford Street and ascend towards the left turn onto Boylston Street, take a moment to inhale deeply, collecting your emotions for the final stretch. Once on Boylston Street, immerse yourself in the electrifying atmosphere, where the cacophony of cheers renders speech, breath, and even self-awareness indiscernible. Amidst this symphony of sound, lift your gaze, raise your arms, and embrace the triumphant crossing of the finish line.

Resist the urge to glance down or halt your watch (the official photographers are located on a scaffolding above you, look up and strike a victorious pose). Let the gravity of the moment imprint itself upon your mind and heart. For in that instant, amidst the culmination of months of dedication and perseverance, you etch your name into the annals of Boston Marathon history—a finisher, not just for today, but for a lifetime.





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