What it's Like to Run the Boston Marathon

Qualifying for the race

I qualified for the Boston Marathon by running 2:54 in the 2016 London Marathon. The requirement was to run sub 3:02:51. As Lorna had also achieved her BQ time in finishing the Paris Marathon in 3:25 we both decided we wanted to race the longest running annual marathon. Being part of the running community in London I'd heard so many great things about the event and couldn't wait to experience it first hand. So here's what it's like to run the Boston Marathon.

Training and test races

My training for the marathon began in December, I took part in Advent Running for the second time. This meant I ran for 30 minutes or more from the 1st - 25th of December which helped me to gain base fitness going in to 2017. In January and February I increased my mileage and added more specific sessions including track on Tuesday nights and tempo runs on Thursdays. Learning from my experience in the London Marathon, I decided to run at marathon pace more regularly. I often ran 5k back from track and my Thursday ten milers were just faster than MP (marathon pace). Here's an example of a typical training week:

Iffley Road training log

Steve's typical training week with the Iffley Road training log

I lined up a few races throughout February and March to test my fitness. On the 26th of February, I finished the Brighton Half Marathon in 1:14:22, this was the start of racing four weekends in a row. The following three races were:

Essex 20 - 2:06:10
Colchester Half Marathon - 1:14:58
Hampton Court Palace Half - 1:18:55 

Steve in Iffley Road x Vivo red cambrian

Steve running in the Cambrian chevron Vivo red running t-shirt.

On each race day the weather was bad, we ran into the wind in Brighton and it was really wet for Essex 20. I found it tough racing four weekends in a row but it was good training to push the pace on tired legs. I knew I would have to dig deep in the latter stages of the Boston marathon considering it includes Heartbreak Hill.

Arriving in Boston and visiting the expo

As the Boston Marathon takes place on Monday (Patriots Day), Lorna and I decided to fly to Boston on Friday to give us a couple of days to settle in. Once we arrived we headed to the expo at John Hynes Convention Centre so we didn't have to queue on the Saturday. This also gave us time to meet up with a few friends, have a good look round the expo and check out the Runner’s World pop-up. One of the best things about the Boston Marathon is that everyone gets involved and there are so many special events in the lead up to the big day.  

Boston cityscape before marathon

On Saturday we took part in a 6k shakeout run, met Dean Karnazes, watched the elite invitational mile races and relaxed on Boston Common in the afternoon. I was feeling really relaxed and lucky to be able to take part in the event. As my legs were feeling a little tight on Sunday I decided to run 5k, I bumped into a few runners and chatted to them about their goals for the race and picked up tips about pacing.  

Race day

To get to the race village in Hopkinton runners board a convoy of yellow school buses. Lorna and I met up with our friend Ash to travel together, it's nice to have company so you're not constantly thinking about the race. We arrived in Hopkinton at around 8am so we had plenty of time to eat bagels and drink some coffee. It was already hot at this point so we knew it was going to be a tough race and we needed to fuel up.

Boston marathon runners

The athletes village was great.  There was lots to eat, music, motivational temporary tattoos and each field was surrounded by plenty of toilets. After wishing Lorna and Ash good luck I headed to the start line at 9:05am. The walk from the village to the start is just over a kilometre. Once in my start corral I sat down to save my legs, chatted to other runners and watched as the elites made their way to the start line. It was pretty cool to see the likes of Meb Keflezghi and Galen Rupp. Just before they were sent on their way, the national anthem was played and there was a flyover which gave me goosebumps.

I thought the build up to the start would drag on but luckily time went quickly. Before I knew it I'd crossed the start line and was striding out downhill. With it being 26 degrees I planned to take it easy for at least the first half of the race. I locked on to 4:05min/km pace and ticked off the first 10k relatively comfortably before having my first gel. I knew nutrition would be important so decided to take my gels a little earlier than normal as well as sipping on water at aid stations which were at every mile.

At 20k you run past Wellesley College where all the girls come out to cheer and offer free kisses. This part of the course is also known as the Scream Tunnel, and rightly so, it was deafening. The majority of the first half of the race is slightly downhill although there are a few short sharp inclines. I was trying to hold back on the downhill sections as I didn't want to wreck my quads.  I felt good going through halfway in 1:25:37.

Steve's splits for the Boston Marathon

Due to zigzagging a little to get to water stations and dodging other runners, I was already over the distances marked out but this is often the case. I was still holding my pace until 26k but then I arrived at the Newton Hills. I felt good but knew the hardest part of the race was still to come. I got through the first couple of hills and then decided to take a gel around 28k, a couple of kilometres earlier than planned. My legs were starting to feel heavy, I think it was a shock to them having to run uphill after a fair few kilometres going down.

After making it to the top of the third hill I knew Heartbreak wasn't far away. I was working hard and looking forward to getting over the worst of the hills. The heat was taking its toll, my hamstrings, achilles and calves were not happy but I kept trudging on. The atmosphere was electric on Heartbreak.  It wasn't incredibly steep but it's long and tough because it's around 32k in. I was relieved to be through the hilliest section of the course unscathed but knew I was in for a tough time in the last 10k. As my legs were tightening my pace dropped considerably but I kept thinking about friends and family tracking me, crossing the finish line and getting a medal.

In the few weeks before the race I read articles about the course. They all said how the CITGO sign is one mile from the finish.  I couldn't wait to see it. The only thing is you can see the sign from a kilometre or more away, so it took forever to get there. Luckily the crowds were growing, so I just had to keep moving even if all I could manage was 5-5:30min/km pace. I made the left turn onto the home straight and looked around to take in the atmosphere.  The crowds were awesome. I ran along the blue lines down the middle of the road and crossed the finish line with my arms in the air. I had completed the Boston Marathon.

Steve's Boston Marathon medal

I was absolutely exhausted but so glad I had made it to the end in one piece. My finishing time was 3:00:56 which I am incredibly proud of considering tough conditions. I picked up my bag from the gear check tent and went to the S meeting point where Lorna and I agreed to meet. On my way there so many volunteers and runners congratulated me and asked how I found the race. Once I collected my phone I used the tracking app to see my finishing time and checked to see how Lorna, Ash and other friends were getting on. I put on warm clothes and waited to see Lorna’s time. She crossed the line in 3:38:16, a great result especially considering the heat. I couldn't wait to see her and hear about her race.

After Lorna met me we grabbed some food - including a celebratory cannoli from Mike’s Pastry - and got back to the hotel to freshen up and relax.  I may not have achieved the time I would have liked but the experience was unbelievable and I feel so lucky to have taken part. If you have the chance to do the Boston Marathon whether that's through qualifying or a package then you should definitely do it, you will not regret it.

Boston Marathon scenery