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Today, I found myself on the runners world website stalking multiple Boston articles. What is going on? Last year at Boston my legs hurt so bad, I swear at mile 12 I said I was never running a full marathon again… especially not Boston. One marathon later and three more scheduled to happen this year, I have to say I want to go back!

The thing about that is, I have to qualify again if I want to go back! We are running the Saint Louis Marathon next weekend, Green Bay in May and Chicago in October. I doubt I will qualify at the first two, because training hasn’t been too serious. I would like to get it done in Saint Louis, but if I don’t… it will have to be Chicago.

Anyway the article below is what inspired me to start thinking about Boston again.

(This is an article from… I couldn’t get the link to work)

“The great mystique of Heartbreak Hill is not getting up it. It’s getting down it.”—John Treacy, 1984 Olympic marathon silver medalist who finished third in the 1988 Boston Marathon in 2:09:15

Powering my way up Heartbreak Hill at my first Boston Marathon in 2001, I felt strong, confident that I could maintain my pace and reach the finish on Boylston Street in 2:55 or faster. The Newton hills played to my greatest strength, and my legs and mind felt good. Despite the warnings I received from 1968 Boston champion Amby Burfoot about the punishing, roller-coaster course, I thought I would escape relatively unscathed.

Man, was I wrong.

Descending into Cleveland Circle for Mile 22 of road racing’s version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, my quadriceps suddenly felt like they had been attacked by gremlins with ice picks. “Ah,” I thought, “so this is what Amby meant when he told me, ‘That course just chews people up, Ron.’”

A fantastic day turned into a slugfest between the world’s most famous course and my thighs the last 4 miles through The Hub. I truly thought I was going to die the last 2 miles, but I finished in 2:58:44, so we’ll call it a draw.

As the 2009 Boston Marathon looms ahead on April 20, how does a serious competitor run fast there and avoid “thigh smash,” a term coined by 1976 women’s champion Kim Merritt? I’ve learned a few lessons on the road from Hopkinton to Boston that I am applying this year in my ninth consecutive Patriots’ Day grind.


The uniquely brutal Boston course demands unique preparation. This means a lot of downhill running on your long runs and speed work.

If time allows, find the hilliest course possible for your next long run. Emphasize the downhills, and run them as fast as you can without injury. When training for Boston, my long runs feature a constant stream of uphills and downhills.

My other key Boston workout further toughens my quads. After a long, steady-pace warm-up of 2 or 3 miles, I find a slope similar to the Newton hills, about 600 meters long and 5 or 6 percent grade. (Steep enough to have you sucking wind at 5K race pace.)

Run hard up the hill at 5K race pace, run a 1- or 2-minute recovery, run hard down the hill, then recover again. Repeat this cycle six to eight times. Run this hard enough to make your legs a bit rubbery at the end but, again, avoid injury at all costs. Keep your eye on the prize, Rocky.

Race Day:

The first half-mile of asphalt in Hopkinton drops runners from 463 feet above sea level to 335 feet, making it the steepest of all the Boston hills. “It’s like a ski slope,” Burfoot cautioned me about the 8 percent grade. Run nice and easy the first 5K.

In other words, ditch the nifty pace bracelet. At Boston, you’ll drive yourself nuts trying to run evenly every mile. “It’s a fool’s goal,” said Tom Derderian, distance running coach of the Greater Boston Track Club, in the 2004 Boston Marathon Official Program. “A distance runner has to imagine that they have a certain amount of energy that will be spread out over the course. Take what the day gives you, and what you can give the day.”

More than any other marathon, if you manage to hold a steady pace at Boston, you’ll pass an astonishing number of runners on the way to Boylston Street. Even when I ran my 2:56 Boston PR in 2002, on every downhill huge packs of runners would blow past me. With 20 miles yet to go, I knew not to follow them. I saw every one of them later, all walking or doing the survival shuffle.

I’m one of those runners who, like Bill Rodgers, can’t drink on the run. So I give my thighs a break by refueling on the downhills while doing a fast walk. I always catch the people who passed me, and I slip right past those nasty little gremlins with ice picks.

You can’t avoid the fans on the Boston course. They were there in 1897, and they were there in the nor’easter of 2007. Their enthusiasm and sheer volume can be overwhelming at times. Feed off their energy, but don’t be consumed by it. Giving high-fives to the kids and kisses to the Wellesley girls is great fun and can be, at times, purposefully distracting, but it can rob you of precious minutes and vital energy you’ll need on Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue. Consume the water, orange slices, Gatorade and other offerings from the crowds that fit into your normal race routine.

Follow this advice, run smart and remember the words of running philosopher George Sheehan: “Everyone who finishes the Boston Marathon has their own great moment in sport. Each of us on this day has achieved greatness.” And that’s especially if you can run strong all the way to the finish line on Boylston Street.

** If I do in fact go back to Boston, I will take this advice… train on hills, hills and more hills.

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