Boston Marathon …. Course Knowledge

Posted: April 6, 2010 in Pace and Racing, Training
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13 days to Boston.  As you can imagine things are getting pretty exciting at Run for Dom.  Virtually all of the tough training runs are in the books and with the exception of a cold that I am battling and a black toenail which I am sure to be parting with soon – we are ready to race.


This week – number two of our taper period is really a “get well week”.  Time to load up on sleep, knock out a few shorter runs of 4 miles, 6 miles and 4 miles and our final long run of 8 miles this Sunday.  Next week will be about cutting back even further on mileage with runs of 3 and 4 miles, three straight rest days without any running as I fly out to Boston, and then one final 2-mile shakeout run next Sunday.  On Monday, April 19th – we race.

During race week I spend a lot of time watching weather forecasts, finalizing my packing plans for the trip, confirming reservations, making arrangements, checking the weather again, making dinner reservations, checking the weather again, placing phone calls to all of the important people in my life to talk about the race, checking the weather one last time and then going underground for the 48 hours leading up to race day.  It is amazing how quickly that final 7 day period goes with a marathon approaching.

But this week, I still consider a preparation week, so with the gift of “extra time” on my hands as my run this morning totaled all of a whopping 29 minutes – I begin to pour over course descriptions.  As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I am a very big believer in visualization.  It really calms my nerves to be able to see in my mind’s eye things like the race start area, difficult course sections, landmarks, hills and of course the finish line.  Those are images that I can draw on during the actual race to calm me down when I start feeling my adrenaline building.  It is very important to manage those adrenaline bursts which lead to me running faster, which in turn can lead to serious problems late in a marathon.

I like to know what I am going to encounter in advance so I can manage those feelings on race day and use them to my advantage – not create another obstacle to overcome by going out too fast during the early portions of the race or being surprised by a hill I was not expecting.  In marathon running as it is in life – knowledge is power.  So course knowledge is something that I take very seriously when preparing to race.

Ironically, I have never run the same race twice.  Not a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or full.  When I return to the Pittsburgh Marathon in 27 days that will be the first time I have ever run the same course more than once at any distance.  There is something very comforting in that – knowing that I have an intimate knowledge of the course, understand the crowds, the start, the climb up Forbes at mile 13 and of course the final downhill sections that lead to the finish line.

For Boston sadly, that is not the case.  The first time I set foot in Hopkinton, MA will in fact be April 19th – race day.  But what I lack in personal experience with respect to Boston has been replaced by great resources.  There is perhaps no better documented marathon course in the world than the  storied trip from Hopkinton to Boston.  Part of it is the fact that the course has covered the identical route since 1925 when the official marathon distance was increased to 26.2 miles from 24.85 or 40,000 meters.   

For the 1925 race the start was moved from the town of Ashland, MA to Hopkinton and has remained there ever since.  The Boston Marathon has been run for 114 consecutive years in all.  Course information is out there if you are willing to look for it.

Original Boston Marathon Starting Location

The course also features perhaps the most famous hill in all of Marathoning, Heartbreak Hill in Newton, MA.  The hill itself is only .37 miles in length – which really is not a very long distance.  The elevation change of Heartbreak Hill rises only 88 vertical feet, from 148 feet at the bottom to 236 at the top.  Again, I’ve run tougher hills many, many times in my training.

The start of Heartbreak Hill

It is more the “when” than the “what” when it comes to Heartbreak in Boston.  The hill comes between the 20 and 21 mile marks when a runners glycogen stores have been depleted and the body begins to burn fat as its primary energy source.  Fat burns much less efficiently than Glycogen and this feeling is what runners refer to as “hitting the wall”.  For me this sensation lasts about .75 miles until my body adjusts to its new source of fuel and I get my legs back under me.

The other fact is that Heartbreak Hill comes as the last of the four “Newton Hills” that stretch from mile 16 through 21.  Many Boston veterans will tell you that everyone knows about the 4 “famous” hills found in Newton, but there are actually 7 ascents to be conquered from Newton to Brighton.

Wellesley College Girls

Will there be wind?  Of course – we are running North/Northeast from Hopkinton toward the New England Coast in Boston for 26 miles, 385 yards.  There most certainly will be wind.  I typically run about 8.3 miles per hour – so at a minimum I’ll be dealing with that wind resistance and wind chill.  Add on another 10-15 mph I’m guessing given the location and time of year – so I’ll have a headwind of 18-23 mph and a wind-chill of about 5-7 degrees throughout the race to deal with.  I’ll race smart, tuck in behind taller runners when I can and draft a bit when running in the crowds early in the race.  That is definitely an advantage I have being a shorter runner at 5’8″. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a longer stride and maybe 2″-3″ of additional height as a distance runner, but when life gives you lemons …. So what’s on tap for Boston?  Here is a quick look at that towns and landmarks we will encounter along the way.

The Boston course will take runners from Hopkinton through the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brighton, Brookline and on in to Boston. 

Ashland is known as “clock town” because it was the home of the inventor of the electric clock – in fact there is a large clock tower at the intersection of Union and Chestnut Streets as a marathon landmark.

Framingham  is home to the H.H. Richardson designed train station.  It is here in 1907 where a train switching tracks temporarily halted all but the lead pack of 6 runners – true story!

Natick is a gentle downhill section of the course until the 10 mile mark, where it flattens out and heads in to Natick Center.  About 12 miles into the race runners enter a series of rolling hills that continue into Wellesley.

Wellesley is where the half-way point of the marathon will be reached, which is an important psychological benchmark.  But more famously Wellesley is known for the so-called “Screech Tunnel” which is a wall of sound all race long by the students at Wellesley College.  This all female school is known for giving out kisses to marathoners as they travel through campus.

Newton.  Enough said about the Newton Hills.  For me personally this will be an even more special part of the course as I will have a large support group waiting for me at the top of Heartbreak Hill as friends, students and supporters from Boston College will be cheering RFD on as we move on to Brighton.

Brighton begins at an elevation of 200 feet but falls sharply down to 120 feet heading into Cleveland Circle.  For the elite men and women this is a key point in the race and the crowds are very heavy, sometimes as many as 5-8 people deep as the runners turn left from Chestnut Hill Avenue on to Beacon Street.

Brookline begins at 95 feet and drops further down to 60 feet above sea level.  Brookline’s large population of apartment dwellers allows spectators to gather on balconies and rooftops to cheer runners through the home stretch.

Bostonwhen I enter Boston for good at the 24.5 mile point I will be approaching one of the great finishing spectacles in sports.  Hundreds of thousands of cheering fans line Beacon street and Kenmore Square.  The famous Citgo Sign outside of Fenway park marks the one mile to go point of the race.  Less than 8 minutes later I will be a Boston Finisher.

  1. tbrush3 says:

    I love it Joe. There is a lot to think about. That is one thing I love about the marathon and running in general. There are the things we can control and things we can’t control. At the end of the day it seems like the things we can’t control out number those we can.

    I am excited for you and hope for great weather.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks Trey for the visit. You are so right, you can drive yourself crazy worrying about all of the things that none of us can control – aside from knowing what clothes to wear, I try to forget about everything else. Thanks again for stopping by Trey! Best from Austin, J

  2. Ty says:

    Great blog Joe. I’m pumped and also enjoying the taper time.

  3. onelittlejill says:

    Your blog is so informative! I had no idea the marathon used to be 24.8! I love the MA area and I have heard only awesome things about the race. So many of my bloggy friends are running and I so wish I could be there to cheer you and all of them on…but I’ll be here ( and by here, I mean at work) watching (I mean, working)!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks Jill for the visit and kind support! I’m looking forward to chatting with you post race – Boston is going to be a blast! The story of why they moved the distance gets even better – This is the story according to

      The current marathon distance (26 mi., 385 yds.) was set for the 1908 London Olympics so that the course could start at Windsor Castle and end in front of the Royal Box. Not until 1921, however, was that distance adopted as the “official” Marathon distance by the IAAF

      Would be nice if it was still 24.8 🙂

  4. Sumcensuvitt says:

    Good info. I will be out there with you for my first Boston. Need all the support I can get. Thanks for the reports.

  5. David says:

    Speaking of black toenails…what you do with them? I get them every once in a while and I never apply the same treatment (like an idiot) so I get mixed results with each new one. What is the proper way to handle them?

    To clarify, I don’t always get/have them…but my friends are quick to point out it’s because of my shoes. I’ve gotten black toenails with New Balance, Nike, Asics…so I personally don’t agree with them. I like to think I ran differently the day I get one and so it’s a ‘penalty’ for my lack of consistency. haha Feel free to tell me I *am* an idiot and that it’s my shoes!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi David – thanks for the visit and the message! The best information I’ve ever found on the topic of “runners toe” was from Jeff Galloway’s site –

      In my case the toe resulted in the same model of shoe that I’ve run in for almost 5 years – so I agree with Jeff that in some cases, perhaps most cases it is not caused by your shoe – but a change in your running, (either frequency, intensity or terrain). In this case I’m almost certain it was a combination of my 20-mile training run coupled with a much hillier course to simulate Boston. The downhills especially put different pressure on my toe – and after 2+ hours – whala – Runners Toe.

      I also agree that it is best to do nothing to treat the toenail if the pain is manageable. If you go the route of heating up a needle or paperclip to put a hole in your toe nail to relieve the blood and pressure – it will definitely work – but you trade that in for a risk of infection …. which can cause other issues.

      So for me, since it really didn’t bother me, I’ve done nothing. The toe-nail is still there, no pain, no looseness and I hope to keep it with me through both marathons …. we’ll see – but so far so good! Hope that helps David! Take good care and again, thanks for stopping by the blog!

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