If you’re running the Boston Marathon, there are few more things to think about on the course than Heartbreak Hill. Here’s a quick glance at the course with a few interesting notes.
The Bus Ride
Getting on a bus in Boston Common before 7:00 a.m. to get shuttled out to the start of the race in Hopkinton can be a drag, but it’s only way to get 25,000+ runners there on time and it’s very well organized. Be prepared: take a newspaper or magazine to read, post-breakfast snacks to nibble on, a large bottle full of water or a sports drink to sip, and, just to be safe, your own personal roll of toilet paper. Also, mind the weather forecast and take an old long-sleeve shirt and maybe even sweat pants and a light shell that you don’t mind letting go of (or one that you can tie around your waist during the race).
Little Ol’ Hopkinton
The smallest town in the world of big city marathons, hospitable Hopkinton has opened its arms to busloads of runners on the third Monday in April since 1924. Few runners return on the other 364 days of the year, so most don’t know the town was founded in 1715 or that it was home to 11 boot factories in the 1850s. Your experience there will depend on the weather and how well you plan ahead (or how soon you get into the PortaPotty line!) Expend as little energy as possible, except for visualizing a slower-than-everyone-else start of the race.
The Dastardly Downhill Start
Everyone worries about Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21, but the most devastating hill on the course might be the 350-foot elevation drop runners encounter in the first 4 miles. If you go out too fast or haven’t done long downhill tempo runs, you’re legs will feel like Boston clam chowder by the time you reach Heartbreak Hill. Many runners have been known to approach their 10K PR after a blazing start out of Hopkinton. Don’t be like everyone else; instead, run conservatively over the first 6 miles!
The Wellesley Girls
No race has such a concentrated, vociferous fan base as the Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel” at the half-way point. You can hear the Wellesley girls hootin’ and hollerin’ from a half-mile away. It can provide a huge boost of energy and/or a temporary lapse of concentration, but responding to the “Kiss Me” signs has been known to slow male runners by several minutes. Do what you gotta do, but remember, they probably won’t want to kiss you if you come back on Tuesday.
The Newton Hills
Heartbreak Hill gets most of the attention, but it’s the series of four hills between Miles 16-21 (plus the cumulative effect of sustained downhill running over the first 16 miles) that makes this part of the course so difficult. Still, Heartbreak Hill is a beast, rising 88 feet in about a half mile. Shorten your stride, use your arms and get through it. There’s still a lot of running to do once you crest the top of the hills and it’s those final 5 miles that will make or break your race, not how fast you run the hills.
Red Sox Mania
The marathon isn’t the only sporting event honoring Patriots’ Day in Boston. The locally beloved Red Sox play an 11 a.m. game at Fenway Park, located two blocks from the 25-mile marker on the race course. Spectators along the marathon route update runners of the score of the game along the way. Chances are you’ll hear fellow runners yell: “Let’s Go Sawx!” The Boston Marathon is an international event that feels as friendly as a local race and the spectators (many of whom have been watching the race from the same place for years) are a big reason why. So even if you’re a Yankees fan, you’ll have to appreciate Red Sox Nation cheering for you on the course.
Once you run down the back side of the Newton Hills, you’re home free, right? Runner beware: the final 2 miles of the course, although mostly flat, can be brutal. The slight rise in elevation up Hereford Street to Boylston Street can feel like a major hill and the final four blocks to the finish can feel like an eternity. As soon as you turn onto Boylston Street, you’ll either get a huge boost of energy or tears will flow from your eyes. The homestretch of the Boston Marathon is definitely epic and worth savoring.
As you run the final two blocks toward the finish line, remember those who were killed and injured during the horrific 2013 terrorist bombing incident. As runners, we should always keep Krystle Marie Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Martin William Richard in our hearts (as well as Sean A. Collier, the MIT police officer who was killed several days later in pursuit of the terrorists). There were more than 300 people injured that day, some who will never walk again. Running the Boston Marathon is an honor and a privilege and it’s upon all of us who toe the line in Hopkinton to carry the history and the meaning of the race forward.