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It’s an understatement to say that the Boston Marathon did not go as planned for Molly Huddle. With two Olympic teams, three American records* and 27 national titles under her belt, the second marathon of the now 34-year-old’s career was supposed to cement her status as the next Great American Marathoner—or, at least one of them.
But Huddle found herself hypothermic and floundering towards the finish line as the rain, wind and mid 30-degree temperatures in Beantown took their toll. She would finish 14th in 2:50:28, far from the form that saw her take third in 2:28 in her debut marathon in New York City just a year and a half earlier.
Her training plan, then, for next week’s return trip to the New York City Marathon has been nearly identical to her Boston preparations. How Huddle races on the streets of New York will give her some idea of how a better day in Boston might have played out. “We did a few things differently but we wanted to mimic the Boston buildup as closely as possible, because it went so well,” she said from training camp in Phoenix last week.
One small change Huddle and her longtime coach Ray Treacy did tweak was the timing and length of her stay at altitude camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. She headed out to Flagstaff on August 16—11 weeks out from the marathon—and stayed for seven weeks, which is slightly later and longer than her usual stays at 7,000 feet. She then spent two weeks in Phoenix before returning home to Providence for 10 days, averaging 120 miles per week through it all.
“That’s the longest I’ve ever been out there,” she said of her time in Flagstaff this fall. “We’re grinding through big mileage weeks and long runs and long tempos. I’m hoping it all pays off. I’ve definitely had better workouts down here [in Phoenix]; everyone handles altitude a little differently and I tend to struggle but I do feel stronger.”
Huddle cites her most recent race, the USATF 10 Mile Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, as an example of her altitude-induced fatigue. She lost the title by one second to Sara Hall, and she was a minute off her 2015 winning time of 51:44.
“That one was rough,” Huddle said of the 10 Mile Championships. “I came straight down from altitude into that race and was just carrying a lot of fatigue. For whatever reason, I wasn’t hitting workouts at altitude. I’m glad to be back on sea level and I’m hoping on race day, I’ll feel the benefits.”
But Huddle is not overly concerned about shaking off any demons—Boston, altitude or otherwise—so much as embracing a return to the city where she has typically raced very, very well. “I love racing in New York, I have a lot of good memories,” she said. “It tends to be a positive experience most of the time. Having done that [marathon] course and done that race, there’s less question marks for me. It’s only No. 3 [career marathon] and there’s a lot of unknowns in the marathon. It’s comforting to know I’ve raced well here before.”
With a field that includes three-time NYC champion and women’s-only world record holder Mary Keitany, 2018 London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot, reigning NYC champion Shalane Flanagan and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden, Huddle is keeping low expectations.
“My goal is to try and finish better than I did last in New York, but that is pretty high-placing at that point. It would be great if I could run faster than I did last time, but New York is not really a place for [fast] times. Get some valuable marathon experience under my belt because I’ve only done two and I still feel like I have a lot to learn for how to race 26.2. I have this marathon and maybe a spring marathon left before the Olympic Trials.”
One thing about the marathon Huddle seems to have mastered is the art of running with a full stomach.
“That is something I have gotten really good at,” she said. “I’ve developed an iron stomach with marathon training. If you can eat an entire sub and go run eight miles, you’re either really fit or you’re stomach’s really solid and that should help you on race day.”
Besides the random ice cream sandwich, Huddle’s go-to snacks before an afternoon double are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—either crunchy or creamy PB is fine—and Picky Bars. Sometimes, though, she just eats whatever is readily available—like a crunchy tortilla chip chased with a bite of chocolate.
“With marathon training, you’re just really hungry. I’ve hit some weird combinations, like tortilla chips and chocolate, I ate one and ate the other and then went out the door. I just wanted both categories [sweet and salty],” said Huddle. “I can tell people what not to eat. I’ve had success with everything except some really seemingly safe foods…raw almonds, no, don’t do it, and for whatever reason, I can’t eat a whole apple. Watch your fiber!”
*Molly Huddle currently holds American records in the 10K and half marathon. She was the American record holder for 5K for six years before Shannon Rowbury and then Shelby Houlihan lowered it.