Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marathon 101: Getting from Hopkinton to Copley

So, you're running the Boston Marathon for the first time. You havetrained, studied the course, hopefully sought the counsel of those who haverun before.

But how familiar are you with the grueling, 26.2-mile trek fromHopkinton to Copley Square?

The Boston Globe asked two marathon veterans -- Jack Fultz,winner of the 1976 race, and Michael McGrane, an eight-time competitor,to offer some keys to a successful race.

1) Resist the temptation to start fast. It is easy to do -- your adrenalineis flowing, and the first several miles are downhill. But hold back. If youdon't, you will almost inevitably fail later. "It's the single biggestmistake runners of the Boston Marathon make," Fultz says. "If you don'tfeel like you're going too slow, you're going too fast."

2) Yes, it will be immensely frustrating to watch scores of runners passyou early in the course, especially the ones who look drunk, obese, asleep,or otherwise ill-suited for rigorous cardiovascular activity. But let thempass you, veteran runners say. If you conserve your energy, you will be theone cruising later on while your compatriots are passed out by the Gatoradestation. "You should run your own race," McGrane says. "You should not getcaught up with anyone around you, especially if you think you should bebeating them based on the way they look."

3) Do not let any person or any map tell you that Wellesley is the half-waypoint. Forget the mileage -- it is nowhere near the mid-point physically ormentally, veterans say. This can be especially hard to remember as you baskin the screams from the Wellesley College students. Enjoy the livelyatmosphere and maybe even high-five a few spectators, veterans say, but donot pick up your pace. Do not run like you are almost there. "Energy-wise,it's only about a third of the way to the finish line," Fultz says.

4) Everyone knows that Heartbreak Hill in Newton is a killer, but fixatingon it alone misses the larger picture. First of all, Heartbreak is one ofseveral hills in Newton; some runners say the hills preceding it are whereyou will know how well you have trained. Second, you may find that thehardest thing about Heartbreak isn't the uphill portion but the downhillafterwards. Just when you think you're home free, don't be surprised ifyour quad muscles feel like they're being stabbed with sharp pencils. "Onceyou make it on top of Heartbreak Hill, a lot of people think, 'OK, I'vemade it. I've really made it,'" Fultz says. "That's not necessarily so."

5) Just as you are dying for any indication of the finish line, the Citgosign in Kenmore Square -- the one-mile-to-go marker -- appears like abeacon. But veteran runners say not to pray to this false god too soon,because it is visible for several miles as you run toward downtown onBeacon Street. "You can see it for a little too long," McGrane says. Fultzadds, "It's like running on a treadmill. You're running, but it feels likeyou're not getting anywhere."

Good luck to everyone running Monday!