Boston Marathon Mile-By-Mile Course Guide (Training Tips)
We are now less than a month away from the 2018 Boston Marathon. We know there’s several readers who will be racing so we wish you all the best of luck as the taper phase begins. We received an email from reader Brendon O’Leary, a sub-elite runner and coach, who has run 2:29 at the Boston Marathon. You can find his Facebook page and details on coaching services here. Feel free to email him with any questions as well.
He passed along some training tips for us to share on the site. If you’re running Boston, you could find these helpful.
This is just my overview on the course and some tips that may be helpful.
Start- Mile 5
*The first mile of the course is a steep downhill as you will drop over 100 feet in this mile. Don’t get carried as run relaxed and use this as a warmup to get your body ready for the rest of the race.
*Miles 2-5 will have you leaving the town of Hopkinton and entering Ashland. This stretch of the race is slightly downhill as we go from 350 feet to 200 feet in elevation.
* If you are a little quick don’t panic but make sure you are staying relaxed and within five seconds of goal pace. If you are keeping the effort consistent then it is ok to be a few seconds faster than goal pace on the downhill and a few seconds slower on the uphills. An example is if your goal is 7:00 pace you should not be running 6:40’s; 6:50’s would be ok but any faster than that may be trouble later on! So pay close attention to those early splits.
*Most of this stretch is through the towns of Framingham/Natick and it is slightly rolling to flat. You will pass the Framingham Train Station and that section of the course will have some deep crowds.
* As the course flattens out, resist the urge to run faster than you planned. Remember, the idea that you can “bank” minutes here for the second half of the race will bite you in the backside in the late miles.
*Around mile 9 you will pass Lake Cochichuate and the crowds are a bit light in this area. It is pretty much a flat stretch of road but this may be the first time we you start noticing some fatigue and negative thoughts.
* I tend to struggle on this part of the course. You have just run the first 9 miles that was pretty much downhill. The effort will seem real now so focus on hitting those mile splits and taking it one mile at a time. Stay positive by using a power word like “toughness”, “fighter”, etc. to get you through those rough patches.
*You will enter Natick Center and the crowds will be large. Hopefully this will give you a boost of energy! The course is pretty flat during this mile so just focus on hitting you pace.
*The course will have a slight uphill to start this mile. Towards the end of this stretch you will be in a wooded area with light crowds. But use this time to prepare yourself for the noise that is upcoming at Wellesley College as you will hear it before you see it!
*This will be one of the loudest sections on the course. Don’t get carried away as you run by the Wellesley College students but hopefully it will give you a boost of energy.
* I like to run right next to the crowd as the noise gives me a little boost. You may remember Ryan Hall doing this at Boston in the past.
*This stretch of road has you entering downtown Wellesley. Crowds will be strong and you will be passing the half marathon mark. It is mostly flat so try to get back into rhythm especially if your last mile was a little quick.
* I think it’s ok if your half marathon is a little faster than goal pace. I am a believer in thinking the first half can be about 90 seconds faster than goal pace since it was downhill. When I ran my PR of 2:29 I went through in 1:13 and change and came back in 1:15 and change. So don’t panic if you are little quick but it should not be any more than 90 seconds- 2 minutes if you have run the course the right way.
*Another mile of road with great crowd support. It starts by going by athletic fields and then a small section of shops before going over route 9. Use this stretch to gather yourself for the hills that are approaching!
*Right about 15.25 miles you will have a large downhill into Newton Lower Falls. The course drops from 150 feet to 50 feet during this stretch. Don’t get carried away with this downhill but it is a good chance to let the legs open up a bit just to stretch out. But brace yourself as the hills are about to begin. You’re going to be climbing and dropping for about the next nine miles. None of these hills, up or down, is a killer on its own. It’s the cumulative effect and the fact that when the uphills start, your legs already have 16 miles on them.
*This mile you leave Newton Lower Falls and head up over the highway overpass. This is the first real uphill and its one that a lot of people are not prepared for as they often forget about this climb. I personally find this to be the most challenging of the hills. From 16 to 16.5 you will climb about 70 feet as you make your way over the highway. This stretch is not very scenic and the winds can be nasty off the highway. Hill #1 is now done.
*You have close to a mile of flat running before hill #2 so use it to recover and get back into your groove. I really recommend that you break the hills into 4 parts and focus on staying positive by saying you have a mile of flat/downhill running in between each climb!
*My advice on the hills is to shorten the stride and keep your effort the same. Yes this will mean your pace is slowing down but you can make it up on the downhills. Too many people try to keep pace or push the uphills and they pay for it later on.
*At 17.3 you will make a right hand turn at the Newton Fire House. The crowds and energy will be great here so get ready to battle through this hilly stretch. Hill #2 is approaching as it is from 17.5 to 18 miles you will climb about 60 feet.
*This mile is slightly downhill with a drop of close to 50 feet. Use this time to recover and get back into your pace.
*Once again you have about a mile of flat road before you approach hill #3. Use these flat areas to regroup and get back on your pace.
*Hill # 3 is approaching as you run by Newton City Hall. Around 19-19.5 you will again go uphill for a 50-60 foot elevation gain. Just keep your effort the same shorten the stride and focus on just getting through the hill.
*Once you again you are going to have a flat stretch of road to recover before one more hill. From about 19.5 to 20.2 will be flat road to recover and regroup.
*Heartbreak Hill. It will be a half mile climb where you gain approximately 90 feet as the course goes from 150 ft. to 240 ft. elevation. It’s not the biggest/steepest hill but it’s at 20 miles so you will be feeling it! Keep your breathing relaxed, shorten your stride, and just look at the road ahead of you instead of looking up at the hill.
*The crowds will be huge with the Boston College students so feed off that energy. Just get through this last uphill and once you’re at the top take a deep breath to regroup as you are through the toughest part of the course. The final miles will give you the chance to pass a lot of people so stay positive and focus ahead on catching runners who are struggling!
*This mile drops about 90 feet during this stretch. This is a good chance to open the stride up a bit as the stride will be tight from the uphill’s. Don’t get too carried away on this downhill though as if you’re too aggressive the quads/calf’s can cramp up on you. Work you way back into your pace during this stretch.
*You will take a left turn into Cleveland Circle. Careful on the trolley tracks just be aware they are there so you do not trip! Once you make that turn you can see the city buildings ahead of you. This is my favorite part of the course as you can pass a lot of people over these next few miles. Even if you are having a rough day gives yourself a goal of catching a certain # of people each mile. As you will feed off the energy of crowds during this stretch and with every person you pass you will get a bit of an energy boost!
*The course drops from 150 to 25 feet during this stretch. If you ran the course smart you can be real aggressive during this part of the course as you let the downhill do the work for you!
*Somewhere around mile 23 you will notice the famous Citgo sign, this means you are almost there!
*Right before mile 25 you approach a small bump by the Fenway area. It’s not huge but at this point in the race any uphill can be a struggle. The bump is only about (15 seconds long) so just get through it.
*Right after mile 25 you will take a right turn and be on Comm Ave. There will be a small dip and then a quick climb(5-10 secs) as you go under Mass Ave. Don’t let this bother you as you are about to make the famous right hand turn onto Hereford Street and then a quick left and you are on Boylston Street and the finish stretch.
*The final straightaway is a bit longer then you expect but use this as a chance to take it all in. The crowds will be huge so enjoy this stretch whether it was a good race or bad. As you are about to finish the Boston Marathon and that is an accomplishment in itself!
Jack Daniels Thoughts on the Course from 2017
“Main thing to concentrate on in those early miles is good leg turnover and don’t let the easy downhill running lead to stride lengthening, which will result in the quads taking a beating early and feeling not so good later on. Don’t concentrate on going faster early, but if it happens without any extra effort, it shouldn’t be too bad. Typical weather at Boston is a head wind (coming off the ocean), so even having slight downhill may not result in a faster early pace. Got to go by feel and remember that most mistakes in races are made early, so run with your head for about 18 or 20 miles then with your heart the final miles. Weather could be hot, could be cold, could have head wind or tail wind, so run by feel and quit thinking how far you have to go, just be present think about what you are currently doing.
The course is a little downhill, but with some definite uphill running along the way. As with any course, especially during the spring, weather conditions can vary a fair bit. Often there is a breeze coming at you in Boston, since you are running toward the ocean to your East, and ocean breezes often blow inland. Now and then Boston can get a pretty solid tailwind when a weather system is blowing in from the northwest. Maybe most importantly, the first five miles of the Boston course is downhill and it is easy to put in some faster-than-average mile times in those first five.
It is not bad to take advantage of those early downhill miles, but it is usual for your quads to take a beating as a result of downhill running and if you are not used to it, the latter miles at Boston can be a real struggle. The idea is to take a little advantage of the first five miles (by going a few seconds faster than you plan to average over the entire course), but to realize you will also be losing some time between miles 16 and 22 when there is a fair bit of uphill running to be done. However, if your legs are used to some downhill running and the early downhills don’t cause a problem later on, the final 3 or 4 miles are also downhill and you can take advantage of those toward the end of the race.
Overall, on a calm and nice day, and with a nice steady effort, the Boston course can allow you to run a little more than a minute faster than a perfectly flat course will allow. The key is to do some training over undulating terrain, including some prolonged gradual downhill running so your legs are used to doing that and will not let you down over the Boston course. Remember that the weather of the day can have major effect on performance so be prepared for whatever is thrown at you. Take advantage of the advantages and minimize the disadvantages that you have to face.”