When to Settle Into Marathon Pace
As the race flattens out for the next 11 miles through Framingham, Natick and Wellsley (yes, that Wellsley), you should settle into your marathon pace. Here the trick becomes running the shortest race possible by looking ahead and taking the tangents—in other words, cut the corners as closely as possible, running from the outside-in and then swinging back out so as not to turn too sharply. This can be challenging at times due to the crowds, and this is why you need to plan ahead. Not employing this approach can add several tenths of a mile, and therefore several minutes, to your marathon time. And try to avoid swinging rapidly from one side to another in Wellsley.
The slightly rolling hills over this section may make your splits fluctuate a small amount. The goal should be to focus on maintaining your marathon-pace effort, not the exact marathon pace itself, so as not to drain too much energy pushing up the small hills.
Just before the Newton hills begin at mile marker 16, there is another downhill, with the course dropping 100 feet in just half of a mile. You will gain some time here, even if you hold yourself back, so expect your split on mile 16 to be a good 15 to 20 seconds faster than the previous miles. Again, focus on maintaining good running form, especially now as you begin to fatigue a bit.
The three first uphills in miles 17, 18 and 20 are actually pretty moderate, climbing just 50 to 70 feet each. These may seem like mountains compared to what you are used to. Don't panic here, and be careful not to get worried if your pace slips around 20 seconds in each of these miles. You risk far more by trying to maintain your pace then you do by losing a minute of time on these hills, as you'll pay for that exertion later. Focus instead on good uphill running form—stand tall, look around 20 feet ahead, and visualize pulling yourself up the hill with a rope as you swing your arms.
Your last strategic challenge is Heartbreak Hill, named more for the location in the race (just past the 20-mile mark, when many runners would normally hit their "bonk" anyway) than for the difficulty of the hill. This is the longest uphill in the course though, and with a climb of close to 100 feet, you should expect to both lose up to 30 seconds in this mile, and feel a bit fatigued. Again, resist the urge to begin pushing things too soon. Save your energy for a surge on the final quarter of the hill, after which point you'll enjoy a 3-mile long descent of around 200 feet.
Race for Boylston Street
It is from mile 21 on that you will have the opportunity to make up for what you lost in the Newton hills, so long as you have run intelligently to this point. The hills and the energy of the crowds will turn favorable now, as will the scenery; you'll see the skyline of Boston coming ever closer. You should be able to gain 20 seconds per mile or more from mile 22 to 25, and gain ever more confidence as you pass those runners who passed you in the first few miles while you were saving energy for this very moment. With runners having spaced out by this point, you can run the tangents intelligently as well, minimizing the distance you run as you approach the finish.
With the right conditions, Boston is definitely a course on which you can achieve a new PR. Just remember that your PR will be made in the last five miles, not the first four. Savor the experience of the start, but don't let it trick you into going out too fast, and you'll be left with fond memories of one of the greatest of all events that the recreational athlete has the opportunity to enjoy.marathon.