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On some level, you already know that Boston isn't quite the same as the other marathons you've already run. There's some mystical allure that makes folks join the annual spring pilgrimage, year after year.
It could be the coeds at Wellesley, it could be the hills of Newton, or it could be the unpredictable weather. Whatever your reason this year, here are a few tips and tricks to help you out.
The weather is utterly unpredictable here. Like the locals say, "Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes, it'll change." So for those of us running a marathon, I recommend wearing warm-up sweats to the race start (in the corrals) and simply toss them to the sidewalk just before the start. Those clothes do get picked up after the start and donated to charity.
Plan to check them in your bag on the bus. It's also a good idea to have some sunscreen (at least SPF 30), especially on the right side and back of your body. When the sun's out, it can be killer.
Choose your race outfit carefully. Keep in mind that even on a warm 70-degree day, it will be cool, windy (ocean breezes), and shady by the time you get to the 22-mile mark, and it stays that way until the finish.
You don't want to roast in Framingham on the hot pavement with the tailwind, but you don't want to be chilled during the last few miles when your muscles are already feeling a bit depleted and the sea breeze is blowing in your face. A hat is a great idea, because you can always take it off and tuck it in your waistband when you don't want it.
Also in your gear bag, pack some warm stuff for after the marathon. At a minimum, you want hat, sweatshirt, warm pants, change of socks (if you're lucky and can still bend over to reach your feet). It usually takes a long time to find your friends and family afterwards, so don't wait to get your clothes until you find them.
Take a poncho or a large plastic garbage bag and cut a hole in it for your head in case race morning is wet. Take this to the race start. If it isn't raining, at least you'll have something to sit on.
Bring a snack and a drink to the race start area. You'll most likely get to the starting area two hours early, and you'll be getting hungry well before the noon start. Your snack should be something simple that you know will sit well in your stomach, like an energy bar, bagel or other favorite pre-race food. Wash this down with some water. Cut back on the water during the last hour, sipping as needed, and then drink your last eight ounces of water or sport drink right around when the wheelchair racers start, which is 15 minutes before your start.
Get to the start corral a little early. It's amazingly congested trying to go single file into the start corral. This mainly applies for the folks in the front of the pack, as you really don't want to be late. The further back you are, the longer you have to reach the start after the gun goes off (as long as 20 minutes in some cases), so you have time.
The first two miles are incredibly congested on the narrow downhill roadway. Plan to run at least one minute per mile slower than your overall average race pace. Hold back and resist the urge to dart back and forth trying to pass people.These first two miles should be a warm up. Don't worry about losing time and don't try to speed up to make up for the slow start. Worst case you slip and twist an ankle; best case you make up 10 seconds. Just not worth it when you have 26 miles to go.
Don't bother trying to grab water at the first aid station. It'll be too crowded. And besides, that's why you had a drink right before the start.
Don't forget to high-five a few kids along the course! Cheering kids are a fabulous source of good karma and happy marathoning, and you won't really lose any time. Who knows, you could inspire a future runner!
After mile three or so, make sure to hit those water stations. You'll lose a lot more time when you're dehydrated than you will by grabbing some fluid. Remember, there are stations on BOTH sides of the road -- first on the right, then on the left. If you skip the right (where everyone goes), you can get some on the left.
If you're like me and you BYOG (Bring Your Own Gu), try pinning your gel packets to your shorts waistband, then flip them inside so they don't flop around. They only hand out Gu at mile 17 and that's just too late for me.
Once in the finish area get your medal and then get to the baggage bus as soon as possible and get into your warm clothes.
Get rid of your timing chip, and go to your pre-arranged location to find your loved ones. You did remember to set up a specific location with your loved ones, right?
Take the time to visit the massage folks afterwards. They bring you chicken soup in line and you can get additional fluids inside. I always meet great people in line and it's a fun place to trade stories.