How to Train for the Boston Marathon

A good Boston cycle will have three, maybe four long runs depending on how much time you have to train and your ability to recover.

A typical three-long-run schedule might be 18 miles, 20 miles, 22 miles, with each of these efforts separated by a shorter run with more tempo effort (approximately 12 to 14 miles).

A more advanced four-long-run schedule mile alternate 18 miles, 20 miles, 18 miles, 22 miles. In this case, the advanced athlete can pair the 18/20 and 18/22 weekends, separating these two week blocks with just one shorter weekend run as outlined above.

The Boston Taper

We generally recommend that your last long run is about 21 days out from race day. This will give you ample time to recover and still fine tune your running. Since you ran on race-like terrain in your training, there's no reason to start running hills in this final period. Instead, focus on your technique and making each individual run as good as possible.

The hard work of fitness building is done, it's now time for recovery and consolidation. In addition to your regular weekday runs, you'll have two more weekend runs before race day. After your 20 to 22 mile longest run, the next one can be about two-thirds of that longest run distance with a good portion of it at your goal marathon pace. The following weekend, just one before the race, should be about half your longest run effort. This time the run is mostly easy/steady with maybe a mile or two at your goal race effort.

The taper is also the time to begin doing some visualization. As you are training, begin envisioning yourself on the course at critical points in your day: the start, half way, mile 16, Heartbreak Hill, etc. There are plenty of places online to find pictures of the race to help you do this. But whether you know the course or not, you'll want to walk yourself through the race a few times to make sure that you have all the bases covered before you line up in Hopkinton.

Running on Race Week

Due to the rolling nature of the course, your race week training should be simple yet include some similar terrain. Your goal is to enter every workout feeling rested and exit every session feeling invigorated. If you are feeling fatigue or have a nagging issue, then you had best spend your time resting and preparing for the rigors of race day. There is no extra speed to be had this week, only lost.

Here is a quick sample schedule:

  • Monday: Off / Yoga / Core
  • Tuesday: 45 minute run, including 4 to 6 repeats of 1 minute at 5k pace. Alternate 1 uphill, 1 downhill (not too steep!). Recover as much as needed.
  • Wednesday: Six mile run, with 2 x 10 minutes at goal marathon pace on rolling terrain.
  • Thursday: 45 minute run, including 4 to 6 repeats of 1 minute at 5k pace. Recover as much as needed.
  • Friday: Travel / OFF
  • Saturday: Easy 30 to 45 minute jog before you hit the expo to get your bib number and check out the cool stuff.
  • Sunday: Short jog of 20 to 30 minutes, include 3 x 1 minute fast with plenty of recovery. Be safe in the city.
  • Monday: Race Day!

Check out the first installment of this Boston Marathon overview series. Also, if you haven't seen it, here's a video of the course taken in February of 2008. If you can ignore the cars, you'll get a solid sense of how the race plays out! Boston Race Course Video on YouTube.

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