Last night, I got an email from the Boston Athletic Association warning about the likelihood of heavy rain and winds during the Boston Marathon. This may put a slight cramp in my sub-2:40 goal for the race. After reading about that, Ima asked in the comments:

I may not know much but it would seem that 2:40 is a bit of a stretch for a goal in a race such as Boston?

That makes me wonder, is it possible to run a personal best at a race like the Boston Marathon? Many people think of Boston as a difficult course, but I think that it is one of the easiest courses of the eight that I have run on so far. There are a lot of people in the race, but only about half of what you would find in a race like New York or Chicago. Does the fact that you have to qualify to run in the race make it more difficult to run fast when you get there?

NYC Race Uniform (Mile 8)In my situation, I think that 2:40 may be a stretch if I have to sit around for a few hours before hand in the rain and then have to face a headwind the entire way. On an average day, though, I don’t see why Boston would be that much tougher to run a 2:40 than anywhere else. Even if the weather is as bad as they say it will be, I still plan on running at least my original race goal of 2:45 (which remains a number that I would be happy with even in perfect weather).

There is plenty of race support along the way, it’s mostly down hill, and as long as you aren’t an idiot for the first 4 miles and wait for the flat between 4 and 15 to pick up the pace you’ll be fine. Heartbreak Hill is a bump; it only climbs about 80 feet over the course of a half mile. Last time that I ran it, I only recognized it as Heartbreak because everybody was screaming at me that that was where I was.

Generally speaking, I think that Boston is a good place to run a good race. Because most of the people running had to run a qualifying time, you tend to have a good majority of at least slightly experienced marathoners to run with. Their corral system is also not the worst in the world; generally speaking you will start with people that will run around the same pace as you.

I think that I will have a little bit of an advantage over 20,000 of the other runners, though. My qualifying time entitles me to start in the second corral (my bib number is 1658), and I will probably start in the third corral with a friend. The last time that I ran the race, I got to start in the fourth corral and it did not take long to thin out and give me plenty of leg room. Starting even farther forward, and going out at a quicker pace, I expect that it will be just like any other day except that the crowds will be a lot larger than I am used to. If people are willing to go out and cheer me on in 85° sunny weather and risk heat stroke, then I hope that they are willing to bring their umbrellas and jackets out with them next week.

What do you think? Is Boston a good course for running a fast race? Or are the first 4 miles of descent just too much stress on a runner’s muscles to overcome, no matter how sensibly they go out? I think that it is a good course, and after Monday I hope that I will have a better handle on it after having a chance to run fast on it. Maybe I will change my tune, or maybe I will still agree with this opinion. Either way, I think that the key to the Boston Marathon is a good plan and proper preparation.

In fact, I am in the process of writing a more detailed book on marathon preparation that I hope people will find useful. I wrote a series of articles on marathon preparation last Autumn because I had a half dozen friends running their first marathons and I wanted to let them know some of the simple concepts that I’ve learned the hard way. I’ll have more details later this Spring if anybody is interested.