Boston Marathon: How to Run It Faster, Fast, or Slow

RunTri Racing Coverage || By Raymond Britt,

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was the reason I decided to become a serious runner in 1995. I qualified by 32 seconds that year, and looked forward to a thrilling experience in my Boston debut in 1996.

One thing I know for sure after all those years: Boston is unpredictable, and I have the personal data to prove it. See below. Good Luck on your journey to Boston.

In this piece, I'll share mile-by-mile splits for seven of my Boston Marathons. Spanning from a 2:54 finish time to 3:41, and commentary below, illustrate how to run Boston fast, slow, or how to handle it when injured.

I finished that 1996 race, and while it was not pretty, it was the first of a wide variety of experiences on the Boston Marathon course. Depending on the year, I have run my PR on the course, have run aching and slow, or have started blazing and ended up finishing barely able to walk.

1996, Injured and Slow: My First Boston, the year I sprained my ankle in the airport, of all places, preparing to board the plane to fly to Boston (don't ask how). I met with race doctors the day before the race, who advised me not to run. But I had to. So I went to the start line, determined to run slowly and carefully, sure to keep my foot and ankle always facing forward. As the Centennial edition of the race, the field was packed with 39,000 runners, so it was fairly impossible to run fast anyway. The splits you'll see on the spreadsheet were fairly steady, and not a bad example of how to run a 3:40ish Boston, based on the terrain.

1997 Faster, But Injured: I was determined to perform better in 1997, despite an overtraining injury that left my ilio-tibial band in pain after longer distances. I started out fast, trying to build momentum, but the pain kicked in at about the same time as the hills did. I remember running miles 21-24 almost stiff-legged, but seeing the finish line helped me speed up again.

1998 Faster: I ran the 1998 race within one minute of my marathon PR at the time, and it was possible to say I lost that one minute in a very slow first mile. Otherwise, it was a textbook way, for me, to run a 3:11 on the course. Note that miles 2 through 9 were steady. That became a pattern in my better races. And I was able to keep times on the hilly miles under 8 minutes/mile.

1999, Repeat: 1999 very closely mirrored my 1998 race, attempting to find an advantage by conserving energy with a slower start, but running the last half in almost the same time as 1998. I was disappointed, though. I wanted to run faster.

2001 Fast and Slow: I was becoming a better runner and triathlete in 2001, with a new 3:05 PR from Chicago 2000, under my belt. I wanted to do that well on the Boston course. I blazed the first half in 1:25, and if you want to run a 1:25 first half, my times are the way to do it. Unfortunately, I left nothing for the second half, and blew up immediately when the hills started. See a 9:31 Heartbreak Hill mile to know I walked the whole thing, slowly and panting for air. This is not the way to run Boston.

2002 PR: I had run a 2:59 in Milwaukee 2001, so I was a better marathoner, but I could not afford to make the same mistakes I made in Boston 2001. So I studied those mistakes and had basically one rule for 2002 -- do not start out too fast. I ran conservatively, and hit the 13.1 mile marker slower than I had in any recent marathon. But I was also fresh, and fast at that point, ready to attack the hills, especially Heartbreak Hill. I was the only race that I've experienced relatively breezy 6:30ish miles near the finish. But I had to work for it every second. Mantra: The Only Thing You Need Now is to Want It Bad Enough.

2003 Doomed: You'll note in 2003 I tried to repeat the recipe from 2002, and did it according to plan in the first few miles. The problem was, by 10k I knew I was doomed. I was having trouble breathing (asthma and allergies), and had lost my inhaler earlier, somewhere on the course. I had to slow down to survive, and I knew by the 13.1 mile mark in Wellesley that it would be a mighty struggle to finish. Not a fun way to run a 3:06. But I'll take a 3:06 in Boston any day.

The Other Years?
I ran in 2000 after nearly two days without sleep while negotiating a large business deal; time didn't matter. By 2004, I kind of lost interest in tracking mile-by-mile splits, as I felt I knew the course pretty well. I ran a 3:02 in 2005, and a 3:09 in 2006, each time eight days after completing Ironman Arizona. In 2007, I ran under 4 hours, stopping often to shoot photos throughout the entire race.

No matter how your day goes in Boston, it will be special when you cross the finish line.

Questions? Feel free to email me. Good luck in Boston.

Also see
- Boston Marathon 2008: What to Expect
- Boston Marathon 2008: Photos

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