Posted on 1 Comment

Boston Marathon recap: right pacing and lessons learned

Make Way for Ducklings

Back in December 2017, when preparing to run Boston Marathon myself, I found an extremely interesting article (in fact, it’s an article series) called How to Pace like an Elite in Boston, written by a data scientist, professor Barry Smyth. It covered pacing analysis of elites, amateurs who reached PR, and not-so-successful runners and provided recommendations on how to pace yourself in this coveted race.

I’ve read an article couple of times, made a pacing plan and adjusted my training a bit (however, now I’m using a different plan to prepare athletes for Boston), as my goal was to qualify for Chicago Marathon in 2019. 

I have reached my target time and did qualify, however it was not the way I would have liked that to be. There might be a several reasons for that, including unusually cold weather (some say it was a coldest Boston Marathon in 30 years) and my lack of preparation for this kind of rain, wind and temperature. What actually derailed me, was… fear.

That being said, let’s move to pacing analysis and see how my performance was different from the one anticipated if I would have paced for PR, and what fears did I struggle.

How to pace right?

According to an above-mentioned article, successful pacing in Boston should be starting a bit faster than your average pace (see a graphs from the article below), then inevitable slowdown in miles 16-21 (where hills start to roll) and then giving what’s left at the finish.

Pacing of PB runners (Image courtesy of https://medium.com/running-with-data/how-to-pace-like-an-elite-in-boston-4abf26e64bf8)

Pacing of Elite runners (Image courtesy of https://medium.com/running-with-data/how-to-pace-like-an-elite-in-boston-4abf26e64bf8)

My story turned out different. Instead of going out 2-3% faster than the average race pace, I actually started even slower (see my Garmin-based graph below).

My pace in Boston’s 2018 race

As one can see, I started my first 5 km even slower than my average race pace. Somewhat very unusual, and there’s a reason why – I was afraid of Boston hills, actually. I paced myself very conservatively, as I was somehow sure that when hills will start, they can slow me down to a walk. Also, as I wrote in my race report, I was very cold and, I must say, demotivated (standing in the rain and wind for an hour in a freezing temperature was not a pleasant experience). That’s why I nearly missed all the fun and even missed my race target. 

Lessons learned

In fact, neither Heartbreak Hill nor other ones are not to be afraid of. They are not that steep as you have read somewhere, and if you don’t live in a pan-flat area, chances are that in some races you have tackled inclines that were even steeper and longer, than Boston’s. 

Have no fear.

– Heartbreak Hill

As it is seen from the graph, I was full of energy at mile 21 and started pushing the pace (I ran my mile 26 at 06:45 pace and finished even stronger), but that was not enough.

So, the takeout from comparing my pacing and the pacing of successful race, is:

  • Have a pacing chart and follow it. It can be found at the and of 
    How to Pace like an Elite in Boston article. It’s broken down by 5 km  marks; if you would like to have it by miles, I included a table below (again, it’s based on Mr. Smyth’s findings; I just tried to break it down by merging 5K chunks and adding pacing variations from other pacing sources). By the way, there’re hundreds of pacing plans in the internet, so whichever you’ll follow – just follow it.
  • Don’t be afraid of those hills. According to an article from RunnersWorld, Heartbreak Hill is just an 3.3% of incline. Yes, it’s at the nearly end of the race and prior inclines have taken toll of your quads, but just check your Strava or Garmin Connect (or whatever you use for tracking) runs and find some hill segments in your training area – I can bet you have tackled much steeper ones.
  • Train your weaknesses. As most of coaches would recommend – work on your weaknesses in the beginning of training cycle. If you are weak on climbing – do your VO2 max intervals uphill. 
  • Maintain specificity. At each part of your training, include some course that is not track-flat. Just in case not to forget what are these hills made of.

And here’s the provisional Boston pacing chart, my version 🙂

Target pace,
min/mile
Mile03:00:0003:05:0003:10:00
1
00:06:50
00:07:0200:07:13
200:06:4600:06:5700:07:09
300:06:2600:06:3600:06:47
400:06:3400:06:4500:06:56
500:06:4400:06:5500:07:07
600:06:3100:06:4100:06:52
700:06:3800:06:4900:07:00
800:06:4100:06:5200:07:03
900:06:3500:06:4600:06:57
1000:06:5000:07:0200:07:13
1100:06:5000:07:0200:07:13
1200:06:3600:06:4700:06:58
1300:06:4200:06:5300:07:04
1400:06:4200:06:5300:07:04
1500:06:4900:07:0000:07:11
1600:06:3300:06:4400:06:54
1700:07:1000:07:2200:07:34
1800:07:1500:07:2700:07:39
1900:06:5800:07:1000:07:21
2000:07:1400:07:2600:07:38
2100:07:2900:07:4200:07:54
2200:06:5600:07:0800:07:19
2300:07:0600:07:1800:07:30
2400:06:5300:07:0400:07:16
2500:07:0500:07:1600:07:28
2600:07:1500:07:2800:07:40
26.200:07:1200:07:2400:07:36

Thanks for reading and let me know if it helped.

1 thought on “Boston Marathon recap: right pacing and lessons learned

  1. Very good and useful article!!! And I’ll let you know, after April 15 🤩💪💪💪🏆 sub 3:00!😃

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *